Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Boston’

P.D. James’ The Mistletoe Murders was an unexpected holiday treat last year. This year, it’s Sleep No More (Knopf, digital galley), which collects six more tales from the late writer best known for her Adam Dalgliesh detective novels. No Dalgliesh in these stories, but readers will recognize James’ artful scene setting, elegant prose and ironic twists. “The Murder of Santa Claus” is a classic locked-room mystery told with a sly wink as writer Charles Mickledore looks back to Christmas 1939, when he was a lonely schoolboy shipped off to a relative’s country house. His tyrannical host lords it over his assorted guests until he is murdered shortly after making his post-midnight rounds as Santa. In “The Victim,” we know whodunit as a milk-toast librarian confesses to taking revenge on the new husband of his beautiful ex-wife. But the ending may surprise, as do those of “The Yo-Yo” and “A Most Desirable Resident,” in which murder is also seen as a means to an end.  In “Mr. Millcroft’s Birthday,” a conniving octogenerian in a senior home turns the tables on his greedy heirs. And in the creepy “The Girl Who Loved Graveyards,” an orphan’s shadowy memories of her late father and grandmother are intertwined with her affinity for cemeteries. I guessed where this one was going, but the devil’s in the details. Brrrr…

Clea Simon immerses readers and her new series sleuth,  music journalist Tara Winton, in the 1980s Boston club scene in the noir-tinged World Enough (Severn House, ARC). Tara once covered the city’s punk rock bands for fanzines that paid little but gave her needed access. Now working in a dull corporate communications job, Tara is drawn back to the heady, long-ago times when her former editor asks her to write a piece on Boston bands for his glossy city magazine. The assignment coincides with the accidental death of musician Frank Turcotte, although Tara wonders if her old friend, sober for 20 years, really just fell down the stairs. And could his death be connected to that of once rising star Chris Crack back in the day? She soon discovers that digging into the past can prove dangerous, but letting go just isn’t in her nature. Once a reporter, always a reporter. Simon knows what’s she writing about.

Actress Krysten Ritter is well-known for her roles on TV’s Breaking Bad and Marvel’s Jessica Jones, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see her playing the lead in a film adaptation of Bonfire (Crown, Archetype, digital galley). After all, Ritter wrote the book, and it’s easy to picture her as Chicago environmental lawyer Abby Williams, who returns to her Indiana hometown after 10 years to investigate its most influential employer. But looking into Optimal Plastics’ possible pollution of Barrows’ water supply and its ties to local government means Abby must confront her own past. Snubbed in high school by the popular set, Abby is rattled by her old classmates. The boy she once crushed on is now an Optimal spokesman, a former cheerleader is an assistant high school principal, a bad-boy slacker has become a responsible single dad. And then there’s Kaycee, Abby’s sometimes childhood friend, who was always at the center of things before she suddenly disappeared. Inevitably, Abby’s questions about Optimal lead to questions about Kaycee, but Ritter generates suspense and an air of immediacy with her present-tense narrative. Don’t wait for the movie.

So what are the chances of two crime novels being published within a month of each other, both featuring small-town police detectives named Gemma, each investigating the murder of a high school teacher? Nor do the similarities between Emily Littlejohn’s A Season to Lie (St. Martin’s/Minotaur, digital galley) and Sarah Bailey’s The Dark Lake (Grand Central, digital galley) end there. Both Gemmas have live-in boyfriends with whom they have a child, both face on-the-job challenges, both are attractive, determined and flawed. And both deal with bad weather, although that means different things to the detectives. Gemma Monroe (A Season to Lie) battles blizzards in Cedar Valley in Colorado, while Gemma Woodstock (The Dark Lake) has to worry about a Christmas heat wave and wildfires in the Australian town of Smithson.  A Season to Lie is the second outing for Monroe, who was six months pregnant in Littlejohn’s Inherit the Bones. Now that baby Grace is three months old, her mom is hoping to ease back into work, but on her first night back, she and her partner discover a murdered man on the snowy campus of a private high school. The victim is famous author Delaware Fuente, a visiting lecturer using an alias while at Valley Academy. Fuente has other secrets, as do the close-knit townspeople who are split over the question of development by outsiders. There’s also an anonymous bully known as Grimm, who is terrorizing the academy students. And does another death mean a serial killer is at work? It’s a neatly plotted procedural. The Dark Lake, Bailey’s first novel, is more intricate in its secret-keeping. Gemma Woodstock went to high school with beautiful Rosalind Ryan, the popular drama teacher whose drowned body is found after opening night of her modernized version of Romeo and Juliet. Past collides with present as Gemma recalls the suicide of her high school boyfriend, whose younger brother is playing Romeo. Gemma also is juggling an affair with her married partner and her homelife with staid boyfriend Scott and toddler son Ben. Bailey alternates present-day events with Gemma’s flashbacks to high school and her rivalry with Rosalind. The time jumps make for an uneven pace as the investigation unfolds, but a nail-biting showdown atop a water tower offers a killer ending.

