I want to draw attention to three crime novels which the authors have all set at times of unusual or extreme heat and where the weather forms part of the narrative. Quite a lot of books do this with storms and extreme snowfall but these are three I have read and enjoyed about when the weather is too hot.
The first is The Scorched Earth by Rachael Block. This is set in East Anglia where the bones of a body have been found in a graveyard. At first the bones are unidentified but it soon becomes apparent that they are probably those of a young man, Leo, who disappeared near the site where he and his brother Ben were camping. Ben is in prison for murder, although the body was never found, but if the bones have appeared is it possible that he is innocent ? His partner Ana whose family live in the local pub is convinced that he is but then scary things begin to happen to her. The police team have to ascertain what is happening and who killed Leo, and why.
This book is told from multiple points of view and is stronger for it. There are a few flashbacks too. You see the crime and its consequences from many points of view and you realise the secrets that some characters have which others don’t yet know. This is a well plotted novel and the author does an amazing job of tying all the loose ends together and showing how everything is connected – to do this there is more than one coincidence to swallow but what she does is so satisfying that I thought it was worth it. The book is set during a heatwave but this isn’t really part of the plot except the continual references to how hot it is.
Jane Harper’s crime novel The Dry is set in a small town in Australia where it hasn’t rained for over two years and the drought affects people’s livelihoods and their moods. Aaron Falk comes back to the town where he grew up for the funeral of the man who had been his best friend but who has died by suicide after murdering his wife and one child allegedly because of the effects of the drought. Aaron is not welcome in the town because of events that happened before he left when a young woman went missing but he unwillingly becomes involved in trying to find out what really happened both now and then.
The dryness and heat is palpable in this book. It drives behaviour and mood. It determines what the landscape looks like and the possibilities for the future. The author is excellent at portraying the weather as well as the small town environment. This is an excellent book and one of the best recent crime novels I have read.
Reginald Hill’s novel On Beulah Height is, however, one of the best crime novels I have ever read. It is set during a heatwave in Yorkshire where the hot weather is slowly drying up a reservoir and revealing the village that was drowned to make it fifteen years ago. When the village was evacuated and the reservoir built a number of small girls disappeared and local opinion was that they were murdered by a young man with some sort of learning disability who lived in the area but he died during the flooding and so he cannot be responsible for the disappearance of another small girl in the heatwave.
This book is one in the author’s series featuring Dalziel and Pascoe. Andy Dalziel was part of the original investigation and doesn’t like to think that they might have done anything wrong but it soon becomes obvious that the two series of events over fifteen years must be connected. The author shows how hard it is to try and work out what is happening in a closed community where people have secrets. He includes lots of different aspects to the investigation including details about the personal life of some of the detectives but none of this seems forced and the ending, when the revelation comes, seems to be inevitable. The heatwave and its slow exposure of the drowned village are very much part of the story and Reginald Hill is at his best as a storyteller and an observer of people and landscape. An exceptional crime novel with some brilliant writing.