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Posts Tagged ‘Chris Pavone’

I raced through Chris Pavone’s clever first thriller, The Expats, when it came out in 2012 and wished then for a sequel, but his next two books, The Accident and The Travelers, had only tenuous ties to the first book. But The Paris Diversion (Crown Archetype, digital galley) is the knotty, twisted follow-up I wanted, with expats Kate (wife, mom, spy) and day-trader Dex — returning, only to have the past catching up with them big-time.  You don’t have to have read the The Expats, as long-ago events are briefly explained, but, really, you should. Otherwise, certain revelations might not hit you like a quick punch to the gut. Pavone ups the tension by having most of the narrative unfold during one day in tourist-packed Paris, where a suicide bomber plants himself and a briefcase in the courtyard of the Louvre. The city, wounded by previous terrorist acts, is nonetheless surprised, as are a rotating cast of characters: Kate, who was planning a dinner party, dons disguises and looks over her shoulder; Dexter tries to put together a mega-deal before the markets tumble; a corporate tycoon is whisked into hiding by his security deal; assorted assassins, spies and bad actors race through alleyways and the Metro. There will be blood. Things are not what they seem. More, please.

Before she was beach book queen Mary Kay Andrews, my pal Kathy Trocheck wrote the Callahan Garrity mystery series, so she usually includes a mystery subplot in her summery novels like Savannah Breeze and The High Tide Club.  It might be a scam, an unexpected inheritance, long-ago family secrets.  All of these, plus a cold case murder, figure in Andrews’ new charmer, Sunset Beach (St. Martin’s, ARC), which features down-on-her-luck Drue Campbell. After her mother’s death, Drue’s long-estranged father Brice gives her a job at his personal injury law firm, where his latest wife Wendy, who went to middle school with Drue, is the office manager. It’s pretty awful, but at least Drue can live in the run-down Florida beach house she inherited from her Cuban grandparents. She might even make enough money to renovate it, or at least put in AC. Cleaning out the attic, she stumbles on the cold-case disappearance of Colleen Hicks, which links to the days when her father was a beat cop. Drue can’t resist some sleuthing; she’s already looking into the death of a resort hotel housekeeper, whose mother and young daughter badly need insurance money. Drue’s varied attempts to access the resort in search of evidence make for entertaining set pieces, while flashbacks to 40-years-ago Florida add atmosphere and suspense. And just so you remember Sunset Beach is trademark Mary Kay Andrews, Drue also makes time for decorating with cast-off treasures, deals with family drama and finds a little romance. I see a sequel.

Sarah Blake’s The Guest Book (Flatiron Books, digital galley) is one of those sprawling, multi-generational family sagas that seems designed for long, lazy days in a hammock. The writing is so lovely that it almost lulls you into forgetting that you’re reading about some of the worst aspects of the so-called “best” people. The Miltons are wealthy, white, privileged. They own a small island off the coast of Maine, bought by banker Ogden in the depths of the Great Depression to help his young wife Kitty recover from a family tragedy. This is where the Miltons summer over the years, and the book skips around in time, from Ogden’s pre-war business interests in Germany and a fateful decision on Kitty’s part; to 1959, when their three children invite outsiders, including a Jewish banker and an African-American writer-photographer, to the island retreat for what should be a celebration; to the present, when Milton granddaughter and Kitty lookalike Evie and her cousins must decide the island’s future now that fortunes have dwindled and family secrets are about to be revealed. Blake weaves issues of class, race and religion into the involving narrative as the Miltons and their connections ambitiously embody the social history of America in the 20th century. I kept thinking I’d read most of it before in summer sagas of seasons past, such as Beatriz Williams’ A Hundred Summers or Anne Rivers Siddons’ Colony. That’s okay. What’s old is new again for summer 2019.

 

 

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travelersRemember TV doctor House’s mantra: Everybody lies? It’s something to keep in mind while reading Chris Pavone’s brisk, globe-trotting thriller, The Travelers (Crown, digital galley). Will Rhodes, a writer for classy magazine Travelers, is reporting on American expats when he’s lured into a honey trap by an Australian blonde calling herself Elle. Before he can say “I’m married,” Will finds himself involved in covert operations as a CIA asset. At least that’s what case officer Elle tells him. Meanwhile, readers are introduced to Will’s boss, secretive Malcolm Somers, who has a hidden office and unknown agenda that includes Will’s wife Chloe, whose cell phone keeps going to voicemail. Will dodges danger in Dublin, Paris, aboard a yacht in the Mediterranean, back home in Brooklyn, and on a lonely road in Iceland. The action is cinematic — twists, turns, lies, spies. As in his previous novels, The Expats and The Accident, Pavone proves himself an assured and entertaining tale-teller. Sure, The Travelers hurtles over the top, but who cares? Bring your parachute. And a lie detector.

