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Posts Tagged ‘Laurie R. King’

 

I needed a night light after reading Meg Gardiner’s scary good UNSUB (Dutton, digital galley), which was inspired by the infamous Zodiac Killer. This “unknown subject” was dubbed the Prophet when he first terrorized the Bay Area 20 years ago with a series of grisly killings, mutilating 11 corpses with the sign of Mercury. When he vanished before being caught, he also claimed Detective Mack Hendrix’s sanity and career. But now, when new bodies with the Mercury sign are discovered in an Alameda cornfield, Mack’s daughter Caitlin gets herself reassigned from narcotics to homicide. She may be the rookie on the squad investigating the case, but her resolve and research prove invaluable when the Prophet strikes again. Or is this a copycat? The narrative moves swiftly as the detectives try to discern the cryptic clues left for them, and it’s to Gardiner’s credit that the fast pace continues once a pattern emerges. Caitlin may know the Prophet’s playbook, but that doesn’t stop the killer from toying with her and those closest to her. The countdown to the finale is a nail-biting nightmare. There will be blood. But also a sequel, so keep the lights on.

Young men for whom money has never been a problem discover otherwise in Christopher Bollen’s silky The Destroyers (HarperCollins, digital galley), which brings to mind both Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley novels and Agatha Christie’s Evil Under the Sun. A shocking prologue kicks off the action, but then Bollen moves into a more digressive mode. Disinherited by his father, Ian Bledsoe skips out on the funeral, helps himself to some family funds and flees to the Greek island of Patmos, where his childhood pal Charlie Konstantinou, heir to a shipping fortune, is living with his movie star girlfriend and other hangers-on. It takes Ian a few hedonistic days in the hot glare to realize Patmos has its dark side: A monastery whose monks hold silent sway over the tourists and pilgrims; religious hippies on the beach who take in wide-eyed wanderers; the blackened remains of a taverna near the ferry dock, where a springtime bomb killed two Americans. Charlie hires Ian as an assistant for his island-hopping yacht business, then disappears. Many people come looking for Charlie, including his older brother. There’s a fatal accident, and then a murder. The police take more than a polite interest. Ian reflects on his shared past with Charlie and the boyhood game where they concocted perilous scenarios and risky escape plans. He is distracted by his college girlfriend, on vacation in Patmos before law school. He still can’t find Charlie. Look for The Destroyers to be a movie.

Looking for a tricksy plot and an unreliable narrator, something like Gillian Flynn or Megan Miranda might cook up? Then check out Riley Sager’s Final Girls (Dutton, digital galley), a well-constructed thriller whose title comes from the old horror film trope where one girl survives a mass murder. In Sager’s tale, Quincy Carpenter has rejected the tabloid moniker and moved on in the years since her college friends were massacred in a cabin in the Pennsylvania woods. She has a successful baking blog and a live-in lawyer boyfriend, and it helps that she has almost no memory of the murders and appeases her survivors’ guilt by regularly checking in with Coop, the cop who saved her life. But then another Final Girl — Lisa, who survived a sorority house attack — is found dead, believed to be a suicide — and Samantha Boyd, who fought off a mass murderer in a Florida motel, shows up at Quincy’s door. As troubled Sam provokes Quincy to tap into her buried anger and memories, interspersed chapters flash back to the fateful Pine Cottage weekend, generating menace and suspense. Readers may think they know where the story is headed, and maybe they do, but they also may be in for a shock. Quincy sure is.

The first buried secret that propels Fiona Barton’s  new novel of domestic intrigue, The Child (Berkley, digital galley), is an infant’s skeleton found by workers tearing down London houses. Barton quickly connects four women to the old bones and then alternates perspective among them. Kate Roberts is the seasoned reporter who writes the initial story, “Who is the Building Site Baby?” Emma is the book editor who struggles with depression and who used to live on the street where the bones were found. Both she and her narcissistic mother Jude, still looking for Mr. Right after all these years, see the story, as does Angela, whose baby was stolen from the maternity ward years ago. She’s convinced the skeleton is her daughter, Alice, but she’s been wrong before. As Kate diligently tracks clues to the baby’s identity, more secrets surface, leading to the book’s other question: How long can you live with a lie that has shaped your life in untoward ways? Like Barton’s previous novel The Widow, this one offers interesting answers.

