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Archive for the ‘Writing and Reading’ Category

I spy a new novel by Kate Atkinson — Transcription (Little Brown, digital galley). Even if her name wasn’t on the cover, the tricksy writing style and off-center characters are so Atkinsonian. The setting — World War II London and after — is also familiar from Life After Life and A God in Ruins. But mostly it’s the sly subversion of genre expectations and unexpected plotting, as in the Jackson Brodie crime novels (Case Histories, etc.). Atkinson has her own GPS and trusts us to follow her lead; it’s so like her to start at the end. In 1981 London, a 60something woman is struck by a car while crossing the street, closing her eyes  as she murmurs, “This England.”

The story then neatly shuttles back and forth between 1950, when Juliet Armstrong is working as a BBC radio producer, and 1940, when she is an 18-year-old MI5 secretary transcribing audio recordings of German sympathizers who think they are talking to an undercover Gestapo agent. Actually, owlish Mr. Toby — picture Alan Guinness as George Smiley — works for MI5, which is why it’s so strange in 1950 that he denies knowing Juliet when she hails him in the park. Juliet begins noticing other oddities at the BBC that appear connected to her past. In addition to her transcription work in Dolphin Square during the war, she also spied on a society matron, learning undercover tradecraft and that “actions have consequences.”

Still, Atkinson is as devious as any secret agent, and nothing, then and now, is quite what it seems. Her touch is light, ironic, as she unfolds Juliet’s transformation from a naive teen with a crush on her gay boss to a seasoned pro who allows her flat to be used as a safe house after the war. As always, the historical aspects are well-researched — be sure to read the afterword — and if Juliet remains something of an enigma, isn’t that in the way of spies, hiding true identities, blending in? I read Transcription straight through, caught my breath, shook my head, then started again at the beginning disguised as the end.

Unsheltered (HarperCollins, digital galley) is the perfect title for Barbara Kingsolver’s timely and involving new novel, a tale of two families living in uncertain times and in the same house a century and half apart. In 2016, the brick house at the corner of Plum and Vine in the New Jersey town of Vineland is falling apart. Willa Knox, an out-of-work magazine journalist, and her college professor husband, Iano Tavoularis, who lost his tenured job when his college closed, have moved into the inherited house with their grown daughter Tig and Iano’s ailing father Nick. It’s Willa who gets the bad news about the leaking roof and faulty foundation while Iano’s at his new job as an adjunct teacher at a nearby college. Not long after, there’s more bad news when son Zeke and his infant son must also move in the deteriorating structure. Hoping that the house has some historic significance and would qualify for a grant for necessary repairs, Willa begins researching its history in between changing diapers and taking cantankerous Nick to the doctor.

In the 1870s, the house on the corner is falling apart, too, because of mistakes made during construction. Science teacher Thatcher Greenwood has recently moved into the home with his new wife, her younger sister and his widowed, social-climbing mother-in-law who inherited the house from her family. Vineland was designed as a utopian community, but it’s really a company town for its bullying founder. Greenwood butts heads with him and the sanctimonious head of the school over the teaching of evolution and his championing of Charles Darwin, a correspondent of his brilliant neighbor Mary Treat (a real-life scientist). Greenwood’s friendship with Mary and a maverick newspaper editor also threatens his marriage and standing in the community. So not much good news there.

Still, Kingsolver is such a warm and witty writer that her pointed social commentary on crumbling dreams doesn’t get in the way of her very human story. Idealistic Tig is hiding a secret heartbreak, and the family is tender with profanity-spouting Nick, even when he tunes the radio to right-wing diatribes. Both families are vulnerable to the tides of change, “unsheltered” in the world. At least, Kingsolver leaves room for hope.

Most people who talk of skeletons in family trees are speaking metaphorically. But there’s an actual skeleton in the old wych elm tree at the Hennessey family home in Dublin. Who is it? How long has it been there? And what does it have to do with Toby, the nice-guy narrator of Tana French’s intricate and beguiling new stand-alone, The Witch Elm (Viking, review copy)?

That the skeleton isn’t discovered until a third of the way through the 500-page novel testifies to French’s talent at immersing readers in mysteries that go beyond those of old bones. Having written six layered police procedurals in the Dublin Murder Squad series, French now switches the perspective from police to crime victim.

