Tuesday, August 1, 2023

Books: New Fiction From Sabine Durrant & Gillian McAllister


Sun Damage

By Sabine Durrant

Harper Paperbacks/HarperCollins Publishers; paperback, 368 pages; $18.99; available today, Tuesday, August 1st

Sabine Durrant is a former assistant editor of The Guardian and a former literary editor of the Sunday Times, and her feature writing has appeared in many British national newspapers and magazines, including writing profiles for the Sunday Telegraph. She is the author of a variety of books, including Under Your Skin, Lie With Me, and Finders, Keepers.

The latest novel from Durrant is a physchological thriller that follows nine guests as they arrive at a luxury vacation home, Domaine du Colombier, in a tiny village in Provence, France. Each guest brings designer luggage and devastating secrets, with nowhere to hide.

All the guests know each other well, except for Lulu, the young woman hired to cater their holiday. Lulu had a bit of drama of her own while on vacation, the fallout of which is just beginning to be understood. It's clear that the woman in the kitchen isn't exactly  the woman the group thought they hired. 

In this excerpt, Durrant introduces Lulu: "It was the English voice that caught our attention - the sub schoolgirl French, grappling with an order for a demi-carafe. We were close to the bar as usual: you tend to pick up most there. She was at a table in full sun - rookie mistake, one of her shoulders already going red. Fresh off the plane, always a bonus. A British Airways tag hung from the leather straps of her powder blue Longchamp bag (genuine logo, I'd checked), and the paperback in front of her, spine unbroken, was part of a three-for-two airport deal.

What other tells? New mani-pedi - the neon pink all the posh Brits were wearing that year - and on the sand next to her, a brand-new sarong, still furled in its store-packaged ribbon. Also present: signs of the mild agitation people display on the first day of a holiday, an eagerness coupled with a daunting sense of vacancy, of a big hole waiting to be filled. When Sean went to the bathroom, I kept her in my line of vision as she scrolled through her phone, then held it up, small lips pursed, for a selfie.

'Debit card: L. Fletcher Davies,' Sean murmured, his chair sinking a little into the sand as he slipped back into his seat. 'Address on luggage: 11a Stanley Terrace, W11.'

'Lulu,' I countered. I couldn't help myself. The four letters were strung in gold on a chain around her neck.

He smiled, pleased with me, then jerked his chin at my phone, saying time to get trawling.

I looked at him: Really?

I wish I could say it was conscience that initially held me back, or at the very least foreboding. But I'd be lying. We shouldn't even have been there. The 'Picasso' napkin ploy had gone to plan, and Sainte-Cecile-sur-Mer would have been two days behind us. Except I'd gotten ill - some kind of virus that left me wasted and bedridden in the hotel. It was searingly hot. Music, a soft jazz, swam against the murmur and shuffle of waves. San slid silkily between my bare toes. I wrinkled my nose, one shoulder raised in a reluctant shrug. But I'd gotten the mood wrong. His smile had gone. 'Ali,' he said, and I could feel the cold of him like steel across my cheek.

It wasn't the money. There was enough in the hotel safe to get us to where we wanted, even - a new, dangerous thought - go our separate ways. No, my hesitation was the problem; he'd taken it personally. He liked us to be in sync. Two parts of the same smoothly functioning machine.

And, maybe, he was right. She was the perfect mark. Tourists usually are. The south of France may not be India, where eighty rupees pass through a person's fingers as easily as eight, and where you could say I'd become who I was. But a fish out of water is a fish out of water whatever water it's out of. Isolation makes mugs of us all. We all make our worst decisions when we have a lot on our mind."

Just Another Missing Person

By Gillian McAllister

William Morrow; hardcover, 384 pages; $30.00; available today, Tuesday, August 1st

Gillian McAllister is the New York Times bestselling author of Reese's Book Club Pick Wrong Place Wrong Time, Everything by the Truth, The Choice, The Good Sister, The Evidence Against You, How to Disappear, and the Richard & Judy Book Club selection That Night. She is the creator and co-host of the popular Honest Authors podcast. She graduated with an English degree before working as a lawyer, and now lives and writes full-time in Birmingham, England. 

Just Another Missing Person is the new twisty thriller from McAllister, and it is about Julia, a detective in Portishead, England, who has a dark secret. 

