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Posts Tagged ‘Australia’

If you’re the kind of reader who races through a mystery to find out whodunnit, Sophie Hannah’s The Next to Die (Morrow, digital) is probably not your kind of book. Her domestic suspense/procedurals  featuring married police detectives Charlie Zailler and Simon Waterhouse delve into motive and character, and she plots outside the lines. Here, a serial killer dubbed “Billy No Mates” is apparently targeting pairs of friends by first sending them mysterious handmade booklets with a line of verse on one page. Stand-up comedian Kim Tribbick, who narrates parts of the book, is mystified when she realizes a stranger gave her one of the booklets at a gig a year ago. She has an ex-husband, an ex-boyfriend and a dreadful brother but no real friends for “Billy No Mates” to kill. Kim and Charlie pal around, though, driving around England to revisit Kim’s tour bookings, and spying on Charlie’s sister in the process. An angry journalist muddies the waters with her insistence that the killer hates women, and a police profiler proves useless. Eventually, most of the digressions and characters come together in a denouement that is quite clever in retrospect. It’s certainly audacious.

Set in the sweltering Outback of an Australian summer, Jane Harper’s third novel The Lost Man (Flatiron, digital galley) is a stunner from its first atmospheric pages. Queensland rancher Cameron Bright’s body is spotted from a helicopter near an isolated marker known as the Stockman’s Grave. His older brother Nathan, who owns an adjoining ranch hours away, and younger brother Bub, who works the family land with Cameron and their widowed mother Liz, can’t figure out how Cameron was separated from his fully outfitted Land Cruiser found a few miles away, the keys in the seat. No water, no shade, he wouldn’t have lasted a day. The odd circumstances surrounding the death of the popular rancher, who left behind a wife and two young daughters, leads loner Nathan to the mystery of family present and past.  He discovers secrets that wound, secrets that break hearts, secrets to die for.

A group of old friends gather for a New Year’s celebration in a country house during a snowstorm. You’ve been there before, but Lucy Foley ups the ante in The Hunting Party (HarperCollins, digital galley). The friends are former Oxford classmates and their partners; the house is an exclusive luxury lodge in the Scottish Highlands; the snowstorm is a blizzard of epic proportions cutting them off from civilization At book’s beginning, the gamekeeper reports that the body of a missing guest has been found. But Foley then flashes back several days to reveal the proceedings from rotating perspectives. Secrets lurk among the friends; tempers flare and tensions rise. Golden couple Miranda and Julian are not so golden, after all. Rumors of a serial killer stalking the Highlands add to the unease. This is the kind of book you race through to find out whodunnit. Fun while it lasts, but I read it a month ago and now can’t remember victim or killer.

Inspector Alan Banks has always been good company, and that hasn’t changed now that he’s Detective Superintendent Banks. In Peter Robinson’s sturdy procedural Careless Love (Morrow, digital galley), two suspicious deaths at first appear unrelated. The college student found in an abandoned car didn’t own a car, or even drive. How did she get in the car and where’s her cell phone? As to the well-dressed older man found at the bottom of a ravine on the moors, did he fall or was he pushed? And what was he doing in the middle of nowhere? The answers, when they come, point to an old foe and an all-too current crime. Even Robinson’s minor characters are well-drawn, like the owner of the abandoned car who won’t let the detectives get a word in edgewise.

Aurora Jackson was just 14 in the summer of 1983, when she disappeared during an overnight camping trip with her older sister and five other teens. Thirty years later, Aurora’s remains are found in a secret hideaway in the woods by a collapsed river bank, and the discovery disrupts the successful adult lives of her fellow campers. In Gytha Lodge’s artful She Lies in Wait (Random House, digital galley), the narrative alternates between the present, when detective Jonah Shields leads the investigation into the cold case he worked on as a young cop, and the past. Back then Aurora feels lucky to be tagging along with the popular older crowd, although she’s out of her depth with the drinking, drugs and make-out sessions. The book becomes a suspenseful guessing game as Jonah questions the others and we also see their younger selves. Aurora’s sexy sister Topaz  is now married to one of the boys from the group, a university professor. Another boy is an Olympic gold medalist and entrepreneur. Then there’s the married politician, the landscape architect who lost her fiance in a rock-climbing accident, the unhappy woman nursing a secret affair. Which one is a killer? Who lied then? Who is lying now — and willing to kill again?

