This month's selection of leisure reading, chosen by the Journal's book review editor

An Officer and A Spy

Robert Harris (Arrow: £7.99; e-book £3.49)

In this fast paced reconstruction of the Dreyfus affair, Harris retells – albeit with a little artistic licence – arguably one of the greatest miscarriages of justice. Dreyfus, the French army officer, a Jew from the much disputed Alsace region, was accused of spying for the Germans, only 20 years after the Prussian led assault on France in the 1870 conflict, which in itself saw the official unification by the German State Princes of the German state in the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles on 18 January 1871.

The events are told through the eyes of George Picquart, head of counter espionage, who identified another French officer, Esterhazy, as the source of the treacherous letters. The cast of characters includes Emile Zola and Clemenceau, the latter of whom became French Premier. The author brings to light, and life, the determination of the French Government and military to maintain Dreyfus's guilt, despite the contrary evidence, while Dreyfus had been publicly humiliated and spent five solitary years on Devil's Island under close and unnecessary guard, as well as the efforts made – to their own considerable cost – by Picquart and others to establish and bring to public attention the true position. A worthy read.

The Girl with a Clock for a Heart

Peter Swanson (Faber & Faber: £12.99; e-book £3.56)

“It was like I had a secret disease or there was this clock inside of me, ticking like a heart, and at any minute the alarm would go off”.

I have a considerable dislike of reviews where the plot, or considerable parts of it, are revealed. I have long since avoided that part of the Scotsman newspaper for just such a reason. But that rule of non-disclosure, laudable though it be, does pose problems when it comes to reviewing a psychological thriller such as this.

George Foss is approaching 40. His life is not unhappy, but is going nowhere terribly quickly. Friday night sees him leave his office in Boston to meet his long term on-off girlfriend in their local bar. And there the story starts. Well, yes and no. That is indeed chapter 1, but the story bounces, like a well directed pinball, from Boston to Connecticut to Florida, then beyond. The cast of characters includes Liana, Audrey, Jane and Irene. Have you counted four? Count again. It includes Gerald, two Donnies, Bernie and Dale. If you made that five, are you sure? It moves at a crackling pace over a 20 year time span.

You will have gathered that not all is as it seems, from the introduction on p 3 of the glamorous Liana, to the taut conclusion, some 300 breathless pages later. Another twist which I expect to be revealed is that Peter Swanson is simply a nom de plume for an expert practitioner in the field (think Robert Galbraith/JK Rowling). For by far the biggest surprise is to learn that this is a debut.

Put simply, this novel is as good as it gets of this type. Peter Swanson’s next book, The Kind Worth Killing, is due for publication in January 2015. Place your order now. If it is half as good as The Girl with a Clock for a Heart, it will still be an exceptional read.

In the Shadow of the Hill

Helen Forbes (ThunderPoint Publishing: £9.99; e-book £4.99)

This is a well written debut with a cast of characters, a solid murder mystery with a very unexpected and unforeseen concluding twist, which describes both the landscape and community of the Western Isles with a sharp, observant acuity.

An elderly woman is found murdered in a tenement in a somewhat rough and down-at-heel part of Inverness. The officer charged with the investigation was born on Harris but brought up in Inverness, now living in Nairn, who has a tense relationship with his mother. As the story unfolds there are increasing insights into previous events and life in Harris. The story is populated by a wide cast of characters, all believably written. The tension is nicely built up and the ending is utterly unexpected. A great debut.

Troubled Waters

Gillian Galbraith (Polygon: £14.99; e-book £5.99)

This is the sixth outing for Gillian Galbraith's Alice Rice. The story opens with a young girl disappearing from the rear of a car. Two bodies are washed up, one in the Forth, the other Belhaven. The two stories run parallel throughout the book. Is there a connection? All becomes clear as the story develops. Alongside her professional duties, Alice is coming to terms with the loss of her partner, whose best friend is Father Vincent Ross, the main character in Galbraith's recently published The Good Priest. While the plot is not as well developed this time, the characters are well written and there is a good pace as the story unfolds and we begin to form a view to solve the mystery. An enjoyable read.

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