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Posts Tagged ‘Ruth Rendell’

darkcornersI tried to take my time with Ruth Rendell’s Dark Corners (Scribner, digital galley), knowing there aren’t going to be any more books from the prolific British crime writer. Rendell, who also wrote as Barbara Vine, died in May at age 85, and it’s fitting that this final novel of psychological suspense offers a trademark tricky plot. So much for savoring every sentence — I was too busy flipping pages as Carl Martin’s life spirals out of control.

Carl’s a writer in his early 20s who has inherited a big house in an up-and-coming London neighborhood. Somewhat lazy and a little greedy, he rents the upstairs to the very first applicant, Dermott McKinnon, who seems a nice-enough fellow. Carl not only neglects to throw out his late father’s homeopathic remedies, he also sells some of the pills to an actress friend, who is then found dead. Carl feels bad, but he feels a lot worse when Dermott starts blackmailing him by withholding his rent. Even as Dermott further insinuates himself into Carl’s life, a young woman named Lizzie is taking advantage of her actress pal’s death, moving into her flat and wearing her wardrobe. Tsk, tsk. There will be consequences.

Rendell, always more interested in why than who, expertly juggles  her parallel plots, upping the ante with a murder and a kidnapping. We know her guilty characters are going to collide around some dark corner, but which one? Creepy.

banquetElizabeth George’s new doorstop, A Banquet of Consequences (Viking Penguin, review copy) features one of those poisonous characters you love to hate. Caroline Goodacre is a middle-aged meddler, an overprotective mother, spiteful wife and hypocritical friend, always ready with the withering put-down in hopes of wrong-footing her perceived adversary. But did she poison her employer, a famous feminist author, or was the fatal dose meant for her?

That’s the puzzle facing aristocratic Inspector Thomas Lynley of Scotland Yard and his workaday sidekick Sgt. Barbara Havers, who is threatened with transfer after haring off to Italy in the last book. But a Havers on good behavior is a less-effective detective, as Lynley points out to his boss (and former lover). Still, it takes Havers a while to shake off the short leash, which allows George time to digress on a number of subjects, from dogs trained to treat anxiety to Havers’ deplorable taste in T-shirts. Also, depression, abuse and suicide. If you like your books leisured and detailed with many, many characters, A Banquet of Consequences proves richly satisfying.

prettygirlsBack in the summer, Karin Slaughter wrote a nifty novella — Blonde Hair, Blue Eyes (HarperCollins, digital galley) — about a pretty college newspaper reporter looking into the disappearances of pretty women near the University of Georgia campus in 1991. Turns out that was the prequel to her hard-hitting fall thriller Pretty Girls (HarperCollins, digital galley). The Carroll family has never gotten over the unsolved disappearance of eldest daughter Julia some 20 years while a UGA student. The elder Carrolls’ marriage dissolved, sister Lydia turned to drugs, estranging herself from her sister Claire, who made a safe marriage to steady Paul. But after Paul is killed by a mugger in an alley with Claire as witness, Claire discovers nasty computer files hinting at her husband’s hidden life. Paul’s business partner wants the flash drive, as does the FBI. Claire is forced to ask Lydia for help, and the two show considerable ingenuity and guts confronting an unexpected foe and revelations about Julia’s disappearance.

Pretty Girls is not for the faint of heart nor weak of stomach. It’s grisly and twisted, and it grips like a hand from the grave.

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rendellSometime back in the 1980s, I called Ruth Rendell “a literary Hitchcock,” and the phrase stuck. It was picked up in blurbs on paperbacks, sometimes attributed to me at the Orlando Sentinel, sometimes to other papers — the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Chicago Tribune — where my reviews also ran. I repeated it myself, or variations thereof, as in this 1989 review of  The House of Stairs, written under her Barbara Vine pseudonym: “Again we see how Rendell/Vine has become the Hitchcock of the literary thriller, approaching her subjects from unexpected angles and finding the odd twist that throws readers for a loop.”

Oh, I’m going to miss her. Ruth Rendell died Saturday in London, age 85. She wrote more than 60 books, both traditional detective stories featuring Chief Inspector Reginald Wexford, and chilling novels of psychological suspense. She wrote the latter under the Rendell name, and she further transcended the genre with the Vine books. The first was A Dark Adapted Eye in 1986, and she once told me in an interview that she knew from the beginning which book would be a Ruth Rendell and which a Barbara Vine. “Barbara,” she said, “was more serious,” and the crimes depicted were more sensational, the kind that captured public attention and might result in a dramatic trial or a family scandal.

