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Posts Tagged ‘Garment of Shadows’

An isolated monastery in northern Quebec, a shabby West Virginia mining town, the ancient city of Fez. Setting plays an integral part in three new crime novels.

In Louise Penny’s The Beautiful Mystery (St. Martin’s press, library hardcover), Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and sidekick Jean-Guy Beauvoir travel north to the wilderness outpost of two dozen cloistered Gilbertine monks, whose amateur CD of Gregorian chants brought them world-wide fame. The CD also has divided the brothers between those who side with the choirmaster in wanting to further capitalize on their divine musical gift, and those who agree with the abbott that preserving their isolation is essential to their tiny order’s preservation. But now the choirmaster is dead in the abbott’s walled garden, presenting a no-exit puzzle for the two detectives, whose investigation is further hampered by the unwelcome arrival of Gamache’s dodgy boss.

In her last novel, A Trick of the Light, Penny explored ambition,  pride and jealousy in the art world; here, the same motives for murder emerge among the monks, all of whom have been recruited for their musical gifts that combine for “the beautiful mystery” of the title. Penny smoothly orchestrates the ensemble cast, detailing the history of plainsong and musical notation, along with asides on chocolate-making and monastic life. Gamache is quietly astute, as usual, but troubled Beauvoir keeps second-guessing his mentor’s methods. A murderer is revealed but not without cost to the Gilbertines — and the detectives. The ninth book in this favorite series can’t come soon enough.

The narrator of Laurie R. King’s A Garment of Shadows (Random House, digital galley via NetGalley) awakes with a headache, not knowing where or who she is. A victim of amnesia, our intrepid heroine will figure out where she is — Fez, in 1924 Morocco — long before she reclaims her identity as Mary Russell, the much-younger wife of Sherlock Holmes, something series readers have known since the get-go. But before the two can be reunited and embark on a daring ride through the desert, Mary will use her wits and fierce intelligence as she dons male Arab garb and seeks her name in the twisting marketplace. Warplanes fly overhead as Britain, France and local political factions tussle over Morocco’s future, and Holmes, in a parallel narrative, is drawn into the intrigue even as he learns Mary is missing. King evokes the period and Arab culture with her vivid writing, and the plot unfolds at  a relentessly suspenseful pace.

The impoverished West Virginia town of Acker’s Gap springs to life in journalist Julia Keller’s first mystery, A Killing in the Hills (St. Martin’s Press, digital galley via NetGalley) when three old men are gunned down in a fast-food restaurant. County prosecutor Bell Elkins’ teenage daughter Clare was a witness to the shooting, but her failure to tell her mother about the figure she glimpsed in the doorway will put both their lives in danger as they pursue separate investigations.

Bell, who has returned to her hometown from Washington, D.C., to crusade against the prescription drug trade that is ravaging the rural county, is a strong and prickly protagonist. As she tries to figure out the perplexing shooting with the sheriff, she also deals with a mentally handicapped man accused of killing a child, the scars of her horrific childhood and the difficulties of being a single mother. Keller builds suspense by moving among the perspectives of Bell, Clare and the hired killer, and then ups the ante with a devastating betrayal. My only quibble is the overuse of similies that mar Keller’s otherwise fine writing.

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