Bruce Tierney

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The Bullet Garden

After writing a trio of books about ex-Marine sniper Bob Lee Swagger, author Stephen Hunter launched a second series featuring Bob Lee’s father, Earl Swagger, who is also a Marine and a Medal of Honor recipient to boot. It’s been 20 years since Hunter’s last installment in the senior Swagger series, but it comes roaring back this month with The Bullet Garden. The book serves as a prequel to the three Earl Swagger books that preceded it (Hot Springs, Pale Horse Coming and Havana), chronicling his adventures in France during the days immediately following D-Day. Swagger spearheads a secret mission to track down and kill German snipers who are systematically picking off Allied soldiers crossing the Normandy meadowlands (which the troops have nicknamed “bullet gardens”). A sniper himself, Swagger is a natural fit for the job at hand, but even his legendary skills will be sorely tested in this milieu. Fans of firearms history will find lots to like in The Bullet Garden, as will military strategy buffs, but there is truly something for everyone: a budding romance; layers of duplicity and intrigue; and an omnipresent sense of the importance of working together for a greater cause. 

Encore in Death

J.D. Robb’s Encore in Death is the (are you ready for this?) 56th entry in the wildly popular series featuring Eve Dallas, a police detective in 2060s New York City who, by my calculations, should be celebrating her first birthday just about now. Despite being set in a Blade Runner-esque future of androids, airboards (think hoverboards) and the much-appreciated automated chefs, Robb’s mysteries don’t need to rely on sci-fi trappings to engage the reader. They are straight-up classically constructed whodunits. And this case features a time-honored murder weapon: cyanide. Just as A-list actor Eliza Lane takes the stage for an impromptu song at her latest high society Manhattan party, there is a crash of glass, and Eliza’s husband, equally famous actor Brant Fitzhugh, collapses to the floor—dead, with the smell of bitter almonds emanating from his lips. The initial thinking is that Eliza was the intended victim, as Brant sipped from a poisoned cocktail he was holding for her, but as the investigation wears on, alternative possibilities present themselves. As all of the suspects have connections to the stage, there is no shortage of drama as the case unfolds. Robb is the pen name of legendary romance author Nora Roberts, and while that’s certainly evident in her descriptions of her male leads (“Those sea-green eyes still made her heart sigh, even after a decade . . .”), the suspense is also there in spades.

The Sanctuary

Of all the awful ways to die, being vertically bisected by an industrial saw like the murder victim in Katrine Engberg’s final Kørner and Werner mystery, The Sanctuary, must rank right up there at the top. The unidentified man’s left half turns up in a partially buried leather suitcase in a public park, and Copenhagen police detective Annette Werner is on the hunt for the killer. Clues lead to the remote island of Bornholm, an insular enclave where everyone knows everyone else’s secrets, but nobody seems disposed toward sharing any of that knowledge with the police. Subplots abound: a missing young man, possibly on the lam from the law, possibly the victim in the suitcase; a zealous preacher who roundly rejects the biblical teaching of turning the other cheek; a biographer whose scholarly visit to Bornholm to examine a deceased anthropologist’s letters is stirring up some old, long-quiet ghosts; a garbage bag full of money that nobody seems to be able (or willing) to account for. The identity of the culprit is an enormous surprise, but more surprising still is the emotional closure Engberg brings to long-running storylines, resulting in a very poignant moment for fans of the series in addition to a satisfying solution to the central mystery. 

The Twyford Code

Narrative conventions are cast to the four winds in Janice Hallett’s impressive second novel, The Twyford Code. The story consists of 200 fragmented voice transcriptions made by Steven “Smithy” Smith, a none-too-savvy mobile phone user who has only recently been released from prison in England. At loose ends, he decides to investigate the mysterious disappearance of his secondary school English teacher some 40 years back. Miss Iles (who often humorously appears in the transcriptions as “missiles”) had something of an obsession with the children’s books of one Edith Twyford, a character loosely based on real-life bestselling children’s author Enid Blyton. On a class field trip to Bournemouth to visit Twyford’s wartime home, “missiles” dropped off the map, never to be heard from again. As Smith’s belated investigation proceeds, he becomes increasingly obsessed with Twyford’s books as well, uncovering what may be hidden messages therein. State secrets, buried treasure, buried bodies? The clues are all there, but it will take a cannier puzzle-solving mind than mine to decipher them before Hallett is ready for the big reveal. The Twyford Code is easily one of the cleverest and most original mystery novels in recent memory, with an engaging main character, dialogue that grabs (and requires) your attention and more head-scratching suspense than any other three books combined.