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

At the beginning of  Attica Locke’s atmospheric novel The Cutting Season, a cottonmouth the length of a Cadillac falls from a live oak during a wedding at a restored plantation. “It only briefly stopped the ceremony, this being Louisiana after all.”

Still, plantation manager Caren Grey takes the snake as a sign that Belle Vie’s beauty is not to be trusted. “That beneath its loamy topsoil, the manicured grounds and gardens, two centuries of breathtaking wealth and spectacle, lay a land both black and bitter, soft to the touch, but pressing in its power.”

Caren knows this better than most. She grew up in Ascension Parish, daughter of Belle Vie’s cook, descendant of the freed slave Jason, whose mysterious disappearance more than a century ago still haunts the estate-turned-tourist attraction. When a migrant worker from the adjoining sugar cane fields is found murdered at Belle Vie, Caren’s good intentions and curiosity put her at cross-purposes with the local authorities, the plantation’s owners, much of the staff, her own preteen daughter, and the girl’s father, a D.C. attorney. Past secrets lead to present dangers, love and loyalty collide, and the murder mystery winds through the plot like a slithering snake. But larger questions of class, race and identity complicate the whole, and it is those mysteries that Locke so artfully explores in prose as seductive as Belle Vie’s magnolia-scented grounds.

Dennis Lehane chose The Cutting Season as the first book for his new imprint at HarperCollins, so it’s fitting that one of our best crime novelists also has a new book. Live by Night is a sort of sequel to The Given Day, but this layered historical novel of the Roaring Twenties in Boston, Tampa and Cuba stands tall on its own.

Joe Coughlin, the younger son of a corrupt Boston cop, comes to crime as a teen “because it was fun and he was good at it.” By 20, he thinks of himself as an outlaw, with his own code of love and loyalty that allows him to work for established gangsters despite his aversion to senseless violence.

Joe’s conflicted conscience doesn’t keep him out of trouble. Quite the contrary. Falling for a rival mobster’s sultry girlfriend leads to her disappearance and presumed death while bad boy Joe is toughened by prison. He’s mentored by a Mafia don, who sets him up as a rum-runner in Tampa on his release. Still good at what he does, enterprising Joe builds a boot-legging empire and marries a Cuban social activist. Over time, he takes on all comers and uses some of his dirty money for good deeds. Still, blood and betrayal are inescapable.

This all makes for entertaining Prohibition-era noir, and Lehane bends the genre conventions to his own ends so that the past takes on the vivid solidity of the known present.

Open Book: I bought two copies of Attica Locke’s The Cutting Season (HarperCollins), one for me and one for my cousins Meg and Gail. As Caroline Cousins, we’ve written three cozy mysteries set on a restored plantation, and I enjoyed the familarity of Locke’s setting and details. I wish we’d thought of the falling snake, although we’d have played it more for laughs, like our marauding seagulls and ghost gator, and Locke’s book is deadly serious. I admire it very much. Dennis Lehane is a long-time favorite, and I read a digital galley of Live By Night (Morrow) via edelweiss.

Read Full Post »