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Posts Tagged ‘crime fiction’

The snow is falling hard and the surprises keep coming in Taylor Adams’ page-turner No Exit (HarperCollins, digital galley). A fierce blizzard causes college student Darby Thorne to pull over at a remote rest stop in the Colorado mountains. Stranded with four strangers, she ventures outside to get a cell signal but instead discovers a kidnapped child hidden in the van parked next to her. Who among her fellow travelers has locked the little girl in a dog crate? What Darby does in the next few hours will determine all their lives. Gripping and cinematic, Adam’s tale is destined for the movies, but why wait when you can read it now.

There’s snow and ice and a car plunging into a dark river in The Current (Algonquin, review copy), Tim Johnston’s riveting second novel after the very good The Descent. It’s the dead of a Minnesota winter when state troopers recover an SUV and two young women from the Black Root River. Audrey Sutter is half-frozen but alive; her friend Caroline has drowned. With echoes of a similar incident in which a young woman drowned in the same river a decade ago, this new tragedy is no accident. Audrey discovers the townspeople she thought she knew — the father of the first dead girl, a suspect who was a teenager at the time, her father the former sheriff — are harboring secrets and regrets. The plot is layered, Johnston’s writing evocative. The Current carries you along inexorably, the way good stories do.

Watcher in the Woods (St. Martin’s Press, digital galley), like other entries in Kelley Armstrong’s Casey Duncan series, is set in the isolated community of Rockton in the wilds of the Canadian Yukon. But don’t look for it on any map. It’s a safe haven for both criminals and victims, who pay a corporation big bucks to stay off the grid. Casey is the town’s detective, and her boyfriend Eric Dalton is the sheriff. When a U.S. Marshal shows up looking for a resident and is subsequently shot, the two have to figure out not only the murder but also how the marshal found Rockton in the first place. Could be it has something to do with Casey’s estranged sister, April, secretly flown in to assist on a medical case. Atmospheric, tightly plotted and smartly paced, the book delves more deeply into Rockton’s mysterious past. There’s more than one watcher in the woods.

Seraphine Mayes has long wondered why she looks different from her twin brother Danny and their older brother Edwin, and looks for answers in Emma Rous’ twisty The Au Pair (Penguin Berkley, digital galley). An old photo of her mother, who fell to her death from the Norfolk cliffs shortly after Seraphine and Danny were born, shows her mother holding a single newborn. The picture was taken by Edwin’s young au pair at the time, Lauren Silviera. As Seraphine searches for Lauren in the present, the narrative alternates with Lauren’s story in the past. Threatening notes, secret lovers, family quarrels and village gossip of changelings contribute to the murky puzzle. You’ll have to decide if the solution — given the outlandish premise — makes sense.

Maureen Johnson is at her most devious in The Vanishing Stair (HarperCollins, library hardcover), the second in her wickedly entertaining Truly Devious series. In the first book, readers met Stevie, an Ellingham Academy student obsessed by the unsolved murder and kidnapping case at Ellingham in 1936. Stevie thought she was making progress, but then one of her classmates died and another disappeared, and Stevie’s parents yanked her out of the alternative boarding school. She’s totally miserable as the second book begins, but then hated politician Edward King pulls some strings and Stevie’s back at Ellingham. Her story alternates with that of two students from the 1936 Ellingham class, who fancy themselves as a stylish crime couple like Bonnie and Clyde. What do “Frankie and Eddie” have to do with the Truly Devious case? Secret tunnels, hidden doorways and peculiar riddles abound as Stevie works with an eccentric true crime writer and tries to figure out her relationship with classmate David, Edward King’s son. It’s all great fun and nail-biting suspense right up to the very last page — and another cliffhanger ending. Maureen Johnson, you’re killing me!

