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Posts Tagged ‘crime fiction’

A serial killer is stalking the streets, his gruesome crimes apparently inspired by the works of Dante. Well-known writers team as amateur detectives to solve the case but fear they are hunting one of their own. It sounds like the plot of Matthew Pearl’s best-selling The Dante Club, and it is. But it’s also that of Pearl’s new literary thriller The Dante Chamber (Penguin Press, ARC), with the action shifting from 1865 Boston to 1870 London. A politician’s neck has been crushed by a stone etched with an inscription from the Divine Comedy, and poet Christina Rossetti enlists the help of Robert Browning and Alfred Tennyson to search for her missing brother, famous artist and writer Dante Gabriel Rossetti. It’s not necessary to have read The Dante Club to enjoy Pearl’s atmospheric follow-up, thanks to Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, who is still haunted by the Boston murders and who conveniently arrives in England to lend his expertise. Pearl’s own expertise is seamlessly blending fact with fiction in a fulsome narrative peopled by credible characters real and imagined. Christina Rossetti may present herself to the public as a retiring spinster, but her actions here reveal her spirited nature. Her brother Gabriel fascinates with his extravagant behavior and obsessions; his house is a library/menagerie, where armadillos and raccoons roam among the stacks of books. Browning is dashing, Tennyson is shy. Add a well-read Scotland Yard detective, a mysterious reverend, the “ghost” of a beautiful woman, a few Fenians plotting the overthrow of the government, and an ex-Pinkerton detective looking to capitalize on the lurid events. It’s a Victorian feast. Dig in.

Reading Ruth Ware’s deliciously twisty The Death of Mrs. Westaway (Scout Press, digital galley) is like driving down a country road. You think you know the way, pass some familiar landmarks, remember to turn left at the crossroads. But then you either miss a turn, or the road curves unexpectedly, and you don’t recognize a thing. You’re lost. Ware (In a Dark, Dark Wood, The Lying Game) comes up with Christie-like plots enhanced by Gothic elements. Past secrets, mistaken identities, old diaries and pictures. Harriet “Hal” Westaway is sure the letter from a lawyer announcing her grandmother’s death isn’t meant for her. For starters, her late grandmother wasn’t named Hester. Still, Hal can’t resist going to the funeral in Cornwall and the reading of the will. Ever since her single mother’s death several years ago, Hal has been on her own, forgoing university and eking out a living as a fortune teller on the Brighton pier. She doesn’t really believe in Tarot cards, but she’s good at reading people, and maybe she can pass herself off as a long-lost granddaughter long enough to benefit from the Westaway estate. With a loan shark breathing down her neck, Hal is desperate to escape Brighton. So off she goes to Trepassen House to meet her three new “uncles.” It’s a great premise, and Ware makes the most of it, even adding a creepy housekeeper, an attic bedroom, crumbling stairs and a frozen lake. Brrrr!

Would you willingly invite a serial killer to accompany you on a road trip? Me neither. What about if the serial killer is a senior citizen with dementia? Still no. What if you think your teenage sister was one of his victims? No way — are you kidding?! The unnamed 24-year-old narrator of Julia Heaberlin’s new thriller Paper Ghosts (Ballantine, digital galley) firmly believes that 61-year-old documentary photographer Carl Louis Feldman is behind the disappearance of her sister Rachel a dozen years ago. Armed with a map of Texas and some old photos, she pretends she’s Feldman’s daughter so she can check him out of the halfway house where he’s been living. Feldman, who claims no memory of killing Rachel or any other girls, doesn’t believe the narrator is his daughter but goes along for the ride, so to speak. You should, too, as improbable as it all sounds. Come on, don’t you want to know if Feldman really doesn’t  remember his career as photographer and killer? And what of the obsessive, unreliable narrator? Yes, you’ll keep reading. I did, with only a couple of pit stops to relieve the tension.

