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Book Reviews: All killer, no filler

Deadly follow-up:
Nicholas Hoult starred
in the film adaptation of
prequel Kill Your Friends

Kill ’Em All

by John Niven (Heinemann) ★★★★✩

THE bad boys of British fiction are growing up — or at least getting older. Irvine Welsh published Dead Men’s Trousers this year, a sequel to Trainspotting that saw Renton and company in middle age. Now it’s the turn of his fellow sweary Scot, John Niven, to revisit his own debut, with another outing for Steven Stelfox, the ruthlessly ambitious English record executive first seen in 1997’s Britpop- era satire Kill Your Friends.

Set in the US during Donald Trump’s first year in the White House, Kill ’Em All kicks off when Lucius, a Michael Jackson-like pop star, is secretly filmed committing a heinous crime and blackmailed by the parents of a boy close to him. The case puts Stelfox’s old record label in financial peril, tempting him to come out of semi-retirement to help in the only way he knows how — enlisting an ever-faithful SAS-trained hitman to rig up an eye-poppingly wild scheme to fake Lucius’s death.

Bad-mood music: John Niven

All this, though, ultimately plays second fiddle to Stelfox’s outrageously ranty narration. Routinely referring to women as ‘boilers’ (alluding to the Glenn Close character in Fatal Attraction for whom bunnies were collateral damage in her deranged revenge plot), he hails Trump as a kindred spirit and mocks the #MeToo movement as hot air from a liberal echo chamber divorced from reality.

But, as in Welsh, the off-colour banter, hellbent on causing offence to all and sundry, masks an unimpeachable commitment to social justice. You’ll read between the lines to spot what Niven’s up to long before a subplot about a one-night stand delivers a karmic twist.

For sure, his full-throttle send-up of toxic masculinity won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but Niven at full tilt is always something to behold.

The verdict

A scabrous, no-holds-barred satire of the state we’re in

Lethal White

by Robert Galbraith (Sphere) ★★★✩✩

JK Rowling’s crime series under the Galbraith brand shares one vital hallmark with her Harry Potter books — these giant sprawling novels are incredibly easy to read.

Lethal White, Cormoran Strike’s fourth outing, picks up just a few hours on from where the last one, Career Of Evil, finished. It soon embarks on a tale of political corruption, murder and blackmail.

The thriller story is gripping enough but the real suspense comes from the will-they-won’t-they dynamic between bluff ex-soldier Strike, who lost a leg to an IED in Afghanistan, and Robin, who started as an assistant but is now a partner in their detective agency. It’s a tension, you suspect, that won’t be resolved any time soon. (PAUL CONNOLLY)


by Dominick Donald (Hodder) ★★★★✩

Forget your standard police procedural that encourages you to gulp it down in one sitting: this debut will keep you absorbed for nights on end. Dick Bourton, a Korean War vet, is a copper on the Notting Hill beat in 1952, where a soot-soaked fog chokes all light from the streets during winter.

A killer is taking advantage, offering to help frail pensioners with breathing problems in their homes, but only Bourton is concerned by the spike in elderly people succumbing to the fog.

Dominick Donald combines a tangy depiction of ration-era London with a strong historical context featuring, among many vividly realised scenes, a chase through the Underground that will haunt your commute for weeks. (CLAIRE ALLFREE)