There’s a dead body on the kitchen floor of the nice Victorian house in an upscale neighborhood in Bristol, England. That’s the very beginning of Watching You (Atria, digital galley), but then, without revealing the identity of the corpse or possible killer, author Lisa Jewell plunges into a complicated scenario tangling rumor and obsession. The house belongs to Tom Fitzwilliam, a respected headmaster with a wife and son. One of his neighbors, newly married Joey Mullen, has something of a crush on Tom and begins spying on him. But she’s not the only one watching flirtatious Tom. Two of his students are keeping an eye on him, as is one girl’s psychologically disturbed mother who swears she remembers him from a long-ago incident. Then there’s Freddy, Tom’s autistic son, who spies on everyone from his upstairs window. Jewell moves craftily among the characters, revealing bits and pieces of past interactions and more recent encounters. Motives for murder abound, but the conclusion as to corpse and killer still comes as a shock.

 

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P.D. James’ The Mistletoe Murders was an unexpected holiday treat last year. This year, it’s Sleep No More (Knopf, digital galley), which collects six more tales from the late writer best known for her Adam Dalgliesh detective novels. No Dalgliesh in these stories, but readers will recognize James’ artful scene setting, elegant prose and ironic twists. “The Murder of Santa Claus” is a classic locked-room mystery told with a sly wink as writer Charles Mickledore looks back to Christmas 1939, when he was a lonely schoolboy shipped off to a relative’s country house. His tyrannical host lords it over his assorted guests until he is murdered shortly after making his post-midnight rounds as Santa. In “The Victim,” we know whodunit as a milk-toast librarian confesses to taking revenge on the new husband of his beautiful ex-wife. But the ending may surprise, as do those of “The Yo-Yo” and “A Most Desirable Resident,” in which murder is also seen as a means to an end.  In “Mr. Millcroft’s Birthday,” a conniving octogenerian in a senior home turns the tables on his greedy heirs. And in the creepy “The Girl Who Loved Graveyards,” an orphan’s shadowy memories of her late father and grandmother are intertwined with her affinity for cemeteries. I guessed where this one was going, but the devil’s in the details. Brrrr…

Clea Simon immerses readers and her new series sleuth,  music journalist Tara Winton, in the 1980s Boston club scene in the noir-tinged World Enough (Severn House, ARC). Tara once covered the city’s punk rock bands for fanzines that paid little but gave her needed access. Now working in a dull corporate communications job, Tara is drawn back to the heady, long-ago times when her former editor asks her to write a piece on Boston bands for his glossy city magazine. The assignment coincides with the accidental death of musician Frank Turcotte, although Tara wonders if her old friend, sober for 20 years, really just fell down the stairs. And could his death be connected to that of once rising star Chris Crack back in the day? She soon discovers that digging into the past can prove dangerous, but letting go just isn’t in her nature. Once a reporter, always a reporter. Simon knows what’s she writing about.

Actress Krysten Ritter is well-known for her roles on TV’s Breaking Bad and Marvel’s Jessica Jones, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see her playing the lead in a film adaptation of Bonfire (Crown, Archetype, digital galley). After all, Ritter wrote the book, and it’s easy to picture her as Chicago environmental lawyer Abby Williams, who returns to her Indiana hometown after 10 years to investigate its most influential employer. But looking into Optimal Plastics’ possible pollution of Barrows’ water supply and its ties to local government means Abby must confront her own past. Snubbed in high school by the popular set, Abby is rattled by her old classmates. The boy she once crushed on is now an Optimal spokesman, a former cheerleader is an assistant high school principal, a bad-boy slacker has become a responsible single dad. And then there’s Kaycee, Abby’s sometimes childhood friend, who was always at the center of things before she suddenly disappeared. Inevitably, Abby’s questions about Optimal lead to questions about Kaycee, but Ritter generates suspense and an air of immediacy with her present-tense narrative. Don’t wait for the movie.

So what are the chances of two crime novels being published within a month of each other, both featuring small-town police detectives named Gemma, each investigating the murder of a high school teacher? Nor do the similarities between Emily Littlejohn’s A Season to Lie (St. Martin’s/Minotaur, digital galley) and Sarah Bailey’s The Dark Lake (Grand Central, digital galley) end there. Both Gemmas have live-in boyfriends with whom they have a child, both face on-the-job challenges, both are attractive, determined and flawed. And both deal with bad weather, although that means different things to the detectives. Gemma Monroe (A Season to Lie) battles blizzards in Cedar Valley in Colorado, while Gemma Woodstock (The Dark Lake) has to worry about a Christmas heat wave and wildfires in the Australian town of Smithson.  A Season to Lie is the second outing for Monroe, who was six months pregnant in Littlejohn’s Inherit the Bones. Now that baby Grace is three months old, her mom is hoping to ease back into work, but on her first night back, she and her partner discover a murdered man on the snowy campus of a private high school. The victim is famous author Delaware Fuente, a visiting lecturer using an alias while at Valley Academy. Fuente has other secrets, as do the close-knit townspeople who are split over the question of development by outsiders. There’s also an anonymous bully known as Grimm, who is terrorizing the academy students. And does another death mean a serial killer is at work? It’s a neatly plotted procedural. The Dark Lake, Bailey’s first novel, is more intricate in its secret-keeping. Gemma Woodstock went to high school with beautiful Rosalind Ryan, the popular drama teacher whose drowned body is found after opening night of her modernized version of Romeo and Juliet. Past collides with present as Gemma recalls the suicide of her high school boyfriend, whose younger brother is playing Romeo. Gemma also is juggling an affair with her married partner and her homelife with staid boyfriend Scott and toddler son Ben. Bailey alternates present-day events with Gemma’s flashbacks to high school and her rivalry with Rosalind. The time jumps make for an uneven pace as the investigation unfolds, but a nail-biting showdown atop a water tower offers a killer ending.