Time to catch up with some favorite series. Ann Cleeves has two going; the next entry in the Shetland series is due in the fall, while the fifth in the Vera Stanhope series, The Glass Room (St. Martin’s Press, library hardcover), was recently published in the U.S. for the first time. A formidable police detective and an odd duck, Vera finds herself investigating the murder of a famous writer in which her free-spirited neighbor is the prime suspect. But there are many others attending the writing workshop at the isolated country house with connections to the victim and motives aplenty. As usual, they underestimate Vera’s sharp mind, distracted by her large size and shabby clothes. Ah yes, appearances are deceiving.

I didn’t know how much I was longing for some good old South Florida noir until I read Alex Segura’s fourth Pete Fernandez novel Blackout (Polis Books, digital galley). Fernandez, a former reporter turned P.I. and a  recovering alcoholic, initially turns away a Florida politician looking for his missing son because it means returning to his hometown of Miami. Then Pete realizes that the missing man is linked to the cold case of Patty Morales, a high school classmate of Pete’s who disappeared in 1998. He and his former partner, Kathy Bentley, have tried to find Patty’s killer before, but their luck ran out when a crucial witness disappeared. Now with a chance to make amends with his past and old friends, Pete, who has been living in New York, heads for Miami, finding its familiarity both reassuring and overwhelming  Segura makes good use of Miami history — remember the Liberty City cult of Yahweh ben Yahweh? — and the surreality of Florida itself in crafting his hard-boiled tale.

Elly Griffiths takes a convoluted route in The Dark Angel (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, digital galley) to get her series characters from England to Italy to solve mysteries old and new. Forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway and young daughter Kate arrive first when Ruth is asked by an Italian archaeologist to consult on a Roman skeleton at the center of a television documentary. But then the town’s priest is found murdered in a case with secrets going back to World War II. Meanwhile, DCI Harry Nelson, Ruth’s sometimes lover and Kate’s father, hears of earthquakes in the region, and flies to Italy, leaving behind his pregnant wife Michelle. She doesn’t know if Nelson is the father of her baby or if it’s the police officer with whom she had an affair. Fans of the series will find these domestic entanglements as interesting as details  of the Italian crimes. La famiglia!

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Laura Lippman’s new stand-alone Sunburn (Morrow/HarperCollins, digital galley) is a slow burn noir set in a scruffy Delaware town on the way to the beach from Baltimore. It’s 1995, which means Polly Costello and Adam Bosk can’t Google each other when they meet at the High-Ho diner. Their secrets are layered and many; that Polly has just walked away from her husband and daughter, and that Adam is a private investigator is only the beginning. Lippman’s homage to James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice works wonderfully as she twists the classic conventions to her own ends. Redheaded, hard-to-read Polly is not your usual femme fatale, and Adam more than a good-looking lunk. The waitress and the short-order cook begin an affair, but neither counts on falling in love. There’s a suspicious death and possible arson. Deceit, betrayal, unexpected revelations. Who is playing a long game, whose motives are mixed? The suspense is exquisite, the end to die for.

Kelley Armstrong’s atmospheric Rockton novels are set in an off-the-grid community in the Canadian wilderness, an isolated haven for people with pasts and secrets. Armstrong introduced police officer Casey Duncan in 2016’s City of the Lost, following up with last year’s An Absolute Darkness. Now, in the equally gripping This Fallen Prey (St. Martin’s Press, digital galley), Rockton’s town council agrees to house accused killer Oliver Brady against the advice of Sheriff Eric Dalton. His and Casey’s misgivings are affirmed by Brady, who tries to charm his way out of his makeshift prison and divides the townspeople as to his guilt or innocence. Tempers flare, violence threatens, and then Brady escapes into the wilderness with inside help. Finding him means braving the fierce Yukon elements, as well as figuring out the identity of the traitor(s) and the exact nature of Brady’s past crimes. The romantic relationship between Eric and Casey ups the ante, as does the fact that Eric’s brother is a member of the nomadic survivalists in the area who have a tenuous truce with Rockton’s residents. Remember, there are killers among them who have paid dearly for their pasts to be forgotten, if not sins forgiven.

