Fentanyl, Inc.

Ben Westhoff

Scribe, £14.99

Street drugs containing fentanyl are killing record-breaking numbers of users across the US. But what is fentanyl, and how did it become so ubiquitous so rapidly? Created in 1959, it’s a synthetic opioid 50 times stronger than heroin, used in procedures like open-heart surgery. Alongside substances like Spice and K2, it’s also part of a new wave of highly potent synthetic drugs being manufactured by rogue chemists, largely in China, who alter their molecular structure to stay ahead of the law and sell them to drug cartels. Ben Westhoff tracks down the original developers and the New Zealand drug baron who helped set the fentanyl ball rolling, visits the factories in which they’re made (helped along by tax breaks and subsidies from the Chinese government) and sees for himself the toll these highly toxic drugs take on their users. It’s an eye-opening work of investigative journalism, highly informed on the legal and pharmaceutical aspects without losing sight of the human cost.

The Killer Inside

Cass Green

HarperCollins, £7.99

Green’s fourth thriller introduces us to Elliott, a primary school teacher who grew up on a London housing estate but now lives on the south coast. His wife Anya’s parents live in the neighbouring town, and sometimes he feels they spoil her, but their marriage has been a happy one. Suddenly, though, Anya is acting strangely and her explanations don’t add up. Meanwhile, middle-aged Irene is searching for her son, who has gone missing trying to find out how his younger brother disappeared. The connection between these two strands reaches deep into the heart of a family. It’s a slow first half while Green gets her pieces out on the board, and then the pace quickens, her prose spare and to the point, with nothing to distract from her twisted guessing game.

The Light in the Dark

Horatio Clare

Elliott & Thompson, £9.99

Since moving to the Calder Valley in West Yorkshire, Horatio Clare has been plagued with Seasonal Affective disorder. The colder months plunge him into depression, and he decided to write a diary of the 2017-18 winter as a “torch” against the encroaching gloom. Ironically, his writing here shows just how alert he is to the stark and fragile beauty of Yorkshire in winter, capturing beautifully its “dazzle and shadow” on the page while sometimes barely coping with the impact it’s having on himself, his family and his students. Not that he presents it as an entirely idyllic place – at one point, he has to attend to his mother, whose sheep are being attacked by badger-baiters’ dogs – but his affinity with nature is one of the crucial factors that gets him through the winter and keeps him connected to people. The result is a largely positive and at times uplifting account of living with SAD which boasts some stirring nature writing.