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Posts Tagged ‘Jane Harper’

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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Laura Lippman’s new stand-alone Sunburn (Morrow/HarperCollins, digital galley) is a slow burn noir set in a scruffy Delaware town on the way to the beach from Baltimore. It’s 1995, which means Polly Costello and Adam Bosk can’t Google each other when they meet at the High-Ho diner. Their secrets are layered and many; that Polly has just walked away from her husband and daughter, and that Adam is a private investigator is only the beginning. Lippman’s homage to James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice works wonderfully as she twists the classic conventions to her own ends. Redheaded, hard-to-read Polly is not your usual femme fatale, and Adam more than a good-looking lunk. The waitress and the short-order cook begin an affair, but neither counts on falling in love. There’s a suspicious death and possible arson. Deceit, betrayal, unexpected revelations. Who is playing a long game, whose motives are mixed? The suspense is exquisite, the end to die for.

Kelley Armstrong’s atmospheric Rockton novels are set in an off-the-grid community in the Canadian wilderness, an isolated haven for people with pasts and secrets. Armstrong introduced police officer Casey Duncan in 2016’s City of the Lost, following up with last year’s An Absolute Darkness. Now, in the equally gripping This Fallen Prey (St. Martin’s Press, digital galley), Rockton’s town council agrees to house accused killer Oliver Brady against the advice of Sheriff Eric Dalton. His and Casey’s misgivings are affirmed by Brady, who tries to charm his way out of his makeshift prison and divides the townspeople as to his guilt or innocence. Tempers flare, violence threatens, and then Brady escapes into the wilderness with inside help. Finding him means braving the fierce Yukon elements, as well as figuring out the identity of the traitor(s) and the exact nature of Brady’s past crimes. The romantic relationship between Eric and Casey ups the ante, as does the fact that Eric’s brother is a member of the nomadic survivalists in the area who have a tenuous truce with Rockton’s residents. Remember, there are killers among them who have paid dearly for their pasts to be forgotten, if not sins forgiven.

Scorching heat and drought plagued an Australian community in The Dry, Jane Harper’s first thriller featuring Aaron Falk, a Federal police agent. His hands still bear the burn scars from that last case in Force of Nature (St. Martin’s Press, digital galley), although this time pervasive cold and damp hinder his search for a woman missing in the Giralong mountain range. Falk and his partner Carmen Cooper are working a financial fraud case, and the missing woman is their informant Alice Russell. She and four other women from a Melbourne accounting firm were on a team-building corporate retreat when they got lost and separated. Harper alternates between scenes of the current search and the past actions of the women, not only on the hike but also in their personal lives. Two women have teenage daughters; several went to the same private school; two are sisters. Harper adds an extra frisson by having Falk recall that this is the same area where a serial killer stalked his prey twenty years ago. That man is dead, but there’s an eerie similarity to this new case. Harper eventually ties up the loose ends for a satisfactory conclusion, but the harrowing story reminded me why I traded in camping for glamping. Leaky tents, wet clothes, blistered feet — and one of your fellows could be a killer. I’ll just read the book, thank you.

Precocious girl detective Flavia de Luce, kicked out the Girl Guides for an excess of high spirits and recently booted out of boarding school, is truly depressed at the beginning of Alan Bradley’s The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place (Ballantine/Random House, digital galley). In the wake of a tragedy at the crumbling family home Buckshaw, devoted servant Dogger proposes a boating holiday for 12-year-old Flavia and her two older sisters. Flavia perks up a bit when they pass near the church where a vicar once poisoned the communion wine with cyanide, thus ridding  himself of three pesky parishioners, and she’s downright delighted to next discover a dead body floating in the river. When the corpse man is identified as the vicar’s troubled son Orlando, Flavia has the opportunity to investigate crimes old and new. The landlady at the inn is full of gossipy information, a coffin-maker’s son provides further insight, and Dogger is an able and invaluable assistant when Flavia runs afoul of local law enforcement. They just don’t recognize her genius, poor souls. After nine previous books, readers know better.

A few more recommendations. Inspired by the Ted Bundy case, Meg Gardiner’s chilling Into the Black Nowhere (Dutton/Penguin, digital galley) finds rookie FBI profiler Caitlin Hendrix on the trail of a serial killer, who is also a charming psychopath. This UNSUB, kidnapping and killing young women in central Texax,  uses some of Bundy’s tactics — pretending to need help, for example — to lure his victims into his car, where he snaps on the handcuffs. He also manages a daring escape at one point, as did Bundy. But Gardiner adds some twists of her own invention, and Caitlin has enough flaws to make her an interesting continuing character. Laura Powell’s The Unforgotten (Gallery Books) has a retro vibe and reminded me of the 1987 British film Wish You Were Here, in which Emily Lloyd played a teenager willingly seduced by an older man. In this story set in a seaside community in 1956 Cornwall, 15-year-old Betty is drawn to one of the out-of-town reporters staying at the Hotel Eden, run by her unhappy and unbalanced mother. In the news is the search for “the Cornwell Cleaver,” who is murdering young women in lurid circumstances. This storyline alternates with one 50 years later, where an older woman named Mary is intent on reconnecting with someone from that long-ago summer. The title character of Lexie Elliot’s involving debut The French Girl is the beautiful and enigmatic Sabine. After insinuating herself with a group of British students vacationing in the French countryside, she inexplicably disappeared. Ten years later, her remains are discovered, upsetting the lives of five of the former friends, especially legal recruiter Kate. Realizing that her jealousy of Sabine makes her a prime suspect, obsessive Kate begins to wonder how well she knew the others, including her ex-lover Seb and his cousin Tom. Neil Olson’s The Black Painting (Hanover Square/Harlequin, digital gallery) features such Gothic elements as a creepy old house, a tyrannical patriarch, and a stolen painting that supposedly carries a curse. Alfred Arthur Morse’s body is discovered by his granddaughter Therese, who along with her cousins, has been summoned to his Connecticut coastal home where they spent childhood summers. The last time they were all there, the painting by Goya that hung in Morse’s library was stolen. It still has not been recovered, although the accused thief recently got out of prison. There’s enough weirdness going on that one of Morse’s sons hires PI Dave Webster to uncover the truth about the theft, and he is soon enmeshed in sordid family secrets. An unlikely but entertaining tale.

 

 

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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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