Remember when “active shooter” wasn’t part of our everyday vocabulary? I didn’t think I was up for Laurie R. King’s new standalone Lockdown (Bantam, digital galley), no matter how timely, having seen way too much of the real thing on the evening news. But King delivers more than a tick-tock countdown of Career Day at Guadalupe Middle School, which begins with the high hopes principal Linda McDonald has for her diverse student body. The school bubbles with “hormones and suppressed rage, with threats all around it,” and is currently troubled by a murder trial involving student gang members and the mysterious disappearance of a seventh-grade girl. Readers are aware of a more ominous hazard headed toward the school — a heavily armed white van — but not who is driving. As the minutes go by, King switches among many perspectives — various students and teachers, the principal, her husband, the school janitor, a cop on duty at the school, parents preparing to participate in career day — and a number of backstories emerge. Perhaps there are too many, given that several could have made books on their own. Still, by the time the action really begins, readers are invested in a handful of sympathetic characters who may not survive lockdown.

Hallie Ephron goes Southern Gothic in You’ll Never Know, Dear (William Morrow, advance copy), disguising the Lowcountry South Carolina town of Beaufort as Bonsecours, where the Spanish moss-draped live oaks hide dark secrets from the past. The reappearance of a homemade porcelain doll may hold the clue to the 40-year-old kidnapping of a 4-year-old girl. Her mother, dollmaker Miss Sorrell, has always believed Janey would come home, and when Janey’s long-lost doll turns up, she just knows Janey will be next. Her daughter Lis and her next-door neighbor and fellow dollmaker Evelyn, are not so easily convinced, but then a kiln explosion sends Miss Sorrell and Lis to the hospital, and Lis’s grad student daughter Vanessa returns home to help out and do some detecting. Coincidences pile on, complications ensue, plausibility departs. Oh, dear.

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murderofmaryYes, there’s a pool of blood. Yes, Mary Russell, the intrepid young wife of Sherlock Holmes, is missing. Yes, housekeeper Clara Hudson smells gunsmoke. No, I don’t believe that Mary is dead, despite the title of Laurie R. King’s latest installment in her long-running series, The Murder of Mary Russell (Bantam, digital galley).

Still, King leaves readers in suspense and Mary’s fate up in the air shortly after she confronts an Australian visitor to her farmhouse claiming to be Mrs. Hudson’s long-lost son. Mrs. Hudson returns home from shopping to discover an empty house, a broken cup, gunsmoke, blood and no Mary. From there, King jumps back to give us Mrs. Hudson’s complicated and surprising history, beginning with the unlikely romance between her Scottish mother and seafaring father. Said dad is a charming con man and grifter, and, growing up in Australia, little Clarissa is his most apt pupil. Her talent for disguises and playacting helps her in her quest to make something of herself, despite her father and spoiled younger sister. Eventually, too, she crosses paths in London with a young Sherlock Holmes and transforms into Mrs. Hudson. But what about Mary? Soon, back at the farm, Holmes is on the case with Mrs. Hudson’s help, and Mary herself is doing her cunning best to stay alive.

Longtime fans of the series will be especially entertained by King’s take on Mrs. Hudson, and a neat little twist near book’s end hints that she’s still keeping secrets.

londonrainNicola Upson has forged a nice career as a mystery writer with her series featuring real-life mystery writer and playwright Josephine Tey. Set in the 1930s and replete with period detail, they have the atmosphere of the Golden Age mysteries of Agatha Christie and Tey herself.