A mystery told through voice transcriptions shouldn’t work, but The Twyford Code isn’t just this month’s best mystery—it’s one of the cleverest whodunits in recent memory.
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The Maltese Iguana 

Buckle up for another wild ride with Florida ne’er-do-well Serge A. Storms and his stoner sidekick, Coleman, in their 26th adventure, The Maltese Iguana by Tim Dorsey. The title, a nod to Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon, refers not to a precious statue but instead to its modern-day Florida counterpart—an iguana-shaped bong. The basic premise of the book is that Serge Storms, now fully vaccinated after a long COVID-19 lockdown, decides a celebration is in order, upon which mayhem ensues, both figuratively and literally. Meanwhile, a CIA operation goes off the rails in Honduras, and after barely escaping with his life, the agency’s local contact makes his way to Florida, putting both him and the agents the CIA sends after him directly in Hurricane Serge’s path. There are murders, explosions, drugs, mercenaries, Florida history and folklore, wild parties, an exotic dancer, an appearance by Captain Kangaroo, a boxing rabbit and enough pingpong balls to fill the trunk of an old Ford LTD. Imagine one of those newspaper articles in which the headline begins with “Florida man” and then imagine the article extending to 336 pages. That will give you a pretty good idea of what to expect in The Maltese Iguana.

Storm Watch

C.J. Box’s Joe Pickett mysteries have been excellent since the Wyoming game warden’s very first case, 2001’s Open Season. But Box’s latest novel, Storm Watch, is perhaps the most intricately plotted and fully realized of the bunch so far. Joe is on the trail of a wounded elk as an immense winter storm closes in, but he soon stumbles across something totally unexpected: a semi-decapitated body in a mysterious shed far off the beaten track. Joe only has time to take some photos before beating a hasty retreat in hopes of outrunning the snow. When he returns after the storm, the body has disappeared. What initially seems to be a lack of interest on the part of the sheriff soon morphs into a full-blown, high-level warning that Joe keep his nose out of matters that don’t concern him. (As if that could ever happen.) Conspiracies abound, reaching up to the highest levels of state government and involving uber-wealthy absentee ranchers, bitcoin miners and underground militias. There is a lot going on, but Box keeps all the balls in the air, culminating in an ending sequence that’s pure gold and extremely satisfying on multiple levels.

Murder at Haven’s Rock

Canadian author Kelley Armstrong is perhaps best known for her Rockton mysteries, a series of seven books set in the titular village, which is hidden in Canada’s Yukon wilderness and serves as a refuge for those who cannot be effectively protected by the authorities. The Rockton series’ protagonist, detective Casey Duncan, is breaking ground on a similar endeavor with her husband, Sheriff Eric Dalton. Their new village, Haven’s Rock, will differ from Rockton in only one major way: Casey and Eric plan to handpick the residents in hopes of eliminating some of the shortcomings of the Rockton project. But things do not get off to a good start. Murder at Haven’s Rock, the title of the new book, says it all. It starts when a couple of construction crew members break the cardinal rule—Do Not Venture Out Into The Forest—and never return. Casey and Eric launch a search for the missing workers but instead find the body of an unknown woman who has been stabbed to death. Just like Armstrong’s Rockton series, Murder at Haven’s Rock is an immediately intriguing mystery populated by well-drawn characters. It’s certainly accessible as a standalone read, but I wouldn’t be surprised if readers new to Armstrong immediately seek out her previous books after finishing this superb series starter.

The Cliff’s Edge

The mother-and-son writing team known in the publishing world as Charles Todd (the mother of which, Caroline Todd, died in 2021) boasts two hit series, each set in the years immediately following World War I. The first features Inspector Ian Rutledge, a cop haunted by the ghost of a wartime casualty, and Todd began the second in 2009, a spinoff series centered on Bess Crawford, a former combat nurse marked by her own war experience. As the 13th installment, The Cliff’s Edge, opens, Bess accepts a temporary nursing position to care for a wealthy woman after a surgery. While she is on duty, a tragic accident takes place nearby: Two men, Gordon Neville and Frederick Caldwell, fall from a rocky outcropping, with Frederick dying from his injuries. But things take an ominous turn when it is revealed that the two men shared a contentious past and that Frederick’s injuries seem inconsistent with his fall. It falls to Bess to care for Gordon, who has a dislocated shoulder and a badly broken arm, and she finds herself drawn into the mystery of what actually transpired at the cliff’s edge. Both men’s grieving and angry family members complicate the situation, as does a local cop bent on pinning a murder on Gordon. As is always the case with the Bess Crawford books, the writing is perfectly evocative of the period; the conversational style, relationships and manners are all very “Downton Abbey”-esque, making for an exceptionally pleasurable ride to the ultimate reveal.

Batten down the hatches—Serge Storms is back. Read our review of Tim Dorsey’s absolutely wild Florida-set caper in this month’s Whodunit column.
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You Know Her

Meagan Jennett’s You Know Her is a crackerjack debut thriller. A book about a serial killer is not necessarily notable; there are many of those on the racks at bookstores. Books about female serial killers are in somewhat shorter supply, and a book in which said female serial killer is a narrator is fairly unusual. But here’s the kicker: You kinda want her to get away with it. Our soon-to-be-murderer Sophie Braam is a bartender when You Know Her begins. She has seen it all, and most of what she has seen has not been pretty. And then one day, a minor grievance becomes the proverbial backbreaking straw. A stolen glass of wine should not be a death sentence, you might argue, but if you had that argument with Sophie, there’s a good chance she would bring you around to her way of thinking. Sophie’s new best friend (although it is a somewhat guarded friendship) is police officer Nora Martin, one of the investigators of the first of Sophie’s murders. Nora has also seen it all, or so she thinks, but nothing can really prepare her for Sophie. Which brings us to kicker number two: You also kinda want the skillful, hardworking Nora to solve the murders. She deserves a big win to help her rise to the rank of detective, which would be a reward to be savored in her toxic, good-ol’-boy, small-town police department. Only one can win—let the games begin.