I reviewed The Witch Elm for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. You can read the full review here https://tinyurl.com/y7k7ttbk 

 

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At 656 pages, the hardcover version of Lethal White could well be a lethal weapon. Happily, I bought the e-book of the fourth Cormoran Strike tale by Robert Galbraith aka J.K. Rowling, so it only robbed me of a weekend’s worth of reading. And I found it time well spent, similar to binge-watching the Cinemax mini-series of the first three books. Strike is still large, grouchy and damaged, but he has rehired his assistant, Robin Ellacott, and elevated her to partner in the London detective agency. The two pursue a complicated case of blackmail, murder and past secrets involving the dysfunctional family of government minister Jasper Chiswell (pronounced “Chizzle”), the pervy husband of another minister, and socialist rabble-rouser Jimmy Knight and his mentally ill brother Billy. The cast is Dickensian, the plot smartly tangled and digressive, the writing detailed and atmospheric. Throughout, Robin contends with panic attacks left over from her serial killer encounter, as well as her selfish jerk of a husband. Meanwhile Strike deals with girlfriends past and present, all the while mulling over his attraction to Robin. Just when you think they’re about to get sorted, something or someone intervenes, and there goes another hundred pages. Still, I hope it’s not another three years before the next book. Cormoran Strike is as addictive as Harry Potter.

There’s good news and sad news about Wild Fire (St. Martin’s Press, digital galley), Ann Cleeves’ eighth entry in her stellar Shetland Island series. The sad news is that Cleeves says this is the last Shetland book, the good news being that police detective Jimmy Perez finishes strong. When the body of a nanny is found hanging in the Fleming family’s barn, suspicion falls on the Flemings, outsiders with an autistic son. But then designer Helena Fleming reveals that she has found disturbing sketches of a gallows, and the dead girl turns out to have a complicated past and local romantic entanglements. Speaking of which, Perez’s boss and occasional lover, Willow Reeves, arrives from Inverness to head the investigation. When another murder occurs, Cleeves crafts the village equivalent of an atmospheric locked-room mystery — the closed-community puzzle. The few suspects all have means and motives, and your guess is as good as mine. Oh, I’m going to miss Shetland.

 

A Forgotten Place (HarperCollins, digital galley) is a truly memorable installment of Charles Todd’s series about spirited British nursing sister Bess Crawford. World War I may be over, but many soldiers are still reliving the horrors of the trenches, including the Welsh vets Bess first meets at a hospital in France. Once hardworking miners, the amputees face such a bleak peacetime future that they prefer death. Hoping to help avert more suicides, Bess uses leave to check up on Capt. Hugh Williams, who is staying with his widowed sister-in-law in a back-of-beyond village in South Wales. She ends up stranded among hostile villagers when her driver takes off in his car in the middle of the night. The Gothic atmosphere is thick with suspicion and rumors, and Bess observes several mysterious events, including the secret burial of an unidentified body washed up on the beach. There’s a dark secret at the village’s heart, one that goes back decades, a secret some are willing to kill to keep.

 

