Bravo! Kate Racculia’s nifty novel Bellweather Rhapsody (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, digital galley) has been likened to Agatha Christie meets The Shining meets Glee. Add in Racculia’s declared devotion to the late great Ellen Raskin, author of Newbery Medal-winning The Westing Game, and I am so there. There, in this case is the once-grand, now-shabby Bellweather Hotel in the Catskills, famous for a 1982 murder-suicide in Room 712, witnessed by reluctant 10-year-old bridesmaid Minnie Graves. Fifteen years later, troubled Minnie decides to confront the past by returning to the Bellweather, which is hosting a statewide music festival for talented teens. On hand are twins Alice and Rabbit Hatmaker; she a drama-queen vocalist, he a shy bassoonist with a secret. They’re chaperoned by former piano prodigy Natalie Wilson, who right off runs into her old nemesis, Viola Fabian, the festival’s acting director. Viola — think Glenn Close as Cruella de Vil — terrorizes everyone, including aging concierge Harold Hastings, Scottish conductor and former lover Fisher Brodie, and especially her 14-year-old daughter, Jill, a musical prodigy who is rooming with Alice. In Room 712.
Having set the stage, Racculia then orchestrates this cast’s interactions with aplomb, leading up to Jill’s mysterious disappearance from her and Alice’s room, as well as a raging snowstorm that cuts off the Bellweather from the outside world. The cavernous hotel with its domed penthouse swimming pool is rife with rumor, alive with the sound of music and rowdy, randy teens. Noting a full moon, Natalie wonders what will happen next. “The past was layered under the present like sheets of tissue paper, still visible if you focused your attention long enough to see below the surface.” Oh, my. Encore!
Mo Hayder’s seventh Jack Caffery tale Wolf (Grove Atlantic, digital gallery) is twisting and twisted, not for the faint of heart nor weak of stomach. Scientist Oliver Anchor-Ferrers is recovering from heart surgery at his Somerset country estate with his wife, grown daughter and their dog when they become hostages during a vicious home invasion. Meanwhile, Jack is taking a break from police work to further delve into the long-ago disappearance of his brother Ethan, believed to have been abducted by a pedophile ring. The enigmatic Walking Man, the drifter who has helped Jack previously, apparently has new information but first wants Jack to find the owners of a stray dog found with a “Help us” note tucked in its collar. Hayder builds suspense by cross-cutting the narratives and through the steady accretion of small details, some of which deal with a gruesome murder that rocked the wealthy Anchor-Ferrers years ago. Their present-day captors are all the more fear-inspiring because they are professional henchmen performing a job separate from their own ordinary lives. Torture R Us.
Charlaine Harris may have put Sookie Stackhouse and the Louisiana town of Bon Temps in her rearview mirror, but that doesn’t mean she’s left behind the paranormal. Midnight Crossroad (Penguin Berkley, purchased e-book) introduces us to the dusty, down-at-its-heels Texas hamlet of Midnight, where young online psychic Manfredo Bernardo (of the Harper Connelly series) sets up shop across the street from a large pawn shop. His new neighbors are an eclectic bunch, including an attractive witch and her watchful cat, a solitary reverend who tends over a little church and adjacent pet cemetery, the very pale downstairs tenant of the pawn shop, and a hard-working manager of the Gas ‘n’ Go and his teenage daughter and son. Used to being an outsider, Manfredo finds himself surprisingly at home. When a missing woman with secret connections to a hate group is found dead, the community bands together against outside threats, each resident contributing his or her particular talents. As always, Harris is adept at depicting the cozy pleasures and perils of small-town life. First in a trilogy. I’ll be back.
If you remember the ’60s, you know the era of peace, love and hard rock lasted well into the ’70s and that it often wasn’t peaceful. What I like best about Peter Robinson’s Children of the Revolution (Morrow, digital galley) is how well it evokes the youthful idealism and social unrest of that time when DCI Alan Banks investigates the death of a disgraced college lecturer. He discovers links to the victim’s college days 40 years ago and to Lady Veronica Chambers, former Marxist rebel turned popular romance novelist with political connections. Banks has his own memories and prejudices to deal with as he nudges toward retirement age. What I don’t like about the story is Banks romancing a woman younger than his children. Hard to believe and kinda creepy. Better the detective should follow George Clooney’s lead and find a more age-appropriate partner.
Booklovers will both delight and despair at Donna Leon’s new Guido Brunetti mystery By Its Cover (Grove Atlantic, digital galley), which spins on the defacing and theft of rare books. The director of a Venice library calls on Brunetti when the losses are discovered after the disappearance of an American professor who was a regular patron. Surprisingly, neither the library’s longtime security guard nor another constant patron, a reader of church history, know anything about the situation. Or so they say. Then the professor’s credentials are found to be faked, and a murder ups the ante. As usual, the book is Venice-centric with many asides to the city’s charms, as well as its corruption, its crumbling culture and its invasion by cruise-ship tourists. An abrupt ending, however, may leave readers wondering if a few pages have gone missing?!