A year ago, Julia risked the morality of her job to protect her beloved daughter, Genevieve. It was a selfless yet selfish act she's been trying to move on and hide from ever since. 

Julia receives a call that a young woman named Olivia Johnson has gone missing, and she immediately gets started on the case, calling family and housemates, tracking last known whereabouts, and analyzing surveillance tapes - and that's assuming it's a normal missing person's case. 

The last footage of Olivia shows her walking into a no-outlet alleyway, and never coming out. How could someone just vanish into thin air? 

Julia is puzzled and in need of a fresh headspace, and she heads home. While driving, it's apparent that she isn't alone. Through her rearview mirror, her eyes meet another set of eyes piercing out from a balaclava. 

The man in Julia's backseat pulls out the mostly damning weapon of all, that he knows her secret. Julia is told that she must frame the disappearance and murder of Olivia Johnson on a man named Mathew James or else she'll be exposed by him.

Julia is put in an impossible moral dilemma, having to choose between framing a possibly innocent man or risk her daughter's well-being. With this inescapable threat weighing over her, how far is she willing to be pushed?

McAllister writes in this excerpt: "Julia has always been too soft to be a police officer. She is thinking this is as she hurries into the station, ready to brief the team, but stopping to stare at an old informant of hers, Price, who Julia has always been too fond of. He is sitting on one of the benches, his features arranged in a surprised expression, paused as if someone's stopped the universe for just a second.

She is about to ask him what he's doing here. She can't help it; it's shot through her, no matter how many other tasks she has on. Cut Julia, and she bleeds curiosity for those she cares about, which is everyone.

Price has his legs crossed at the ankles, an arm slung across the backs of the metal chairs, ostensibly at home here, but Julia knows he will be afraid. Of course he is: he trades on information - the most dangerous of commodities.

He has auburn hair that he gels so thickly it darkens the red to inconspicuous brown. Freckles. Skin that burns and blushes easily. He's Scottish, originally from Glasgow, never lost the accent, despite moving down here twenty years ago, when he was seventeen.

'What're you in for?' she asks him, standing opposite him in the empty foyer.  It smells of industrial cleaning wax and the stale dinners they serve the accused; many contain meat that somehow doesn't need to be refrigerated and has a use-by date of several years' time.

Most of the lights have popped off. Julia finds the station during those down times impossibly romantic, like it's an out-of-hours museum only she has access to, a still from a movie that she may wander around, just her.

'This and that,' he says. He's smart, Price, strategic; he won't be telling her for a reason.

'Meaning?' she asks. Price is hardly ever interviewed: he informs only to her. Quick, slippery, and funny, too, but never under arrest. Almost all of Julia's dealings with him have been in the outside world.

The custody sergeant arrives with a single cup of station coffee. Julia flicks her gaze to it. 'Just made one for you, then?' she says. The sergeant ignores her.

She looks back at Price, then sighs again as she walks toward the back office, stopping at the kitchen. She makes a tea, three sugars, loads of milk, partially to cool it down to make it less of a risk - steaming-hot tea is not allowed in custody, because it is a weapon. The cup warms her fingers. She's tempted to down it, has had one drink all day, in Nando's, but she doesn't. She has too much to do. She has to find out what's going on with Price. She wants to follow up on the murderer in the restaurant. And then, the main thing: it looks like she has to find a missing woman.

Price's hand is already extended out to her as she arrives back with it. 'Ohhh, miss,' he says to her, delighted. He sips it. 'The sugars as well. I owe you a tip. What's ten percent of nothing?' He barks a laugh out. He's acerbic, but one thing is for sure: if their roles were reversed, he, too, would get her tea.

She smiles and avoids the gaze of the custody sergeant. Better to be judged by a colleague for over-familiarity than to lie awake tonight thinking about Price and whether he's had a hot drink yet that day, that week. There is nothing Julia does better than obsess in the middle of the night. And, in fact, in the middle of the day, too.

'Good luck, okay?' she says to him. He raises the cup to her in a silent toast.

As she gets back to her office, before briefing the team, she checks on the murderer's file. It was John, John Gibbons. She gets a security guard to verify that he's still inside, HMP Bristol. It must have been somebody else. Julia cups her face in her hands, two jobs down, one to go, at pushing eight o'clock at night, and thinks about working in a supermarket. But, the thing is, she wouldn't love anything else. Not like she loves this. And nobody can have a balanced relationship with something they love."

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