In London Rain (HarperCollins, digital galley), it’s the summer of 1937, and the capital city is readying for the coronation of King George VI. Tey is in London to sit in on rehearsals at Broadcast House for the BBC radio adaptation of one of her plays. She meets Vivienne Beresford, an editor at Radio Times, and soon witnesses her public humiliation when her husband, famed announcer Anthony Beresford, is revealed to be having an affair with a well-known actress. On air during the coronation, Beresford is felled by a gunshot, and his wife is the obvious suspect. Josephine’s friend, Scotland Yard detective Archie Penrose, is handling what appears to be an open-and-shut case. But then a jailed Vivienne asks to see Josephine, a second corpse is discovered and Josephine’s theatrical connections and detecting skills come into play. Throughout, too, Josephine’s private life is complicated by her lover, actress Marta Hallard.

Upson’s psychologically astute novels make me want to go back and reread my favorite Tey mysteries: The Daughter of Time, The Franchise Affair and Brat Farrar. Talk about some twists.

 

 

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berlinJoseph Kanon is one of my favorite writers of historical espionage, right up there with Alan Furst in evoking the spy’s world of shadows, way more than fifty shades of gray. Last year’s Istanbul Passage was a layered tale of the crossroads of East and West in 1945. Now, in Leaving Berlin (Atria, digital galley), Kanon’s back in divided post-war Germany in the rubble-strewn Soviet sector during the blockade of 1948-49.

Alex Meier is a Berlin native and novelist who escaped the city for California before the war. Standing up to the McCarthyites earns him a job with the CIA in lieu of deportation or prison. If he’ll spy on his fellow cultural emigres in East Germany, he can return to the States and the young son living with his ex-wife. Alex isn’t too happy with the arrangement, especially when he finds out his old flame is the consort of his main target, a Russian major. His life becomes infinitely more complicated when her brother escapes from a POW labor camp and needs to get medical help in the West, and when the East German police insist he become an informer. His loyalties will be tested more than once; betrayal lurks in every dark corner. There’s a shoot-out early on, then a murder and a cover-up, but the story’s less concerned with action than with discerning the traitors on all sides. The characters, with their varying backstories, are believable, even if Alex can’t believe what they say.

knivesOlen Steinhauer signals what he’s up to at the very beginning of his clever All the Old Knives (St. Martins/Minotaur Books, paperback ARC) when CIA agent Henry Pelham discusses the state of contemporary spy fiction with a fellow airline passenger. She’s reading an old Len Deighton. “They just don’t make stories like this anymore. … You knew who the bad guys were back then.”

Actually, they do still write traditional spy novels — see Joseph Kanon, above — and Steinhauer’s new book isn’t as different as one might suppose, despite its up-to-the-minute terrorist-flavored plot and its unconventional framework. Almost all of it takes place over dinner at a quiet restaurant in Carmel-by-the-Sea, Calif., where Henry is meeting former lover and agent Celia Favreau for the first time in five years. Both were stationed in Vienna during the catastrophic takeover of a passenger plane by a radical Islamic group. Celia left within months after the debacle to marry an older man and start a family. Ostensibly, Henry just happens to be in her neck of the woods and Celia is catching him up on her two small children, but much more is revealed in their conversation and in flashbacks. Henry’s involved in an inquiry about the hijacking — there’s lingering suspicion that a mole tipped off the terrorists — and he wants Celia’s version of events. Of course, it’s all in the official report. Or is it?

Halfway through the book, Steinhauer switches perspectives from Henry to Celia, and while her memories overlap his, they also differ on crucial points. So, who are you going to believe? Both are well-trained liars and unreliable witnesses. The narrative switches back and forth as dinner progresses. Wine flows. Delicious food consumed. The veal hardly needs a knife, but the talk becomes more pointed. In the end, a good spy tales turns on deceit and betrayal. All the Old Knives is very good indeed.