Other recent crime novels worthy of recommendation vary widely in subject and style. In Karin Slaughter’s riveting stand-alone, Pieces of Her (HarperCollins, digital galley), Andrea Cooper discovers her mother Laura has been hiding her real identity for 30 years. Her desperate road trip to find the truth of her heritage alternates with flashbacks to Laura’s harrowing past that endangers them both. In Caz Frear’s assured first novel Sweet Little Lies (HarperCollins, digital galley), the spotlight’s on a father-daughter relationship. London DC Cat Kinsella is investigating the murder of a unidentified woman when DNA provides the link to the 1998 disappearance of an Irish teen. Cat has always known her charming, philandering father lied about his connection to the teen back then, but she now fears he may be lying about murder. She sifts through both family history and present-day evidence for the answers. Stephen Giles goes Gothic with his twisty psychological chiller The Boy at the Keyhole (Hanover Square Press, digital galley) set in 1961 Britain. In an old country house, 9-year-old Samuel worries that his widowed mother, who left on a business trip while he was asleep, has been gone too long and isn’t coming home. Despite assurances from housekeeper Ruth, imaginative Samuel begins to suspect that Ruth has murdered his mother and hidden her body. Creepy.  Agatha Christie fans should be pleased by Sophie Hannah’s third Hercule Poirot novel, The Mystery of Three Quarters (HarperCollins, digital galley). The clever puzzle begins with someone pretending to be Hercule Poirot sending letters to four people accusing them of murder. But elderly Barnabas Pandy accidentally drowned in his bathtub, didn’t he? Or was it murder? Poirot’s little gray cells get quite the workout, as does his appetite for cake. On the even lighter side, actor Charles Paris plays sleuth again in The Deadly Habit (Severn House, digital galley). Alcoholic and middle-aged, Paris is surprised to get a part in a new West End production starring Justin Grover, an actor with whom he worked long ago but who has since become rich and famous. Although he’s trying not to drink so as to get back with his estranged wife Frances, Charles falls off the wagon at an inopportune moment, stumbling over a dead body backstage, then making a quick exit. Now he’s got to find a murderer before he becomes prime suspect or the next corpse.

 

 

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If you’re looking for escape from the world’s woes, look no further. Imogen Hermes Gower’s first novel, The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock (HarperCollins, digital galley), is a ribald romp through Georgian London, featuring the unlikely pairing of a middle-aged merchant and a golden-haired prostitute. They are brought together by a mermaid, actually two of them, and thereby hangs a witty, fulsome tale. Although it’s a long book at almost 500 pages, it reads fast. And it’s so good, I wished for more.

Jonah Hancock is a sedate widower who lives in the same Deptford house in which he was born, his simple wants looked after by a young maid named Brigid and his niece Suki, a bright 14-year-old. It’s 1785, and he’s waiting for one of his ships, Calliope, to come in after a long voyage to the South Seas.  Imagine his surprise when the ship’s captain shows up to say he’s sold the ship to buy a genuine mermaid — a small, wizened creature with a fearsome baby face, long fangs and a fish’s tail. Dead, yes, but it’s still a mermaid, and people will pay good money to see something so remarkable, although Hancock is initially dubious.

Meanwhile, in London’s SoHo, Mrs. Angelica Neal is contemplating her pretty face and an uncertain future. The duke who kept her the last three years has died and left her nothing in his will. Should Angelica return to Mrs. Bet Chappell’s famous bawdy house, where she grew up and learned her trade, or strike out on her own in hopes of attracting a new protector?

The wily Mrs. Chappell wants Angelica back; none of her current girls have the charms of a true courtesan. When Mr. Hancock’s mermaid becomes a popular sensation, Mrs. Chapell strikes a bargain with him. He will loan her his mermaid for a week, and she will make sure that he meets the lovely Mrs. Neal. But all comes to naught at a mermaid-themed party, where Mr. Hancock is appalled by the behavior of the gentleman in attendance, and self-involved Angelica spurns him, choosing to cast her fate with a handsome rake.

Enter a second mermaid. Not right away. Readers first encounter her through short lyrical passages, seductive siren songs of the sea. That she is very much alive only becomes apparent when Angelica jests to the now well-off Mr. Hancock that he needs to find her a second mermaid if he hopes to win her favor, and he immediately commissions an expedition to the North Sea. Magical realism meets historical realism with nary a seam showing. That a mermaid might swim in a shell-lined grotto behind a house in Greenwich seems just as possible as a prostitute marrying a merchant. Why Bel Fortescue, Angelica’s best friend, allows herself to be captured by an earl.

Gowar’s lively narrative is spiced with period cant and sparkling descriptions of life high and low in London, where birth is often destiny. She’s very good with domestic details — the houses, the fashions, the food — and populates the story with winning secondary characters: Suki, who reads Pope aloud to her uncle when she’d prefer a romantic novel; her mother Hester, for whom respectability is all; and Mrs. Chappell’s mulatto girl Polly, who discovers her own self-worth.

At one point, Angelica and Bel visit a confectionary, “a veritable temple of sugar,” with shelves of bottled liqueurs, salvers of jellies and cakes, caramels and custard tarts. “Angelica’s favourites are the millefruits, crisp clouds fragrant with orange water, their surfaces rugged with cochineal and gold leaf, almonds and angelico.”