 

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When the skeleton of a private detective missing for a decade turns up in an abandoned car, it isn’t long before semi-retired Edinburgh police detective John Rebus is drawn into the investigation with ties to his past. The twisty cold case allows Ian Rankin to assemble the old gang of coppers and crooks — Siobhan Clarke, Malcolm Fox, Big Ger Cafferty — and makes In a House of Lies (Little Brown, digital galley) a must for readers of the long-running series. An old pair of police-issue handcuffs on the corpse hints at possible corruption and cover-up on the part of Rebus’ former team, or maybe the cuffs are just a leftover prop from the low-budget zombie flick in which the missing man was an extra. Then again, they could be a red herring in a case that involves land deals, drug deals and a plea deal that landed a possibly innocent man in prison. For sure there’s something fishy about the “Chuggabugs,” a pair of shady cops now working in the ACU –Anti-Corruption Unit — and gunning for the good guys. In Val McDermid’s Broken Ground (Grove Atlantic, digital galley), the search for buried treasure in a peat bog leads to a perfectly preserved body and thus a case for Karen Pirie of Police Scotland’s HCU — Historic Crimes Unit. McDermid deftly splices scenes from World War II into the layered narrative as Pirie digs into the past, bucking her present control-freak boss, irritating the treasure hunters and getting to know a kilted Highlander named Hamish.

 

The past is always present in James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux novels, and no one is better than Burke at evoking the haunted landscape of southern Louisiana. The New Iberia Blues (Simon and Schuster, digital galley), the 22nd in the series, finds Dave, adopted daughter Alafair and old buddy Clete Purcell all in the orbit of Desmond Cormier, a local boy made good as a Hollywood film director. Dave suspects Cormier and his smarmy friend Antoine Butterworth know more than they’re saying about the murder of pastor’s daughter Lucinda Arceneaux, whose crucified corpse is found in the river near Cormier’s estate. But then other bodies show up posed like Tarot card symbols, and the number of suspects escalates as well. Escaped Texas convict Hugo Tillinger is certifiably crazy, as is Chester “Smiley” Wimple, returning from last year’s Robicheaux, and it looks as if the mob is providing the money for Cormier’s latest project. Both the director and widower Dave are attracted to new young deputy Bailey Ribbons, who seems to have wandered in from another book. Still, as digressive as the narrative seems, Burke unknots the tangled strands with practiced ease.

Christopher Fowler’s entertaining tales of London’s legendary Peculiar Crimes Unit don’t appear in chronological order, and so Bryant & May: Hall of Mirrors (Ballantine, digital galley) features our heroes — prehistoric in the 21st century — still in their prime in 1969. John May, of course, looks debonair in Carnaby Street fashions as he and the sartorially challenged Arthur Bryant go undercover to protect prosecution witness Monty Hatton-Jones. An obnoxious snob, Monty resents the coppers escorting him to a country-house weekend at Tavistock Hall, and ignores their efforts to keep him from getting killed. The atmosphere is more Agatha Christie/P.G. Wodehouse than hippy-dippy, but the assorted cast is suitably eccentric to qualify for Peculiar Crimes’ attention, and the ancient butler goes above and beyond in service to his employer. All in all, it’s quite a lark.

Intrepid 1950s English girl sleuth and chemist Flavia de Lucia returns in Alan Bradley’s The Golden Tresses of the Dead (Ballantine, digital galley), suitably devastated that older sister Ophelia is getting married and suitably delighted when a severed finger shows up in the wedding cake. She immediately whisks it away for testing, and she and sleuthing partner Dogger, her late father’s valet, conclude it’s the embalmed digit of a recently deceased woman reknowned for her skill on the guitar. How this ties in with the homeopathic remedies of Dr. Augustus Brocken (confined by his infirmities to Gollingford Abbey), his daughter’s search for stolen letters, and two missionary ladies recently arrived from Africa makes for one of Flavia’s most interesting and macabre investigations. A train trip to visit a Victorian cemetery and the surprising help of Flavia’s snarky cousin Undine are among the highlights, although Flavia might choose the dissection of a poisoned rat.

 

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Ballard and Bosch. Sounds like an accounting firm, or maybe a couple of interior designers. Actually, Renee Ballard and Harry Bosch are two of Michael Connelly’s most appealing and complex series detectives. Introduced in last year’s The Late Show, Ballard works the night shift at Hollywood Station, camping on the beach with her dog during the day. Bosch, the veteran cop of 20-plus books, now works cold cases for the San Fernando P.D., and in the deft procedural Dark Sacred Night (Little Brown, library hardcover), he teams with Ballard to investigate the disappearance of teen Daisy Clayton. The narrative focus alternates between the two rule-benders, both of whom are sidetracked by their own cases. A heist from a dead woman’s house, a porno movie studio operating out of the back of a van, and a run-in with a vicious gang leader tied to Mexican drug dealers end up linking to the cold case and a serial killer. Ballard and Bosch — BOLO for their next adventure.

