Historical, contemporary, chillers, thrillers, inspired by real events, complete with recipes. So let’s start with Louise Penny’s exquisitely calibrated, triple-plotted How the Light Gets In (St. Martin’s Press, purchased e-book), the ninth in the series featuring Chief Inspector Armand Gamache of the Quebec Surete. Again, Gamache returns to the village of Three Pines, far from the madding crowd without cell phone or internet service. Which makes it a perfect place to retreat when Gamache and his few loyal friends come ever closer to unmasking a great conspiracy within the Surete. Even his once-trusted lieutenant, Jean-Guy Beauvoir, wants Gamache gone. But then an elderly woman with ties to Three Pines is murdered, and Gamache’s investigation reveals she has been living under an alias. What secrets about her famous family was she getting ready to divulge? And what does any of this have to do with a bridge, a satellite dish and Rosa the duck? Gamache knows.
I thought I knew a good bit about the free-spirited Romantics — Percy and Mary Shelley, Lord Byron, his lover (and Mary’s stepsister) Claire, the creation of Frankenstein — until I read Lynn Shepherd’s literary thriller A Fatal Likeness (Random House, digital galley). In 1850s London, private detective Charles Maddox tries to determine the authenticity of secret documents related to Percy Shelley, and meets the poet’s widow and her estranged stepsister in the process. He also uncovers a trail of obssession, jealousy and betrayal that casts a new light on the late poet’s many liaisons, his early death and the authorship of Frankenstein. Shepherd posits a murder (or two) in the mix of suicides and scandals. Fascinating.
Victorian London is also the setting for Anne Perry’s latest William and Hester Monk mystery, Blind Justice(Random House/Ballantine, digital galley), which offers more courtroom drama than detecting. Monk’s friend Sir Oliver Rathbone finds himself presiding over a fraud trial instigated by Hester Monk’s suspicions of a pastor fleecing his flock. When Hester’s reputation is threatened, Sir Oliver must decide whether to use illegal means — a cache of pornographic pictures — to influence the courtroom participants. Will the judge go to jail?
World War I nurse Bess Crawford is also beset by an ethical dilemma in Charles Todd’s A Question of Honor (Morrow, review ARC). Admist the horrors of trench warfare in 1918, Bess learns that a murder suspect long-thought dead is serving on the front. Ten years ago in India, where Bess spent her childhood, Lt. Thomas Wade went missing when news reached the regiment that he was wanted for the murder of a family in England. Then his parents were murdered on the night he vanished on the Khyber Pass. Because the reputation of Bess’s father’s, the Colonel Sahib, is involved, Bess does her best to find the once highly-regarded Wade while investigating the English family’s murders while on leave. The surprising – and disturbing connection — she makes to her childhood uncovers a secret kept by author Rudyard Kipling, one that also provides motive for murder.
British writer Barbara Cleverly first introduced her series protagonist Joe Sandilands 11 books ago in The Last Kashmiri Rose. His adventures in India were followed by service in WWI. Now, in The Spider in the Cup (Soho Crime, digital galley), it’s 1933 and as an assistant police commissioner, Sandilands is charged with protecting an American diplomat during a global economic conference in London. At the same time, dowsers on the Thames riverbank have found the corpse of a woman in the mudflats. One of her toes has been severed; a gold coin placed in her mouth. By a stretch of the writer’s imagination, the two cases are eventually linked to each other and to Sandiland’s past, but a too-talky narrative undercuts any suspense.
Lottie Moggach explores a very 21st-century crime in her twisty debut, Kiss Me First (Knopf Doubleday/digital galley). Unreliable narrator Leila, a bi-polar computer nerd, discovers a like-minded community on the website Red Pill. Its guru, Adrian, recruits her to impersonate online an unstable woman who wants to commit suicide without her friends and family knowing. So before Tess disappears, Leila gathers personal details, then sets up as bohemian Tess on Facebook and in e-mails, creating a new life for her far away from England. But Leila becomes so invested in Tess and her virtual activities, she fails to detect Adrian’s true agenda.
Novelist and journalist Joyce Maynard uses the true crimes of a Bay Area serial killer as the springboard to explore family dynamics in After Her (HarperCollins/Morrow, digital galley.) “My Sharona” is the soundtrack to the fateful summer of 1979 as remembered 30 years later by mystery writer Rachel Torcelli. She was turning 13 back then and traded on her handsome detective father’s fame hunting the Sunset Strangler to get in with the popular crowd and leave behind her faithful younger sister Patty. But imaginative Rachel can’t let go of the girlhood games they played together, spying on neighbors and making up elaborate scenarios. Living with their divorced, preoccupied mother, and dazzled by their charming dad’s infrequent visits, the sisters get caught up in Rachel’s search for the killer who eludes their father. Maynard adroitly moves back and forth in time, teasing us with the knowledge that Something Terrible happened in 1979 and that history might yet repeat itself.
Inimitable supercop Kathy Mallory returns in the seductively titled It Happens in the Dark (Penguin USA, library hardcover) by Carol O’Connell. This time, the colorful cast of characters includes the actual cast and crew of a spooky Broadway play, where an audience member died on opening night and the playwright’s throat is slit the next night while he’s sitting in the front row. Clever Mallory displays her usual lack of charm and fashionista style as she navigates theater and police politics to ferret out poseurs, druggies and liars galore. The choppy narrative offers false trails and backstage atmosphere, but whereas the play ended with a scream, the book signs off with a sigh.
Altogether lighter and brighter fare can be found in Diane Mott Davidson’s The Whole Enchilada (Morrow, review ARC) and Susan M. Boyer’s Lowcountry Bombshell (Henery Press, digital galley). In the first, Colorado caterer Goldy Shulz is on the case again when her longtime friend Holly dies at a birthday party. Was it something she ate that Goldy made? Relieved to discover that a medication was the culprit, Goldy resolves to find the killer of the doctor’s ex-wife. Holly’s past and present offers plenty of clues as Goldy crafts mouthwatering meals and confronts several life-changing events.
Boyer’s second Liz Talbot tale finds the South Carolina private eye working for a Marilyn Monroe-lookalike convinced someone is going to orchestrate her death as a suicide. Boyer knows the lowcountry landscape around Charleston — the manners, the talk, the food — and likeable Liz, with her dog Rhett and her divided love interests, would no doubt be best friends with Lindsey Fox of the Caroline Cousins mysteries. (I can say that, being I am one-third of CC and Lindsey’s alter-ego). Looking forward to Liz’s next Lowcountry outing.