Scorching heat and drought plagued an Australian community in The Dry, Jane Harper’s first thriller featuring Aaron Falk, a Federal police agent. His hands still bear the burn scars from that last case in Force of Nature (St. Martin’s Press, digital galley), although this time pervasive cold and damp hinder his search for a woman missing in the Giralong mountain range. Falk and his partner Carmen Cooper are working a financial fraud case, and the missing woman is their informant Alice Russell. She and four other women from a Melbourne accounting firm were on a team-building corporate retreat when they got lost and separated. Harper alternates between scenes of the current search and the past actions of the women, not only on the hike but also in their personal lives. Two women have teenage daughters; several went to the same private school; two are sisters. Harper adds an extra frisson by having Falk recall that this is the same area where a serial killer stalked his prey twenty years ago. That man is dead, but there’s an eerie similarity to this new case. Harper eventually ties up the loose ends for a satisfactory conclusion, but the harrowing story reminded me why I traded in camping for glamping. Leaky tents, wet clothes, blistered feet — and one of your fellows could be a killer. I’ll just read the book, thank you.

Precocious girl detective Flavia de Luce, kicked out the Girl Guides for an excess of high spirits and recently booted out of boarding school, is truly depressed at the beginning of Alan Bradley’s The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place (Ballantine/Random House, digital galley). In the wake of a tragedy at the crumbling family home Buckshaw, devoted servant Dogger proposes a boating holiday for 12-year-old Flavia and her two older sisters. Flavia perks up a bit when they pass near the church where a vicar once poisoned the communion wine with cyanide, thus ridding  himself of three pesky parishioners, and she’s downright delighted to next discover a dead body floating in the river. When the corpse man is identified as the vicar’s troubled son Orlando, Flavia has the opportunity to investigate crimes old and new. The landlady at the inn is full of gossipy information, a coffin-maker’s son provides further insight, and Dogger is an able and invaluable assistant when Flavia runs afoul of local law enforcement. They just don’t recognize her genius, poor souls. After nine previous books, readers know better.

A few more recommendations. Inspired by the Ted Bundy case, Meg Gardiner’s chilling Into the Black Nowhere (Dutton/Penguin, digital galley) finds rookie FBI profiler Caitlin Hendrix on the trail of a serial killer, who is also a charming psychopath. This UNSUB, kidnapping and killing young women in central Texax,  uses some of Bundy’s tactics — pretending to need help, for example — to lure his victims into his car, where he snaps on the handcuffs. He also manages a daring escape at one point, as did Bundy. But Gardiner adds some twists of her own invention, and Caitlin has enough flaws to make her an interesting continuing character. Laura Powell’s The Unforgotten (Gallery Books) has a retro vibe and reminded me of the 1987 British film Wish You Were Here, in which Emily Lloyd played a teenager willingly seduced by an older man. In this story set in a seaside community in 1956 Cornwall, 15-year-old Betty is drawn to one of the out-of-town reporters staying at the Hotel Eden, run by her unhappy and unbalanced mother. In the news is the search for “the Cornwell Cleaver,” who is murdering young women in lurid circumstances. This storyline alternates with one 50 years later, where an older woman named Mary is intent on reconnecting with someone from that long-ago summer. The title character of Lexie Elliot’s involving debut The French Girl is the beautiful and enigmatic Sabine. After insinuating herself with a group of British students vacationing in the French countryside, she inexplicably disappeared. Ten years later, her remains are discovered, upsetting the lives of five of the former friends, especially legal recruiter Kate. Realizing that her jealousy of Sabine makes her a prime suspect, obsessive Kate begins to wonder how well she knew the others, including her ex-lover Seb and his cousin Tom. Neil Olson’s The Black Painting (Hanover Square/Harlequin, digital gallery) features such Gothic elements as a creepy old house, a tyrannical patriarch, and a stolen painting that supposedly carries a curse. Alfred Arthur Morse’s body is discovered by his granddaughter Therese, who along with her cousins, has been summoned to his Connecticut coastal home where they spent childhood summers. The last time they were all there, the painting by Goya that hung in Morse’s library was stolen. It still has not been recovered, although the accused thief recently got out of prison. There’s enough weirdness going on that one of Morse’s sons hires PI Dave Webster to uncover the truth about the theft, and he is soon enmeshed in sordid family secrets. An unlikely but entertaining tale.

