THUNDER BAY

Douglas Skelton (Polygon, £8.99)

Secretive, isolated communities are meat and drink to a crime writer, and Douglas Skelton exploits the sinister insularity of the Scottish island of Stoirm to the full here. When Mary Drummond passes away, it’s assumed that her son, Roddie, will return for her funeral. Roddie hasn’t set foot on Stoirm for 15 years, since he was acquitted on a Not Proven verdict for the murder of his girlfriend, Mhairi Sinclair. Scenting a story, Rebecca Connolly, a reporter for a Highland newspaper, catches a ferry to the island. She also has a personal motive: her father was from Stoirm but refused to ever talk about the place. She finds herself in over her head, dropped into a community festering with grudges, jealousy and long-buried secrets. Explosions of violence are inevitable, though Skelton holds back on them, building up the suspense and oppressive atmosphere before going in for the kill. A particularly gripping thriller from the author of the Davie McCall series.

A CORONET AMONG THE WEEDS

Charlotte Bingham (Bloomsbury, £8.99)

Daughter of the 7th Baron Clanmorris, Charlotte Bingham became a best-selling author at 20, and has been ridiculously prolific ever since. This book, her first, was originally published in 1963 and is based on her experiences after leaving convent school and traipsing from one country house after another in search of a suitable match. Far from landing her ideal man, all she finds are chinless “weeds”. Meanwhile, the new freedom and mobility of the Swinging Sixties is tempting her away from the path dictated by her aristocratic upbringing. No doubt thrillingly contemporary at the time, it’s a period piece now and has acquired a dated charm. A little like a comic monologue, Bingham’s narration is equally quaint and grating, and it’s hard to tell sometimes if she’s adopting a breathlessly chatty character or is just like that. But it whets the appetite for Coronet Among the Spooks, which tells of her further adventures in her father’s workplace of MI5.

DEATH IS HARD WORK

Khaled Khalifa (Faber, £12.99)

In a Damascus hospital, Abdel Latif breathes his last, his dying wish that his body be laid to rest alongside his sister, Layla, in their hometown of Anabiya. Normally, Anabiya would only be a two-hour drive away, but in a Syria devastated by war Abdel’s children, Bobol, Hussein and Fatima, have an uncertain journey ahead, with no idea what obstacles and dangers might lie in wait. It doesn’t help that the siblings have barely seen each other in ten years, and a resentful tension simmers in their hastily-converted minibus as they negotiate a land bristling with checkpoints and snipers, accompanied by the constant noise of low-flying planes, artillery and rocket launchers. Khalifa has penned a stunning, sobering novel which brings home the realities of daily life in a war-torn country and the fatalism that has settled on its population, while – at one checkpoint, officers decide to arrest Abdel’s corpse as there is an outstanding warrant on him – highlighting its absurdities.

ALASTAIR MABBOTT