All of her novels were intricately plotted, less interested in the “whodunit” and  more in the how and why. I’m pretty sure I’ve read them all, including the collections of short stories and the frosty novella Heartstones. Many of her characters were outsiders, perhaps mentally disturbed or caught up in strange obsessions. She was interested in questions of identity, especially in the Vine novels, and her narrators tended toward the unreliable. She wasn’t afraid of the sordid, the grotesque, the downright creepy.

In person, Rendell was pleasant and thoughtful, somewhat reserved. She took her writing seriously, she said, but not herself, and she had more ideas than time to write. Her most recent Rendell was The Girl Next Door, which I wrote about in the post “Scare Tactics” in November of last year. Its mystery centered on a pair of severed, skeletal hands — one male, one female — found in a tin box by construction workers. The last Wexford was 2013’s No Man’s Nightingale, in which the aging detective  came out of retirement to investigate the murder of a vicar. But this is no armchair cozy, I wrote, because the strangled vicar is a single mother, whose race, gender and progressive views divided her congregation. (After 2004’s The Babes in the Woods, the 19th Wexford, Rendell told me she thought it might be the last unless she had a really good idea. She then wrote five more Wexfords).

Vine wasn’t quite as prolific as Rendell. There are just 13, including 2013’s The Child’s Child, a book within a book. I wrote that whenever Rendell assumes her Vine pseudonym, I think of a snake in a figure eight swallowing its tail or of matryoshkas, the Russian nesting dolls. The Vine novels still can surprise me on rereading because I never can remember all the secrets of The Minotaur, say, or Asta’s Book (published in the U.S. as Anna’s Book).

The New York Times obituary states that Rendell’s final book, Dark Corners, is to be published in October. I don’t know if it’s a Wexford, a Rendell stand-alone or a Vine. I know I can’t wait to read it, and that I’m sorry it will be the last.

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forgersA friend was trying to remember the title of an old P.D. James novel. “Y’know, the one with the hands.” Actually, no hands. Unnatural Causes opens with a memorably creepy sentence: “The corpse without hands lay in the bottom of a small sailing dinghy drifting just within sight of the Suffolk coast.”

Severed hands also figure in two chilly new crime novels. In Bradford Morrow’s artful The Forgers (Grove Atlantic, digital galley), rare book collector Adam Diehl is found murdered in his Montauk home surrounded by the ruins of valuable signed books and manuscripts. That Adam’s hands are missing leads narrator Will to speculate that Adam, the beloved brother of his girlfriend Meghan, was killed and mutilated because he was a secret forger. Will knows something about the subject because he was once a forger, too — specializing in Arthur Conan Doyle and Henry James, among others — but he has spent years working his way back into the book world’s good graces. Now he verifies the authenticity of  the handwriting in books’ inscriptions and in old letters for other collectors, occasionally recalling the thrill of faking the perfect signature. His suspicions about Adam, which he keeps from Meghan, are heightened when he begins receiving expertly forged letters from dead authors that hint at more secrets about the unsolved murder and Will’s past. Aha! The game is afoot — or is it at hand? Will makes for an eloquent and informed — if unreliable — narrator, and readers will appreciate the inside details about bibliophiles, obsession and books to die for.

nextdoorThe severed hands are skeletal in Ruth Rendell’s The Girl Next Door (Scribner, digital galley), found in a tin box by construction workers. The tabloids are fascinated by the mystery of the two hands — one male, one female — and the news reunites a group of childhood friends who 60 years ago played in the subterranean tunnel where the box was found. Alan, long-married to one of the playmates, Rosemary, finds himself attracted to another, widowed Daphne, once “the girl next door.”  Michael decides to contact his ancient father, whose abuse drove away Michael’s mother in 1944. Others  also find their lives upended by the police investigation. Rendell moves between the present and past, stringing readers along with a deft hand skilled at misdirection. The book reminded me of A Fatal Inversion, a long-ago novel Rendell wrote under her Barbara Vine pseudonym, although its characters are decades younger than those in the new book. Both tales, though, explore how past choices play out in present lives, often with exquisite irony.

