THE SWIMMERS by Chloe Lane (Gallic £12.99, 208pp)
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THE SWIMMERS by Chloe Lane (Gallic £12.99, 208pp)

THE SWIMMERS by Chloe Lane (Gallic £12.99, 208pp)

THE SWIMMERS

by Chloe Lane (Gallic £12.99, 208pp) 

In the opening pages of this brilliant New Zealand black comedy, a goat is spotted dangling from a tree by its horns. It’s shrieking and bucking a good foot from the ground. 

Spiky young heroine, Erin, doesn’t want to get involved. But her Aunty Wynn insists that they rescue it. Moments after they’ve freed the goat, Wynn shocks Erin with the news that her terminally ill mother would like them to help her die in a few days’ time. 

But assisted dying is illegal in New Zealand. So the two women ask an eccentric local vet for the fatal drugs. 

There are dark laughs and moments of tenderness as their increasingly surreal plans wobble off course. There’s a theft, a punch and a weird sexual encounter. Family ties buckle and bend. Lane’s unsentimental prose nails the strange enormity and mundanity of love and death with perfect piquancy.

BLACK MAMBA by William Friend (Atlantic £12.99, 320pp)

BLACK MAMBA by William Friend (Atlantic £12.99, 320pp)

BLACK MAMBA

by William Friend (Atlantic £12.99, 320pp) 

‘Daddy, there’s a man in our room…’ whisper Alfie’s tiny twin daughters, night after night. They insist a strange man keeps materialising beside their bed. But Alfie’s wife has recently died in mysterious circumstances. It’s not surprising that the couple’s grieving children are having nightmares. 

When the girls claim to have become friends with their nocturnal intruder, Alfie’s psychologist sister-in-law, Julia, gets worried. Though imaginary friends are a common coping mechanism, it’s very unusual for little girls to pretend a grown man is sharing their bath and bed times. 

As she struggles to make sense of it, she’s forced to confront both her family’s troubled past and her growing attraction to Alfie. 

William Friend has great fun playing with classic horror tropes as the story develops, teasing readers with hints of twin telepathy, seances and a sinister cellar. It’s all a little hokey. But readers will enjoy sifting the supernatural from the psychological explanations, while the suspense slips slow coils around them.

ISLANDERS by Cathy Thomas (Virago £14.99, 224pp)

ISLANDERS by Cathy Thomas (Virago £14.99, 224pp)

ISLANDERS 

by Cathy Thomas (Virago £14.99, 224pp) 

Cathy Thomas’s witty, gritty tale of Guernsey life starts in a flurry of boozy teenage sex outside a chip shop in 2000. A rowdy bunch of lads have cider, rum and hotdogs in the boot of a Ford Fiesta. They’re looking forward to a wild night out. 

The book follows the group all the way into 2019, in a sequence of bittersweet stories exploring their dreams, disappointments and betrayals. Like the seagulls that circle over Port Soif, they squabble and squeal. 

A few get to soar away to brighter horizons. A school bully grows up to join the police, wearing black bras under her white blouse and walking down the streets ‘with a wink in her arse’. A poetic portrait of Guernsey’s grubby underside. 

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