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Posts Tagged ‘Truly Devious’

It begins like a Dateline episode, with an an aerial view of a Caribbean island, then a zoom in to a posh seaside resort. “On the beach are families, the sand around their chairs littered with plastic shovels, swimmies, impossibly small aqua socks; honeymooners pressed closely together beneath cabanas; retirees reading fat thrillers in the shade. They have no notion of the events about to unfold here, on Saint X, in 1995.”

You can practically hear Keith Morrison intoning that last bit and the familiar story that follows: A beautiful teenage girl on a luxury vacation disappears the night before she is supposed to return home with her parents and little sister. A frantic search ensues, a pair of resort workers are questioned, the case makes headlines. Then a body is discovered on a nearby quay.

But even as Alexis Schaitkin structures her involving first novel Saint X (Celadon Books, digital galley) like a true crime special or podcast, splicing the narrative with first-person accounts from those at the center and the periphery of the case, she has more on her mind than mystery.  Some 20 years after Alison’s disappearance, her little sister, Claire, who was an awkward 7-year-old at the time, steps into a New York City cab and recognizes the driver as Clive Richardson, who was an original suspect in Alison’s death. Claire, who has grown up in the dead girl’s shadow, becomes even more obsessed with finding out the elusive truth of what happened on Saint X.

Along the way, Schaitkin skillfully explores issues of race and privilege, the complicated ties of families and friends, the secrets that last a lifetime, or longer. Even minor characters — the actress who plays Alison in A TV movie, the tourist scoring dope in the resort parking lot, the college boy with whom Alison hooked up — have memorable roles. Claire and Clive are the stars, but Saint X benefits from its ensemble cast and faceted structure. Book your ticket now for layered literary suspense.

The primaI landscape of coastal New Zealand looms large in Nalini Singh’s atmospheric A Madness of Sunshine (Berkley, digital galley). Concert pianist Anahara Rawahiri returns to her remote hometown of Golden Cove eight years after the unsolved death of her mother. The largely Maori community has other mysteries, as newcomer sheriff Will Gallagher soon learns when a popular local girl goes missing, her disappearance echoing that of three other women 15 years ago when Anahera and her friends were teenagers. Now they’re all suspects.

The dead woman is not Philadelphia cop Mickey Fitzgerald’s sister — but she could have been. Kacey, an addict living on the Kensington streets Mickey patrols, has disappeared, just when there have been a series of murders in the neighborhood. In Long Bright River (Riverhead, digital galley), Liz Moore alternates between “Then” and “Now” chapters, as she explores the sisters’ onetime closeness as the daughters of addicts. Now single mom Mickey and free-spirited Kacey no longer speak, but Mickey is intent on finding Kacey before she becomes the killer’s next victim. But who is stalking Mickey?

Kelley Armstrong’s Rockton novels are an annual winter treat, and the fifth book, Alone in the Wild (St. Martin’s, digital galley) delves further into the history of the off-the-grid community in the Canadian wilderness. Detective Casey Duncan and her boyfriend, Sheriff Eric Dalton, are camping when they find a crying baby cradled in the arms of a recently murdered woman. Is she a member of one of the survivalist communities in the area, or one of the “hostiles,” as nomadic hunters are known? Making contact with either is a dangerous enterprise as Casey and Eric face off with animal and human predators.

The insular environment of boarding schools and small colleges is a magnet for crime writers. Last year brought Ninth House, The Swallows and The Furies, among others. In the suspenseful Good Girls Lie (MIRA, digital galley), J.T. Ellison uses alternating points of view to tell the tense, twisty tale of mean girls and secret societies at the Goode School, an elite girls’ boarding school in Virginia. YA author Maureen Johnson deftly concludes her Truly Devious trilogy with The Hand on the Wall (Harper Collins, library e-book), as student Stevie Bell solves mysteries old and new at Ellingham Academy. Kate Weinberg explores artistic passion and betrayal in The Truants (Putnam, digital galley), which finds four students at an East Anglia university falling under the spell of a charismatic professor who is also an Agatha Christie expert.