The Last Heir to Blackwood Library

Hester Fox’s The Last Heir to Blackwood Library contains romance, fantasy, the occult and religious zealotry gone off the rails; in short, it’s not your standard whodunit. However, fans of supernaturally tinged mysteries from authors such as T. Jefferson Parker and John Connolly will be intrigued by this historical spin on the subgenre, and other readers will be enticed by Fox’s first-rate writing, which is engrossing from page one. In 1927 London, the fortunes of one Ivy Radcliffe have radically changed. One day, she is sharing a drafty bed-sit apartment with her best friend and living hand to mouth. The next day, she is anointed Lady Hayworth, complete with manor house, staff, motorcar, income and a couple of handsome potential suitors. However, the solicitor who informed Ivy of her windfall neglected to tell her about the previous title holders, all of whom met with a premature and mysterious death. The Last Heir to Blackwood Library hews more closely to the mystery and suspense genre than to any other, I would say. And even though it’s more of a “whatdunit” than a whodunit, mystery readers of all types will enjoy it.

So Shall You Reap

There are series that readers return to again and again for nonstop action or a “ripped from the headlines” vibe. And then there are series that readers devour because the protagonist is a person of evident strength of character. Martin Walker’s Chief of Police Benoit “Bruno” Courreges, for example, or Louise Penny’s Chief Inspector Armand Gamache. Donna Leon’s Commissario Guido Brunetti would emerge close to the top of any such list as well. As So Shall You Reap opens, Leon’s Venetian sleuth visits a lovely, albeit somewhat neglected, old palazzo to inquire for a friend as to whether the property is for sale. A Sri Lankan man answers the door and informs him that the house is not on the market. It will not be their last interaction: The following evening, Brunetti will identify the man’s body after it is pulled from a canal. The subsequent investigation unearths inflammatory political screeds both from Sri Lanka and Italy in the man’s personal effects, which seem to be at odds with his devout Buddhism and calm demeanor during his interaction with Brunetti. It tosses Brunetti’s thoughts back to his time at university, when he was somewhat more radical in his politics than he is now as a world-weary policeman approaching retirement age. Italy in Brunetti’s younger days was plagued with bombings, kidnappings and murders, some of which are still unsolved. But one of them is about to be solved, in part by the dogged persistence of Brunetti, and in part by the almost humanlike persistence of a dog. This is the 32nd book in the series, and if it is your first Commissario Brunetti mystery, you will most likely turn immediately to the other 31.

Heart of the Nile

Although many readers regard Will Thomas’ Barker & Llewelyn mysteries as an homage to those starring Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, I would suggest that they more closely resemble Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin mysteries. In both cases, the main sleuth’s assistant is the narrator, with both Goodwin and Llewelyn taking a decidedly tongue-in-cheek tone, especially in regard to the vicissitudes of their curmudgeonly senior partners. Both teams regularly run circles around the cops, be it NYPD or Scotland Yard, engendering awe (occasionally) and annoyance (much more regularly). Thomas’ latest mystery, Heart of the Nile, is the 14th installment in the series. It deals with the discovery of a mummy in the British Museum’s collection of ancient artifacts, the treasure trove of looted antiquities fondly known as “England’s Attic.” This particular mummy, however, may be the remains of Egypt’s most famous queen, Cleopatra. Supporting that notion is an immense uncut ruby laid in the chest cavity once occupied by her heart. The ruby disappears, people start to meet untimely and violent deaths, and Cyrus Barker and Thomas Llewelyn are summoned to unravel the mystery. This is an exceptionally entertaining series, jampacked with Victorian arcana and 19th-century London history, anchored by the quick wit and pithy observations of narrator Llewelyn.

In this month’s Whodunit column, Meagan Jennett’s crackerjack debut thriller tracks that doomed friendship. Plus, read all about the latest Commissario Brunetti mystery.
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The Magistrate

Police procedural novels set in China often have a decidedly different feel from their European and American counterparts. As public servants are paid so poorly in the Middle Kingdom, there is a thriving shadow economy of grift and clandestine deal-making. The rule book is scarcely more than a fairy tale, broadly ignored by law enforcement and the criminal element alike. Case in point: Brian Klingborg’s The Magistrate. His protagonist, Deputy Chief Inspector Lu Fei, is one of only a handful of honest cops, and thus he is roundly despised by most of the higher-ups. However, on the rare occasion when a fact-driven investigation is required, Lu is the go-to guy. As The Magistrate begins, someone is targeting corrupt officials and subjecting them to excruciating torture and/or death. It soon becomes evident that a series of medieval interrogation methods are being utilized, all on the orders of someone calling themself the Magistrate. When his longtime nemesis, Mr. Xu, a corrupt fellow cop, succeeds in sidelining Lu with a trumped-up murder charge, it will take some clever planning and more than a little assistance from some supposed bad guys for the canny policeman to prevail. With its nonstop action, suspense galore, fascinating locale and compelling characters (even/especially the nefarious ones), The Magistrate ticks all the boxes.  

