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Posts Tagged ‘Margaret Maron’

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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Whew! Glad that’s over. Oh, wait. You thought I was talking about the election? Well, that, too. But it seemed like it took me forever to finish Kate Morton’s new doorstop of a novel The Secret Keeper (Atria Books, digital galley via NetGalley & paperback ARC). I loved Morton’s The House at Riverton and The Forgotten Garden, but just liked The Distant Hours and now this one. Too many secrets but not enough surprises.

Fifty years ago, 16-year-old Laurel witnessed her mother Dorothy’s violent encounter with a stranger. Now Dorothy is turning 90 and in frail help; Laurel, an accomplished actress, joins her younger sisters at the family farm and is determined to find out the truth about the glossed-over incident. Several clues — an inscribed copy of Peter Pan, a photo of two young women, and the murmured name “Jimmy” — lead her back to the London Blitz, when Dorothy, aka Dolly, was a bright young thing from Coventry doing her bit for the war effort. She has a photographer boyfriend, and she greatly admires a beautiful neighbor, Vivien, married to a famous author.

Morton seamlessly shifts between present and past, spinning involving stories within stories. Laurel eventually connects the dots, proving that, as a child, you never really know what your parents were up to when they were young, and how long-kept secrets shape lives over time. The characters are interesting, the wartime atmosphere evoked in detail, but the plot’s not that original. Morton reminded me of a kinder, gentler Barbara Vine, the pseudonym Ruth Rendell uses when writing her serpentine tales. Vine/Rendell is more likely to tie up loose ends with a noose instead of a big bow.

Laura, the intense, angst-ridden narrator of Jenn Ashworth’s Cold Light (HarperCollins, digital galley via NetGalley), has been keeping secrets for a decade about her 14-year-old best friend’s suicide pact with her boyfriend. It has damaged her life to the point that she has no life to speak of — a menial cleaning job where she can remain an outsider, no friends except Emma, who was also close to dead Chloe. Now, at a ceremony commemorating Chloe, another body is found. Laura knows the identity of the corpse and the terrifying circumstances that led to a long-ago accidental death — or was it murder? Ashworth fashions a chilly tale of friendship, jealousy, betrayal.

Fiona Griffiths, the rookie Cardiff cop who stars in Harry Bingham’s Talking to the Dead (Random House, digital galley via NetGalley), has secrets in her background to rival those of the victims in the cases she works. There’s the two-year-gap in her resume, for starters, and there’s also the matter of her close family’s history with crime. These secrets are alluded to as Fiona — young, intense, a bit of an odd duck — is detailed to the sordid death of a hooker and her six-year-old daughter. Drugs are the likely culprit, but the credit card of a missing tycoon hints at something darker, deeper. Bingham jump-starts this new series with a complicated protagonist with unusual issues.

I don’t think it’s possible for a good Southern mystery not to have family secrets, but Margaret Maron does her Deborah Knott series proud with  The Buzzard Table (Grand Central Publishing, digital galley via NetGalley.) She provides a heaping helping of secrets small and large, private and public as her other series detective, NYPD’s Sigrid Harald, joins Deborah and her deputy sheriff husband Dwight on their North Carolina home turf.

Sigrid and her mother, prize-winning photographer Anne Lattimore, have returned to visit the ailing family matriarch, as has long-lost cousin Martin Crawford, an ornithologist studying Southern vultures. He unfortunately manages to be in at the scene of several crimes — the discovery of the dumped body of a murdered real-estate agent in the woods, the vicious assault on a nerdy high school student, and the unexplained death of a man at a nearby airport hotel. The airfield itself is a point of contention as the CIA is using it as a fueling stop.

Maron adroitly shifts perspectives among the characters, including personable Deborah’s first-person narrative, and opens each chapter with fascinating details about buzzards, natural recycling machines who get little respect. They have secrets, too.

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When the going gets tough, I read crime fiction. Noir, cozy, thriller, procedural, caper, PI, amatuer sleuth. I like them all. They are my literary potato chips of choice, and I never stop with just one. So when things went south this fall on the homefront, I sought diversion in the pages of books, riding a crime wave that started around Labor Day and is still going strong.

The Keeper of Lost Causes, by Jussi Adler-Olsen (Penguin; read digital galley via NetGalley): A celebrated Danish novelist introduces homicide detective Carl Morck, who, after being wounded in a disastrous shooting,  is exiled to Department Q as a special investigator of cold cases. Popular politician Merete Lynngaard vanished five years ago and is presumed dead. (Readers know better). Morck’s quick-step investigation, with the help of his assistant Assad, exposes long-held secrets, but he’s racing against a literal deadline. More of Morck will be welcome.