dreamingspiesLaurie R. King’s novels mix atmosphere, history and intrigue, whether she’s writing suspense novels like 2013’s The Bones of Paris or one of her entries in the Mary Russell-Sherlock Holmes series, say, 2012’s Garment of Shadows, which started out in in 1920s Morocco. Her latest, Dreaming Spies (Bantam/Random House, digital galley) finds Mary and Sherlock on a steamer bound for 1924 Japan, where they disguise themselves as Buddhist pilgrims as part of a secret mission to help the royal family. It all stems from a meeting aboard ship with a young Japanese woman, who turns out to be economist, acrobat and real-life ninja, and an English lord who turns out to be a blackmailer. The leisurely narrative, stuffed with all sorts of fascinating cultural asides, is occasionally punctuated by action scenes, but it’s Mary and Sherlock’s wits that make the story so entertaining. Their Japan adventure is only partially resolved, however, and there’s more mystery a year later when their Japanese friends and foes come calling in Mary’s beloved Oxford with its “dreaming spires.”

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wastedIn Sue Grafton’s latest entry in her alphabet series, W is for Wasted (Putnam, purchased e-book), California P.I. Kinsey Millhone is still happily ensconced in the ’80s with nary an iPhone or iPad in sight. Still the story feels up-to-date, involving homelessness, substance abuse and medical trials, as well as murder and money. Kinsey begins in her usual forthright fashion: “Two dead men changed the course of my life that fall. One of them I knew and the other I’d never laid eyes on until I saw him in the morgue.”

The unknown man was found on the beach with Kinsey’s business card in his pocket. First charged with tracking down his identity, Kinsey befriends three of his wary homeless companions, then has to find his estranged kids in nearby Bakersfield to explain the terms of his will — which surprisingly benefits Kinsey. And, oh yes, the kids are her kin, too, another surprise. Meanwhile,  a parallel plot focuses on the last days of fellow gumshoe Pete Wolinksky, whose ethics — or lack of them — see him sliding down the slippery slope. His last case, a matter of blackmail and murder, eventually intersects with Kinsey’s investigation.

Happily for readers, there are three more letters before Kinsey’s last case. Happily, too, Grafton’s still adding to the cast of irregulars. Welcome Ed the cat.

parisbonesHemingway and company may have spoken metaphorically of Paris’s Lost Generation, but a missing young woman propels the plot of Laurie R. King’s evocative The Bones of Paris ( Random House, digital galley). In the fall of 1929, Harris Stuyvesant, the American detective from King’s 2008 Touchstone, is prowling the alleys and cafes of Jazz Age Paris, hunting for pretty Phillipa Crosby, a young American who seems to have disappeared. Her roommate Nancy’s just returned from summer vacation and helps Harris look for Pip, who played at acting and modeling within the free-wheeling milieu of expat artistes and entourages.  Surrealist photographer Man Ray is on hand, as is Cole Porter, but the pied piper  of the new “death pornography” movement  is a powerful and aristocratic art collector, the Comte, also associated with the Theatre du Grand-Guignol and its macabre plays.

The convoluted plot has its own Grand-Guignol touches — an artist who works with human bones,  a terrifying journey through the underground caverns carved from cemeteries. Bennett Grey, the tortured human lie detector, makes a late entrance as Harris works with a Paris detective searching for a serial killer. Intrigue competes with atmosphere. Fans of historical fiction win.

bitterriverCounty prosecutor Bell Elkins and her West Virginia hometown of Acker’s Gap return in Bitter River (St. Martin’s Press, library hardcover), Julia Keller’s finely wrought follow-up to A Killing in the Hills. When the body of a pregnant high school student is discovered in the river, Bell and her friend, Sheriff Nick Foglesong, hope it’s an accidental death or even a suicide. But it’s not, and even as they look for a stranger, they fear the killer is one of their own. Not that the hardscrabble mountain town is immune from outside crime. Bell has been railing against the organized meth trade for some time, but terrorism is something new. A determined assassin is apparently aiming for Bell and those she loves.

