Iain Ryan’s previous noir outing, The Student, featured a gormless, unlikeable character in an academic setting, thrust down a violent rabbit hole “The Spiral” has that much in common with its predecessor, only this time our protagonist Erma is a lecturer adept at martial arts and researching choose-your-own-adventure novels. After a colleague shoots her twice, nearly killing her, and then dies, Erma is left with unanswered questions that spur a twisting, semi-surreal plot that unfolds, slowly at first, before plunging into a classic noir hellishness. Erma is viscerally rendered; I disliked her from the get-go but was gripped by a desire to see her triumph against terrible odds. The author is a savagely realistic stylist, notable for pungent dialogue. The book’s blurb mentions Mullholland Drive; a seemingly bizarre feature is a parallel narrative inside a computer game, but even this feature resolves itself intelligently. Overall, The Spiral is a coruscating, white-knuckle adventure in adept hands, like a plunge into an Arctic ice hole.