 

 

 

 

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sleepwalkerWho knew sleep sex was a thing? Actually, it’s part of the sleep disorder that afflicts wife and mother Annalee Ahlberg in Chris Bohjalian’s The Sleepwalker (Knopf Doubleday, digital galley), which will keep you up all night flipping pages. When Annalee vanishes into the Vermont night while husband Warren is away on a business trip, her elder daughter Lianna fears Annalee’s parasomnia has again led her to the nearby river. But it’s not just the river hiding the secrets to Annalee’s disappearance, as Lianna discovers when she begins questioning her father, her teenage sister Paige, her mom’s closest friends, her therapist, and one detective who knows all too much about Annalee’s history. Bohjalians’ plotting is so clever that I didn’t see the ending coming.

hockadayInspired by true events, Susan Rivers’ first novel, The Second Mrs. Hockaday (Algonquin, digital galley), is a fascinating collage of Civil War history and mystery told through letters and diary entries. Placidia — Dia — is 17 when she marries Confederate major Gryffth Hockaday after a brief acquaintance. Two days later, he is recalled to battle and Dia is left to run his South Carolina farm and care for his young son from his first marriage. Two years later, Gryffth returns to the scandalous news that his wife has given birth and the child has died. Accused of adultery and murder, Dia refuses to explain her actions, which are gradually revealed, along with long-held family secrets. Rivers doesn’t skirt the everyday brutality against women and slaves, nor does she sensationalize it. Dia, Gryffth, the slave Achilles, little Charles — all come across as complex, credible characters.

thedryThe small Australian town of Kiewarra bakes in the sun, parched by a long drought, its family farms teetering on bankruptcy. It’s enough to drive a man crazy, which is why the townspeople think the shocking shotgun deaths of Luke Hadler, his school aide wife Karen and their 10-year-old son Billy are a murder-suicide. But in Jane Harper’s evocative novel of crimes past and present, The Dry (Flatiron Books, digital galley), Luke’s father asks federal agent Aaron Falk to investigate when he returns to his hometown for the funeral of his best childhood mate. Aaron’s reluctant, but he owes Luke and his family. Back in high school, they alibied one another in the suspicious drowning death of classmate Ellie Deacon. Harper uses flashbacks to illuminate the town’s secrets, and her shifting narrative takes on an urgency as hostilities reach fever pitch. Most of the revelations don’t come as a surprise, but the detailed atmosphere keeps things interesting.

strangetideIn addition to reading the three stand-alones above, I checked out new entries in several series over the holidays. Boston investigator and junk food lover Fina Ludlow returns for the fourth time in Duplicity (Putnam Penguin, digital galley), looking into an evangelical church’s cult-like hold on its members and again contending with her black sheep older brother. You’ll appreciate the story more if you’ve read the previous books, especially 2015’s Brutality. Val McDermid’s stellar Out of Bounds (Grove Atlantic, digital galley) marks the third book featuring Scottish cold case detective Karen Pirie, and pivots on the surprising results of a DNA test on an accident victim. And speaking of Scotland, Ian Rankin’s Rather Be the Devil (Little, Brown, digital galley) finds veteran Edinburgh copper John Rebus drawn out of semi-retirement to work a 1978 cold case that also involves his nemesis/frenemy, Big Ger Cafferty. The 21st book in the award-winning series will be published the end of the month. And it’s lucky 13 for the Peculiar Crimes Unit in Christopher Fowler’s Bryant and May: Strange Tide (Ballantine/Random House, digital galley), even if it looks as if ancient Arthur Fowler is losing his mind trying to solve the mysterious drowning of a young woman in the Thames. A fiendishly fun puzzle.

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