Laura Wilson on Noir by Robert Coover | Guns of Brixton by Mark Timlin | Cut Adrift by Chris Simms | Witness the Night by Kishwar Desai

Noir, by Robert Coover (Duckworth Overlook, £12.99)

American post-modernist writer Coover has set his sights on the detective novel. Second person narration aside, the story begins conventionally enough when a mysterious veiled woman enters the office of Philip M Noir and asks him to find out who killed her husband. After this, you tend to become confused when the plot disappears up itself and comes out the other end as Coover self-consciously addresses the devices of fiction and undermines the narrative, but that’s the thing about meta-fiction. It’s quite funny, so you go along with it and are pleased to find yourself recognising lots of references (and not just to Raymond Chandler). At the finish, you scratch your head a bit before deciding that this book will appeal most to (a) existing Coover aficionados and (b) people who took the post-modern lit option when they studied English at university and enjoyed it because it made them feel clever.

Guns of Brixton, by Mark Timlin (Max Crime, £7.99)

There are a hell of a lot of weapons in this South London gangster saga, which spans 1982 to 2004. Originally published as Answers from the Grave in 2004, but now with a different ending, it’s the tale of a dying Godfather and his adopted son, the offspring of a former partner in villainy who changed sides to become a cop and was gunned down during a botched bank job. With altogether more heft and complexity than this author’s highly entertaining Sharman series, Guns of Brixton is a revenge story with a Romeo and Juliet sub-plot and plenty of cars, guns and girls along the way. Set-pieces are Timlin’s greatest strength – there are gun battles so vivid that you can almost feel the bullets whistling past your ears – but, with the tension beautifully maintained throughout, it’s an exhilarating, high-octane read.

Cut Adrift, by Chris Simms (Orion, £18.99)

Well-researched, pacey and engaging, the sixth DI Jon Spicer novel from Manchester-based writer Simms is well up to his usual high standard. This time, Spicer’s investigation of the vicious slaying of a Russian asylum-seeker takes an abrupt left-turn when the man’s identity turns out to be false. The only thing Spicer knows for sure is that the man was found drifting off the British coast in a small boat, but before he can take the case any further, more asylum-seekers are killed in the same manner. Meanwhile, a series of messages stuffed inside rubber ducks are washed up on British beaches, revealing the plight of a group of refugees trapped on a makeshift raft. The destiny of the writer provides as much fuel for tension as the investigation itself, and, while the plot relies on a fairly big dollop of coincidence, this is more than compensated for by the wonderfully dramatic ending.

Witness the Night, by Kishwar Desai (Beautiful Books, £7.99)

Social justice campaigner Desai’s debut novel is very much an issue-based book, the issue being “gendercide” and, for those girls who survive birth, oppression in Indian society. Set in Punjab, Witness the Night begins when 14-year-old Durga is found beaten and tied to a bed inside a house which contains 13 butchered corpses. Social worker Simran Singh, independent and scandalously untraditional in her behaviour, is tasked with getting the mute and traumatised girl, who is suspected of murdering her relatives, to talk. Singh finds a web of deceit and corruption as she uncovers the way in which a family has sacrificed its female members in order to preserve status. There’s a bit too much theorising, but this sad and thought-provoking tale is certainly worth the read.

Laura Wilson’s An Empty Death is published by Orion. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds