Bruce Tierney

These masters of mystery prove they haven’t lost one ounce of their power to shock, thrill and enthrall.

Marked Man

I like Archer Mayor novels for much the same reason that I like Ed McBain novels: Both are populated by cops who are ever so slightly caricatures, with internecine feuds and barbed humor, but who come together as a unit when circumstances demand. In Vermont Bureau of Investigation agent Joe Gunther’s 32nd mystery, Marked Man, Joe and his team investigate the murder of a high-rolling restaurateur. The case comes to them in a most unusual way. Nine months back, the decedent passed away, seemingly due to natural causes, and donated his body to medical science. In the middle of a routine anatomical practice procedure, a medical student discovered that the corpse was likely a victim of a careful but very effective suffocation. One murder leads to another, and another, and the extended family of victim number one seems like the place to start looking for the killer or killers. If only it were that simple. Add a couple of bumbling, aging mobsters to the mix, and the fact that seemingly everyone has one deep dark secret worthy of extreme concealment measures, and it all gets very complicated very quickly. Marked Man is an excellent read, with a surprise ending and then one more surprise for good measure.

The Burning

I am not usually a fan of author duos, but I make exceptions for Charles Todd, Nicci French and the father/son team of Jonathan and Jesse Kellerman, all of whom have bottled the elusive genie of collaboration. This month, Kellerman père et fils return with The Burning, the latest installment in the saga of Bay Area coroner Clay Edison. In the midst of one of the worst Northern California wildfires in recent memory, Clay is summoned to the scene of a murder. The victim is a wealthy businessman, and among his many passions was caring for a garage full of automobile exotica, cars you might have heard of but have likely never seen in person. (Koenigsegg, anyone?) One rather pedestrian gherkin-green Camaro happens to catch Clay’s eye. It belongs to his ex-con brother, who, as it happens, has been AWOL for several days. Naturally, this makes Clay’s brother a person of interest (read: suspect) in the case. Major ethical dilemmas are posed for our hero, and let’s just say the dilemmas compound faster than loan shark interest. Beyond the mystery, the Kellermans touch on big themes here, from climate change and politics to the sometimes-tenuous yet surprisingly elastic bonds of family.

April in Spain

A criticism sometimes leveled at author John Banville is that his books can be a trifle on the slow side. There is some truth to this, but it is no bad thing. One does not, after all, gulp a fine Bordeaux or gorge on Godiva chocolate truffles. And so it is with April in Spain, a novel of slowly unfolding suspense. Banville rewards his readers with some of the finest prose in the mystery genre, a protagonist as cranky as Nero Wolfe and villains worthy of Agatha Christie’s poisoned pen. While on holiday in the Basque Country region of northern Spain, Dublin coroner Quirke runs into someone he recognizes, but he cannot remember where he knows her from. After some racking of the brain, Quirke arrives at an impossible conclusion: The woman is April Latimer, who was killed in Ireland several years earlier by her brother, who immediately afterward committed suicide by driving Quirke’s car over the edge of a high cliff. April’s body was never found. Complicating matters is the psychotic hit man sent to kill this woman in Spain. Whether or not she really is April is of little consequence to those who hired the hit man. And he’s not even the worst of the bad guys. . . . 

We Know You Remember

In the fall of 2020, Tove Alsterdal’s We Know You Remember was named Best Swedish Crime Novel of the Year by the Svenska Deckarakademin (the Swedish Academy of Crime Fiction). Previous winners of this award include Camilla Grebe, Henning Mankell and Stieg Larsson, and the runner-up list reads like a Who’s Who of Nordic Noir, so to say it is a big deal is something of an understatement. This month, the English translation hits stateside bookstores, and I don’t have to go very far out on a limb to predict that it will be one of the most talked-about suspense novels of the year. Twenty-some years ago, 14-year-old Olof Hagström was found guilty of raping and murdering a teenage girl; the circumstantial evidence was damning, but the body was never found. The incident forever changed the character of his small village, and when Olof returns to his familial home in the present day, there is no welcome mat awaiting him. Quite the opposite, actually: just a frantic dog and the dead body of Olof’s father, apparently a stabbing victim left to bleed out in the bathroom shower. Initially, of course, all fingers point toward Olof, but he provides what seems to be an ironclad alibi. Lead investigator Eira Sjödin was only 9 years old at the time of Olof’s consignment to a youthful offenders’ facility, but she soon begins to realize there are more connections between the cold case and the latest murder than immediately meet the eye. There are a lot of characters to keep track of, and non-Swedes will be thankful they do not have to read the place names aloud, but don’t let that put you off. This is in every respect a world-class Scandinavian mystery, one that will be mentioned in the same breath with Smilla’s Sense of Snow, The Redbreast or the Millennium trilogy.

