Posts Tagged ‘Alex Marwood’

reckoningCable TV shows — Motive, Murder in the First, Major Crimes — got me through the summer, and now it’s back to the books. A flurry of new crime novels last month soon turned into a bit of a blizzard. That’s fine — it’s still hot and steamy here in Florida, and I appreciate the chill of ice and snow, if only on the page.

Winter is not just coming, it’s fast upon the Quebec village of Three Pines in Louise Penny’s A Great Reckoning (St. Martin’s Press, library hardcover). Former Chief Inspector Armand Gamache comes out of retirement to whip the national police academy into shape, searching for long-rooted corruption. An old map literally found in the walls of Three Pines figures into the expertly plotted puzzle, as does the murder of an authoritarian professor, Gamache’s interest in a fierce young cadet, and the almost forgotten lives of World War I soldiers. Loss shrouds the winter-haunted village, but also the possibility of forgiveness. This is my new favorite in the series, right up there with the piercing How the Light Gets In.

brinded-catBooted from boarding school in Canada, intrepid girl detective Flavia de Luce is delighted to be returning home to her crumbling English home Buckshaw in time for Christmas. But what should be a joyous homecoming in Alan Bradley’s clever Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mewed (Ballantine/Random House, digital galley) turns bleak when Flavia learns her beloved father, the Colonel, is in hospital with pneumonia. Unable to be at his bedside, Flavia tears off on an errand aboard her trusty bicycle Gladys and comes upon the body of a woodcarver hanging upside down from his bedroom door. “It’s amazing what the discovery of a corpse can do for one spirits,” thinks Flavia, seizing on the unusual clue of famous children’s books in the dead man’s possession. The curious cat also on the scene may be the companion of a rumored witch across the road, and that’s just beginning of a curious mystery in need of Flavia’s detecting skills.

sorrowJulia Keller writes atmospheric mysteries set in the mountains of West Virginia, and Acker’s Gap, the hardscrabble hometown of prosecutor Bell Elkins, is practically a character in the series. Sorrow Road (St. Martin’s Minotaur, digital galley) is as chilly as its eye-catching cover, with several snowstorms impeding Bell’s investigation of a law school colleague’s death on an icy road, as well as her daughter Carla’s oral history project for the library. A nursing home where many of the residents have dementia ties several plot points together, including the murder of a staff member and the questionable deaths of several patients. Keller intersperses the present story with a past one about three local boys going off to fight World II and being together on D-Day.


wishtrueI grew up in a Charlotte, N.C. subdivision very like fictional Sycamore Glen in Marybeth Mayhew Whalen’s The Things We Wish Were True (Lake Union, digital galley), and I can almost smell the chlorine at the neighborhood pool. It’s the social hub during sultry summer days, kids cannon-balling off the diving board, mothers trading suntan lotion and gossip, young teens hanging out. In Whalen’s story, told from multiple points-of-view, an accident at the pool disturbs the seemingly placid surface of Sycamore Glen, revealing secret undercurrents. It’s not a conventional mystery but rather a domestic/neighborhood drama with elements of suspense. Think Liane Moriarty (Truly Madly Guilty) or Lisa Jewell (The Girls in the Garden), only in an all-American small-town. Zell is the middle-aged empty nester who keeps an eye on the single dad next door and knows more than she’s letting on about his runaway wife. Jencey, hunted by a stalker in high school, returns 15 years later, her country-club life in ruins. Her former best friend Bryte is now happily married to Jencey’s high school boyfriend. Then there’s Cailey, the young girl who lives in a rental house, and the older single man across the street who takes care of his elderly mother. Whalen deftly weaves their lives together, and if some events are predictable, others surprise. Things are not what they seem in The Things We Wish Were True, the September selection of the She Reads online book club.

darkestBe happy you weren’t invited to philandering land developer Sean Jackson’s 50th birthday party, which ended in disaster when Coco, one of his three-year-old twins, mysteriously vanished into the night, never to be seen again. This was in 2004, and now in the present day, Mila Jackson, 27, receives word of her estranged father’s scandalous death. All the houseguests at the ill-fated weekend will be at the funeral, except for her stepmother, Claire, who asks Mila to take teenage Ruby, the surviving twin. In The Darkest Secret (Penguin, library paperback), Alex Marwood skillfully uses flashbacks to tease out and eventually reveal (perhaps) what actually happened to young Coco. So readers do wind up at the scene of the crime, so to speak, privy to the bickering between narcissistic Sean and insecure Claire, and where the self-involved adults plan how to keep the handful of kids quiet while they party into the wee hours. ┬áIt’s not pretty, nor is the funeral gathering, where someone else ends up dead.