passengerWho is Tanya DuBois? That’s the question that runs throughout Lisa Lutz’s fast-paced The Passenger (Simon & Schuster, digital galley), an accomplished departure from her comic Spellman Files series. When introduced, Tanya’s husband Frank has just taken a header down the stairs, and Tanya figures the Wisconsin police will finger her for the crime. After all, it’s happened before. Huh?! Soon, Tanya’s called in a favor from the mysterious Mr. Oliver, who provides her with a new identity as Amelia, and she’s on the lam. In Austin, she falls in with a bartender called Blue, who is hiding from an abusive husband. Or so she says. When he comes looking for her, and two of Mr. Oliver’s henchman come after Amelia, the two women make a Strangers on a Train kind of pact, and Amelia becomes schoolteacher Debra in small-town Wyoming. But big trouble’s on her trail, and narrator Tanya/Amelia/Debra is again switching up IDs, dying her hair and hitting the road, this time to upstate New York. She lives off the grid, wondering when her luck is going to run out. Winter is coming. Lutz intersperses her resourceful heroine’s story with e-mails between someone named Jo and a man from her past, Ryan, which adds to the intrigue. I couldn’t put The Passenger down. What a ride.

allthingsA farmhouse in the upstate New York town of Chosen is the scene of crime and tragedy in Elizabeth Brundage’s chilly All Things Cease to Appear (Knopf Doubleday, digital galley). In 1978, failing dairy farmer Calvin Hale and wife Ella commit suicide in their upstairs bedroom, leaving three sons to grow up with relatives nearby. A local real estate agent –“purveyor of dreams and keeper of secrets” — later sells the picturesque farmhouse to college professor George Clare, his pretty wife Catherine and toddler daughter Franny. Catherine, unhappy in her marriage, senses the house is haunted, not realizing that her teenage handyman and babysitter Cole Hale used to live there. When George discovers Catherine brutally murdered in their bedroom, both he and Cole come under suspicion, as do others, but the crime remains unsolved for years. The real mystery here is not the killer’s identity, but how people react to circumstances, and how appearances deceive. Brundage, a precisely lyrical writer, knows her characters inside and out, including the psychopath at story’s center.

janesteele“Reader, I murdered him.” Yes, you read that right. This is not Jane Eyre who married him, but rather Jane Steele, the title heroine of Lyndsay Faye’s clever homage to the Bronte classic. Jane Steele (Penguin Putnam, digital galley) reads like a Victorian thriller as its plucky protagonist, a Jane Eyre fan, takes up her pen to recount her adventures. Orphaned as a young girl, Jane Steele is at the mercy of penny-pinching Aunt Patience and her loathsome son, who soon meets his fate at the bottom of a ravine. Jane is then shipped off to a Dickensian boarding school whose students are routinely starved by the tyrannical headmaster. Jane escapes to London, eventually learning that her aunt has died and that Highgate House — Jane’s rightful inheritance — is in the hands of Mr. Charles Thornfield, who is in need of a governess. Jane, of course, applies for the position. Faye, author of several historical thrillers, subverts Bronte’s plot enough to keep readers wondering what her self-professed serial killer will do next. Thornfield and his Sikh butler have secrets aplenty left over from the Anglo-Indian wars, but Jane fears her own “dark heart” and past misdeeds will thwart any romance or road to happiness. Hmmm. What would Jane Eyre do?

redcoatIn The Girl in the Red Coat (Melville House, digital galley), British author Kate Hamer uses child abduction to write both a psychological thriller and a moving exploration of the bonds between mother and daughter. Single mom Beth has always had a premonition that she will lose her dreamy daughter, Carmel. Then one day at an outdoor festival, the eight-year-old wanders away in the fog and is rescued by an older man who claims to be her grandfather. Convinced that her mother has been in a bad accident, Carmel goes with the man to a secluded cottage where his female companion awaits with other children. Frantic Beth and the authorities mount a massive search, but Carmel is gone. Hamer alternates the perspectives between Beth and Carmel, both of whom struggle to hold on to their memories as the years go by. Taken to the United States by her fake grandparents, Carmel has a rag-tag childhood with the itinerant faith healers, while Beth keeps the faith back home even as her life changes. A far-fetched premise, perhaps — the American scenes are sketchy — but the pages practically turn themselves.

