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Posts Tagged ‘Sara Paretsky’

“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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brushbackThe heat is on, so I’m hibernating in the AC under the ceiling fans. But I really can’t complain about summer. There’s almost always a baseball game on TV, a friend just brought me one of her delicious peach pies and I’ve been binging on crime novels. Sara Paretsky knocks it out of the park with the aptly named Brush Back (Putnam’s, digital galley), No. 18 in her V.I. Warshawski series. Never one to be intimidated, Vic is only encouraged by the threats she receives after taking a case in her old South Side Chicago neighborhood. Her 80-year-old client even takes a swing at her, and that’s before she begins digging up secrets about a 25-year-old murder case that possibly implicates her late cousin, Boom-Boom, a star player for the Blackhawks. Finding the real culprits leads Vic to rigged construction sites, corrupt politicians, local fixers and territorial cops, as well as to the bowels of Wrigley Field. Real inside baseball, tense and action-packed.

speakingbonesKathy Reichs’ involving Speaking in Bones (Bantam, digital galley) is also the 18th novel featuring forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan who, this go-round, follows the lead of a websleuth on a cold case. Brennan is initially skeptical of Hazel “Lucky” Strike’s claim that the remains found in rural North Carolina are those of young Cora Teague, whose ultra-religious family thinks ran off with her boyfriend. But it’s the delusions of true believers that prove especially dangerous for Brennan and her colleagues.

murderdcFor more nitty-gritty city crime, check out Neely Tucker’s Murder D.C. (Viking, digital galley), set in the nation’s capital, and Ingrid Thoft’s Brutality (Putnam, library hardcover), set in Boston. In Tucker’s follow-up to The Ways of the Dead, metro reporter Sully Carter’s investigation into an apparent drug-related death has him dealing with low-life power wielders  and high-up power brokers. Street-smart dialogue and details boost a plot complicated by race, class and money.

 

brutalityThoft’s Fina Ludlow, investigator for her family’s infamous law firm, takes on a case of her own in the third book in the series. When Liz Barone, a former collegiate soccer player, is assaulted in her kitchen and left with life-threatening injuries, her mother hires Fina with the grudging consent of Liz’s husband. Fina, as snarky as ever and downing more junk food than Brenda Johnson of The Closer, suspects the attack on Liz may have been motivated by her lawsuit against New England University, where Liz played soccer and now works as a researcher. She’s not wrong, but many people have a stake in Liz’s allegations that her recent memory loss resulted from playing soccer with a concussion.

PrettyisWhen it comes to novels about kidnap survivors, Laura Lippman’s 2010 I’d Know You Anywhere is the gold standard for me. But Maggie Mitchell’s first novel Pretty Is (Henry Holt, digital galley) captured my attention with its insights about the secret life of girls and female friendship. When Carly May and Lois are 12, they are kidnapped by a handsome stranger they call Zed and are held for two months in a remote mountain cabin before being rescued. Some 20 years later, spelling bee champ Lois is a college professor and junior beauty queen Carly May has become Hollywood actress Chloe Savage. They are eventually reunited after Lois writes a thriller about two kidnapped girls, and Chloe accepts the part of a detective in the movie based on Lois’ book. Before that, though, a creepy student stirs up Lois’ memories about that summer, while Chloe dwells on the differences between Lois’s book — part of which is embedded in Pretty Is — and what she remembers. But it isn’t until they are together again that they are forced to confront the truth of their shared experience.

bradstreetThe slippery nature of memory also is explored in Robin Kirman’s lushly written Bradstreet Gate (Crown, digital galley), in which the murder of a Harvard student affects three of her classmates and the professor who becomes the prime suspect. Yes, it did remind me a bit of Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, but Kirman apparently was inspired by the 1998 murder of Yale student Suzanne Jovin. The victim in her story is Julie Patel, and the history professor Julie challenged in class is Rufus Storrow,  a Virginia aristocrat and West Point grad with a background in military intelligence. Georgia Calvin is the beautiful, privileged student who has a furtive affair with Storrow. Charlie Flournoy, who struggles to bury his working-class roots, has a crush on Georgia and regards Storrow as a mentor. Their brilliant and fierce friend Alice Kovac, the daughter of Serbian immigrants, is the unpredictable, secretive outsider. Kirman concocts a heady mix of youthful ambition, desire and deceit, following her characters in the decade after the murder as suspicion shadows their lives in surprising ways.

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Reading Elmore Leonard’s new novel Raylan, I can no longer separate the title character from Timothy Olyphant, who plays Raylan Givens on  TV’s Justified on TV. Of course, the FX series is based on a couple of earlier Leonard tales about the laconic U.S. marshal, and lean, blue-jeaned Olyphant has made the part his own. Leonard must think so, too — that’s the TV Raylan on the cover.