Angelica thinks they are like jewels, “Delicious. . .I shall take some home with me.”

I suggest you do the same with The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock.

 

 

 

 

 

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An Iron Age mummy found in a Jutland peat bog inspires Anne Youngson’s epistolary novel Meet Me at the Museum (Flatiron Books, ARC), an appealing story of friendship and second chances. Celebrated in a poem by Seamus Heaney, the perfectly preserved Tollund Man has long fascinated English farmwife Tina Hopgood. She always thought she’d visit Denmark’s Silkeborg Museum, but an early marriage and three children intervened, and now 40 years have gone by. Then a letter from Tina about Tollund Man inadvertently crosses the desk of museum curator and widower Kristian Larsen, who writes her back. A correspondence develops, and then a relationship, although the two have yet to meet. When Tina’s letters and e-mails suddenly stop, Kristian fears the worst. For fans of Jessica Brockmole’s Letters from Skye and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

Beatriz Williams again uses her winning formula for beachy historical fiction with The Summer Wives (Morrow, digital galley). Set on Winthrop Island in Long Island Sound, the story toggles between 1951, when 18-year-old Miranda’s mother marries into the wealthy Fisher family on Winthrop, and 1969, when Miranda is a famous actress reluctantly returning to the island. The events of 1951, including her relationship with islander Joseph Vargas and a murder that divided them, are eventually revealed, as are secrets with present-day reverberations. Suspend disbelief and go with the flow. For fans of Williams’ A Hundred Summers and Lisa Klausmann’s Tigers in Red Weather.

It’s the time of year on campuses across the country when the Greeks recruit new members. Lisa Patton’s entertaining Rush: A Novel (St. Martin’s Press, ARC) goes behind-the-scenes at a fictional Ole Miss sorority where tradition clashes with modern mores. Miss Pearl is the longtime and beloved Alpha Delt housekeeper who is in line for a promotion, but not if influential alum Lilith Whitmore has anything to do with it. But Lilith’s own daughter, another pledge hopeful with a secret, and Miss Pearl’s “girls” in the sorority have their own ideas about how their house should face the future. It’s a coming-of-age story mixed with mother-daughter drama and social commentary. For fans of The Help and Anne Rivers Siddons’ Heartbreak Hotel. (My favorite Southern sorority novel remains Babs H. Deal’s 1968 The Walls Came Tumbling Down).

Marcia Willetts’ British charmer Summer on the River (St. Martin’s Press, digital galley) centers on a large family house in the picturesque village of Dartmouth. Recent widow Evie Fortescue inherited the house from her late husband, somewhat to the consternation of her London stepson Charlie’s wife. Charlie and his family still come for holidays, like the annual regatta, and this year, his cousin Ben, a photographer going through a divorce, is also in residence. When Ben introduces Charlie to a new friend, and Evie confides a secret to her old pal Claude, things get complicated. For fans of Willett’s Indian Summer and Rosamunde Pilcher’s The Shell Seekers.

 

 

 

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Wait, wait — hold the pumpkin spice! It’s still summer, and I’ve got the books to prove it. Buzz for Stephen Markley’s first novel Ohio (Simon & Schuster) has been building for months, and it’s more than worth the wait. On a summer night in 2013, four former high school classmates converge on their hometown in northeast Ohio a decade or so after graduation. Having come of age in the post-911 era and the subsequent recession, they confront their shared history, their lost loves, deferred dreams, secrets and regrets. Bill Ashcraft, the substance-abusing rebel idealist, drives from New Orleans with a mysterious package. But before he can deliver it, he’s downing a few drinks and looking to score drugs. Afghanistan vet Dan Eaton has a date with the girl he left behind, while doctoral candidate Stacey Moore faces off with her high school lover’s homophobic mother. Emotionally scarred Tina Ross is finally ready to deal with the jock who abused her in high school. Those years, Markley writes, provide “stories of dread and wonder,” which he artfully interweaves with his realistic portrait of Rust Belt corrosion and disillusionment. It’s a big, ambitious book as Markley gets into the heads and hearts of his characters, writing with a lyric rush that pulls readers along. Ohio reminds me a bit of Nickolas Butler’s Shotgun Lovesongs and Ethan Canin’s early works. Grand storytelling.