These masters of mystery prove they haven’t lost one ounce of their power to shock, thrill and enthrall.

Louise Penny has somehow outdone herself again with her latest Inspector Gamache mystery.

My Sweet Girl

Sri Lankan writer Amanda Jayatissa’s debut, My Sweet Girl, is a dark thriller of international deceit and murder, narrated in alternating chapters by 12-year-old Paloma, who is adopted from a Sri Lankan orphanage by a wealthy American couple, and her adult self 18 years later. The Paloma of the present day is estranged from her parents and haunted by hallucinations (or are they?) of a strange woman who eats the faces of beautiful young girls. One evening, Paloma returns to her apartment and finds her roommate brutally murdered, after which she flees the scene and gets blackout drunk. By the time the police arrive, the scene has been sanitized, leaving no trace of any such killing, but how can that be? Paloma doesn’t know, and neither do we. As the story unfolds, the reader begins to recognize incongruities between the younger and older Palomas, incongruities that are not easily reconcilable and are increasingly unsettling. I thought I had twigged to the ending before the Big Reveal, and I was quite proud of myself. But I was way wrong. I love it when that happens.

Road of Bones

September, 1944. As James R. Benn’s 16th Billy Boyle novel, Road of Bones, opens, the U.S. Army investigator is hitching a ride to Ukraine aboard a B-17 bomber. And then all hell breaks loose: German fighter planes drive the bombers into ground fire range, and one by one the American airplanes fall, including the one carrying Billy’s friend, Big Mike Miecznikowski. Some of those aboard the disabled bomber parachute to an unknown fate below, but it is not clear whether Big Mike is among them. Billy’s airplane makes it safely through to Poltava air base in Ukraine, where he has been tapped to investigate the murder of a pair of soldiers, one Russian, one American. If the Russians have their way, it will be an American taking the fall. Optics are everything, right? Billy must balance his investigation with his personal need to learn the fate of his friend and also somehow placate the Russians at every turn—no mean feat. A fascinating subplot has Billy encountering the Night Witches, an all-female band of Russian fighter pilots who took stealth bombing to a new level by turning off their engines as they approached their targets, silently gliding in to deliver their deadly payloads. As always, Benn covers all his bases with a taut narrative, relatable characters and crisp dialogue. Road of Bones is another superlative installment in the best World War II mystery series on offer.

The Darkness Knows

Thirty years ago, a Reykjavik businessman named Sigurvin disappeared. A suspect, Hjaltalín, was arrested at the time but later released for lack of evidence. Now, thanks to climate change, the melting of an Icelandic glacier has exposed Sigurvin’s frozen body (surely the textbook definition of a “cold case”). Arnaldur Indridason’s latest novel, The Darkness Knows, finds retired police detective Konrád, the original investigator on the case, at loose ends. He has never entirely recovered from the death of his wife, and truth be told, he is somewhat bored with life nowadays. Konrád’s initial mandate is simply to re-interview Hjaltalín, who is now incarcerated for a different crime, but he continues to maintain his innocence. Konrád has no official standing, but the case nagged at him when he first worked on it, and he finds it beginning to nag at him once again. So he launches what is essentially a private citizen’s investigation, stripped of most of the tools of his trade. It is slow going, as might be expected of a decades-old case, and Konrád is not as spry as he once was. So if you are looking for explosive action and edge-of-the-seat suspense, it would be best to look elsewhere. The Darkness Knows is slowly and deliberately plotted. No stone is left unturned; indeed, no stone is left undescribed. But Indridason is a consummate storyteller, one of the cream of the Nordic noir crop, and if methodical police procedurals are your thing, you have come to the right place.