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accidentWife, mom and CIA agent Kate Moore from Chris Pavone’s trippy first thriller The Expats has a cameo in his entertaining new novel The Accident (Crown, digital galley), but her boss, Berlin operative Hayden Gray, has a star turn. He’s trying to squash — by any means necessary — an anonymous manuscript before it can be published and its secrets revealed. New York literary agent Isabel Reed has the only known copy, a thick stack of pages titled “The Accident,” and she’s aware that she’s holding a future bestseller and a likely bombshell. The biography of global media mogul Charlie Wolfe alleges a Chappaquiddick-like accident in his past, a cover-up involving his best friend, and ties to covert U. S. intelligence operations. Before Isabel gives it to her old friend, editor Jeffrey Fielder, she swears him to secrecy, as well as her assistant. But copies of the manuscript soon begin to proliferate — a sexy sub-rights agent reads it on a flight to LA, where she’ll pitch it to a movie producer; a publisher trying to hold on to the family business sees it as a ticket to success, but he wants a veteran copy editor to fact-check it asap. All of these people are in grave danger; some will die. Meanwhile in Zurich, the anonymous author is pursuing his own agenda, including plastic surgery and hidden bank accounts. Pavone, who previously worked in publishing, offers a clever secret agent/book agent tale that benefits from his insider knowledge. But pay attention. As in The Expats, he’s quite the trickster. The body count is high.

weightIf you’re missing the rural noir of HBO’s True Detective or wishing Gillian Flynn would hurry up with a new thriller, check out Laura McHugh’s first novel, The Weight of Blood (Spiegal & Grau/Random House, digital galley). Set in the secluded “hollers” of the Ozark Mountains, the novel focuses on the close-knit Dane family — teenage Lucy, her father Carl, his older brother Crete — and the mysterious disappearances of two girls a generation apart. When the body of Lucy’s old school pal Cheri turns up creekside near Dane property, Lucy feels guilty for not having been a better friend, and she begins asking questions of the locals after finding a necklace in a trashed trailer. At the same time, she wonders about her mother Lila, a lovely outsider who disappeared 15 years ago. She might as well poke a nest of snakes. Secrets begin slithering out.  McHugh shifts the narrative voice among the main characters in the present and Lila in the past; eventually, they intersect. Lila proves the most riveting storyteller, but others such as midwife Birdie provide local color and perspective. It’s Birdie who tells Lucy: “You grow up feeling the weight of blood, of family. There’s no forsaking kin. But you can’t help when kin forsakes you or strangers come to be family.”

wivesWhen plastic surgeon John Taylor dies in a Palo Alto hotel, his secret comes out — he had three different wives in three different cities. In Alice LaPlante’s character-driven A Circle of Wives (Grove Atlantic, digital galley), the narrative rotates among the three women who loved the charismatic and compassionate Taylor and the young detective investigating Taylor’s suspicious death. Detective Samantha Adams has to fight her superiors to keep her on the case, but she’s certain the wives — or at least one of them — was responsible for the good doctor’s death. Was it status-conscious Deborah, the first wife who knew of her husband’s bigamy and even assisted in his complicated living arrangements? Or is it Mother Earth-type MJ, with an affinity for gardening and a troubled brother? Or pehaps it’s Helen, the most recent wife, a reserved pediatric oncologist with a secret? Sam’s investigation casts a shadow on her own so-so relationship with graduate student Peter, and then everything changes when a glamorous woman comes forward claiming that she was Taylor’s fiancee, for whom he was willing to disavow all his wives. LaPlante crafts a satisfying puzzle.

outcastCrimes of the past appear to bleed into the present in Elly Griffiths’ intriguing The Outcast Dead (Houghton Mifflin, digital galley), which is often the case with forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway. After uncovering the grave at Norwich Castle of the notorious Victorian murderess Mother Hook, hanged in 1867 for killing orphans in her care, Ruth is asked to participate in a TV series “Women Who Kill.” Ruth is reluctant — she’s decidedly not the put-together TV star type — but she’s persuaded by the program’s history consultant, an attractive American professor. DCI Harry Nelson, the married father of Ruth’s toddler daughter, doesn’t much like the professor, but he’s involved in two disturbing cases. One is a mother suspected of killing her infant children under the guise of crib death; the other a kidnapper known as “The Childminder.” One of these plots would be enough for most writers, but Griffiths deftly ties them together, along with the mystery of Mother Hook, and ratchets up the suspense when a child close to Ruth and Nelson is kidnapped.

littlegirlA kidnapper is also at work in Brian McGilloway’s Little Girl Lost (Harper Impulse, digital galley), the involving first entry in a new series featuring police detective Lucy Black of Derry, Northern Ireland. The title could refer to the shivering girl found in the midst of a snowy midwinter woods with someone else’s blood on her hands. Traumatized by her experience, the unidentified child bonds with Lucy, who would rather be working the McLaughlin case. Teenage Kate McLaughlin, daughter of a local real estate tycoon, is another missing girl, apparently kidnapped. The police force is concentrating all its efforts on finding Kate, even though Lucy suspects the cases are connected. But Lucy, at heart, is also a little girl lost, coping with her divorced dad’s dementia and her conflicted feelings about her mother, who is not just her boss but boss of the force. Two more Lucy Black thrillers are on the way. I’ll read them.

