Mark Lawson on this month’s best crime fiction
Fittingly, there are two new thrillers about doppelgängers, although, proving the adaptability of plot lines about worrying doubles, the only other way in which they resemble each other is quality.
Bellevue Square (No Exit Press, 288pp, £8.99) won a big prize and large praise in Canada, where its author, Michael Redhill, has been an admired writer for some time. The enterprising publisher No Exit Press hopes that this book will establish him in Britain, and it deserves to.
Jean, the owner of an upmarket Toronto bookstore, starts having wrong-footing conversations with customers and friends who claim to have been ignored by her, or seen her acting out of character. Although we never receive a full inventory of Jean’s shelves, they seem likely to include Poe’s story “William Wilson” and possibly even ETA Hoffman’s Die Doppelgänger, the 19th-century stories that popularised the idea of doubling in crime fiction. She would surely be able to sell us a copy of Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, although it probably doesn’t count as plot-spoiling 132 years after publication to say that Stevenson’s tale is a departure from the Poe and Hoffman model, as “the other” is both part of, and physically opposite to, the original model.
But knowledge of the previous literature leads both Jean and us to rapidly calculate the possible explanations of someone else repeatedly being mistaken for her. Does the double have causes that are cosmetic, genetic, supernatural or even metaphysical, as Jean reflects that “We have no idea what other lives we might have led”? Perhaps she is, like Jekyll, somehow generating the second presence herself. References to the current president of Canada’s North American neighbour suggest a wider reflection on the difficulty of establishing the truth in a world of “alternative facts”.
Redhill keeps the multiple possibilities skilfully in play for as long as possible, and plants early on the risk that Jean 2 may have criminal consequences for Jean 1. The novel is especially blessed with strong supporting characters, including Jean’s sister – who, neatly, is extremely unlike her – and a husband who has to adjust to never knowing, in a way far beyond conventional domestic mistrust, where his wife might have been. This is a smart, intriguing novel from a writer with many gifts.
How to continue reading…
This article appears in the Catholic Herald magazine - to read it in full subscribe to our digital edition from just 30p a week
The Catholic Herald is your essential weekly guide to the Catholic world; latest news, incisive opinion, expert analysis and spiritual reflection