Hypothermia as murder weapon. Young Cardiff detective Fiona Griffiths almost gets iced in Love Story, with Murders (Random House, digital galley), Harry Bingham’s crafty follow-up to Talking to the Dead, one of my favorite crime novels from last year. This procedural is more complex as narrator Fiona details her part in investigating two grisly murders, dubbed “Operation Stir-fry” by her colleagues (although not within hearing of frosty DCI Rhiannon Watkins). Soon after Fiona discovers well-preserved bits and pieces of university student Mary Langton, missing for five years, very fresh parts of engineering lecturer Ali-el Khalifi begin turning up. Fiona helps the other detectives look for links between the victims, even as she spies a connection to an inept drug smuggler and a local business with foreign contacts.
But that’s only half of it. Bingham’s quite the plotter, but it’s Fiona, who describes herself as the “more-than-slightly crazy daughter of one of Wale’s best-known criminals,” who really keeps things interesting. As a teenager, she spent two years wrestling with a rare mental illness that made her think she was dead. Ten years on, she struggles to be “normal” — fixing dinner for her boyfriend, going shopping with her younger sister — but she still has an affinity for the dead, sometimes uncertain of reality. She also is continuing to look into her own past; she was abandoned as a toddler in a parked Jaguar belonging to the man who adopted her. And yes, she knows he was once a crime boss, arrested several times but never convicted. Digging into her past means digging up his. To be continued, thank goodness.
Pirio Kasparov makes for another unconventional sleuth and narrator in Elisabeth Elo’s chilly North of Boston (Pamela Dorman/Viking). Pirio, heir to a high-end perfume business started by her Russian immigrant parents, has become known as “the swimmer” after surviving several hours in the icy Atlantic after her friend Ned’s lobster boat is run over by a freighter. Ned is presumed drowned, and it’s such a wonder that Pirio didn’t die that the Navy recruits her for research on surviving extreme cold. Meanwhile, Pirio has suspicions that the collision was no accident, and an investigative reporter has similar ideas. He’s been asking questions of Ned’s fishing buddies at the company Ocean Catch, as well as Pirio’s alcoholic friend Thomasina, who has a young son with Ned. Soon Pirio goes to sea again on a giant fishing trawler, and the story morphs into a suspenseful environmental thriller in Canada’s Baffin Bay. Battling bad guys and the elements, Pirio also discovers family secrets on an island remembered from childhood.
William Shaw’s keenly observed She’s Leaving Home (Little, Brown, digital galley) takes its title from a Beatles song, which is apropos considering its setting, 1968 swinging London. Detective sergeant Cathal “Paddy” Breen is bemused: “It was as if some kind of coup had taken place. The young and the beautiful had seized power. They had their own TV programs, their own radio stations, their own shops, their own language. In his early thirties, Breen felt cheated. Jealous even.”
Probationary constable Helen Tozer, 10 years younger, is Breen’s brash opposite, but the two are reluctantly paired investigating the murder of an unidentified young woman near Abbey Road and the Beatles’ recording studio. The two question the neighborhood’s residents, including a nosy shrew, an elderly widower and an African surgeon, as well as the Beatles groupies hanging around for a glimpse of George or Paul. Tozer is a George-girl and surprises stolid Breen with her pop culture knowledge. Still, their search eventually takes them to Devon and Cornwall to find out why the dead girl left home and clues to her killer.
Andrea Gillies’ first novel The White Lie (Houghton Mifflin, digital galley) is both a country-house saga and literary mystery, perfect for fans of Gosford Park. Michael Salter is 19 when he vanishes from the family estate in the Scottish highlands. His young aunt Ursula, emotionally stunted since a childhood tragedy, claims she has drowned Michael in the loch, but the family closes ranks, telling the villagers that fatherless Michael has merely gone away. Why the white lie? Perhaps because “the family has had more than its share of disasters, of premature deaths, one generation after another, such that people quite routinely refer to the power of the Salter curse.”
By the way, that’s Michael talking, or rather his ghost, 14 years after the incident at the loch. Able to review his past as well as “cinematic visitations” of other relatives’ memories before he was born, Michael makes for a beguiling narrator as he moves back and forth in time delving into the Salters’ secret history. Trust me. It works because Gillies writes beautifully, with elegant confidence.
Hard to believe, but Cynthia Harrod-Eagles’ Hard Going (Severn House, digital galley) is the 16th entry in her estimable procedural series featuring London police detective Bill Slider. Seems like only yesterday that Slider was courting musician Joanna on the sly; now they’re embracing domestic bliss with a child. But once again, the job interferes with family when Slider and sidekick Atherton are called out when a retired solicitor noted for his philanthropy is bashed over the head. They discover that the victim once successfully defended a man charged as a child molester, and death threats ensued. Perhaps, though, the answer lies closer to home and a colorful cleaning woman with criminal connections. There’s also an ex-wife in the background. Slider and company sort it all out in fine fashion.