Viviana Valentine Goes Up the River

Since last we checked in on plucky Viviana Valentine, she’s been promoted from girl Friday to full-time sleuthing partner in the private investigation agency of Tommy Fortuna, allegedly the Big Apple’s number one gumshoe. Oh, Tommy is still the boss, but Viviana proved her mettle in her first outing (Viviana Valentine Gets Her Man), and Tommy is practically a sensitive, New Age guy as 1950s male bosses go. Emily J. Edwards’ follow-up, Viviana Valentine Goes Up the River, is clever and witty, and it features some of the snappiest narration and dialogue in modern whodunits. This time out, Viviana and Tommy investigate some mysterious happenings in and around the home laboratory of Buster Beacon, a wealthy socialite/inventor. Their stay at Buster’s estate in upstate New York is punctuated by an evening gathering of neighbors and investors, all blissfully unaware of the impending snowstorm that will keep them imprisoned for some time in their gilded cage. This would not be so bad, were it not for the inconvenience of a locked-room murder in their midst, which will bring their jolly gathering to a screeching halt. The mystery has a pleasingly convoluted Knives Out vibe, Agatha Christie-esque but with a modern overlay of dry humor, much of it provided by Viviana’s narration. It’s good fun from beginning to end, with a surprise or two for even the most jaded suspense-o-phile.

The Eden Test

An upstate New York setting also figures prominently in Adam Sternbergh’s cinematic psychological thriller The Eden Test, even though it’s set seven-odd decades later. Daisy and Craig’s marriage seems, if not on the rocks, at least headed firmly in that direction. One of them has taken a lover, and there are more secrets bubbling not far beneath the surface. So Daisy takes matters into her own hands and books a week at a couples therapy retreat built on the concept of seeking seven answers to seven relationship questions in seven days. Phones are forbidden, and sometimes it appears that honesty has been proscribed as well. It doesn’t take long for things to go slightly off the rails, and then more than slightly. The counselors are a bit weird, as are the staff and the townspeople, and the whole scenario is filled with the sort of unease that you might find in “Twin Peaks” or at the Overlook Hotel in Stephen King’s The Shining, minus the supernatural component. And just when you think you have anticipated the big reveal, author Sternbergh delivers “the big nope,” forcing you to reconsider your so-called aha! moment.

The Body by the Sea

When I reviewed Jean-Luc Bannalec’s The Granite Coast Murders a couple of years back, I opined that the author’s portrayal of Brittany, France, was mesmerizing, noting that “it has been elevated into my top 10 places I need to visit, all thanks to Bannalec.” I would hope, however, that when I do finally visit Brittany, I can sidestep the murders that seem to bedevil Commissaire Georges Dupin. Bannalec’s latest Brittany novel, The Body by the Sea, opens in the seaside town of Concarneau, where Dr. Chaboseau, a noted cardiologist, has just taken a header from a balcony above Dupin’s favorite restaurant, the Amiral. Chaboseau had reportedly been involved in some contentious business relationships in the town, although perhaps nothing that should have risen to the level of homicide. Still, somebody was responsible; moreover, it will not be the last murder in this chain of events. Short-staffed thanks to a holiday weekend, Commissaire Dupin is the only on-duty cop save for a couple of very green recruits, so the case is rife with obstacles from the get-go. There is, however, a novel twist, so to speak: Some facets of Dupin’s current case echo plot points from a pre-World War II novel, which was in turn based on a real crime. Curiouser and curiouser, and it all leads to just the sort of surprise ending that readers long for. And as before, they are treated to fun facts about the food, landscape and denizens of Brittany along the way.

Start your summer early with two tales of vacations gone murderously wrong—plus a snappy 1950s mystery and an eerie marriage-centric thriller.
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Better the Blood

Maori screenwriter and director Michael Bennett’s first novel, Better the Blood begins with a flashback to a daguerreotype, an early type of photograph, being taken in 1863. The picture has a chilling subject: a small group of British soldiers posed alongside the hanged body of a Maori leader in the early days of New Zealand’s colonization. When the descendants of the soldiers in the daguerreotype begin to die violently, the case is assigned to Auckland police investigator Hana Westerman. Few investigators are better suited to the job than Hana, who possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of her Maori culture and history. As she gets closer and closer to identifying the perpetrator, she begins to see that the crimes are not so much a type of revenge as they are a flawed attempt to restore balance to a world gone awry. She is able to identify a couple of the potential targets, but the killer is always one step ahead. Then the unthinkable happens: Hana’s family is targeted. With plenty of suspense, sympathetically drawn characters and crisp dialogue, Better the Blood promises to be the start of a long and rewarding literary career for Bennett.