The Madness of Crowds

The Madness of Crowds is Louise Penny’s 17th novel featuring Sûreté du Québec Chief Inspector Armand Gamache. The chief inspector is well known among his compatriots and readers alike for staring down ethical dilemmas, and this time he is facing a real conundrum. In Gamache’s Canada, there is a growing (or festering, depending on your viewpoint) movement dedicated to the idea of withholding care or outright euthanizing older and disabled people in order to preserve valuable resources for those likely to have better outcomes. The de facto leader of the movement is professor Abigail Robinson, a statistician whose numbers are more on target than her morality. The argument has polarized Canadians to the point of violence, and it falls to Gamache to provide security for Professor Robinson as she speaks to an unruly crowd of both supporters and naysayers. Gunshots ring out, and Gamache secures his charge, preventing tragedy. But then the professor’s assistant is brutally bludgeoned to death shortly afterward, in what was perhaps a case of mistaken identity. Gamache has personal feelings about this ethical dilemma, as one of his grandchildren has Down syndrome and would be affected if the laws that Robinson advocates for were implemented. Gamache’s decision to afford protection to a constituent who, even theoretically, threatens a family member isn’t one he takes lightly. The Madness of Crowds is not an easy read by any means, but it’s easily one of the best mystery novels (or novels of any genre) in recent memory.

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Robert Bathurst narrates the audiobook edition of The Madness of Crowds.

Louise Penny has somehow outdone herself again with her latest Inspector Gamache mystery.

What do England, Sweden and France all have in common? In this month’s Whodunit column, it’s murder!

Island of Thieves

When freelance security consultant and former ace thief Van Shaw gets tapped to perform an art heist, ostensibly to test the security of a storage facility, he harbors some initial reservations. But the contract is ironclad, his duties are defined clearly and there is no danger of running afoul of the law. As Van philosophically notes, “Taking isn’t always stealing . . . Not if you’ve got permission.” The rousing success of that venture prompts his billionaire client, Sebastian Rohner, to secure Van’s services again, this time to guard an art installation during a gathering of entrepreneurs at Rohner’s private island. The title of Glen Erik Hamilton’s sixth Van Shaw thriller, Island of Thieves, is not the actual name of the island, but it might as well be, given the rather large proportion of the cast engaged in that heady pursuit. The security gig is merely a cover designed to draw attention away from the raison d’être of the meeting: corporate larceny that is breathtaking both in its scope and its audacity. And if all goes according to malicious plan, Van will be made the fall guy, while the bad guys gleefully divvy up their ill-gotten gains—but then someone goes and gets killed, and suddenly the plans are out the window. With every man for himself, the island of thieves is poised for a reenactment of Lord of the Flies. As ever, Van proves to be a wry, reliable guide through the relentless action of Hamilton’s always thrilling series.

Then She Vanishes

Claire Douglas’ Then She Vanishes is an English cold-case thriller that tells the story of three women: Flora, who disappeared years ago as a teenager; Heather, her younger sister, who now lies in a coma after allegedly killing an elderly mother and son in cold blood before turning the gun on herself; and Jess, a close family friend from back in the day who is now a reporter for a small local newspaper. At the outset, there appears to be no connection whatsoever between Heather’s crimes and Flora’s disappearance. But as often happens in small towns, old transgressions can come bubbling to the surface at inconvenient times, and Jess has the “nose for news” to uncover them. The question is, who is the culprit? Does Heather have anything in her history to suggest she could be guilty of such a violent act? Um, yes. Has Heather’s Uncle Leo, a middle-aged Lothario with a penchant for teenage girls, been keeping a guilty secret for all these years? Um, yes. And what do we make of the fact that Heather’s husband was seen bellowing at one of the decedents shortly before the double homicide but told the police he had never met either of them? Dodgy, that. And I am just scratching the surface here. If you are a fan of suspense, twists and more twists, Then She Vanishes should be right up your alley.