As in her first book, Keller skillfully weaves Bell’s backstory of childhood abuse and failed marriage into the page-turning plot, expanding on her love-hate relationship with Acker’s Gap, the pull and push of family and friends.

kindcruelThe key to solving multiple murders in Kind of Cruel (Viking, digital galley), Sophie Hannah’s new psychological thriller/police procedural, apparently lies in the words Amber Hewerdine repeats under hypnosis: “kind, cruel, kind of cruel.”  Insomniac Amber doesn’t remember where she first heard the words, or what they mean, but for married police detectives Simon Waterhouse and Charlie Zailer, the phrase is their first break in the death of primary schoolteacher Katharine Allen. Amber goes from being questioned in the case to investigating the murder, prompted by curiosity and the recent death of her best friend Sharon. Amber and her husband are now caring for Sharon’s young daughters, who escaped the housefire that killed their mother.

If you think where there is fire, there must be smoke obscuring Amber’s connection to the first murder, you’d be right. A fog also hangs over a peculiar Christmas Day incident involving Amber’s extended family. Hang in there. Hannah eventually reveals all in her characteristically creepy fashion.

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An isolated monastery in northern Quebec, a shabby West Virginia mining town, the ancient city of Fez. Setting plays an integral part in three new crime novels.

In Louise Penny’s The Beautiful Mystery (St. Martin’s press, library hardcover), Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and sidekick Jean-Guy Beauvoir travel north to the wilderness outpost of two dozen cloistered Gilbertine monks, whose amateur CD of Gregorian chants brought them world-wide fame. The CD also has divided the brothers between those who side with the choirmaster in wanting to further capitalize on their divine musical gift, and those who agree with the abbott that preserving their isolation is essential to their tiny order’s preservation. But now the choirmaster is dead in the abbott’s walled garden, presenting a no-exit puzzle for the two detectives, whose investigation is further hampered by the unwelcome arrival of Gamache’s dodgy boss.

In her last novel, A Trick of the Light, Penny explored ambition,  pride and jealousy in the art world; here, the same motives for murder emerge among the monks, all of whom have been recruited for their musical gifts that combine for “the beautiful mystery” of the title. Penny smoothly orchestrates the ensemble cast, detailing the history of plainsong and musical notation, along with asides on chocolate-making and monastic life. Gamache is quietly astute, as usual, but troubled Beauvoir keeps second-guessing his mentor’s methods. A murderer is revealed but not without cost to the Gilbertines — and the detectives. The ninth book in this favorite series can’t come soon enough.

The narrator of Laurie R. King’s A Garment of Shadows (Random House, digital galley via NetGalley) awakes with a headache, not knowing where or who she is. A victim of amnesia, our intrepid heroine will figure out where she is — Fez, in 1924 Morocco — long before she reclaims her identity as Mary Russell, the much-younger wife of Sherlock Holmes, something series readers have known since the get-go. But before the two can be reunited and embark on a daring ride through the desert, Mary will use her wits and fierce intelligence as she dons male Arab garb and seeks her name in the twisting marketplace. Warplanes fly overhead as Britain, France and local political factions tussle over Morocco’s future, and Holmes, in a parallel narrative, is drawn into the intrigue even as he learns Mary is missing. King evokes the period and Arab culture with her vivid writing, and the plot unfolds at  a relentessly suspenseful pace.

The impoverished West Virginia town of Acker’s Gap springs to life in journalist Julia Keller’s first mystery, A Killing in the Hills (St. Martin’s Press, digital galley via NetGalley) when three old men are gunned down in a fast-food restaurant. County prosecutor Bell Elkins’ teenage daughter Clare was a witness to the shooting, but her failure to tell her mother about the figure she glimpsed in the doorway will put both their lives in danger as they pursue separate investigations.

Bell, who has returned to her hometown from Washington, D.C., to crusade against the prescription drug trade that is ravaging the rural county, is a strong and prickly protagonist. As she tries to figure out the perplexing shooting with the sheriff, she also deals with a mentally handicapped man accused of killing a child, the scars of her horrific childhood and the difficulties of being a single mother. Keller builds suspense by moving among the perspectives of Bell, Clare and the hired killer, and then ups the ante with a devastating betrayal. My only quibble is the overuse of similies that mar Keller’s otherwise fine writing.

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