Blaze Me a Sun

On the same February night that Swedish Prime Minister Olaf Palme is assassinated in Stockholm in 1986, a woman is raped and murdered in the small town of Halland. Police receive an ominous phone call in which the anonymous killer says, “I’m going to do it again.” The investigation goes largely unnoticed by the media, as the attention of the nation is on the Palme assassination. For the rest of his career, and indeed for the rest of his life, police officer Sven Jörgensson is plagued by his failure to solve the crimes. In a parallel plot in the present day, a recently divorced writer whom the book refers to only by his nickname, “Moth,” has moved back to Halland, his childhood home. Somewhat at loose ends, he decides to interview some of the people who were central to the unsolved crime and possibly reanimate his muse in the process. Blaze Me a Sun, the American debut of author Christoffer Carlsson, is part police procedural, part modern inquiry into a very cold case and part sociological study of the evolution of Swedish society in the post-Palme years. The latest in a long streak of Swedish-language bestsellers for Carlsson, Blaze Me a Sun is further proof that he is a worthy heir to titans such as Henning Mankell, Stieg Larsson and Hakan Nesser.

★ The Motion Picture Teller

In 1996 Bangkok, Supot Yongjaiyut is a mail carrier who is “somewhat economical when it [comes] to facial expressions. . . . He had feelings as deep as any, but they rarely inconvenienced his face.” His best friend, Ali, runs a video store, which allows the two to fully pursue their obsession with cinema, a love so profound that they happily watch movies without subtitles and guess at plot and dialogue. When Ali buys a new box of VHS tapes, neither suspects that one of the films will turn out to be an obscure masterpiece, Bangkok 2010. Colin Cotterill’s The Motion Picture Teller follows Supot and Ali’s efforts to unearth the film’s history, creators and especially the identity and current whereabouts of its lissome female lead. There is no real crime to be solved, per se, but that doesn’t stop the pair of intrepid investigators from pursuing leads, interviewing persons of interest and trying to answer the burning question of why Bangkok 2010 was never released publicly. Supot ventures to Thailand’s far north, the mountainous region outside Chiang Rai, and when he is relieved of his only remaining copy of the film, he is nudged into the role of reluctant raconteur, capturing the essence of the film in narrative. A motion picture teller, if you will. By turns witty, warm, charming and poignant, The Motion Picture Teller is perhaps Cotterill’s finest novel thus far.

★ Everybody Knows

Jordan Harper’s Everybody Knows bounces between two protagonists. The first is Mae Pruett, known in Los Angeles as a “black bag publicist.” She keeps people out of public view, especially when they are in hot water of some sort. The second is ex-cop Chris Tamburro, whose current job title is “fist.” It could scarcely be more apropos: He roughs up whomever the rich deem deserving. When Mae’s boss is killed, ostensibly by a gangbanger, she suspects something much more complex, but the reality will be even worse. As she investigates, she uncovers a network of powerful Southern California elites pulling all the strings and pushing all the buttons in their pursuit of power. A missing pregnant teen holds the key to a conspiracy with tentacles reaching into the entertainment industry, the political arena and pretty much every law enforcement agency working the greater Los Angeles area. Fans of neo-noir will find a lot to like here, as Harper displays an encyclopedic knowledge of pop culture and Hollywood history as he spins a tale that isn’t just ripped from the headlines—it’s probably predicting them.

She Rides Shotgun author Jordan Harper knocks it out of the park with his sophomore mystery. Read our starred review in this month’s Whodunit column.
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The Double Agent

The problem with being a double agent is that if you put a foot wrong, there is always someone ready—even eager—to kill you. In the case of Alexsi Ivanovich Smirnoff, the situationally heroic hero of William Christie’s The Double Agent, there are not two but three agencies poised to be either his savior or his executioner, depending on their mood and the day of the week: the Brits, the Germans and the Russians. It’s 1943, and the slippery spy has been captured in Iran by the British, who promptly recruit him to infiltrate the German forces in Italy. His exploits amid the Vatican and members of the Italian aristocracy are particularly dicey and well rendered, and as Alexsi makes his way across the European theater of the war, he becomes entangled in and surreptitiously shapes real-life events, such as the assassination attempt on Winston Churchill. Alexsi is an engaging character despite being self-serving to the max; in his defense, if he wasn’t so consistently out for number one, he would have been summarily executed ages ago. Although it is not strictly necessary to read Christie’s first novel starring Alexsi (2017’s A Single Spy), after reading The Double Agent, you will surely want to. I would suggest tackling them in chronological order for optimal reading enjoyment.