 

 

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Sexual harassment.  #MeToo. Sexual misconduct. #Time’sUp. Sexual assault. Both Sarah Vaughan’s Anatomy of a Scandal (Atria, e-galley) and Alafair Burke’s The Wife (HarperCollins) are ripped-from-the-headlines domestic thrillers where secrets threaten seemingly picture-perfect marriages and careers. But whose secrets? In Vaughan’s deft procedural, steely British barrister Kate Woodcroft is prosecuting rising political star James Whitehouse, who is accused of raping the young researcher with whom he recently ended an affair. The salacious details — the encounter took place in an elevator at the House of Commons — come as a shock to Sophie Whitehouse, who has known James since their days at Oxford. The courtroom dramatics are interspersed with flashbacks to that time, when James was friends with the future PM and Sophie’s study partner Holly was trying to fit in with her posh, privileged classmates. It’s a timely page-turner

, as is writer and law professor Burke’s new book, following her twisty The Ex.  In The Wife,  Angela Powell is thrust into the spotlight when her college professor and media darling husband Jason is accused of sexual misconduct, first by an intern and then by a woman who later goes missing. The revelations just keep on coming as NYPD detective Corrine Duncan investigates crimes past and present involving both Angela and Jason.

If you think long winter nights are made for mystery books and movies, you’ll want to take a look at The Woman in the Window (HarperCollins, e-galley). First-time novelist A.J. Finn — the pseudonym of a publishing insider — takes his cues from classic noir flicks like Gaslight and Rear Window, both of which inform the crafty tale about an agoraphobic child psychologist.  Anna Fox, the most unreliable of narrators, hasn’t left her Manhattan townhouse in months, peering at her neighbors through a camera lens. When she witnesses a stabbing in the house across the street, no one believes her, and well, yes, she had been drinking. Still, there’s something off about an angry husband, a troubled schoolboy, the taciturn tenant in the basement. Add in a cat, a skylight and a snowstorm. The first big twist didn’t surprise me, and I caught on to another just ahead of poor, paranoid Anna. It’s a doozy, though. Can’t wait to see what Finn cooks up next.

Crime fiction readers know a novel named Robicheaux (Simon & Schuster) can come only from the pen of James Lee Burke. He introduced New Iberia, La. sheriff’s detective Dave Robicheaux in The Neon Rain more than 30 years ago, and this is the 21st book in the series. Robicheaux is a stand-up guy on the side of the innocents, but he’s also an alcoholic who can fall off the wagon,  haunted by his memories of war, fallen soldiers and lost loves. It’s also possible that he may have murdered the man who accidentally killed his wife Molly in a car wreck, but there’s plenty of other trouble to go around. Much of it involves his old partner Clete Purcel, who has gotten tangled up with silver-tongued Senate candidate Jimmy Nightingale, who is in cahoots with career criminal Big Tony Nemo. The latter would like to make movies out of reclusive writer Levon Broussard’s Civil War novels, while Nightingale has his eyes on Broussard’s wife. The writing is often lovely and lyrical, the plot is intricate and blood-stained. (And yes, Robicheaux’s daughter Alafair is named after Burke’s own daughter, who also knows her way around a mystery. Witness The Wife, reviewed above.)

Louisa Luna introduces odd, bad-ass bounty hunter Alice Vega in Two Girls Down (Doubleday, digital galley), a fast-paced variation on the missing kids theme. Single mom Jamie Brandt leaves 10-year-old Kylie and 8-year-old Bailey in a strip-mall parking lot while she ducks into K-Mart to buy a birthday present, but finds her daughters gone when she returns. Her wealthy aunt hires Vega to help in the small-town police investigation, but the cops aren’t interested in the outsider’s reputed skills at finding people, so the enigmatic Vega teams with ex-cop turned PI Max Caplan. It’s an unlikely partnership, but the divorced father of a teenage daughter makes a good foil for loner Vega, who has a hacker on call to feed her info on the family, the cops and multiple suspects. False leads have the hunt for the sisters going down to the wire, and the suspense is killing. Come for the plot, stay for the characters.