killernextIt’s not just hands that are severed in Alex Marwood’s grisly The Killer Next Door (Penguin, library paperback), her follow-up to the Edgar Award-winning The Wicked Girls. I liked that book a lot, but I had a harder time with this new thriller as the killer murders, dismembers and tries to mummify women living in a rundown boarding house in South London. Ick. But the main story of the diverse people living on the margins of society and slowly realizing that one of them is a killer kept me turning pages. I wanted to know why Collette fled her old life and changed her name, and what has turned young Cheryl into a shoplifter. What embarrassing secrets is Gerard hiding, and why is Thomas lying about his job? Is Hossein really a political refugee? The penny-pinching landlord has been feuding with basement resident Vesta for years. To what lengths will he go to oust her from her rent-controlled apartment? A bizarre accident brings together the boarders to orchestrate a cover-up with unforeseen and surprising consequences.

brokenA time-traveling serial killer stalked the pages of Lauren Beukes’  The Shining Girls, and she again adds a whiff of the supernatural to Broken Monsters  (Little, Brown, digital galley). A killer dubbed “the Detroit Monster” introduces himself to the city with a grotesque corpse, half-boy, half-deer.  Det. Gabrielle Versado catches the case and tries to keep the most sensational details out of the press. But this is the age of the internet, and citizen journalist Jonno sees the story as his ticket to fame. Meanwhile, Versado’s 15-year-old daughter is playing a dangerous online game with a sexual predator and ends up at an inner city art installation that hides another horrific creation. A rookie cop goes missing. Then there’s TK, whose checkered past brings him into contact with the homeless, the friendless and the deranged. The fragmented storylines converge in an abandoned factory warehouse where little is what it seems.

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tatianaAsked if Russian police detective Arkady Renko is depressed because he has a wandering bullet in his brain, one of his colleague notes that “he’s not a ray of sunshine.” But in Martin Cruz Smith’s Tatiana (Simon and Schuster, digital galley), it’s melancholy Renko’s persistent idealism that shines like a beacon in dreary, corrupt Kalingrad, an industrial outpost on the Baltic. He ends up there because he doesn’t believe that crusading journalist Tatiana Petrova’s fall from a sixth-floor Moscow apartment was a suicide, and that she was killed after obtaining a coded notebook belonging to an interpreter killed on a Kalingrad beach. While his young chess-whiz friend Zhenya tries to decipher the symbols and gibberish in the notebook, Renko follows a complicated trail eventually involving a dead mob boss, his impulsive son and shadowy partners, an amber mine, Russian submarines, Chinese businessmen and a stolen bicycle. Bullets fly, but Renko’s not ready to give up on life, not by a long shot.

nightingaleRuth Rendell’s venerable detective Reg Wexford is officially retired, but in No Man’s Nightingale (Scribner, digital galley), he takes time off from reading Gibbon’s hefty Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire to help find the killer of the local vicar. But this is no armchair cozy — the strangled vicar is single mother Sarah Hussain, whose gender, race and progressive views have divided St. Peter’s congregation. Indeed, Wexford’s former colleague, Mike Burden,  decides the murder is a hate crime and collars a likely suspect with motive and opportunity. But after meeting the dead woman’s teenage daughter and and a couple of longtime friends, Wexford suspects her complicated past — of which he hears several versions — may have played into her murder.  He also picks up clues from the constant prattle of his gossipy house cleaner, who found the body, and who unwittingly reveals details of another crime. Even as he copes with the loss of power and respect that came with his former job, Wexford proves himself as astute a detective as ever, as canny as his creator.

paganThe vicar is the hero and the heartthrob in Pagan Spring (St. Martin’s Press, purchased e-book), the third in G.M. Malliet’s witty series featuring Max Tudor, a former MI5 agent whose sleuthing skills were tested in Wicked Autumn and A Fatal Winter. Max has had little problem fitting into the village life of postcard-pretty Nether Monkslip, although he’s disappointed the ladies by taking up with Alwena Owen, a New Age herbalist. But several newcomers trouble the community’s apparent serenity, including a famous actor and playwright past his prime, his much-younger wife, and an enigmatic hairstylist from France who writes long e-mails. Of course, there’s a murder for Max to solve, and he is both helped and hindered by his friends, including the members of the Writers’ Square (because everybody has a writers’ circle). Old secrets come to light as villagers confront unpleasant truth. Fans of Miss Marple will feel right at home.

evilactScotland Yard detectives Thomas Lynley and Barbara Havers take off for Italy in Elizabeth George’s Just One Evil Act (Dutton/Penguin, digital galley), with Havers risking her career in search of Hadiyyah, her 9-year-old neighbor. The girl is apparently with her English mother, who never married the Pakistani microbiologist who begs Havers for help. Not much can be done officially or legally, but Havers, more unlovely than ever, goes off on a tear, and handsome, aristocratic Lynley covers for her. The twisting plot, with echoes of the Amanda Knox case and that of still-missing Madeleine McCann, is absorbing, but at more than 700 pages, the book is overly long, and Havers’ self-destructive behavior grows tiresome. She’s better and brighter than this, as a charming Italian detective discerns.