How to Survive Everything

The first line of Ewan Morrison’s How to Survive Everything grabs readers by the throat: “I’m still alive, and if you’re reading this then that means you’re still alive, too. That’s something.” The Scottish writer’s thriller is set in the not-too-distant future, where rumors abound of a new disease that far outstrips COVID-19. Narrator Haley Cooper Crowe is an outspoken and plucky 16-year-old girl. (“Hold on . . . If you’re reading this, it’s also possible I’m dead. . . . If you found me lying there dead, I hope I wasn’t too gross.”) Haley’s family is a microcosm of modern-day political discord vis-a-vis pandemics. Her father, Ed, is a survivalist, a gun-toting libertarian determined to protect his family; her mother is a pandemic denier who accuses Ed of being an alarmist who’s ready to jump on any bandwagon that promises impending apocalypse. Long story short, Ed, convinced another pandemic is about to begin, kidnaps Haley and her younger brother, Ben—and then the troubles really begin. Morrison seamlessly channels the voice and attitude of a teenage girl: Haley is by turns insightful, hilarious, cynical and, like many teens, wise beyond the perceptions of those who surround her. How to Survive Everything is a spot-on fable for the pandemic era. Or, perhaps, it would be more accurate to regard it as a textbook.

A World of Curiosities

Reviewing Louise Penny gets more difficult with each new installment of her Chief Inspector Gamache mysteries, because each of her books improves upon the body of work that precedes it. One can advance that opinion a limited number of ways before it becomes severely repetitive. Nonetheless, the latest case of Armand Gamache, A World of Curiosities, is another superb achievement. The title refers to “The Paston Treasure,” a real-life painting by an anonymous Flemish artist that shows off the eclectic collecting habits of the Paston family in 17th-century England. The painting is housed in Norfolk, England, so it is something of a surprise when a full-scale replica of it turns up in a walled-in room in Gamache’s quiet Three Pines village in Quebec. And it’s even more of a surprise when the replica appears slightly different from the original, featuring collectibles that had not even been conceived of at the time the artwork was created. And then the murders begin, with the key question being what connection they could possibly have to the recently discovered painting. The reappearance in town of a young man and woman whose mother was brutally murdered a decade before complicates matters further. Penny weaves together all these narratives—the series of modern-day killings, the decade-old bludgeoning murder and the haunting artwork that has remained shrouded in mystery across the centuries—with a master’s deft hand.

Secrets Typed in Blood

Some of the giddiest delights experienced by mid-20th-century suspense aficionados were summoned forth by author Rex Stout in his mysteries starring grumpy armchair detective Nero Wolfe and his smart-alecky assistant/biographer, Archie Goodwin. Stout died in 1975, and with the exception of tributes in print and on screen, Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin passed away with their creator—until 2020, when Stephen Spotswood’s Fortune Favors the Dead introduced readers to brilliant sleuth Lillian Pentecost and her stalwart assistant, Willowjean “Will” Parker. While not an intentional homage to the Nero Wolfe mysteries, the Pentecost & Parker series will thrill fans of Stout’s iconic characters. They share a 1940s New York City setting, and the dynamic between the central characters is very similar; the biggest change is simply that Spotswood’s duo is composed of two women, with one of them, Will, being gay. In the latest installment, Secrets Typed in Blood, the canny pair takes the case of Holly Quick, a pulp magazine writer who thinks that someone is committing real-life murders that mimic her stories, down to the smallest detail. The tension ratchets up dramatically when the latest killing mirrors a story that Holly has not even published yet, thus shrinking the suspect pool considerably. I was a huge fan of the Nero Wolfe series and am on my way to becoming as big an admirer of the Pentecost & Parker mysteries.

Inspector Gamache is back, and author Louise Penny has crafted a truly haunting case for him to solve. Read our review in this month’s Whodunit column!
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Secluded Cabin Sleeps Six

If I had to sum up Lisa Unger’s Secluded Cabin Sleeps Six in 10 words, I would say “Cast of ‘Friends,’ dark and stormy night, soundtrack by Disturbed.” This friend group is much more disturbed than Ross, Chandler, Monica, et al., but there are parallels: a sister/brother pair; a female friend from the past; some canoodling that is, shall we say, detrimental to the group dynamic. Siblings Hannah and Mako are celebrating Christmas at their parents’ house when their father finds an unusual gift under the tree: DNA genealogy kits for the whole family, from an anonymous Santa. A few months later, when Hannah, Mako, their respective spouses and another couple head up to a remote cabin to unplug, the other shoe drops. Some of them did the kit and were unexpectedly proven to be the progeny of the same man, and they are not happy to know who (and what) their biological father was. Secrets abound in this psychological thriller; even the cabin itself harbors a hidden history, giving off unnerving vibes to renters and readers alike. At 400 pages, it’s a long book for a one-sitting read, but you’ll be sorely tempted.


1989 is Val McDermid’s second installment of a trilogy (which this reviewer hopes will become a quadrilogy or even a quintology) featuring Scottish investigative reporter Allie Burns. The series began with 1979, and in the sequel, readers are mired with Allie in the late ’80s, when mobile phones were the size of lunchboxes, when AIDS was ravaging the U.K., when a jetliner was bombed out of the sky over Lockerbie, Scotland, and when the Soviet Union was on the verge of collapse. All in all, not a time to be nostalgic for, and true to form, McDermid spins the tale without a whiff of sentimentality. Allie works for media mogul Ace Lockhart, who bears more than a passing resemblance to newspaper publisher Robert Maxwell (father of Ghislaine, of Jeffrey Epstein-associate infamy): flamboyant, bullying and destined for disgrace. Lockhart, who has a number of business ventures based in the Eastern bloc, senses the upcoming upheaval and sends his daughter to secure his interests in the changing political landscape. When she is kidnapped in East Berlin, Lockhart sends Allie Burns on a rescue mission, and in short order, things careen out of control. You don’t need to read 1979 to hit the ground running with 1989, but you will want to have Wikipedia open to look up all the fascinating historical and cultural moments McDermid references along the way.

