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Posts Tagged ‘Sophie Hannah’

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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unlikelySure, some of you are headed back to school and work, and you have my sympathy. But others are headed out to the pool or back to the beach to savor what has been a summer for the books. There have been so many that I actually lost track of what I’ve reviewed. I wonder what I was doing in June that was so important that I forgot to write about Judy Blume’s  In the Unlikely Event (Knopf Doubleday, digital galley), a novel that thoughtfully explores the impact of a series of plane crashes on the townspeople of Elizabeth, N.J., in the winter of 1951-52. As usual, Blume’s writing is assured and accessible, her sympathetic characters flawed in familiar ways. The story is studded with period details: hats and gloves, wood-paneled rec rooms, cocktails and cigarettes. I quite liked it.

darkdarkMaybe I was distracted by a couple of thrillers I read back-to-back, S.J. Watson’s Second Life (HarperCollins, digital galley) and S.K. Tremayne’s The Ice Twins (Grand Central, digital galley). Watson’s follow-up to Before I Go to Sleep features a woman who goes on an online dating sight in attempt to solve the murder of her sister and becomes caught up in an erotic affair. I remember reviews commenting on the surprise ending. Didn’t surprise me. Neither did Tremayne’s implausible tale of a grieving mother on a remote island puzzled as to the true identity of her surviving twin daughter. For some eerie psychological suspense, I recommend Ruth Ware’s In a Dark, Dark Wood (Gallery/Scout Press, digital galley), in which a crime writer tries to remember the events of a girls’ weekend at the secluded Glass House after waking up in a hospital. There was snow. And there was blood.

lakeroadWare’s writing reminded me of Sophie Hannah when she’s at the top of her game. Alas, Hannah’s latest, Woman With a Secret (Morrow, digital galley), is kind of a mess, with an unreliable narrator narrating too much of the story of a murder of a controversial columnist. Detectives Waterhouse, Zailler and crew have a difficult time sorting out all the many unpleasant suspects, and the narrative is stuffed with tiresome e-mails, Twitter exchanges and online rants. Really didn’t care for Naughty Nicki and her secret cyber affairs. Secrets from the past, of course, are a staple of beach books. In Karen Katchur’s atmospheric The Secrets of Lake Road (St. Martin’s digital galley), a missing girl at a lakeside resort stirs up Jo’s carefully guarded memories of her high school boyfriend’s drowning 16 years ago. But Jo’s daughter, 12-year-old Caroline, about to leave childhood behind, steals every scene she narrates. Wendy Wax temporarily abandons her beachside setting in A Week at the Lake (Berkeley, review copy), but she’s still writing about female friendships, loyalty and betrayal. Emma, Mackenzie and Serena all have show-business connections and secrets, which give their story a glossy, dishy patina.

moviestarReal stars, including Clark Gable and Martina Dietrich, appear in Peter  Davis’ first novel of 1930s Hollywood, Girl of My Dreams (Open Road, review copy), but the focus is on a young screenwriter in love with a glamorous actress — the improbably named Palmyra Millevoix — who is also pursued by a studio tycoon. The tale of this triangle unreels with an overlay of nostalgia for celluloid dreams. Feel free to speculate as to which contemporary stars inspired celebrity memoirist Hilary Liftin’s Movie Star by Lizzie Pepper (Viking Penguin, digital galley). It’s to Liftin’s credit that this faux memoir is more than tabloid fodder as young Lizzie recounts her courtship and marriage to mega-star Rob Mars, whose attachment to a cult-like spiritual group interferes with their relationship. Living a seemingly luxurious life for all the world to see, Lizzie has to decide if she’s going to become the heroine of her own story.

lawyerSometimes in summer, a girl just wants to have fun, which is when I read Susan Mallery’s Fools Gold fluffy romances. She offered a trilogy this year: Hold Me (Harlequin, digital galley), in which secret singer Destiny and Olympic skier Kipling work search-and-rescue together; Kiss Me (Harlequin, digital galley), the love story between city girl Phoebe and cowboy Zane; and Thrill Me (Harlequin, digital galley), where Maya returns to town and runs into former flame Del.  Court and spark. But the book I fell hard for was Lee Robinson’s engaging Lawyer for the Dog (St. Martin’s Press, digital galley), in which 49-year-old Charleston attorney Sally Baynard is appointed by a family court judge — also her ex-husband — to represent a miniature schnauzer in a custody dispute between a divorcing couple. Trying to figure out what’s best for adorable Sherman also means Sally has to figure out what’s best for her dementia-afflicted mother and for her own heart. Will it be the ex-husband, the Johns Island vet, or maybe a dog all her own? There’s real substance beneath the fluff; call this one more than puppy love.

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hushPrivate investigator Tess Monaghan was once dubbed “an accidental detective” by the Baltimore paper where she had worked as a reporter. Now, in Laura Lippman’s 12th book in the award-winning series, Hush Hush (Morrow, digital galley and ARC), Tess is a seasoned pro at the detective stuff but worries she’s “an accidental mother.” She adores her willful three-year-old Carla Scout but thinks her parenting skills aren’t as good as her boyfriend Crow’s. She’s also still figuring out the balancing act between family and work.

Both Tess’s vulnerabilities and strengths as a mom are integral to Hush Hush as she reluctantly takes on Melisandre Harris Dawes as a client. More than a decade ago, Melisandre left her infant daughter to die in a locked car but was eventually found not guilty by reason of insanity, specifically postpartum psychosis. She then gave up custody of her two other daughters to her ex-husband and moved  to Europe. Now, however, the wealthy Melisandre is back in Baltimore with a documentary filmmaker and plans to reunite with her estranged teenagers, 17-year-old Alanna and 15-year-old Ruby. Tess and her new partner, Sandy Sanchez, are hired to assess her security. Death threats, a poisoning incident and a murder further involve Tess in the case of the manipulative mother, as does a stalker who knows way too much about Tess and Carla Scout.

Lippman cleverly shifts perspectives among the major players and includes revealing transcripts from interviews for the documentary. And as in previous Tess books (The Sugar House) and stand-alones (Every Secret Thing), she proves once again how well she knows the wiles and worries of teenage girls. Alanna and Ruby, living with their father and his  new wife and baby son, are a tangle of mixed emotions as they react to the prospect of  their mother’s return. Lippman also portrays the relationship between Tess and Carla Scout with a sure hand, as when the toddler throws a tantrum in the supermarket or berates her mother for saying a bad word. These interactions don’t distract from the story but enhance it, and it’s no accident that clues to its serious puzzles are found in the color of crayons, worn children’s books and the trans fat content of certain name-brand cookies.

carrierSophie Hannah’s domestic suspense procedurals feature married British cops Charlie Zailer and Simon Waterhouse. But the duo is almost lost in the byzantine plots of The Carrier (Putnam/Penguin, digital galley), and they’re overshadowed by the unpleasantness of the other characters, all of whom are caught up in dysfunctional relationships of one kind or another.

Where to begin? Hannah starts off with smart, sophisticated tech developer Gaby having to endure the company of provincial, grammar-deficient Lauren after their flight from Germany to England is canceled by bad weather. But when Lauren lets slip something about an innocent man in prison for murder and then flees their grimy airport hotel, Gaby begins to suspect that meeting Lauren is no accident. The innocent man turns out to be Gaby’s lost love Tim, who has confessed to killing his invalid wife Francine but won’t say why. Gaby, who has been living with another man, is so certain Tim is lying that she walks out on her current lover and inserts herself into the investigation. Simon and Charlie are also perplexed by the “Don’t Know Why Killer,” even though Tim’s confession is backed up by his best friends, as well as by Lauren, who is Francine’s caregiver, and her thuggish husband.

Complicated enough for you? Now consider that victim Francine was a thoroughly despicable woman who separated poetry-loving Tim from Gaby and trapped him in a loveless marriage. Why he stayed with her is a puzzle to everyone. Several kinds of crazy are apparently at work here because supposedly brilliant people like Gaby and Tim behave stupidly.

Hannah is relentless in mining everyone’s motives and mindsets, and fans who stick with the story will be rewarded with a conclusion that makes sense in retrospect. I think.