The Night Singer

Swedish author Johanna Mo’s English-language debut, The Night Singer, begins the saga of police detective Hanna Duncker, newly returned to her native island of Öland after years in Stockholm. It is a troubling milieu for her, in part because she is the daughter of Öland’s most infamous murderer, and her return is definitely rattling old skeletons that some people would prefer to leave in the closet. The story centers on the apparent murder of a 15-year-old boy, the son of Hanna’s best friend from high school. He was by all accounts a troubled youth, although there was nothing to suggest he’d be a candidate for murder. In the course of Hanna’s investigation, Mo explores themes of bullying, infidelity, familial violence, discrimination based on sexuality and gender—in short, many of the bugbears that plague 21st-century Western culture. The Night Singer is just excellent and the perfect setup for a sequel, which I hope is in the offing imminently.

The Coldest Case

While I am an avid fan of one-sitting, page-turner books (like the other three reviewed in this column), I am also quite taken with books that force me to pause every few pages or so to savor and reflect a bit before continuing—to enjoy a deft turn of phrase or imagine the smells and sounds of the locale. Martin Walker’s books fall squarely into the latter category, and his latest, The Coldest Case, is a prime example. The star of the series is Bruno Courrèges, chief of police of St. Denis, a small town in France’s Périgord region. This time out, he finds himself embroiled in a cold case of a young man bludgeoned to death 30 years ago, a time predating modern forensic procedures such as DNA testing and facial reconstruction identification. Deeper investigation sends Bruno free-falling down a rabbit hole that leads not only to the long-undetermined identity of the deceased but also to possible Cold War espionage connections that may have somehow survived into the present day. As is always the case in Walker’s Bruno books, food and wine regularly figure into the narrative, as well as French culture and history, love, equestrianship and basset hounds, but it’s all delivered with much more bonhomie and much less preciousness than you might expect. 

What do England, Sweden and France all have in common? In this month’s Whodunit column, it’s murder!

Would you rather wake up next to a corpse or find out that your best friend might be a serial killer?

Lie Beside Me

The two faces of Louise are as follows: Sober Louise is a classical harpist, insecure, mousy and willing to go along to get along. Drunk Louise is a whole other story. She’s flirtatious, physical (both amorously and pugilistically) and something of a tabula rasa the following morning. And so it is when she wakes up next to the corpse in her bed, the sheets tacky with drying blood. Any idea who the dead man is or how he got there? Nope and nope. Although Gytha Lodge’s Lie Beside Me is nominally a police procedural, much of the narrative is delivered in the first person by Louise, who is arguably not the person best positioned to offer an unbiased account. As Louise rehashes memories and attempts to fill in her blank spaces, the story also follows the investigators and forensics team who are putting their case together and beginning to single out Louise as the prime suspect. But the case will become a fair bit more complicated before its resolution, and another decent suspect or two will present themselves. Lie Beside Me is clever, entertaining and peppered with the sorts of twists and turns that routinely propel suspense novels to the top of bestseller lists the world over.

One Half Truth

In Eva Dolan’s sixth entry in her cracking good Zigic and Ferreira series, One Half Truth, Detective Inspector Zigic and Detective Sergeant Ferreira are called upon to investigate the apparent execution of Jordan Radley, a young journalist who was shot at close range and left by the roadside. It bears the hallmarks of a gang-related slaying, but further investigation suggests that Jordan had been working on some sort of exposé, subject matter unknown due to the fact that someone, presumably the murderer, broke into Jordan’s home and made off with his laptop, phone and anything else that might provide a clue. What Zigic and Ferreira do know is that Jordan was researching the now-defunct Greenaway Engineering company; his article was presumably going to take a critical look at the devastating effects of its closure on the community. And now, seemingly everywhere the police look, the ghost of Greenaway looms large. This series’ central investigative team has morphed over the course of six books, with personalities and relationships changing and growing as one might expect in real life. That said, each book is a true standalone volume, with backstory provided where needed. Dolan’s style is evocative of Mark Billingham or Peter Robinson. One Half Truth is a no-nonsense police procedural with purposeful plotting, compelling characters and the requisite twist or two to keep the reader guessing.

