If you like your thrillers to come with a liberal helping of the macabre, then the murky, dystopian world of Jonathan Moore’s gripping new mystery will soon have you seeking out the back numbers in this top-notch series.
The Night Market is the final instalment of a loose trilogy which has centred on San Francisco and is described by the author as ‘a three-panel painting’ of this vibrant cosmopolitan city. Each brilliantly conceived story in an entertaining collection can be read as a standalone and each has been created from a different genre.
Moore, an attorney who lives in Hawaii, kicked off with The Poison Artist, a dark psychological thriller, moved on into The Dark Room, a cracking police procedural, and now we visit The Night Market, a terrifyingly plausible spine-chiller set in a near-futuristic world.
The masterfully plotted story centres on a homicide detective operating in a fast decaying San Francisco in which buildings are crumbling, climate change brings constant rain, youngsters trade bricks for day-old bread, drones buzz ominously overhead and rampant consumerism has corrupted society.
Inspector Ross Carver is at work in his home city, a place where bulldozers are making way for autonomous shopping centres, driverless delivery trucks will glide on shiny pavements, and people will become virtually redundant.
When he and his partner, Inspector Cleve Jenner, are called to a crime scene in one of the city’s last luxury homes, they find a dead man on the floor. His body is covered by a grey mossy film, ‘a carpet of it spread across a rot-shrunken log.’ The substance is eating through the victim’s skin.
Before Carver can identify it, six FBI agents burst in and quickly remove the two detectives from the premises. They are pushed into a decontamination trailer outside, forced to drink a noxious liquid that sends them into seizures, and then both shocked into unconsciousness.
Two days later Carver wakes in his bed at home to find his neighbour, Mia Westcott – an attractive young woman he barely knows – reading aloud to him. He can’t remember the crime scene or how he got home, and he has no idea what has happened to him.
Mia says she saw him being carried into their building by plain clothes police officers who told her he had been poisoned. Carver doesn’t really know this woman and has no way of disproving her, but his gut instinct tells him that he must keep her close.
As he works to find out what really happened in those lost days, Carver starts to realise that he is entangled in a web of conspiracy that spans the whole nation. And Mia may know a lot more than she is letting on….
Moore sets up an intriguing and compelling game of cat-and-mouse in this breathtakingly dark and gritty thriller which imagines a city so consumed by consumerism that people’s desire for material goods has become ‘the crushing need a drowning man has for another breath.’
The gap between rich and poor is a gaping chasm and a sense of menace pervades every home and every street. Into this maelstrom, Moore throws in a dogged detective battling unseen enemies and determined to discover the truth behind an increasingly creepy conspiracy.
With its fast-paced action, nihilistic backdrop and exquisitely unsettling twist in the tail, The Night Market is a stunning last chapter to this powerful and stylish trilogy.
(Orion, trade paperback, £13.99)