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Posts Tagged ‘Lisa Lutz’

It’s September, but in Florida that means August: The Sequel. It’s just as hot and humid, only with a greater chance of hurricanes and lovebugs. My survival plan is simple, the same as the last few months: Lots of books and AC, with plenty of flashlight batteries in case the power goes out.

The balance of power between the sexes shifts in Lisa Lutz’s smart and caustic prep school mystery The Swallows (Ballantine, digital galley). The MeToo movement becomes MyTurn when the girls seek revenge on the boys whose faculty-sanctioned sexual gamesmanship has long caused hurt and humiliation. Senior student Gemma and new writing teacher Alex become allies in the search for  “the Darkroom,” the online hangout for the guys and their infamous rating system. I give the book an A-minus.

 

Another chilly campus novel, Cambria Brockman’s Tell Me Everything (Ballantine, digital galley), gets a B because it doesn’t quite live up to its Secret History vibes. The prologue teases with a suspicious death among a tightly knit group of students, who have been living and studying together at a small New England College since freshman year. But they don’t share all their secrets, as narrator Malin well knows. Imposter syndrome, anyone? You don’t know the half of it.

 

Alex Segura goes super-noir in the fifth and final Pete Fernandez book, Miami Midnight (Polis Books, digital galley) as the Miami gumshoe and recovering alcoholic is tempted to take up detecting again by the murder of a jazz pianist and a cold case with a personal connection. Pete’s also trying to repair old friendships and stay away from old enemies, all the while dealing with a missing widow and a costumed contract killer. The atmosphere’s as thick as a South Florida summer. Love me some pulp fiction, and Segura obviously does, too,

The hardscrabble West Virginia town of Acker’s Gap is bleaker than ever in Julia Keller’s new Bell Elkins mystery, The Cold Way Home (St. Martin’s Press, digital galley). A former prosecutor turned private detective, Bell finds a dead body on the desolate site of a onetime insane asylum. The solution to the murder lies in the hospital’s sad and sordid history, which Keller imparts through excerpts from a diary kept by a woman who worked there as a girl. Past and present tangle in a grim and fascinating story.

 

All allusions to Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw are deliberate in Ruth Ware’s contemporary Gothic,  The Turn of the Key (Gallery/Scout Press, digital galley). But Ware has cleverly updated its classic haunted house element. The mansion in the Scottish Highlands where nanny Rowan Caine finds a lucrative position is actually a “smart house,” wired to the rafters with surveillance cameras and a soundtrack, everything programmed by an electronic assistant “Happy.” Accused of killing a child in her care, Rowan tells her story in letters to a lawyer from prison.  But Ware withholds the identity of the child and the circumstances of the death, scattering clues throughout the narrative, turning up the suspense.

Ann Cleeves, creator of the Vera Stanhope and Jimmy Perez/Shetland mysteries, launches a new series with The Long Call (St. Martin’s Press, digital galley). Set in North Devon where two rivers empty into the sea, it features Detective Inspector Matthew Venn, who grew up in a small religious sect in the area. When Matthew rebelled against religion as a teen, he was shunned by his parents and the community. Now in his late 30s, he’s married to Jon, who runs a local arts and counseling center. The discovery of a body with an albatross tattooed on his neck involves Matthew in a case connected to his past and present. The story is absorbing, the mood thoughtful, the characters memorable. Of particular interest are Debbie, a young woman with Downs Syndrome, who works at Jon’s center and knew the victim, and Dennis Salter, the charismatic leader of the sect.  I’m also looking forward to reading more about complicated Matthew Venn.

 

 

 

 

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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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