An English country house during a sultry summer, unreliable narrators harking back to past events, a pair of mysterious lovers, an outsider yearning to belong. Claire Fuller’s involving Bitter Orange (Tin House Books, digital galley) reminds me of one of Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine’s serpentine  suspense novels. In 1969, Frances Jellicoe, an unsophisticated 39, spies on the private lives of couple Peter and Cara when they end up sharing quarters in a derelict mansion owned by an American millionaire. Things are not what they seem, to say the least, and there’s a creeping dread as Frances recalls that summer from a hospital bed years later. There will be blood. And a body.

Speaking of English country houses, Liane Moriarty cheerfully channels Agatha Christie in Nine Perfect Strangers (Flatiron Books, purchased hardcover), although she subs a posh Australian health resort for the requisite house. Romance writer Frances Welty, whose career and love life are trending downward, is among the nine people hoping to transform their lives in 10 days. Others taking part in the regimen of diets, meditation, facials, etc. include an aging jock, a divorced mom, a grieving midwife and her schoolteacher husband. All have their secrets and all have their say, as does the mysterious Masha, the Russian executive running  things. For a long time, not much happens except a lot of mindful living, but then the plot takes a turn. In fact, it goes completely off the rails, but I kept on flipping pages so fast I got a paper cut, although not as bad as the one Frances suffers from early on.

V.I. Warshawski is all in for friends and family in Sara Paretsky’s Shell Game (HarperCollins, digital galley). First, the Chicago detective’s friend Lottie asks for help with her great-nephew Felix, a Canadian-born engineering student who is mixed up in the murder of a man of Middle Eastern descent. Then, Harmony Seale, the niece of Warshawski’s ex-husband, attorney Richard Yarborough, shows up from Portland looking for her missing sister Reno. Richard had helped Reno find a job with a sleazy pay-day lender, but claims to know nothing about her present whereabouts. The intrepid sleuth doesn’t take kindly to slammed doors and unsubtle hints to mind her own business, which is why she’s soon sorting out corporate intrigue, insurance scams, Russian mobsters, ISIS supporters and the blackmarket trade in priceless antiquities and artwork. The case is complicated and timely; both the pace and detective are relentless.

First, a young curator at a Colorado history museum vanishes on an overnight camping trip. Next, a valuable historical diary disappears from the same museum before a fund-raising gala. Then there’s a murder at the museum after hours. Detective Gemma Malone stays more than busy in Emily Littlejohn’s satisfying third mystery, Lost Lake (St. Martin’s Press, digital galley). A new mother, Malone continues to be an appealing character as she untangles a family’s secret history and the rumored curse of the icy, isolated lake.

 

If you’re looking for a taut legal thriller, you won’t find it in John Grisham’s The Reckoning (Doubleday, digital galley). There is some courtroom drama, but this is one of Grisham’s slice-of-life Southern sagas set in Clanton, Miss., place-centered and character-driven. In 1946, war hero and family man Pete Banning walks into a church and shoots the pastor dead. “I have nothing to say,” Banning tells the sheriff, and he stubbornly refuses any explanation to family, friends, judge and jury. It takes years — and flashbacks to World War II and the town’s history — before Grisham allows a reckoning with the truth.

 

Lou Berney’s noir-tinged November Road (HarperCollins, digital galley) is a crime novel, a road novel and a love story, all taking off from the November 1963 Kennedy assassination. Frank Guidry is a New Orleans mob fixer on the run from a hired killer when he stops to help Oklahoma housewife Charlotte Roy and her two kids heading for a new life in California. Stopping is Frank’s first mistake, falling for Charlotte is his second. Don’t  make a mistake and miss this one.

 

 

 

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At 656 pages, the hardcover version of Lethal White could well be a lethal weapon. Happily, I bought the e-book of the fourth Cormoran Strike tale by Robert Galbraith aka J.K. Rowling, so it only robbed me of a weekend’s worth of reading. And I found it time well spent, similar to binge-watching the Cinemax mini-series of the first three books. Strike is still large, grouchy and damaged, but he has rehired his assistant, Robin Ellacott, and elevated her to partner in the London detective agency. The two pursue a complicated case of blackmail, murder and past secrets involving the dysfunctional family of government minister Jasper Chiswell (pronounced “Chizzle”), the pervy husband of another minister, and socialist rabble-rouser Jimmy Knight and his mentally ill brother Billy. The cast is Dickensian, the plot smartly tangled and digressive, the writing detailed and atmospheric. Throughout, Robin contends with panic attacks left over from her serial killer encounter, as well as her selfish jerk of a husband. Meanwhile Strike deals with girlfriends past and present, all the while mulling over his attraction to Robin. Just when you think they’re about to get sorted, something or someone intervenes, and there goes another hundred pages. Still, I hope it’s not another three years before the next book. Cormoran Strike is as addictive as Harry Potter.