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My recent appetite for books is bordering on the insatiable. No sooner do I check out a new book from the library or receive an ARC in the mail than I read about another title I that sounds great or someone mentions a book not yet on my radar. It reminds me of when I was a kid and would go to the library and check out a stack of books and read them one after another. The only problem with reading as fast as I can is that the blogging goes a bit by the wayside. But here goes:

Ashley Judd has a new TV series about an ex-CIA agent who is also a mom, so I can totally see Judd playing Kate Moore, the winning protagonist of Chris Pavone’s clever first thriller, The Expats (Crown; library hardcover). When Kate’s husband gets a high-tech job in banking security in Luxembourg, she happily ditches her CIA job — which hubby Dexter never knew about — and moves overseas to be a full-time mom to two young sons. But she soon tires of domestic chores, and begins eyeing another American expat couple with suspicion. Something about Bill and Julia doesn’t ring true. Are they assassins targeting a government official from their neatly situated apartment, or is Kate just paranoid? Maybe they’re after her and her old secrets. Surely they’re not trailing geeky Dexter. What could he be hiding?

Pavone shifts back and forth from present-day Paris to Luxembourg two years ago, sometimes flashing back to Kate’s career as a spy. Pay attention. Things start slowly, but before long, Pavone hits the black-diamond trail with all its risky twsts and heart-stopping turns. Both he and Kate are real pros at the espionage game. I hope there’s a sequel.

Peter Robinson, author of the excellent and long-running Inspector Alan Banks series, goes the stand-alone route in the absorbing Before the Poison (Morrow; review copy), which favorably reminds me of both Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine’s novel A Dark-Adapted Eye and the Kenneth Branagh film Dead Again. Chris Lowndes, a 60sh Hollywood film composer still grieving for his late wife, returns to the Yorkshire Dales of his youth, buying a big old country house. Even before he learns its peculiar history, he finds Kilnsgate curiously atmospheric, as if past events have left trace memories, which Chris is now reading.

Or is he just suggestible by nature, especially after learning that Kilnsgate was once home to Grace Fox, who was hanged for poisoning her doctor husband in the early 1950s? The more Chris learns about lovely Grace, the more convinced he becomes that perhaps she didn’t commit the crime for which she was executed.

Robinson neatly juxtaposes Chris’ first-person narrative with a rather dry account of Grace’s trial and the events leading up it, and then with Grace’s surprising journal entries chronicling her experiences as a World War II nurse in Singapore and the South Pacific. No wonder she haunts Chris’ imagination if not the halls of Kilnsgate itself. As for Chris, he’s an intelligent observer who likes classical music, fine art, good food, old movies and Alan Furst’s espionage novels. Mmm, I’d hit him up on Match.com, not that I’ve ever been there.

I’ve always been quite fond of Hamish Macbeth, the red-headed Scottish constable featured in more than two dozen nimble mysteries by M.C. Beaton. Hamish has a checkered romantic history, but he’s between lady friends in Death of a Kingfisher (Grand Central Publishing; digital galley from NetGalley). Not surprisingly, he’s attracted to pretty albeit married Mary Leinster, a newcomer to Lochdubh who has turned beautiful Buchan’s Woods into a tourist attraction, Fairy Glen.

But someone is up to mischief and then murder at Fairy Glen, heralded by the hanging of the gorgeous kingfisher who nests there. Then a bridge collapses, and the body count mounts as various characters meet their maker in extraordinary fashion. Death by rocket-propelled riding stairlift through the roof may seem a wee bit over the top, but the conclusion, involving international spies, is even more far-fetched. But still good fun.

Joshilyn Jackson’s A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty (Grand Central Publishing, digital galley from NetGalley) is one of those good Southern novels with many funny characters and funny stuff going on, only “funny” is more “funny peculiar” than “funny ha-ha.”

Ginny Slocumb is nervous. She was 15 and unwed when she had her daughter Liza, who in turn, was 15 and unmarried when she gave birth to Mosey. Now Mosey is 15, and Ginny, known as Big, is wondering when Mosey might be expecting, except that her awkward, endearing granddaughter doesn’t have a beau, just a friend who is a dorky boy. And it may be that fate has already dealt the Slocumb women their 15-year-blow. Liza, a former drug addict, has been crippled by a stroke, and when Big decides to dig up the backyard willow tree for a swimming pool, the bones of a baby are unearthed. Where did they come from? Big has her suspicions, but Liza remains locked in her secret world, and the truth may destroy the family.

The three main characters take turns with the narrative, and Jackson creates three distinctive voices. She also is very good at evoking the sultry Mississippi heat and the class suffocation that stifles the town. A snobby matriarch borders on the cliche, and some secrets fail to surprise, but a lonely girl from the wrong side of town tugs on Big’s heartstrings.

Open Book: I’m nowhere near finished, so look for Part II in a couple of days.

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