We Were Never Here

In the mood for an eerie psychological thriller? Look no further than Andrea Bartz’s We Were Never Here. Meet Emily and Kristen, longtime friends who live halfway around the world from one another. Emily’s in Milwaukee, Kristen’s in Australia, but they meet annually for a girls trip to far-flung ports o’call: Vietnam, Uganda, Cambodia and, this year, a trip through the mountains and valleys of central Chile. The first two trips were idyllic, but things went sideways in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, when Emily was assaulted by a sadistic South African backpacker. Kristen came to her rescue, brandishing a handy floor lamp like a Louisville Slugger and connecting squarely with the attacker’s head to land an instant death blow. The police were never called because the two women were terrified by perennial horror stories of being locked up abroad. After a year of nightmares, Emily has more or less recovered her equilibrium. But now, the unthinkable: History repeats itself in Chile, and another backpacker lies dead on another hotel room floor at the hands of Kristen. Creepy, right? It’s about to get creepier. When Kristen suddenly moves back to Milwaukee, their relationship begins to show more cracks. The further Emily withdraws, the more obsessive Kristen becomes. And then things go very dark indeed. Of all the books I have read recently, this is the one that has “film adaptation” writ large upon it, with alluring locales, Hitchcockian tension and possibly the best pair of female leads since Thelma and Louise.

Moon Lake

Joe R. Lansdale has long been on my “must read ASAP (as soon as published)” list. His latest, Moon Lake, is a standalone thriller, although there is wiggle room for a series should readers demand it. Back in the 1960s, the East Texas town of Long Lincoln was intentionally submerged into Moon Lake, its residents moved to higher ground. Daniel Russell was a teenager at the time, with a ne’er-do-well father and a mother who’d recently gone missing. One night, Daniel’s father inexplicably bundled him into the family Buick and deliberately jumped a bridge guardrail, plunging the car into Moon Lake. Daniel barely survived, and his father and the car disappeared. Ten years later, Daniel receives news that the Buick has been located, along with his father’s remains and some unidentified bones in the trunk of the car. Those bones may well be his mother, who has still never been found, so Daniel returns to Long Lincoln to claim his father’s remains and to research his family’s disturbing history. When his questions intrude on the nefarious doings of the town’s elite, Daniel quickly becomes persona non grata, and it appears likely that he is destined for a second plunge into Moon Lake. Lansdale nails the storyline, nails the suspense, seriously nails the dialogue and has created yet another character worthy of a series.

Would you rather wake up next to a corpse or find out that your best friend might be a serial killer?

It’s Sherlock Holmes versus Jack the Ripper—in World War II? Find out how in this month’s Whodunit column.

Lesson in Red

Maria Hummel’s Lesson in Red finds Los Angeles writer/editor Maggie Richter in Vermont, nursing her emotional wounds after the severely traumatic events chronicled in Hummel’s hit 2018 thriller, Still Lives. But Maggie is soon summoned back to LA to investigate some unsettling circumstances around the suicide of a talented young film student. Maggie has strong reservations about returning to the City of Angels, which has been anything but angelic for her. But on the other hand, it promises to be a well-paid gig, and it appeals to her innate inclination toward investigative journalism (with its inevitable attendant perils). Just as in Still Lives, Hummel tempers the intriguing investigation and glitzy depiction of the West Coast art world with a sobering examination of the roles of women in creative endeavors and the biases they must endure therein.