There’s good news and sad news about Wild Fire (St. Martin’s Press, digital galley), Ann Cleeves’ eighth entry in her stellar Shetland Island series. The sad news is that Cleeves says this is the last Shetland book, the good news being that police detective Jimmy Perez finishes strong. When the body of a nanny is found hanging in the Fleming family’s barn, suspicion falls on the Flemings, outsiders with an autistic son. But then designer Helena Fleming reveals that she has found disturbing sketches of a gallows, and the dead girl turns out to have a complicated past and local romantic entanglements. Speaking of which, Perez’s boss and occasional lover, Willow Reeves, arrives from Inverness to head the investigation. When another murder occurs, Cleeves crafts the village equivalent of an atmospheric locked-room mystery — the closed-community puzzle. The few suspects all have means and motives, and your guess is as good as mine. Oh, I’m going to miss Shetland.

 

A Forgotten Place (HarperCollins, digital galley) is a truly memorable installment of Charles Todd’s series about spirited British nursing sister Bess Crawford. World War I may be over, but many soldiers are still reliving the horrors of the trenches, including the Welsh vets Bess first meets at a hospital in France. Once hardworking miners, the amputees face such a bleak peacetime future that they prefer death. Hoping to help avert more suicides, Bess uses leave to check up on Capt. Hugh Williams, who is staying with his widowed sister-in-law in a back-of-beyond village in South Wales. She ends up stranded among hostile villagers when her driver takes off in his car in the middle of the night. The Gothic atmosphere is thick with suspicion and rumors, and Bess observes several mysterious events, including the secret burial of an unidentified body washed up on the beach. There’s a dark secret at the village’s heart, one that goes back decades, a secret some are willing to kill to keep.

 

Other recent crime novels worthy of recommendation vary widely in subject and style. In Karin Slaughter’s riveting stand-alone, Pieces of Her (HarperCollins, digital galley), Andrea Cooper discovers her mother Laura has been hiding her real identity for 30 years. Her desperate road trip to find the truth of her heritage alternates with flashbacks to Laura’s harrowing past that endangers them both. In Caz Frear’s assured first novel Sweet Little Lies (HarperCollins, digital galley), the spotlight’s on a father-daughter relationship. London DC Cat Kinsella is investigating the murder of a unidentified woman when DNA provides the link to the 1998 disappearance of an Irish teen. Cat has always known her charming, philandering father lied about his connection to the teen back then, but she now fears he may be lying about murder. She sifts through both family history and present-day evidence for the answers. Stephen Giles goes Gothic with his twisty psychological chiller The Boy at the Keyhole (Hanover Square Press, digital galley) set in 1961 Britain. In an old country house, 9-year-old Samuel worries that his widowed mother, who left on a business trip while he was asleep, has been gone too long and isn’t coming home. Despite assurances from housekeeper Ruth, imaginative Samuel begins to suspect that Ruth has murdered his mother and hidden her body. Creepy.  Agatha Christie fans should be pleased by Sophie Hannah’s third Hercule Poirot novel, The Mystery of Three Quarters (HarperCollins, digital galley). The clever puzzle begins with someone pretending to be Hercule Poirot sending letters to four people accusing them of murder. But elderly Barnabas Pandy accidentally drowned in his bathtub, didn’t he? Or was it murder? Poirot’s little gray cells get quite the workout, as does his appetite for cake. On the even lighter side, actor Charles Paris plays sleuth again in The Deadly Habit (Severn House, digital galley). Alcoholic and middle-aged, Paris is surprised to get a part in a new West End production starring Justin Grover, an actor with whom he worked long ago but who has since become rich and famous. Although he’s trying not to drink so as to get back with his estranged wife Frances, Charles falls off the wagon at an inopportune moment, stumbling over a dead body backstage, then making a quick exit. Now he’s got to find a murderer before he becomes prime suspect or the next corpse.