If the thought of the Bates Motel gives you shivers, by all means check out —  or rather, check in — The Sun Down Motel by Simone St. James (Berkley, digital galley). Twenty-year-old Carly Kirk gets more than she bargained for when she signs on as the graveyard shift clerk at the run-down Sun Down in upstate New York. Thirty five years ago, her aunt Viv Delaney was the Sun Down’s night clerk when she disappeared. Carly has come from her Illinois hometown to the town of Fell looking for clues to her aunt’s fate and if it had anything to do with a series of murders of young women in the area. In a parallel narrative, Viv is also investigating the deaths, all of them tied in some way to the motel and rumors of a mysterious traveling salesman. By the way, the Sun Down is haunted. Really. Slamming doors and dimming lights are just the beginning of paranormal disturbances, including a vengeful ghost who advises both Viv and Carly: “Run!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Martha Grimes’ clever Richard Jury novels take their titles from British pubs, and there have been some doozies over the years: I Am the Only Running Footman, Help the Poor Struggler, Five Bells and Bladebone. So the 24th in the series, The Knowledge (Grove Atlantic, digital galley) seems merely another curiosity. But don’t go looking for it in London. The Knowledge, which refers to the street maps that the drivers of London’s famous black cabs know by heart, is also the name of a hidden, cabbies-only pub so secret that even Scotland Yard can’t find it. The story of the pub is one of the whimsical digressions in the murder case Jury is investigating, the shooting deaths of an American astronomer and his wife on the steps of a private casino. The shooter escapes in a black cab, but the stalwart driver alerts his network and Patty Haigh, a sassy preteen Sherlock, manages to pick up his trail at Heathrow and wrangle a first-class ticket to Kenya. Jury will eventually dispatch his pal Melrose Plant on safari to find Patty, while placing antiques dealer Marshall Trueblood inside the casino to deal cards. The complicated plot involving drugs, stolen art and greedy villains, is almost an afterthought, but who cares when the gang’s all here, plus winsome newcomers. I was totally charmed. Like lovely Vivian, I can’t make up my mind between Jury and Plant, so I’ll take both, please.

The many charms of Venice are on full display in Donna Leon’s new Guido Brunetti novel, The Temptation of Forgiveness (Grove Atlantic, digital galley), which is as thoughtful as it is atmospheric. Brunetti moves adroitly from vicious office politics to happy family life to investigating the case of a comatose beating victim. Turns out he is the accountant husband of a teacher whom Brunetti’s wife knows and who recently approached Brunetti about the drug problem at her son’s private school. Is there a connection? Perhaps. Meanwhile, what of the man’s elderly aunt, a Miss Havisham-like figure in a Venice apartment? The leisurely plot hinges on government corruption to no one’s surprise, this being a city long familiar with frauds of all kinds. But there’s something particularly unjust about a system that takes advantage of its most vulnerable citizens. Here’s a vision of Venice that tourists don’t see, and it’s not pretty.

Scotland Yard’s Thomas Lynley and Barbara Havers return in Elizabeth George’s immersive doorstop The Punishment She Deserves (Penguin, purchased e-book), but so does their boss, Isabelle Ardery, who exists on vodka and breath mints. There’s no love lost between Lynley and Ardery, even though or because of a brief affair, but Ardery really has it in for Havers. So she takes the DS with her to Ludlow to investigate a possible case of police malfeasance, hoping Havers will go rogue and hang herself. Six weeks earlier, a church deacon suspected of pedophilia hung himself while in police custody, but the dead man’s influential parents insist he would never commit suicide. Ardery wants to make sure the original investigation was legit so as to avert any lawsuit, but Havers keeps picking at loose ends, of which there are many. Also multiple suspects, motives and red herrings. It will take Lynley’s late intervention to prove Havers right and get the case back on track but not before readers have met three college students rooming together in a rundown house, a community police officer with dyslexia, another police officer with family problems who likes to hang glide, a bar owner with an upstairs room to rent by the hour, a homeless man with a dog and claustrophobia, and Ardery’s ex, who is about to take their twin sons to live in New Zealand. There’s rather too much of Ardery and not enough Lynley to my liking, but Havers tap dances. Really.

YA crossover alert. Maureen Johnson launches an intriguing new series with Truly Devious (HarperCollins, purchased e-book), which is somewhat reminiscent of  her Shades of London series, with its boarding school setting and teenage protagonist. But Ellingham Academy was established by an eccentric tycoon in rural Vermont, and only accepts the best and the brightest, for whom tuition is free. Stevie Bell gets in because of her obsession with true crime and detecting skills, and she vows to solve an infamous cold case despite her panic attacks. Back in 1936, the founder’s wife and daughter were kidnapped and a student died. The only clue was a nasty rhyme signed “Truly Devious.” Just as Stevie is getting used to the weirdness that is Ellingham and her fellow students, Truly Devious appears to strike again and the book ends with a cliffhanger. Johnson increases the suspense of the Christie-like case by alternating narratives between present day and 1936. Waiting for the next installment is going to be difficult, but I’ve had experience with Brittany Cavallaro’s Charlotte Holmes  series, which continues with The Case for Jamie (HarperCollins, library hardcover). The first book, A Study in Charlotte, found Sherlock Holmes’ descendant Charlotte Holmes meeting up with Dr. Watson’s descendant Jamie Watson at an American boarding school, where they were targeted by members of the Moriarty crime family. Then events turned even darker in The Last of August, and as the third book begins, best friends Jamie and Charlotte haven’t spoken in a year. Jamie’s back at school for his senior year, with a nice girlfriend and no idea as to Charlotte’s whereabouts. He no longer trusts her after a shocking betrayal. But the Moriarty clan is apparently bent on ruining Jamie’s life so as to get to Charlotte, who is feeling guilty and driven as she tries to save him from afar. They alternate narrating chapters, often at cross-purposes until finally joining forces to defeat Lucien Moriarty or die trying, which is a real possibility. A happy ending? Not going to tell you.

 

 

 

 

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