Sarah Jane

James Sallis

No Exit, £8.99

Sallis, the author of Drive, is one of the most renowned crime writers of his era, but this novel will confound readers expecting a plot-heavy thriller. It’s a piercing psychological study of Sarah Jane Pullman, Acting Sheriff of Farr, a small town in the American South-West, and much of this slim volume is concerned with her chequered past before it ever occurred to her to become a cop. Still dogged by her constant compulsion to move on somewhere new, and clearly suffering from PTSD sustained during military service in the Middle East, she handles all the minor cases a local sheriff has to deal with, while continually reminding herself of the unknowability of other people and how they are inevitably “going to surprise, confound and disturb you”. Etched in bone-dry prose, it’s a little gem of a book which plays its cards close to its chest and derives strength from giving the impression it’s denying its readers what they want.


Sarah Perry

Serpent’s Tail, £18.99

Inspired by Charles Maturin’s 1820 Gothic classic Melmoth the Wanderer, about a man who gained 150 years of life from the Devil but is cursed to spend that time roaming the Earth, Sarah Perry’s third novel recasts Melmoth as a woman and significantly changes the story’s emphasis. Helen Franklin, in her early forties, is a translator living in Prague, an “insignificant” and unhappy person burdened with guilt. She hears about the myth of Melmoth, a woman who was punished for denying Christ’s resurrection by spending eternity bearing witness to man’s inhumanity to man, and explores it through a series of documents relating encounters with the wraith-like being across the world. As one story follows another, we come to realise that Helen has had one too. Atmospheric and unsettling, Perry’s version works on one level as a creepy ghost story, but its greater purpose is to pose hard questions about suffering, redemption, complicity and our responsibilities to each other.

This Way To Departures

Linda Mannheim

Influx Press, £9.99

You can’t go home again, because it’s changed so much or you have, is one of the messages of this collection of short stories. But Mannheim, originally from New York and now dividing her time between London and Berlin, rarely resorts to expressing it quite so blandly. With each of these stories, she finds slightly different ways to approach overarching themes of home and relocation. Her characters usually don’t belong, and many of them find themselves in comparatively privileged environments surrounded by people who can’t comprehend or identify with a tough urban upbringing. They’re mainly set in the past, and sometimes set in the past while reflecting on events that happened even earlier, as if this kind of distance is the only way Mannheim can get a handle on them. But if so, it works. There’s anger, righteous indignation and sorrow in these stories, relatable characters and situations and solid connections with the real world that belie its theme of dislocation.