Although the book shares some outrageous characters and twisted plot lines with the series, it’s not a duplicate. Rather, it’s a complement as Leonard surehandedly tracks Givens juggling three cases in Harlan County, Ky. — human organ trafficking, mining schemes,  gambling and bank robbery –and coming up against three formidable females: a transplant nurse, a coal-company exec, and a risk-taker of a college student.

Leonard is such a pro at this kind of down’n’dirty, droll storytelling, and Raylan such a cool guy. Can’t take my eyes off him, in print or on screen.

Every now and then in the early morning, I’ll see one of the local crew teams out on a nearby lake. They make rowing look so easy as they skim across the water, and I’m duly mesmerized. I had much the same feeling reading the first chapter of Deborah Crombie’s No Mark Upon Her, in which a Met detective with dreams of the Olympics takes her shell out in the Thames in the early dusk. “She was moving now, listening to the whoosh and thunk as the oars went in, followed by an instant of absolute silence as they came out of the water and the boat plunged forward like a living thing. It was perfect rhythm, this, it was music. The boat was singing, and she was a part of it, lifting from the water like a bird.”

The next day the cry goes up for a missing rower, and Scotland Yard’s Duncan Kincaid, returning from holiday, is rerouted to Henley to investigate. His wife, DI Gemma James, returns to London with their two sons and their foster daughter, Charlotte, but eventually she, too, will be involved in the case with its controversial ties to police politics and sexual abuse.

It’s a layered, complicated tale that also involves members of the prestigious Leander Club, an Iraq war veteran with post-traumatic stress, Duncan and Gemma’s balancing act of work and home, Charlotte’s 3rd birthday party themed to Alice in Wonderland, and two memorable search-and-rescue dogs. Yes, the kids and the dogs threaten to upstage proceedings, but Crombie steers all to a pulse-pounding ending.

Kids and dogs also figure in Sara Paretsky’s Breakdown, the 15th in the excellent V.I. Warshawski series. Vic finds trouble as she tries to keep a group of young teens out of trouble. The girls are paying homage to their favorite vampire stories in a Chicago cemetery when a man is staked in the heart nearby. Coincidence? Maybe not. One girl is the daughter of a Senate candidate, another the granddaughter of a Jewish immigrant philanthropist, and both families have drawn the vitriolic ire of right-wing newscaster Wade Lawlor. The dead man is a shady private detective who may have been working for Lawlor.

Trying to keep the girls out of the glaring media spotlight, Vic finds connections among the “vampire killing,” her wealthy best friend Ashden’s bipolar behavior, and a state mental hospital with a wing for the criminally insane. It’s a terrific book to read during an election year, touching on hot-button issues like immigration and negative campaigning.

I think those may be about the only two topics not included in Elizabeth George’s Believing the Lie, the newest outing for Scotland Yard’s aristocratic Thomas Lynley and his proletarian partner Barbara Havers. Tabloid journalism, drug addiction, gay marriage, infertilty, surrogacy, adoption, adultery, internet predators, pedophilia, alcoholism, dysfunctional families, buried secrets. George’s kitchen-sink-and-more plot is a tangled web, indeed.

As Lynley looks into an accidental drowning in the Lake District with the help of forensic scientist Simon St. James and his photographer wife Deborah, Havers mines the family history of the wealthy Faircloughs and gets her hair cut and colored. The latter digression will be appreciated by series’ fans up on the series characters’ personal lives. And it’s actually Deborah’s continuing quest to have a baby that dovetails with a major plot point concerning the beautiful wife of a Fairclough scion. Even though George delivers a boat-load of red herrings, shame on you if you can’t see where the story’s headed.

If you’re looking for a new series, I suggest The Anatomist’s Apprentice by Tessa Harris, which introduces Sir Thomas Silkstone, a young Philadelphia surgeon who comes to London in 1774 to learn more anatomy. He is asked by Lady Lydia Farrell to study the decomposing body of her brother, Sir Edward Crick, who died under mysterious circumstances, and so begins his career as a pioneering forensic detective.

If you’re not put off by the gooey and gory details of Kathy Reichs’ novels and the TV show Bones, and you’ve already gloried in Ariana Franklin’s historicals, you’ll be entertained by Silverstone’s sharp dissection of corpses and detection of clues.

Open Book: I read review copies of Elmore Leonard’s Raylan (Morrow) and Crombie’s No Mark Upon Her (Morrow), an advance reading copy of Harris’ The Anatomist’s Apprentice (Kensington), and borrowed copies of Paretsky’s Breakdown (Penguin Group) and George’s Believing the Lie (Penguin Group) from the wonderful Orange County Library.

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