A Study in Crimson

When Universal Studios acquired the film rights to Sherlock Holmes in 1942, they changed the setting of the stories from the Victorian era to the then-present day. The 12 films starring Basil Rathbone as Holmes and Nigel Bruce as John Watson in World War II-era Britain serve as inspiration for Robert J. Harris’ A Study in Crimson. In 1942 London, the newspaper headlines are all about the war. That’s good news for Scotland Yard Detective Lestrade, who would like to keep his investigation of a Jack the Ripper copycat under the radar. No point in further scaring Londoners who are already frightened out of their wits by the nightly bombings. “Crimson Jack” has been taunting the police, leaving cryptic notes at the scenes of his murders and timing the killings to the precise dates of the original Ripper’s murders. Lestrade’s strong suit is knowing when he is outmatched, and he summons Holmes to “lend a hand” (i.e., solve the case). Harris’ take on the iconic characters is outstanding. Fans of the films will have no problem evoking mental images of Rathbone and Bruce moving through their wartime London milieu.

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Why Robert J. Harris turned to the Universal series for his new Sherlock Holmes adventure.

Hairpin Bridge

Twins are often said to share a special bond. That certainly seemed to be the case with Cambry and Lena Nguyen, until Cambry’s unexpected suicide. At the outset of Taylor Adams’ gripping thriller Hairpin Bridge, Lena is beginning to come to terms with her loss but still feels like there is something off about the official police account of Cambry’s death. So she decides to travel to Montana to get a firsthand look at the bridge from which her twin allegedly jumped to her death. She meets with Corporal Raymond Raycevic, the officer who discovered the body; he is affable and forthcoming, but something feels strange about him as well. The pragmatic Lena is aware that she may be grasping at straws, as if wishing that the cause of her sister’s death were something other than suicide might make it so. But early on, Lena discovers that Corporal Raycevic had stopped Cambry for speeding just a short time before she died. His glib explanation and wave-of-the-hand dismissal of this coincidence rings false to Lenaor, at the very least, seems incomplete. And so a game of cat and mouse begins, and readers won’t find out until the final pages whether Lena is a grief-stricken fantasist or an exceptionally canny adversary (albeit one who is perhaps destined for the same fate as her sister). Hairpin Bridge reads like a Stephen King novel and is especially reminiscent of Misery in how the characters shape-shift as the narrative progresses, leaving the reader wondering who is more dangerous—and more importantly, which one will prevail.

 The Granite Coast Murders

Jean-Luc Bannalec’s The Granite Coast Murders is the latest mystery to join the throng of whodunits set in gorgeous French locales. Police Commissaire Georges Dupin has been well established as a coffee-swilling workaholic in Bannalec’s five previous books, but this time Dupin is on a forced holiday in the Pink Granite Coast of Brittany. He has been told in no uncertain terms that work is not allowed to intrude on his fortnight by the sea, and he is chafing at the uncustomary idleness. But when the body of a beautiful victim is found in a granite quarry, all bets are off. Still, Dupin must employ a certain degree of subterfuge to conceal his investigation from his significant other, his superiors and, most especially, the rather territorial local police inspector, who has heard lurid tales of Dupin’s habit of inserting himself into investigations well outside his purview. Fans of Martin Walker’s Bruno, Chief of Police series will find lots to like here (although I doubt that Bruno and Dupin would be friends in real life). Also, the descriptions of Brittany are mesmerizing. It has been elevated into my top 10 places I need to visit, all thanks to Bannalec.

It’s Sherlock Holmes versus Jack the Ripper—in World War II? Find out how in this month’s Whodunit column.

Two 1940s-set mysteries, a striking new series and a real doozy of a final twist await you in this month’s Whodunit column.

A Gambling Man

To be known by only one name lends a certain je ne sais quoi to the stature of a hard-boiled PI. It has worked well for Andrew Vachss’ dark avenger Burke and Robert B. Parker’s sybaritic strongman Spenser, and it works just fine for David Baldacci’s mononymous sleuth Archer. It doesn’t hurt that Archer’s second outing, the 1949-set A Gambling Man, takes place during the gumshoe golden age, when men smoked “Luckies,” drove luxurious European roadsters and were pursued by women of rapier wit. Archer is an ex-con, so some shenanigans are required to obtain a license to ply his trade in his new home of California. The ink isn’t even dry on said license before he’s assigned his first case, an extortion attempt on a mayoral candidate in the seaside community of Bay Town. Then an alluring chanteuse who was connected to the case is brutally murdered. It will not be the last death to rock Bay Town, and the newly minted PI’s mettle will truly be tested. Baldacci establishes bona fides for this historical mystery with great delicacy, deftly navigating the cliche minefield and giving his readers a sense of the milieu without drowning them in minutiae. He delivers a cracking good suspense novel in the process.