 

 

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At the beginning of her cunning first novel, The Ruin (Penguin, purchased e-book), Dervla McTiernan writes that in Irish, “Ruin means something hidden, a mystery, or a secret, but the word also has a long history as a term of endearment.” She teases out all these meanings in a layered procedural set in in a 2013 Galway thick with mist and misdirection. Police detective Cormac Reilly, recently transferred from Dublin, feels sidelined working cold cases until Jack Blake dies in a fall from a bridge. Neither Jack’s estranged sister Maude, who has been living in Australia, nor his girlfriend, a surgical resident, think it’s suicide, but the police are reluctant to investigate further.  Reilly remembers when he was a rookie in 1993 and removed 15-year-old Maude and 5-year-old Jack from a falling-down house in Kilmore after their mother died from a heroin overdose. When higher-ups turn their attention to Maude, who had motive and secrets, his suspicions are aroused. That the police unit itself is rife with rumors just adds to his unease. McTiernan follows Reilly, Maude and Aishling as they pursue mysteries old and new involving missing persons, drugs, rape and child abuse. It’s Ireland, so family loyalties and the church are also involved.  Count me in for next year’s second in the series.

Two dark moments of Florida history — Ted Bundy and the Dozier School for Boys — shadow Lori Roy’s modern Gothic, The Disappearing (Dutton/Penguin, digital galley). The residents of little Waddell in rural North Florida refer to a serial killer who took his last victim, a teenage girl, from their town years ago as “Ted.” These days, out-town-reporters keep showing up as former students of the now-closed Fielding School report crimes of abuse and even murder. Former headmaster Neil Harding, sliding into dementia in his historic home, has nothing to say. His long-suffering wife shields him from outsiders; his grown daughter Lane, recently divorced, has reluctantly moved home with her two daughters. She remembers when she was a girl and used to leave food outside for boys running away from the reform school. She also remembers being shunned in high school after an incident involving a runaway. When a Florida State student disappears, Waddell wonders if a serial killer like Ted has returned. But when Lane’s older daughter Annabel vanishes, too, Lane fears a connection to her father and the school’s tainted history. Roy, who has won two Edgar Awards for her previous books, uses multiple perspectives to tell her story: Lane, her younger daughter Talley, fretful Erma, and an odd handyman, Daryl, who spies on Waddell’s young girls. It’s all suitably complicated and creepy, doubly so for Floridians familiar with the real-life crimes that inspired Roy.

A true crime case — that of Britain’s notorious Lord Lucan — acts as touchstone for Flynn Barry’s nimble A Double Life (Viking, digital galley).  Narrator Claire is a London doctor whose real name is unknown to her colleagues and friends. She’s actually Lila Spenser, daughter of Colin Spenser, the Eton-educated lord who vanished when she was a child after being accused of attacking her mother and killing the nanny. Many believe that Spenser’s wealthy friends helped him escape, and he supposedly has been sighted in a number of countries over the last quarter century. Claire always has had trouble reconciling her childhood memories of her handsome father with her mother Faye’s account of her unhappy marriage. Mostly, she wants to find him, obsessively following Internet forums tracking the case and privately stalking his old friends. Barry mixes past and present to good effect, but the thrills really begin when Claire travels to Croatia on an apparent wild-goose chase. Maybe it is. Maybe not.

Belinda Bauer’s Snap (Atlantic Monthly, digital galley) has been longlisted for the prestigious Man Booker prize. A story in The Guardian noted that one judge thinks it transcends the crime genre, while another thinks it bends the form in new ways.  Ok. I think it’s a clever puzzler that reminds me of a Ruth Rendell standalone or one of Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie novels as it presents several disparate stories before connecting the plots. First up are 11-year-old Jack and his younger sisters Merry and Joy, whose pregnant mother goes off for help when their car breaks down. She never returns, the victim of an unsolved murder. Three years later, Jack’s still in charge, keeping the siblings together in their old house after their grieving father walks out. He’s become an accomplished cat burglar, stealing food and necessities,  along with pricier goods he sells to his friendly neighborhood fence.  In another part of town, pregnant Catherine While wakes up to an intruder in the house and later finds a knife by her bed with the menacing note: “I could have killed you.” Not wanting to make a “hoo-ha,” she doesn’t tell her husband or call the police. The latter are busy trying to catch the Goldilocks burglar, although Chief Inspector John Marvel longs for a good murder case. Bauer has some fun snapping the puzzle pieces in place, and Jack is a character to care about as he tries to find his mother’s killer.