Viviana Valentine Gets Her Man

Emily J. Edwards’ Viviana Valentine Gets Her Man is, hands down, this month’s most entertaining mystery. Set in 1950 New York City, it chronicles the adventures of a plucky Pennsylvania country girl, the titular Viviana Valentine. Upon arriving penniless in the Big Apple, Viviana sweet-talks her way into a girl Friday job for Tommy Fortuna, a Philip Marlowe-esque private investigator who calls her dollface. But after Tommy goes MIA and a dead body is found on his office floor, Viviana is forced to take the helm of the agency, clear Tommy’s name and crack the case he was working on. Whatever she lacks in experience, Viviana more than makes up for with her in-your-face attitude, wicked sense of humor and snappy one-liners. Her friends and acquaintances include high society debutantes, models, mobsters, cops both arrow-straight and morally flexible and a host of other ’50s types that would slot neatly into a black-and-white detective film. Edwards nails the tone, with dialogue and milieu evocative of classic noir, and presents the era warts and all: conversations that are a bit politically incorrect; men behaving toward women in ways that are borderline or flat-out predatory; and a towering amount of smoking and drinking.

The Devil’s Blaze

In the same fashion that Sean Connery is the quintessential James Bond for many cinema aficionados, Basil Rathbone is widely regarded as the definitive silver screen Sherlock Holmes, even though the most famous films in which he took on the role are not set in the original Victorian and Edwardian eras but smack in the middle of World War II. Author Robert J. Harris expands upon those midcentury films with his Sherlock Holmes in WWII series, the second volume of which (after 2021’s A Study in Crimson) is The Devil’s Blaze. The Germans have developed a truly insidious weapon to use against their English adversaries, a death machine of some sort that causes people to spontaneously erupt into flames. As usual, there are only two people in England clever enough (or devious enough, depending on your point of view) to approach a mystery of this magnitude: Sherlock Holmes (natch) and his longtime archnemesis, Professor James Moriarty. There is certainly no love lost between the pair, but they are forced to forge an uneasy alliance to try and save England from this terrifying new weapon. Harris never lets readers forget that this is a Sherlock Holmes novel, with the narrative turning on a dime—or a twopence, if you prefer—such that only an experienced fishmonger would be able to sort through all the red herrings. Holmes is as cerebral and arrogant as die-hard fans would expect, and Watson hews closely to actor Nigel Bruce’s portrayal in the Rathbone films: thoughtful, taciturn and usually a step behind his mentor. And Moriarty, well, he should be giving TED Talks on the subject of villainy.

Lisa Unger will make you think twice about dabbling with DNA ancestry kits, plus Val McDermid returns with a new Allie Burns novel in this month’s Whodunit.
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Secrets of the Nile

At the turn of the 20th century, English gentlewomen were meant to be seen and not heard, arm candy for their titled husbands. They were certainly not meant to be amateur sleuths. But Lady Emily Hargreaves becomes embroiled in a murder investigation (again) within hours of arriving in Luxor, Egypt, in Tasha Alexander’s 16th mystery starring the aristocrat, Secrets of the Nile. Lord Bertram Deeley, an antiquities collector of note and the Hargreaves’ host, is found dead on the dining room floor, the aroma of bitter almonds indicating that he was poisoned with cyanide. The Egyptian police identify a suspect in short order, but the suspect bolts, and truth be told, he didn’t fit the profile especially well anyway. As Lady Emily’s private investigation proceeds, it becomes apparent that many of the guests had reason to loathe their host; surprisingly, even her mother-in-law has a motive. In alternating chapters, Alexander tells the story of Meryt, a young female sculptor in ancient Egypt, whose work will play a prominent role in Lady Emily’s case some three millennia hence. Secrets of the Nile has it all: a glamorous locale, plucky heroine and supporting cast worthy of a Kenneth Branagh film.

The Furies

John Connolly’s latest mystery featuring private investigator Charlie Parker offers an intriguing change of pace for his legions of readers. The Furies is two masterfully crafted novels in one book, with each novel covering a separate but interconnected case. The first novel, The Sisters Strange, tells the story of sisters Dolors and Ambar Strange and their unusual relationship with Svengali-esque ex-convict Raum Buker. Raum is always on the lookout for an easy mark, and it seems as if he may have found it in Edwin Ellercamp, a collector of rare ancient coins. Edwin is soon found murdered, choked to death by a portion of his vast coin collection. Raum has no history as a killer, however, making the mystery of who murdered the collector one that will test Parker’s mettle like very few cases have. The second novel, The Furies, finds Parker in the employ of two women. The first is Sarah Abelli, a mob widow suspected of knowing where her husband hid a fortune in dirty money before he was killed in prison. Extortionists have stolen mementos of her deceased daughter and will not return them until she coughs up the cash, which she maintains to anyone who will listen that she does not have. The other is Marjorie Thombs, whose daughter is trapped in an abusive relationship—a situation exponentially exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown. Of course, as is the case with all of the Charlie Parker mysteries, there is an element or two of the supernatural to factor in—nothing to the degree of books by Stephen King or Anne Rice, but certainly enough to occasion some vague uneasiness if you are reading late at night.