Thief of Souls

Brian Klingborg’s Thief of Souls features one of the best opening sentences I have ever read in a mystery: “On the night the young woman’s corpse is discovered, hollowed out like a birchbark canoe, Inspector Lu Fei sits alone in the Red Lotus bar, determined to get gloriously drunk.” Lu Fei is a deputy police chief in Raven Valley, a backwater township in northeast China, close to the North Korean border. Not much happens in Raven Valley as a rule, but that somnolence is about to be upended. Almost immediately after the victim is discovered, a suspect is identified: a wannabe boyfriend whose phone yields surreptitious photos of the young woman and whose job in a meatpacking plant would afford him access to the sort of surgical knife that was used to eviscerate her. The city police officer called in to take over the investigation wants a quick solution to the case and is perfectly willing to let the “boyfriend” fill that bill. But Lu has doubts, and he conducts a quiet side investigation that turns up additional unsolved killings with the same modus operandi. Politics and turf wars ensue as Klingborg, who has lived and worked in Asia, peppers the story with narrative detours into Chinese history and pertinent commentary from the likes of Confucius, Mao Tse-tung and other Chinese philosophical luminaries. This auspicious mystery begs for a sequel. Please let it be soon. 

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Brian Klingborg on why modern China is the perfect setting for a mystery.

A Peculiar Combination

The title of Ashley Weaver’s series starter, A Peculiar Combination, is a sly reference to the main character’s occupation as an opener of locked boxes—and more specifically, locked boxes that do not belong to her. Set in London during World War II, the novel opens as Electra McDonnell, safecracker extraordinaire, and her mentor, Uncle Mick, get nabbed in a sting operation set up by a British spy agency. They’ll be given a Get Out of Jail Free card if they participate in a government-sanctioned safe heist in which some phony sensitive papers will be substituted for the real documents, thus misleading the Nazis. It all goes hopelessly awry when they arrive at the scene of the would-be crime and discover the safe is wide open, its owner dead on the floor. In the wake of this failure, Electra finds herself in the unusual (for her) position of wanting to see the operation through to its conclusion, even though she’s been freed from her contract with the government. In for a penny, in for a pound and all that. It’s a lighter read than many a mystery with the same setting, but A Peculiar Combination delivers the requisite suspense and misdirection that will keep the hard-boiled crowd on board as well.

 The Final Twist

Jeffery Deaver’s The Final Twist lives up to its name admirably, even delivering said twist on the very last page of the book. (Don’t cheat by looking at the ending.) Main character Colter Shaw could scarcely be more different from Deaver’s famous sleuth, the brilliant forensic consultant Lincoln Rhyme. Colter is a mountaineer and a survivalist; he’s action-oriented where Rhyme is cerebral. And unlike Rhyme, who works closely with law enforcement, if Colter has to bend the law to serve his ends, he will do it without remorse. He supports himself by finding missing people and collecting the reward money. His life’s mission, however, is finishing his father’s work and destroying BlackBridge, a mercenary corporation that has been distributing drugs in a San Francisco neighborhood to drive down property values so they can swoop in and purchase tracts for pennies on the dollar. Shaw strongly suspects that BlackBridge had a hand in his father’s “accidental” death, and he means to dispense some Old West justice once he finds out the truth. A couple of subplots, one involving Colter’s long-lost brother and another centered on a legal document from a century ago that may have a breathtaking impact on modern-day California politics, flesh out the narrative, distracting the reader until Deaver wallops them with the shocking final page. 

Two 1940s-set mysteries, a striking new series and a real doozy of a final twist await you in this month’s Whodunit column.

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