Three more for your reading pleasure. Lawrence Osborne does an elegiac Raymond Chandler in Only to Sleep (Crown, digital galley), which finds Philip Marlowe mostly retired in Mexico in 1988. With silver sword cane in hand, the aging detective investigates an insurance scam involving a dead American businessman and his lovely young widow. Nicely written and achingly familiar, this sunset stroll should please Marlowe fans. William Shaw set his terrific Kings of London crime trilogy in the 1960s, and in Salt Lane (Little Brown, digital galley), Det. Sgt. Alexandra Cupidi links her modern-day murder case in Kent to the 1980s peace protests. Opioid addiction, the immigrant crisis and homelessness also figure in the nifty plot, and prickly outsider Cupidi, introduced in last year’s The Birdwatcher, makes for an interesting protagonist. In The Last Thing I Told You (Morrow, digital gallery), Emily Arsenault plays the unreliable narrator card with aplomb. A quiet New England town that was once shocked by a mass shooting at a retirement home is again rattled by the murder of a well-liked therapist. Police detective Henry Peacher methodically investigates, but another voice — that of former patient Natalie Raines — commands attention as she recounts her therapy sessions when she was a troubled high school student. Is it just coincidence that Natalie is back in town for the murder? Mmmm. I didn’t think so…

 

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It’s no secret that I spent my vacation reading assorted crime novels, chilling out in the summer heat.  Safe Houses by Dan Fesperman (Knopf, digital galley) is both a Cold War spy tale and a contemporary murder mystery. In 1979 West Berlin, young CIA recruit Helen Abell is frustrated by an old boys’ club, relegated to watching over safe houses where field agents secretly meet their sources. Then one day, she inadvertently tapes a coded conversation between two unknown men, and is warned off by her older lover, an experienced agent. Returning to the safe house, she interrupts a vicious agent “Robert” sexually assaulting a young German woman, who later turns up dead. When Helen tries to implicate Robert in the crime, she becomes a target, but two other women in the CIA offer covert help. Fesperman splices this tense tale with one playing out 35 years later on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. A farmer and his wife are shot in their bed, and their developmentally disabled son Willard is arrested. His older sister Anna refuses to believe her gentle brother guilty, and hires Henry Mattick, a former Justice Department investigator who just happens to be renting the house next door.  Their search for clues to Anna’s mother’s hidden past alternates with Helen’s spy adventures, the two narratives running on parallel tracks that inevitably converge. Fesperman (The Double Game, Lie in the Dark) knows his spy stuff, and Safe Houses is a clever, intelligent thriller with a couple of neat twists. I also like how the two stories echo one another. Why did Anna’s mother hang on to a tacky Paris snowglobe? It’s also a timely book, in light of the MeToo movement and the current swampy political scene. We all want a safe house.

Rosalie Knecht’s  wry Who is Vera Kelly? (Tin House Books, digital galley) also is told in two alternating narratives of almost equal interest. Growing up in the 1950s with an alcoholic mother, Vera Kelly has a rough time, separated from her best girlfriend and then deemed incorrigible and sent to reform school. Ten years later, she’s a fledgling CIA spy in Buenos Aires, pretending to be a student to blend in with campus radicals with supposed Soviet ties, as well as eavesdropping on government bureaucrats. But then she’s betrayed during a coup and forced into hiding, eventually fleeing the city. Her gritty coming-of-age in  New York is what brings her to the attention of the CIA, but her early years can’t really compete with her double-life exploits in Argentina. Throughout, however, Vera Kelly is a scrappy, resourceful outsider looking for a life in which she belongs.

Venice provides the atmospheric backdrop for the latest adventures of the intrepid Mary Russell and husband Sherlock Holmes in Laurie R. King’s Island of the Mad (Bantam/Random House, digital galley). The year is 1925, and Russell is on the trail of a friend’s aristocratic aunt, who recently vanished from the Bedlam lunatic asylum with her nurse. Holmes, meanwhile, is on a secret diplomatic mission to observe the rising Fascist scene for brother Mycroft.  Mingling on the Lido with the likes of society hostess Elsa Maxwell and composer Cole Porter leads to a locked island asylum, a Mussolini-backed conspiracy and a grand costume ball. Russell commandeers a gondola, and Holmes inspires a Porter classic. A good time is had by all, except the villains, of course.