Joanna Cannon’s 2017 first novel The Trouble with Ghosts and Sheep was a quirky tale featuring two 10-year-old girls on the trail of a neighborhood mystery during the British heatwave of 1976. Her new book, Three Things About Elsie (Scribner, digital galley) has a similar oddball charm, although its heroine is 84-year-old Florence, who has fallen in her room at the Cherry Tree Home for the elderly. She can’t get up, so while waiting for rescue, she reflects on the events of the last few weeks, which have made her think she might be losing her mind. Her lifelong best friend Elsie has assured her that isn’t the case, but Florence wants to know why small objects in her room have been rearranged. Mostly, though, she wants to find out why the new resident calling himself Gabriel Price is a dead ringer for Ronnie Butler, who drowned in 1953. Flo and Elsie like “to explore pockets of the past. Favourite stories were retold, to make sure they hadn’t been forgotten. Scenes were sandpapered down to make them easier to hold….It’s the great advantage of reminiscing. The past can be exactly how you wanted it to be the first time around.”

From the real to the surreal. Another August novel I liked a lot is Laura van den Berg’s The Third Hotel (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, digital galley and ARC), which I reviewed for the Minneapolis Star-Tribunehttps://map.tinyurl.com/ycnmvlty. Reading this disquieting novel is like walking out of a dark movie theater into bright sunlight. Part of you is still living in a cinematic dreamscape. The real world is what’s imaginary. Set mostly in Havana, the novel has the premise of a thriller as a woman thinks she sees her husband outside a museum — five weeks after he died in New York. Has her grief conjured a ghost, or is this a case of mistaken identity?

If you’re looking for charm with a bit of grit, Dear Mrs. Bird by A. J. Pearce (Scribner, digital galley) is just the ticket. In 1940 London, perky, 22-year-old Emmeline Walker dreams of being a Lady War Correspondent. Instead, she gets a job assisting Henrietta Bird, the the old-fashioned advice columnist of an old-fashioned women’s magazine. Mrs. Bird, rigid and overbearing, is of the stiff-upper lip school and doesn’t want to hear complaints about the war, life on the homefront, marriage and sex. Such missives are discarded — until Emme gets holds of them and starts mailing off replies under Mrs. Bird’s forged signature. She’s all good intentions, of course, but there will be consequences for Emme and her best friend Bunty; war doesn’t play favorites. Still, Pearce’s droll humor and Emme’s “carry on” attitude carry the day.

Delia Owens’ first novel Where the Crawdads Sing (Putnam, digital galley) is a somewhat awkward mix of nature writing, coming-of-age fable, murder mystery and courtroom drama. Kya Clark is known as the “Marsh Girl” because she has mostly raised herself in the wilds outside a small North Carolina community. In 1969, when the body of good-looking Chase Andrews is found dead, Kya becomes the prime suspect. Although she has the support of shrimper’s son Tate Walker, who taught her to read before going off to college, Kya must stand trial. The writing about the natural world is lovely and lush, but the characters are not nearly as realized, and implausibilities abound.

 

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Winter is coming — and it plans to stay in Naomi Novik’s shimmering new novel Spinning Silver (Random House, purchased hardcover). And while a sleigh ride on a frozen river might sound appealing in the midst of a sultry summer, Miryem, the moneylender’s daughter, really isn’t interested in being the bride of the king of Staryk. But she was the one who boasted about turning silver into gold, and now the icy fey monarch plans to hold her to her word. Meanwhile, servant girl Wanda and her brothers seek safety after confronting their drunken and abusive father and stumble on a mysterious cottage in the forest. And over at the castle, Irina, the shy daughter of a duke, discovers her new husband the tsar is literally possessed by a powerful fire demon. Novik, who also wrote the fantastic Uprooted, masterfully weaves these stories into a rich and original tapestry, drawing threads from classic fairy tales, medieval folklore and her own Russian Jewish heritage. With its themes of female empowerment, prejudice and class divide, Spinning Silver is timely and timeless.