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wickedgirlsMerry-go-rounds aside, I’m not generally amused by amusement parks. Something about vertigo and motion sickneness. Still, they can provide great settings for crime stories, from Chris Grabenstein’s fast-paced Jersey Shore/John Ceepak tales to Stephen King’s recent Joyland, a nostalgia-laced ghost story. In Alex Marwood’s provocative The Wicked Girls (Penguin, digital galley), “the Seaside Strangler” finds his latest victim at Funnland, a shabby British amusement park where journalist Kirsty interviews cleaning supervisor Amber about the incident. Both are shocked to recognize the other. Twenty-five years ago, they were Bel and Jade, two 11-year-olds arrested for the murder of a younger girl. After their parole from separate juvenile prisons, they were given new identities and ordered never to see one another.
Marwood deftly splices the present-day hunt for the killer with events of the long-ago day when the two girls — one poor, one privileged — partnered in crime. What really happened then? And how will it affect the now of married-mom Kirsty and everybody’s-friend Amber, both fiercely protective of their loved ones. Although The Wicked Girls reminds me of Laura Lippman’s Every Secret Thing and works by Mo Hayder and Sophie Hannah, that’s a good thing. Plus the story reaches its own twisty climax in the shadows of Funnland.
liestillThe past also comes calling in Julia Heaberlin’s pretzel-plotted Lie Still (Bantam, digital galley), her second psychological suspense novel after the very good Playing Dead. For years, Emily Page has kept the secret that she was date-raped in college. But when pregnant Emily and her police chief husband Mike move from Manhattan to small-town Texas, a stalker apparently follows her to the gossip-mongering community. Then social queen bee Caroline Warwick, who has the goods on everyone, goes missing, and the secrets she’s been keeping come spilling out, threatening Emily, her new friend Misty, and obnoxious mayoral wife Letty Lee Dunn.
I love the way Heaberlin teases readers with cascading revelations about narrator Emily past and present. She’s also an expert with Texas-sized red herrings. I sure didn’t see that killer coming.
roganAlas, I spotted the villain way too soon in Barbara Rogan’s A Dangerous Fiction (Viking, digital galley) an otherwise well-written mystery that’s also a good inside-baseball story of the publishing world.
Literary agent Jo Donovan, the young widow of literary lion Hugh Donovan, is being stalked by “Sam Spade,” a desperate author who’s determined that she read his manuscript and become his muse. Jo brushes him off, but then pranks aimed at ruining her reputation and her business accelerate, and her most prominent client is murdered. At the same time, her mentor Molly is dying, a celebrity biographer is pestering her for Hugh’s papers, and ugly rumors about her lovely marriage are circulating. But Jo’s the Queen of Denial when it comes to her past, both with Hugh and with Tom, the handsome detective she once dated. Even a terrific guard dog like Mingus and an array of faithful friends can’t protect her until she loses the blinkers.
brettA round of applause, please, for the welcome return of actor/sleuth Charles Paris in Simon Brett’s clever A Decent Interval (Severn House, digital galley). It’s been 15 years since the last entry in the smart, witty series, but the character actor is quite his old self once he captures the roles of Ghost/gravedigger in a road production of Hamlet.
Producer Tony Copeland, eying London’s West End, has cast a reality TV star as Hamlet and a pop music princess as Ophelia, much to the dismay of his veteran troupers. Director Ned English envisions the play as taking place in Hamlet’s head, so the set is the interior of a huge skull. But it’s an accident to one lead and the murder of another that trip up rehearsals and give Charles a chance to play detective among cast and crew. Fabulous fun. Encore, please.
oncueAnd speaking of encores, Jane Dentinger’s theatrical mystery series starring Jocelyn O’Roarke is coming back via e-books. The first entry, Murder on Cue (Open Road Integrated Media, digital galley) introduces the ’80s Broadway actress as she’s cast as understudy to Harriet Weldon in old pal Austin Frost’s new play. When Harriet, also the wife of the producer, has a fatal fall in her dressing room, talented Josh is ready to step in. But she’s also been cast as prime suspect. Happily, a police detective thinks she’s being framed and lets her play sleuth as well.
“What amazed her most was that, in a profession where everybody knew everybody’s business, there should still be so much going on beneath the surface; a seemingly endless myriad of intrigues and involvements that never saw the light of day.”

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