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wastedIn Sue Grafton’s latest entry in her alphabet series, W is for Wasted (Putnam, purchased e-book), California P.I. Kinsey Millhone is still happily ensconced in the ’80s with nary an iPhone or iPad in sight. Still the story feels up-to-date, involving homelessness, substance abuse and medical trials, as well as murder and money. Kinsey begins in her usual forthright fashion: “Two dead men changed the course of my life that fall. One of them I knew and the other I’d never laid eyes on until I saw him in the morgue.”

The unknown man was found on the beach with Kinsey’s business card in his pocket. First charged with tracking down his identity, Kinsey befriends three of his wary homeless companions, then has to find his estranged kids in nearby Bakersfield to explain the terms of his will — which surprisingly benefits Kinsey. And, oh yes, the kids are her kin, too, another surprise. Meanwhile,  a parallel plot focuses on the last days of fellow gumshoe Pete Wolinksky, whose ethics — or lack of them — see him sliding down the slippery slope. His last case, a matter of blackmail and murder, eventually intersects with Kinsey’s investigation.

Happily for readers, there are three more letters before Kinsey’s last case. Happily, too, Grafton’s still adding to the cast of irregulars. Welcome Ed the cat.

parisbonesHemingway and company may have spoken metaphorically of Paris’s Lost Generation, but a missing young woman propels the plot of Laurie R. King’s evocative The Bones of Paris ( Random House, digital galley). In the fall of 1929, Harris Stuyvesant, the American detective from King’s 2008 Touchstone, is prowling the alleys and cafes of Jazz Age Paris, hunting for pretty Phillipa Crosby, a young American who seems to have disappeared. Her roommate Nancy’s just returned from summer vacation and helps Harris look for Pip, who played at acting and modeling within the free-wheeling milieu of expat artistes and entourages.  Surrealist photographer Man Ray is on hand, as is Cole Porter, but the pied piper  of the new “death pornography” movement  is a powerful and aristocratic art collector, the Comte, also associated with the Theatre du Grand-Guignol and its macabre plays.

The convoluted plot has its own Grand-Guignol touches — an artist who works with human bones,  a terrifying journey through the underground caverns carved from cemeteries. Bennett Grey, the tortured human lie detector, makes a late entrance as Harris works with a Paris detective searching for a serial killer. Intrigue competes with atmosphere. Fans of historical fiction win.

bitterriverCounty prosecutor Bell Elkins and her West Virginia hometown of Acker’s Gap return in Bitter River (St. Martin’s Press, library hardcover), Julia Keller’s finely wrought follow-up to A Killing in the Hills. When the body of a pregnant high school student is discovered in the river, Bell and her friend, Sheriff Nick Foglesong, hope it’s an accidental death or even a suicide. But it’s not, and even as they look for a stranger, they fear the killer is one of their own. Not that the hardscrabble mountain town is immune from outside crime. Bell has been railing against the organized meth trade for some time, but terrorism is something new. A determined assassin is apparently aiming for Bell and those she loves.

As in her first book, Keller skillfully weaves Bell’s backstory of childhood abuse and failed marriage into the page-turning plot, expanding on her love-hate relationship with Acker’s Gap, the pull and push of family and friends.

kindcruelThe key to solving multiple murders in Kind of Cruel (Viking, digital galley), Sophie Hannah’s new psychological thriller/police procedural, apparently lies in the words Amber Hewerdine repeats under hypnosis: “kind, cruel, kind of cruel.”  Insomniac Amber doesn’t remember where she first heard the words, or what they mean, but for married police detectives Simon Waterhouse and Charlie Zailer, the phrase is their first break in the death of primary schoolteacher Katharine Allen. Amber goes from being questioned in the case to investigating the murder, prompted by curiosity and the recent death of her best friend Sharon. Amber and her husband are now caring for Sharon’s young daughters, who escaped the housefire that killed their mother.

If you think where there is fire, there must be smoke obscuring Amber’s connection to the first murder, you’d be right. A fog also hangs over a peculiar Christmas Day incident involving Amber’s extended family. Hang in there. Hannah eventually reveals all in her characteristically creepy fashion.

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