cleelandNow, imagine that Lynley was sexually obsessed with Havers, and you’ll have an idea of the discomfiting atmosphere of  Anne Cleeland’s Murder in Thrall (Kensington, digital galley). Scotland Yard newcomer Kathleen Doyle isn’t really sure why Chief Inspector Michael Acton has taken her under his wing on a homicide case, but readers will quickly realize he’s been stalking her on the sly. When Lord Acton makes his intentions clear, Doyle is more than willing, although she takes a minute to worry about jeopardizing her career. I’ve already forgotten the murder this odd couple was investigating. Cleeland is better than this, as her appealing historical mystery Daughter of the God-King (Sourcebooks, digital galley) proves. Enjoy intrepid Miss Hattie Blackstone’s adventures in France and Egypt as she looks for missing archaeologists — who happen to be her parents.

cambridgePublisher William Morrow/HarperCollins is feeding my addiction to British crime with its new Witness Impulse e-book series. I’m a longtime fan of Frances Fyfield and Stephen Booth, and it’s good to see their titles available. But I’m especially happy to be introduced to excellent police procedurals by Alison Bruce (Cambridge Blue, The Calling), Mari Hannah (The Murder Wall) and Leigh Russell (Cut Short, Road Closed). Bruce’s Gary Goodhew is the youngest member of the Cambridge police force, Mari Hannah’s Kate Daniels is working homicide cases in Northumberland, and Russell’s Geraldine Steele is a DI in the rural town of Woolmarsh.

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robinsonPeter Robinson’s series detective Alan Banks has little in common with David Baldacci’s Army Special Agent John Puller. But both the thoughtful Yorkshire copper and the cunning combat veteran face complex cases involving human trafficking and possible police corruption.

In Robinson’s deft Watching the Dark (Morrow, digital galley via edelweiss), the crossbow murder of a fellow cop eventually leads Banks to Tallinn, Estonia, where a pretty British teenager disappeared six years ago. Much to his dismay, Banks is accompanied by a Professional Standards officer, Joanna Passero, while his usual partner, Annie Cabbot, stays home investigating a migrant labor scam. When Banks discovers a link between the cases, he puts his and his colleagues’ lives in jeopardy.

baldacciSimilar peril finds Puller in the small Florida panhandle town of Paradise in Baldacci’s The Forgotten (Grand Central Publishing, purchased hardcover) when he uncovers evidence that his elderly aunt’s drowning death may be connected to the murder of a local retired couple. Puller takes his time piecing the puzzle and wrangling with local law enforcement, while an enigmatic gardener plots revenge at a wealthy tycoon’s gated estate. But all is revealed in an explosive finale that had me flipping pages.

nineteenSmugglers also play a part in Janet Evanovich’s new Stephanie Plum tale, Notorious Nineteen (Random House, library hardcover). I gave up on the flip New Jersey bounty agent a few books back as her adventures became more raucous, raunchy and ridiculous. But she’s in fine form in this entertaining escapade hunting for patients who have mysteriously disappeared from a local hospital. So, too, are Morelli, Ranger and other series regulars, including Rex the hamster and Bob the dog, but several cars lose their lives.

childsWhen Ruth Rendell assumes her Barbara Vine pseudonym, I think of a snake in a figure eight swallowing its tail, or of matryoshkas, the Russian nesting dolls. Just summing up The Child’s Child (Scribner, digital galley via edelweiss) requires many little gray cells. In this book-within-a-book, siblings Grace and Andrew Easton agree to share their late grandmother’s London houseEnter James Derain, Andrew’s handsome lover, who argues with Grace over her doctoral dissertation on society’s attitudes about unwed mothers. Two events further complicate their lives: James and Andrew witness a friend’s murder outside a nightclub, and Grace discovers an unpublished 1951 novel about a gay man who masquerades as his younger sister’s husband to give her illegitimate child a name. Vine’s artful storytelling encompasses sex, lies, murder and social taboos past and present. It’s engrossing reading even though the characters are often unsympathetic.

mcmahonJennifer McMahon also does some nifty time-shifting in her harrowing The One I Left Behind (HarperCollins, digital galley via edelweiss), as a successful architect confronts her past and a creepy serial killer dubbed Neptune. The summer Reggie is 13 and hanging out with fellow uncool kids Tara and Charlie, her has-been actress mother Vera disappears and is presumed to be Neptune’s last victim after her severed hand is delivered to the small town’s police station. A quarter century later, Vera reappears in a homeless shelter, but she is suffering from cancer and dementia. Reggie returns to her childhood home where she lived with her aunt to help care for her mother. Tara and Charlie are still around, as are several of Vera’s old boyfriends and Charlie’s cop father. So, too, is Neptune. Yikes!