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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.

 

 

 

 

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I’m still recovering from Karin Slaughter’s gripping Pretty Girls in 2015, and now here’s The Good Daughter (William Morrow, digital galley) to give me nightmares. In the prologue, teenage sisters Samantha and Charlotte are kidnapped and terrorized at gunpoint in the north Georgia woods. They still carry the scars — physically and emotionally — 28 years later when they are uneasily reunited by a school shooting in their hometown. Their infamous defense attorney father Rusty is set to defend the vulnerable schoolgirl left holding the gun until he is stabbed in his driveway.  Charlie’s also a lawyer, but she actually witnessed the crime’s immediate aftermath, so it it falls to New York patent lawyer Sam to call on her courtroom skills. As tensions seethe, old secrets are revealed, new conflicts arise and the sisters clash. Tense and intense.

It’s hail and farewell to intrepid Eygyptologist and sleuth Amelia Peabody in The Painted Queen (William Morrow), which beloved series creator Barbara Mertz, writing as Elizabeth Peters, left unfinished at her death four years ago. Her good friend and fellow mystery writer Joan Hess was able able to step in and complete this last adventure that’s true to the spirit of Peabody and her brilliant archaeologist husband Radcliffe Emerson. In 1912 Cairo, the duo are readying for a return expedition to Amarna when a monocled would-be assassin surprises Peabody in her hotel bath. Someone really doesn’t want her investigating the disappearance of a German archaeologist, apparently tied to the forgery of a stolen bust of Queen Nefertiti. Fans will appreciate the ensuing romp replete with colorful characters and overall good humor. Newcomers should immediately seek out Crocodile on the Sandbank, first in the series. What a treat.

Margaret Maron, who wrapped up her award-winning Deborah Knott series with last year’s Long Upon the Land, returns with what she has said will be the last entry in her Sigrid Harald series, Take Out (Grand Central, digital galley). In mid-1990s New York City, police detective Harald is dealing with her grief over the recent death of her lover, famous artist Oscar Nauman, by helping organize a posthumous exhibit and settle his estate. On the work front, the murder of two homeless men, who shared poisoned takeout on a park bench, first leads Harald to the widow of a retired mobster and then to her neighbor, a former opera star. Even as she tries to figure out the tangled connections between the dead men, and who wanted who dead, she is surprised by the appearance of a man claiming to be Nauman’s son. It’s a thoroughly satisfying mystery on several levels, a fitting farewell to a storied career.

One of my favorite detectives, British copper Maeve Kerrigan, returns in Let the Dead Speak (St. Martin’s Press, digital galley), the seventh in Jane Casey’s estimable series. This time, unreliable witnesses and a missing body complicate what appears to be the murder of a single mom. Returning early from a weekend visit with her father, teenager Chloe Emery finds blood everywhere in her Putney home but not her mom Kate. Kerrigan and DI Josh Derwent, known for not playing well with others, are stymied by Chloe, a pretty girl with mental deficits staying temporarily with neighbors. The Norrises aren’t very nice neighbors, though. Parents Oliver and Eleanor are ardent evangelicals who disapprove of Kate’s male visitors. Their son Morgan is a lout, and young daughter Bethany appears to know more than she’s telling. Suspicion also falls on a neighborhood kid with a rap sheet. And what really happened to poor Kate? The answers make surprising if awful sense.