 Gatsby meets Tom Ripley meets the movie Metropolitan in Tara Isabella Burton’s Social Creature (Doubleday, digital galley), a cut-glass crystal tale of obsessive friendship. Louise is a poor aspiring writer when rich socialite Lavinia decides they’ll be new best friends. Before long, Louise is caught up in the endless party of Lavinia’s life, drinking champagne under the stars and deliberately ignoring signs that’s she’s just another plaything of Lavinia’s. Besides, Louise likes Lavinia’s money and all that it buys, from the clothes to the makeovers to the glam friends with names like Athena Maidenhead. Still, all this can only end in tears. The question is whose tears and just what will be recorded for posterity on social media. Louise or Lavinia? Which one is bad, mad and dangerous to know?

Maybe I’ve read too many boarding school/secret society novels, but Elizabeth Klehfoth’s All These Beautiful Strangers (HarperCollins, digital galleys) seems overly familiar. Charlotte “Charlie” Calloway’s mother Grace Fairchild vanished when she was seven, presumed to have run away from her difficult marriage to wealthy Alistair Calloway. Rumors that Alistair might have had something to do with Grace’s disappearance were quickly squashed by his influential family. But when Charlie, now 17, begins the initiation process to become an “A,” the secret society at her New England boarding school, she discovers that the A’s history intersects with her own. Flashbacks in Grace’s voice and then Alistair’s reveal Charlie is on the right track, although her quest to discover the truth is hindered by the senior As’ sway over the school — and some ponderous and improbable plotting on the author’s part.

If you liked Riley Sager’s Final Girls — which I did, mostly — you’ll be pleased with The Last Time I Lied (Dutton, Penguin). I was, mostly. Painter Emma Davis is haunted by her short stint at Camp Nightingale 15 years ago. Her three cabin mates disappeared one night, never to be seen again, and the camp had to close. Now she paints her lost friends’ likenesses in every large canvas, but then hides the girls with brushstrokes of dark forest scenes. When Francesca Harris-White, the wealthy owner of Camp Nightingale, decides to reopen the camp for scholarship students, she hires Emma as a painting counselor — and puts her in Dogwood Cabin with three teenage campers. Eventually, they also disappear, and Emma’s truthfulness and mental health, then and now, is called into question. Flashbacks to her first stay at Nightingale and many games of Two Truths and A Lie show Emma to be a most unreliable narrator. Sager strikes some false notes with his summer camp setting, which is more like the camps I knew back in the day than those circa 2003. One of his supposedly big revelations is no surprise, but a later one is, as was the case with Final Girls. In the end, Sager proves adept with campfire smoke and mirrors.

 

 

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A serial killer is stalking the streets, his gruesome crimes apparently inspired by the works of Dante. Well-known writers team as amateur detectives to solve the case but fear they are hunting one of their own. It sounds like the plot of Matthew Pearl’s best-selling The Dante Club, and it is. But it’s also that of Pearl’s new literary thriller The Dante Chamber (Penguin Press, ARC), with the action shifting from 1865 Boston to 1870 London. A politician’s neck has been crushed by a stone etched with an inscription from the Divine Comedy, and poet Christina Rossetti enlists the help of Robert Browning and Alfred Tennyson to search for her missing brother, famous artist and writer Dante Gabriel Rossetti. It’s not necessary to have read The Dante Club to enjoy Pearl’s atmospheric follow-up, thanks to Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes, who is still haunted by the Boston murders and who conveniently arrives in England to lend his expertise. Pearl’s own expertise is seamlessly blending fact with fiction in a fulsome narrative peopled by credible characters real and imagined. Christina Rossetti may present herself to the public as a retiring spinster, but her actions here reveal her spirited nature. Her brother Gabriel fascinates with his extravagant behavior and obsessions; his house is a library/menagerie, where armadillos and raccoons roam among the stacks of books. Browning is dashing, Tennyson is shy. Add a well-read Scotland Yard detective, a mysterious reverend, the “ghost” of a beautiful woman, a few Fenians plotting the overthrow of the government, and an ex-Pinkerton detective looking to capitalize on the lurid events. It’s a Victorian feast. Dig in.