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An urban fox prowls Hexham Place in Ruth Rendell’s cunning new ensemble piece, The St. Zita Society (Scribner, purchased e-book). The fox doesn’t care if the dustbins hold the detritus of the street’s tony residents or their various servants; he’s an equal-opportunity scavenger. So, too, is Rendell as she slyly details the intertwined upstairs-downstairs lives — the lazy au-pair who acts as two lovers’ go-between; the uptight business executive who keeps his car and driver on call; the elderly faux-aristocrat and her equally aged companion; the widowed Muslim nanny who dotes on her youngest charge; the gay couple who treats a tenant like a servant; the gardener who sips Guinness and thinks a god is talking to him through a cell phone; the young chauffeur sleeping with his employer’s daughter — and her mother.

Early on, Rendell notes a shaky bannister on some tall steps. It’s like introducing a gun in the first act; you know it’s going to go off in the third. Sure enough, the bannister plays a part in a sudden death, but the victim is a surprise, as is the cover-up that follows and turns one character into Lady Macbeth. As for the St. Zita Society, it’s a loose club of the servants named after the patron saint of domestic help. The members meet at the pub to air their grievances until the disappearance of a soap opera actor who’s a regular Hexam Street visitor really gives them something to talk about. The well-orchestrated conclusion is stunning.

Emily Arsenault’s new mystery novel Miss Me When I’m Gone (Morrow, digital galley via edelweiss) sounds like it might be a country song, which is only fitting. Gretchen Waters had a surprise bestseller with her memoir, Tammyland, in which she explored her life in the context of country music stars such as Tammy Wynette and Loretta Lynn. After Gretchen is found dead at the bottom of a library’s concrete stairs, her family asks her college friend, Jamie Madden, to be her literary executor. A former reporter, pregnant Jamie is working as a part-time copy editor, and while pulling together pieces of Gretchen’s second book, she realizes her friend’s research into family history may have led to her death.

The story is told by Jamie, but is interspersed with chapters from Tammyland, as well as the notes and excerpts from Gretchen’s unfinished manuscript.  The whole is finely written and observed, as Arsenault delves into friendship, motherhood, identity, jealousy and violence. These same themes are reflected in the Tammyland sections, as Arsenault, via Gretchen, ponders how the messy lives of the stars spilled into their greatest hits. The only thing missing is a sound track.

Elly Griffiths’ mysteries featuring Ruth Galloway, an English forensic anthropologist and now single mom, just keep getting better. In A Room Full of Bones (Houghton Mifflin, library hardcover), Ruth’s examination of a medieval bishop’s coffin and of a small museum’s collection of bones from Australia are part of a complex plot of murder and superstition. Although it can stand on its own, the suspenseful book continues to reveal the personal problems of assorted series regulars, including archaeologists, police detectives and an enigmatic druid.

Open Book: You know me — why read read just three mysteries when you can read six or eight. I also enjoyed Jean Zimmerman’s rousing historical tale, The Orphanmaster (Penguin, digital galley via NetGalley), set in 1663 New Amsterdam — the future Manhattan; Cornelia Read’s involving Valley of Ashes (Grand Central Publishing, digital galley via NetGalley), in which former socialite Madeline Dare contends with toddler twins, a failing marriage, a part-time newspaper job and a series of arsons in Boulder; Meg Cabot’s fun Size 12 and Ready to Rock (Morrow; paperback review copy), featuring former pop star Heather Wells and her detective boyfriend caught up in a reality TV murder; Sara Foster’s chilling Beneath the Shadows (St. Martin’s, digital galley via NetGalley), in which a young mother returns to the snowy North Yorkshire moors where her husband vanished; and Alex Grecian’s gritty The Yard (Penguin, digital galley via NetGalley), set in a Victorian London still haunted by the Ripper and faced with the murder of a Scotland Yard detective. Now to start on Julia Keller’s A Killing in the Hills.

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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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