Once a rising star, young police detective Rene Ballard was exiled to the Hollywood station’s night shift after losing a sexual harassment complaint against her boss. Not a good career move for Ballard, but a perfect one for crime novelist Michael Connelly, who launches a new series with The Late Show (Little Brown, digital galley). Ballard and her partner typically hand off night-time crimes to the day shift for further investigation, but a nightclub shooting upsets the routine. Ballard is with a badly beaten transgender prostitute at the hospital when she is detailed to the arrival of a waitress fatally wounded at the shooting. While other detectives are all over the four other victims, Ballard tries to find out more about the comatose prostitute and confronts a sadistic killer. Then the death of another cop draws her into the nightclub investigation. The relentless pace is relieved by glimpses into Ballard’s lonely life. A surfer since childhood, she lives mostly out of her van, spending days at the beach with her rescue dog, sleeping in a tent. You thought Harry Bosch had issues.

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“On a Tuesday in May, in her thirty-fifth year, Rachel shot her husband dead.”

That’s the humdinger first line of the prologue to Since We Fell (Ecco, digital galley), Dennis Lehane’s new thrill ride of a novel that is as slick and unexpected as black ice. It reads almost like two books, with the first charting Rachel Childs growing up with a bitter single mother who refuses to divulge her father’s identity. After her mother dies when she’s in college, Rachel continues to look for her father, even as she becomes a successful TV news reporter in Boston and marries her producer. Then comes an on-air meltdown while on assignment in Haiti, and Rachel loses her career and her marriage. Debilitating anxiety attacks turn her into a shut-in until a chance encounter with a one-time private investigator she had briefly hired. Brian Delacroix is now a successful businessman who understands Rachel like no one else. She falls hard for him, and he for her. They marry and everything is going well, with Rachel gradually making solo trips into the city. It’s on one such foray that she spots Brian across the street in the rain. But Brian is on a flight to London. Isn’t he?

Uh-oh. This is a Dennis Lehane novel, after all. Remember Mystic River? Shutter Island? Gone, Baby, Gone? The reversals of fortune can make your head spin and your heart ache, and Since We Fell is no exception. Reflective Rachel must give way to action-figure Rachel as she finds herself caught in a conspiracy where nothing is what it seems. Nothing and no one. Trust me.

Megan Miranda’s The Perfect Stranger (Simon & Schuster, digital galley) is another of those twisty thrillers pivoting on questions of identity and appearances. Reporter Leah Stevens has to resign her newspaper job after her sources are questioned in a story about college suicides. She fortuitously runs into her former roommate, Emmy Grey, who suggests Leah accompany her to rural Pennsylvania for a fresh start as a high school teacher. Then a woman who resembles Leah is found bludgeoned at a nearby lake, and Emmy goes missing. Questioned by a police detective, Leah admits to being stalked by a fellow teacher and is drawn into the investigation, especially when she realizes how little she really knows of Emmy and how much of it is lies. Miranda, author of the very good All the Pretty Girls, gets a bit bogged down in Leah’s back story and a few too many coincidences, but this is smartly written psychological suspense.

So many more mysteries and thrillers out there. Don’t miss Fallout (HarperCollins, digital galley), in which Sara Paretsky sends the intrepid V.I. Warshawski and her golden retriever to Kansas on the trail of a young fillmmaker and an aging black actress. In Lawrence (where Paretsky grew up), V.I. finds evidence of long-ago crimes seeping into the present, both in the university town and a in nearby decommissioned missile silo. Agatha Christie fans will appreciate the locked-room aspects of G.M. Maillet’s Devil’s Breath (St. Martin’s Press), even though the room in this case is a luxury yacht. British spy-turned-Anglican priest Max Tudor comes on board after the body of a glamorous actress washes ashore. Everyone, it seems, had a motive for murder. Plum Sykes launches a comic murder series set in 1980s Oxford with Party Girls Die in Pearls (HarperCollins, digital galley), featuring freshman sleuth Ursula Flowerbottom and her new BFF, American Nancy Feingold. Ursula’s discovery of the body of a fashionable classmate sends the duo on a round of parties where they can look their best while looking for a killer. Supremely silly fun and clothes to die for. In the surprising Long Black Veil (Crown, digital galley), Jennifer Finney Boylan offers a secretive leading character on a collision course with the past after the bones of a former classmate are discovered on the eerie grounds of an abandoned prison. And old bones also turn up in Sycamore (HarperCollins, digital galley), Bryn Chancellor’s interesting but overworked first novel. When word gets out about the skeletal remains found in a wash outside a small Arizona town, residents immediately think of 17-year-old Jess Winters, who disappeared 18 years ago. Chancellor moves back and forth in time and among various voices to explore the mystery of Jess herself and how her disappearance affected the town. Chancellor nails her teenagers but is less successful with the older characters, turning them elderly before their time.