C.L. Polk’s imaginative first novel Witchmark (TOR, library e-book) takes place in a country called Aeland, which resembles Edwardian England circa WWI — only with magic. The ruling mages hide their supernatural powers from the lower classes lest they are marked as witches and sent to lunatic asylums. Nevertheless, they secretly “sing” the weather, controlling the climate so there are no extremes. But Miles Singer didn’t want to be a human battery for his older sister, so he ran away to war and reinvented himself as a doctor. Working in a veteran’s hospital with shell-shocked soldiers, Miles hides his healing powers until an encounter with a man who has been poisoned is observed by a handsome stranger. Tristan is actually an angel in disguise and the one person who can help Miles track down a murderer and confront the machinations of his aristocratic family and their friends. Polk creates an entrancing world where magic can be used both for good and evil, and the fate of Aeland hangs in the balance.

 

Other recent fantasies range from dystopian tales to alternate historical adventures. Peng Shepherd’s dark and fable-like The Book of M: A Novel (HarperCollins, digital galley) reminded me of The Passage, American Civil War and Station Eleven. In the near future, the Forgetting is a plague that robs people of their shadows and then their memories. When Max loses her shadow, she leaves husband Ory but takes a tape recorder of shared memories. Both end up traveling to New Orleans, where a mysterious figure is rumored to have a cure for the shadow-less, but not without great cost. Raymond A. Villareal’s genre-bending The People’s History of the Vampire Uprising (Little Brown, digital galley) is a clever take on medical mystery/alien invasion as a vampire virus begin turning humans into “gloamings.” As they multiply, they begin demanding equal rights. A CDC investigator and a FBI agent are among those contributing to this oral history, which also includes “official” reports and documents. Rachel Caine continues her stirring Great Library series with a fourth book, Smoke and Iron (Berkley/Penguin, digital galley). The young group of scholar/soldiers who rebelled against the Archivist Magister are back in Alexandria to try and save the Library from the inside. Jess Brightwell is pretending to be his twin Brandon planning a betrayal, Wolfe is again a prisoner, Thomas is building a weapon to take on the fearsome automatons as the Great Burning approaches. And — wait for it — there’s a fifth book! I really loved Edgar Cantero’s Meddling Kids, now out in paperback, but I had trouble getting into This Body’s Not Big Enough for Both of Us (Knopf Doubleday, digital galley) despite its nifty premise: brother and sister P.I.s with opposing personalities in one body. Too many puns and general silliness overwhelms the wit.

 

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At the beginning of her cunning first novel, The Ruin (Penguin, purchased e-book), Dervla McTiernan writes that in Irish, “Ruin means something hidden, a mystery, or a secret, but the word also has a long history as a term of endearment.” She teases out all these meanings in a layered procedural set in in a 2013 Galway thick with mist and misdirection. Police detective Cormac Reilly, recently transferred from Dublin, feels sidelined working cold cases until Jack Blake dies in a fall from a bridge. Neither Jack’s estranged sister Maude, who has been living in Australia, nor his girlfriend, a surgical resident, think it’s suicide, but the police are reluctant to investigate further.  Reilly remembers when he was a rookie in 1993 and removed 15-year-old Maude and 5-year-old Jack from a falling-down house in Kilmore after their mother died from a heroin overdose. When higher-ups turn their attention to Maude, who had motive and secrets, his suspicions are aroused. That the police unit itself is rife with rumors just adds to his unease. McTiernan follows Reilly, Maude and Aishling as they pursue mysteries old and new involving missing persons, drugs, rape and child abuse. It’s Ireland, so family loyalties and the church are also involved.  Count me in for next year’s second in the series.

