Francine Toon

(Black Swan Ireland, £8.99)

Toon grew up in the Highlands, and sets her unsettling debut novel in Clavanmore, a village surrounded by forest near the Moray Firth. Ten-year-old Lauren lives here with her father, Niall, who drinks to cope with his guilt over the disappearance of Lauren’s mother. The disappearance of a teenage girl coincides with Lauren’s encounters with a pale woman in a white dressing gown who vanishes with only Lauren remembering she was there. Although it’s set in the present day, folklore and magic are never far from the surface, Toon’s background as a poet enabling her to conjure an eerie and effective folk-horror atmosphere which, later on, shifts gear into thriller mode. She does rely a little heavily on stock horror imagery, but handles it well for all its familiarity. Reservations about plot and structure aside, it’s a suspenseful piece that leaves a haunting after-image.


David Robert Grimes

(Simon & Schuster, £9.99)

Physicist and cancer researcher Grimes is understandably wearied by the degree to which public discourse has been skewed by scientific illiteracy. In this book, he identifies the methods used by conspiracy theorists, populists and anti-intellectualists in an era of anti-vaxxers and climate change denial, going on to argue for greater advocacy of critical thinking, improved numeracy and understanding of the scientific method. He opens up about the shortcomings of the scientific community too, particularly failures of the peer review system and how much research turns out not to be reproducible. It’s well-argued and informative, but what does Grimes expect The Irrational Ape to achieve when similar books have had no substantial impact? Perhaps the key is in the epilogue, where he admits he’s learned there’s more to a persuasive argument than data, and forging an emotional connection can change minds


Rachel Genn

(And Other Stories, £10)

In Genn’s second novel, aspiring rock star Astrid’s cocaine habit is made worse by the drugs her psychiatrist boyfriend Henry is surreptitiously feeding her while closely studying their effects. The narcissistic Henry is hungry for the recognition he believes was denied him by a colleague, and he feeds Astrid’s insecurities. With the twisting, fragmented narrative shifting between a nudist campsite in Greece, where the couple are having a low-key break after an unfortunate drug-related incident at the Burning Man festival, Astrid’s New York apartment, where she and Henry binge on episodes of The Sopranos, and a rehab centre in Paris, neuroscientist Genn examines the dynamics of their toxic relationship and Astrid’s drug dependency. Partly inspired by self-destructive stars like Amy Winehouse and Janis Joplin, it’s a study of addiction that’s dark and knotty, but lightened by flashes of compassion and wit.