Reading Ruth Ware’s deliciously twisty The Death of Mrs. Westaway (Scout Press, digital galley) is like driving down a country road. You think you know the way, pass some familiar landmarks, remember to turn left at the crossroads. But then you either miss a turn, or the road curves unexpectedly, and you don’t recognize a thing. You’re lost. Ware (In a Dark, Dark Wood, The Lying Game) comes up with Christie-like plots enhanced by Gothic elements. Past secrets, mistaken identities, old diaries and pictures. Harriet “Hal” Westaway is sure the letter from a lawyer announcing her grandmother’s death isn’t meant for her. For starters, her late grandmother wasn’t named Hester. Still, Hal can’t resist going to the funeral in Cornwall and the reading of the will. Ever since her single mother’s death several years ago, Hal has been on her own, forgoing university and eking out a living as a fortune teller on the Brighton pier. She doesn’t really believe in Tarot cards, but she’s good at reading people, and maybe she can pass herself off as a long-lost granddaughter long enough to benefit from the Westaway estate. With a loan shark breathing down her neck, Hal is desperate to escape Brighton. So off she goes to Trepassen House to meet her three new “uncles.” It’s a great premise, and Ware makes the most of it, even adding a creepy housekeeper, an attic bedroom, crumbling stairs and a frozen lake. Brrrr!

Would you willingly invite a serial killer to accompany you on a road trip? Me neither. What about if the serial killer is a senior citizen with dementia? Still no. What if you think your teenage sister was one of his victims? No way — are you kidding?! The unnamed 24-year-old narrator of Julia Heaberlin’s new thriller Paper Ghosts (Ballantine, digital galley) firmly believes that 61-year-old documentary photographer Carl Louis Feldman is behind the disappearance of her sister Rachel a dozen years ago. Armed with a map of Texas and some old photos, she pretends she’s Feldman’s daughter so she can check him out of the halfway house where he’s been living. Feldman, who claims no memory of killing Rachel or any other girls, doesn’t believe the narrator is his daughter but goes along for the ride, so to speak. You should, too, as improbable as it all sounds. Come on, don’t you want to know if Feldman really doesn’t  remember his career as photographer and killer? And what of the obsessive, unreliable narrator? Yes, you’ll keep reading. I did, with only a couple of pit stops to relieve the tension.

Time to catch up with some favorite series. Ann Cleeves has two going; the next entry in the Shetland series is due in the fall, while the fifth in the Vera Stanhope series, The Glass Room (St. Martin’s Press, library hardcover), was recently published in the U.S. for the first time. A formidable police detective and an odd duck, Vera finds herself investigating the murder of a famous writer in which her free-spirited neighbor is the prime suspect. But there are many others attending the writing workshop at the isolated country house with connections to the victim and motives aplenty. As usual, they underestimate Vera’s sharp mind, distracted by her large size and shabby clothes. Ah yes, appearances are deceiving.

I didn’t know how much I was longing for some good old South Florida noir until I read Alex Segura’s fourth Pete Fernandez novel Blackout (Polis Books, digital galley). Fernandez, a former reporter turned P.I. and a  recovering alcoholic, initially turns away a Florida politician looking for his missing son because it means returning to his hometown of Miami. Then Pete realizes that the missing man is linked to the cold case of Patty Morales, a high school classmate of Pete’s who disappeared in 1998. He and his former partner, Kathy Bentley, have tried to find Patty’s killer before, but their luck ran out when a crucial witness disappeared. Now with a chance to make amends with his past and old friends, Pete, who has been living in New York, heads for Miami, finding its familiarity both reassuring and overwhelming  Segura makes good use of Miami history — remember the Liberty City cult of Yahweh ben Yahweh? — and the surreality of Florida itself in crafting his hard-boiled tale.

Elly Griffiths takes a convoluted route in The Dark Angel (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, digital galley) to get her series characters from England to Italy to solve mysteries old and new. Forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway and young daughter Kate arrive first when Ruth is asked by an Italian archaeologist to consult on a Roman skeleton at the center of a television documentary. But then the town’s priest is found murdered in a case with secrets going back to World War II. Meanwhile, DCI Harry Nelson, Ruth’s sometimes lover and Kate’s father, hears of earthquakes in the region, and flies to Italy, leaving behind his pregnant wife Michelle. She doesn’t know if Nelson is the father of her baby or if it’s the police officer with whom she had an affair. Fans of the series will find these domestic entanglements as interesting as details  of the Italian crimes. La famiglia!

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