Two dark moments of Florida history — Ted Bundy and the Dozier School for Boys — shadow Lori Roy’s modern Gothic, The Disappearing (Dutton/Penguin, digital galley). The residents of little Waddell in rural North Florida refer to a serial killer who took his last victim, a teenage girl, from their town years ago as “Ted.” These days, out-town-reporters keep showing up as former students of the now-closed Fielding School report crimes of abuse and even murder. Former headmaster Neil Harding, sliding into dementia in his historic home, has nothing to say. His long-suffering wife shields him from outsiders; his grown daughter Lane, recently divorced, has reluctantly moved home with her two daughters. She remembers when she was a girl and used to leave food outside for boys running away from the reform school. She also remembers being shunned in high school after an incident involving a runaway. When a Florida State student disappears, Waddell wonders if a serial killer like Ted has returned. But when Lane’s older daughter Annabel vanishes, too, Lane fears a connection to her father and the school’s tainted history. Roy, who has won two Edgar Awards for her previous books, uses multiple perspectives to tell her story: Lane, her younger daughter Talley, fretful Erma, and an odd handyman, Daryl, who spies on Waddell’s young girls. It’s all suitably complicated and creepy, doubly so for Floridians familiar with the real-life crimes that inspired Roy.

A true crime case — that of Britain’s notorious Lord Lucan — acts as touchstone for Flynn Barry’s nimble A Double Life (Viking, digital galley).  Narrator Claire is a London doctor whose real name is unknown to her colleagues and friends. She’s actually Lila Spenser, daughter of Colin Spenser, the Eton-educated lord who vanished when she was a child after being accused of attacking her mother and killing the nanny. Many believe that Spenser’s wealthy friends helped him escape, and he supposedly has been sighted in a number of countries over the last quarter century. Claire always has had trouble reconciling her childhood memories of her handsome father with her mother Faye’s account of her unhappy marriage. Mostly, she wants to find him, obsessively following Internet forums tracking the case and privately stalking his old friends. Barry mixes past and present to good effect, but the thrills really begin when Claire travels to Croatia on an apparent wild-goose chase. Maybe it is. Maybe not.

Belinda Bauer’s Snap (Atlantic Monthly, digital galley) has been longlisted for the prestigious Man Booker prize. A story in The Guardian noted that one judge thinks it transcends the crime genre, while another thinks it bends the form in new ways.  Ok. I think it’s a clever puzzler that reminds me of a Ruth Rendell standalone or one of Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie novels as it presents several disparate stories before connecting the plots. First up are 11-year-old Jack and his younger sisters Merry and Joy, whose pregnant mother goes off for help when their car breaks down. She never returns, the victim of an unsolved murder. Three years later, Jack’s still in charge, keeping the siblings together in their old house after their grieving father walks out. He’s become an accomplished cat burglar, stealing food and necessities,  along with pricier goods he sells to his friendly neighborhood fence.  In another part of town, pregnant Catherine While wakes up to an intruder in the house and later finds a knife by her bed with the menacing note: “I could have killed you.” Not wanting to make a “hoo-ha,” she doesn’t tell her husband or call the police. The latter are busy trying to catch the Goldilocks burglar, although Chief Inspector John Marvel longs for a good murder case. Bauer has some fun snapping the puzzle pieces in place, and Jack is a character to care about as he tries to find his mother’s killer.

Three more for your reading pleasure. Lawrence Osborne does an elegiac Raymond Chandler in Only to Sleep (Crown, digital galley), which finds Philip Marlowe mostly retired in Mexico in 1988. With silver sword cane in hand, the aging detective investigates an insurance scam involving a dead American businessman and his lovely young widow. Nicely written and achingly familiar, this sunset stroll should please Marlowe fans. William Shaw set his terrific Kings of London crime trilogy in the 1960s, and in Salt Lane (Little Brown, digital galley), Det. Sgt. Alexandra Cupidi links her modern-day murder case in Kent to the 1980s peace protests. Opioid addiction, the immigrant crisis and homelessness also figure in the nifty plot, and prickly outsider Cupidi, introduced in last year’s The Birdwatcher, makes for an interesting protagonist. In The Last Thing I Told You (Morrow, digital gallery), Emily Arsenault plays the unreliable narrator card with aplomb. A quiet New England town that was once shocked by a mass shooting at a retirement home is again rattled by the murder of a well-liked therapist. Police detective Henry Peacher methodically investigates, but another voice — that of former patient Natalie Raines — commands attention as she recounts her therapy sessions when she was a troubled high school student. Is it just coincidence that Natalie is back in town for the murder? Mmmm. I didn’t think so…

 

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