S.J. Bolton can’t write new entries in her Lacey Flint series fast enough for me. The smart, damaged London police detective battled wits with a Jack-the-Ripper copycat and personal demons in Now You See Me, then went undercover as a Cambridge student in the harrowing Dead Scared. The spring e-book novella If Snow Hadn’t Fallen (St. Martin’s Press, purchased) found her witnessing a murder while off-duty, proving once again that Lacey takes crime to heart. Even though she is on leave in Lost (St. Martin’s, purchased e-book), nursing emotional and physical wounds, a series of grisly killings of young boys hits close to home. Her 10-year-old neighbor Barney fancies himself a detective only to discover a fearful secret about the “vampire” stalking his neighborhood. Lacey’s close relationship with a convicted killer also gives her insight into the case, but the atmospheric, heart-stopping narrative has as many red herrings as blood-drained bodies. Lost left me breathless — and wanting more.
Remember Dominick Dunne’s A Season in Purgatory, where a friend helps the scion of a powerful family cover up a murder? Walter Walker’s involving Crime of Privilege (Ballantine, digital galley) reminds me of Dunne’s novels on the crimes of the rich and famous, but Walker writes with the depth of Scott Turow and his plot conflates several Kennedyesque-scandals into an on-going cover-up/power trip. In 1996, narrator George Becket is on spring break when he witnesses a sexual assault in the Palm Beach mansion of powerful, liberal Senator Gregory and agrees to stay silent. Twelve years later, he’s an assistant district attorney on Cape Cod, thanks to the Gregory family connections, but his career has hardly flourished; the Palm Beach victim’s family has made sure of that. Guilt-haunted, weak-willed George gets a chance at redemption when he re-opens the investigation into the murder of a local girl who may have partied with the Gregory heirs. Corruption and hypocrisy abound in the tangled storyline as George tracks witnesses hither and yon. Loyalties are divided, friendships betrayed, lives are threatened. It’s as juicy as any tabloid tale, but you won’t be ashamed to be seen reading it.
Politics, power and murder also mingle in NPR correspondent Mary Louise Kelly’s first thriller Anonymous Sources (Gallery Books, digital galley), but so does nuclear terrorism. The results are decidedly mixed as Kelly intersperses ambitious reporter Alexandra James’ snappy first-person narrative with chapters told from the perspective of assorted characters, including a cop, a newspaper editor, a British graduate student with a secret life, a terrorist on the move, a CIA functionary, a Pakistani professor. The mysterious death of a Harvard grad who had been studying in England and whose father is a high-up D.C. insider starts things rolling, and the action moves from Boston to Cambridge, England and London, and back across the pond to Washington. A terrific scene has Alex targeted by an assassin on board a plane, and there’s a nail-biting search for a bomb in the White House. Kelly knows her stuff, from lost Burberrys to suspect banana shipments, but the erratic pacing and multiple perspectives undercut the suspense. Anonymous Sources often reads like a summer action flick, as produced and directed by Kelly.
Alafair Burke is such a pro. In her ninth novel and second stand-alone, If You Were Here (HarperCollins, digital galley), she draws on her experiences as a writer and attorney to craft an intricate story of one woman’s persistence to find the truth both present and past. A former DA, McKenna Jordan now writes long features for a magazine and enjoys the good life in New York with her husband Patrick, a West Point grad handling museum security. Then an unidentified woman hauls a teen from certain death on the subway tracks, and McKenna thinks she recognizes her old friend Susan from grainy cell-phone footage. But Susan, another West Pointer, took off for parts unknown 10 years ago, presumably to get away from her domineering family of overachievers. McKenna brushes away doubts like so many flies and stubbornly hurdles numerous obstacles erected by the police, her editors, her former friends at the DA’s office and Susan’s family. Readers need to pay attention or risk tripping over the intertwining storylines.
Carolyn Hart is expert at rounding up suspects in Christie-like puzzle plots and she sure kept me guessing whodunnit in Dead, White and Blue (Penguin, library hardcover), the spirited 23rd book in the Death on Demand series. Bookstore owner Annie Darling and her inquiry agent husband Max once again tackle crime on the South Carolina resort island of Broward’s Rock when a femme fatale trophy wife goes missing after a holiday dance at the country club. Of course, no one will actually admit that vixen Vera has disappeared, not even when a possible witness is pulled out of the ocean by a shrimp trawler. The Darlings’ trio of irregular assistants Skype in from a yacht with suggestions that eventually lead to a full-scale reenactment of Vera’s last dance so as to catch a killer.
A famous German crime writer, Charlotte Link makes her American debut with the stellar The Other Child (Pegasus, digital galley), set in an English seaside village. Somehow the murder of a university student and the unexpected death of an elderly woman are linked not only to one another but also to events during the London Blitz. Among the refugees evacuated to the countryside back then were a schoolgirl with an unhappy home life and a neighbor boy whose family died in the bombing. Detective Valerie Almond only gradually becomes aware of the secrets buried in the past, but readers follow hints in a dead woman’s e-mails and writings. Link teases out this modern Gothic tale in accomplished Ruth Rendell fashion, while her unsettling plot recalls Mo Hayder.