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sleepwalkerWho knew sleep sex was a thing? Actually, it’s part of the sleep disorder that afflicts wife and mother Annalee Ahlberg in Chris Bohjalian’s The Sleepwalker (Knopf Doubleday, digital galley), which will keep you up all night flipping pages. When Annalee vanishes into the Vermont night while husband Warren is away on a business trip, her elder daughter Lianna fears Annalee’s parasomnia has again led her to the nearby river. But it’s not just the river hiding the secrets to Annalee’s disappearance, as Lianna discovers when she begins questioning her father, her teenage sister Paige, her mom’s closest friends, her therapist, and one detective who knows all too much about Annalee’s history. Bohjalians’ plotting is so clever that I didn’t see the ending coming.

hockadayInspired by true events, Susan Rivers’ first novel, The Second Mrs. Hockaday (Algonquin, digital galley), is a fascinating collage of Civil War history and mystery told through letters and diary entries. Placidia — Dia — is 17 when she marries Confederate major Gryffth Hockaday after a brief acquaintance. Two days later, he is recalled to battle and Dia is left to run his South Carolina farm and care for his young son from his first marriage. Two years later, Gryffth returns to the scandalous news that his wife has given birth and the child has died. Accused of adultery and murder, Dia refuses to explain her actions, which are gradually revealed, along with long-held family secrets. Rivers doesn’t skirt the everyday brutality against women and slaves, nor does she sensationalize it. Dia, Gryffth, the slave Achilles, little Charles — all come across as complex, credible characters.

thedryThe small Australian town of Kiewarra bakes in the sun, parched by a long drought, its family farms teetering on bankruptcy. It’s enough to drive a man crazy, which is why the townspeople think the shocking shotgun deaths of Luke Hadler, his school aide wife Karen and their 10-year-old son Billy are a murder-suicide. But in Jane Harper’s evocative novel of crimes past and present, The Dry (Flatiron Books, digital galley), Luke’s father asks federal agent Aaron Falk to investigate when he returns to his hometown for the funeral of his best childhood mate. Aaron’s reluctant, but he owes Luke and his family. Back in high school, they alibied one another in the suspicious drowning death of classmate Ellie Deacon. Harper uses flashbacks to illuminate the town’s secrets, and her shifting narrative takes on an urgency as hostilities reach fever pitch. Most of the revelations don’t come as a surprise, but the detailed atmosphere keeps things interesting.

strangetideIn addition to reading the three stand-alones above, I checked out new entries in several series over the holidays. Boston investigator and junk food lover Fina Ludlow returns for the fourth time in Duplicity (Putnam Penguin, digital galley), looking into an evangelical church’s cult-like hold on its members and again contending with her black sheep older brother. You’ll appreciate the story more if you’ve read the previous books, especially 2015’s Brutality. Val McDermid’s stellar Out of Bounds (Grove Atlantic, digital galley) marks the third book featuring Scottish cold case detective Karen Pirie, and pivots on the surprising results of a DNA test on an accident victim. And speaking of Scotland, Ian Rankin’s Rather Be the Devil (Little, Brown, digital galley) finds veteran Edinburgh copper John Rebus drawn out of semi-retirement to work a 1978 cold case that also involves his nemesis/frenemy, Big Ger Cafferty. The 21st book in the award-winning series will be published the end of the month. And it’s lucky 13 for the Peculiar Crimes Unit in Christopher Fowler’s Bryant and May: Strange Tide (Ballantine/Random House, digital galley), even if it looks as if ancient Arthur Fowler is losing his mind trying to solve the mysterious drowning of a young woman in the Thames. A fiendishly fun puzzle.

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