I can’t remember. Is the dead body encased in ice at the beginning of John Harvey’s Good Bait, or is it in Sara J. Henry’s A Cold and Lonely Place? Oh, yes, it’s in both, although not, of course, the same frozen corpse.
In Good Bait (Pegasus, digital galley via NetGalley)), the discovery of the body of a Moldavan teenager on Hampshire Heath jumpstarts DCI Karen Shields’ homicide investigation, which will eventually tie into Cornwall detective Trever Cordon’s search for a missing prostitute.
Both cases, which alternate by chapter, are confusing, and Cordon’s strains credibility. Still, the deft stand-alone from Harvey is especially strong in its characterizations; it’s also the third novel I’ve read in a month (after David Baldacci’s The Innocent and Peter Robinson’s Waiting in the Dark) dealing with human trafficking. Without realizing it, the writers are upping each other when it comes to horrific details.
Henry’s A Cold and Lonely Place (Crown, digital galley via NetGalley) is the sequel to her compulsively readable Learning to Swim, which introduced free-lance reporter Troy Chase. Here, Troy, who lives in Lake Placid, is covering the preparation for the Winter Ice Carnival at Saranac Lake when the ice cutters see the shadow of a man underneath the ice. Troy recognizes Tobin Winslow, the frat-boy slacker boyfriend of her roommate, Jessamyn, who had made a habit of dropping in and out of town and Jessamyn’s life. Was his death an accident, suicide or murder?
Partly to help Jessamyn, and then Troy’s sister, as well as to write an investigative story, Troy delves into the secret lives of Tobin and his wealthy family. A long-ago drowning suggests a connection, but so do events in Lake Placid with its transient population of snow jocks and Olympics trainees.
Henry writes with the crispness of a journalist, and her appealing characters (some returning from her first novel) and the well-drawn atmosphere make up for a rather undernourished plot. I want more of Troy, her faithful dog and a certain out-of-town detective.
“History is like the kitchen sink,” observes a character in Alan Bradley’s Speaking from among the Bones (Random House, digital galley via NetGalley). “Everything goes round and round until, eventually, sooner or later, most of it goes down the waste pipe. Things are forgotten. Things are mislaid. Things are covered up. Sometimes, it’s simply a matter of neglect.”
Nothing would ever be lost if it were up to precocious 11-year-old Flavia de Luce, who cooks up poisons in her late uncle’s lab in her ancestral home Buckshaw and who wheels around her 1950s English village on a bicycle named Gladys, digging up mysteries at every turn. In her fifth outing, Flavia’s actual digging reveals an underground tunnel leading to a burial vault beneath the village church. It also leads to one of the book’s funniest scenes — when muddy Flavia rises from a grave in the churchyard and frightens the vicar’s wife. Of course, she has a good excuse for being there, as she hopes to discover who killed the church organist and perhaps recover a valuable jewel from an ancient bishop’s grave, which may keep Buckshaw from bankruptcy.
Oh, Flavia, she’s so delightfully sneaky, shivering with delight when Inspector Hewitt tells her that there are dangerous killers on the loose, “the words which every amateur sleuth lives in eternal hope of hearing.” No surprise she was sacked from the Girl Guides “for having an excess of high spirits.” This high-spirited tale, though, offers quite a few surprises, including new information about Flavia’s missing mother, Harriet. More, please.