The Drop, by Michael Connelly (Little, Brown; purchased digital edition): LAPD detective Harry Bosch returns in another socially realistic procedural that tests his puzzle-solving abilities and his belief that “everyone counts, or no one counts.” His investigation into a cold case linking a young boy to a long-ago murder is interrupted when a high-ranking city council member demands that Harry look into the death of his grown son, who fell from the famed Chateau Marmont. Suicide, accident, murder? Both cases follow twisting mean streets, validating Harry’s dislike of “high jingo,”  aka police politics. Meanwhile, he’s looking at forced retirement in three years, worrying over his 15-year-old daughter, dealing with partners old and new, and trying to connect with a troubled woman. Both Bosch and Connelly are such pros. Long may they continue their partnership.

‘V’ is for Vengeance, by Sue Grafton (Putnam; purchased hardcover): Harry Bosch thinks of himself as a dinosaur in a digital age, but PI Kinsey Millhone is really retro. In her 23rd outing, Kinsey is turning 38 in 1988 and sporting raccoon eyes, having once again stuck her newly-broken nose in someone’s else’s business.  But who knew a lingerie sale at Nordstrom’s would lead to a Mob-run shoplifting ring, or a suicide that may be murder, or an errant husband, or a spoiled young gambler willing to bet his life? And then’s the really ruthless guy. Says Kinsey, “I know there are people who believe you should forgive and forget. For the record, let me say I’m a big fan of forgiveness as long as I’m given the opportunity to get even first.” You go, Kinsey.

Wicked Autumn, by G.M. Maillet (St. Martin’s Press; purchased digital edition): On the surface, this English village mystery appears quite cozy. But the handsome vicar is a retired MI5 agent, the head of the Women’s Institute is a poisonous know-it-all, and idyllic Nether Monkslip’s harvest “fayre” ends in murder.  Max Tudor calls on his past to help the authorites ferret out a killer among his parishners and finds his paradise harboring some nasty serpents. This is the beginning of a new series that promises to be crisper than a crumpet and clever as all get out. Mind how you go, dearie.

Three-Day Town by Margaret Maron (Grand Central Publishing; read digital galley via NetGalley): Maron’s two series heroines, North Carolina judge Deborah Knott and NYPD detective Sigrid Harald, meet for the first time, and it turns out they’re sort of kin, dontcha know?! Deborah and her new sheriff’s deputy husband Dwight are on a belated honeymoon in wintry Manhattan when someone is murdered in their borrowed apartment. Missing is the mysterious maquette that Deborah’s delivering to Sigrid’s family per an elderly relative’s dying wish. It may have been the reason for the murder, or the murder weapon. Maron seamlessly shifts perspectives among her characters and ups the suspense in the subterranean depths of the apartment building. South meets North, and readers win in this holiday treat.

A Trick of the Light, by Louise Penny (St. Martin’s Press; read hardcover library copy): Penny’s astute detective Armand Gamache is involved in another intriguing mystery in the charming Canadian village of Three Pines. Several familiar series characters are on hand when the body of an art critic is found in a garden after an exhibition-night party. Several are suspects with mixed motives to spare. Penny artfully tells a tricky-indeed tale with characteristic warmth and wit. I was laughing aloud at some of the funny bits, and then was moved by the poignant passages on love and loss.

The Vault, by Ruth Rendell (Scribner; read digital galley from publisher): I’ve always thought Rendell’s 1999 novel A Sight for Sore Eyes to be one of her creepier psychological outings. The ending, with three bodies entombed in a basement vault of a London house, is a nightmarish stunner worthy of Poe. It doesn’t need a sequel, but Rendell has crafted a grimly entertaining one starring Inspector Wexford, restless in retirement. Picturesque Orcadia Place, made famous in a painting of a rock star and his girlfriend, is undergoing renovations by new owners when the tomb in the garden is discovered. There are four bodies — three dating back at least a decade, and another one about two years. Wexford’s roundabout involvement in identifying the remains and solving the crimes is confusing and a tad tedious at times; I remembered just enough of the first book to keep tripping over details, making me wish I had reread it before beginning the sequel. A Sight for Sore Eyes remains a stand-out stand-alone. The Vault is icing on the cake.

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