Fall Guy

Archer Mayor’s Fall Guy, the latest in his long-running series featuring Joe Gunther, field force commander of the Vermont Bureau of Investigation, opens with a dead body in the trunk of a stolen car. The details of the car’s theft are suspect, however, as its GPS data mark it as being outside a strip club at the time that it was purportedly stolen from the owner’s driveway. Along with the dead body, the car contains a cell phone with evidence of the sexual abuse of a child. An interjurisdictional task force is formed to investigate, which allows Gunther and his subordinates to cross state lines—in this case, into nearby New Hampshire—to follow the clues. Gunther’s team, based in Brattleboro, Vermont, is more like a family than a collection of co-workers. Thirty-plus books into the series, the evolving relationships among the characters never detract from the police procedural structure. In fact, the web of connections enhances the story, showing how the various members of Gunther’s team deploy their strengths and shore up one another’s weaknesses to function as a well-oiled crime-solving machine. If you’re new to Joe Gunther, don’t be surprised if upon finishing Fall Guy you immediately seek out the previous books in the series.

Sometimes People Die

Simon Stephenson’s darkly hilarious mystery, Sometimes People Die, harks back to classic English satire a la Kingsley Amis or Evelyn Waugh, perfectly updating their sarcastic yet somehow still endearing tone for modern-day readers. Stephenson’s unnamed narrator is a third-rate Scottish doctor in a third-rate London hospital, on probation for stealing opioids and still dealing with his addiction on the q.t. He has little use for anyone else and typically thinks he is the smartest person in the room—but he usually isn”t. Nonetheless, he is pretty funny and occasionally displays a redeeming quality or two despite himself. Then patients in his ward start inexplicably dying, and he finds himself at the epicenter of the police inquiry into these suspicious deaths. When a suspect is finally arrested, our protagonist has his doubts and launches his own clandestine investigation. His sleuthing skills turn out to be little better than his medical skills, however, and things rapidly go wildly off course. With ten months of 2022 behind us, I am confident this will be a (or perhaps the) best book of the year for me.

When his patients start mysteriously dying, a third-rate doctor has a chance to become a first-rate sleuth in Simon Stephenson's darkly hilarious Sometimes People Die, this month's top pick in mystery.
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Fox Creek

Author William Kent Krueger’s Cork O’Connor is an unusual sort of protagonist, a fast-food restaurateur who doubles as a private investigator. One might not necessarily think that a man with those qualifications would find a lot of sleuthing work in rural Tamarack County, Minnesota, but one would be mistaken. In Fox Creek, the 19th entry in Krueger’s long-running series, Cork is approached by one Louis Morriseau, whose wife, Dolores, has gone missing. Louis is concerned that she has run off with another man, Henry Meloux, an Ojibwe healer who also happens to be the uncle of Cork’s wife, Rainy. This scenario seems . . . unlikely, as Henry is somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 years old. As it turns out, Dolores actually is with Henry, but he’s guiding her through a sweat lodge ceremony. However, Louis is not actually who he claims to be but rather a member of a team of mercenaries bent on kidnapping Dolores for reasons unknown. Henry senses trouble and narrowly escapes upcountry with Rainy and Dolores in tow, but an expert tracker and two gunmen are in hot pursuit. Not far behind them, Cork and a tribal cop with a vested interest in the case join the fray. Tension mounts as Krueger pits modern tech against Ojibwe traditions, with unexpected twists abounding until the very end.  

Bad Day Breaking

A bit to the east of Krueger’s Tamarack County lies Bad Axe County, Wisconsin, the setting of John Galligan’s riveting Bad Day Breaking. Beleaguered Sheriff Heidi Kick is facing uphill battles on at least two fronts: first, a personnel issue involving an overly aggressive deputy, and then a strange, Jonestown-esque cult that has taken up residence in a self-storage facility (to the chagrin of many locals, who are starting to resemble the torch-bearing, pitchfork-wielding villagers in dystopian horror movies). Sheriff Kick attempts to placate both the cult and the locals, with limited success at best. The pressure ratchets up dramatically after one of the cult members is murdered. And if there wasn’t enough on her plate already, Sheriff Kick must deal with the reappearance of a very difficult ex-boyfriend, a man whose imprisonment she caused who now, unsurprisingly, seeks to exact revenge upon her for his incarceration. Bad Day Breaking is a page turner of the first order, with a killer cliffhanger that will have readers anxiously awaiting Sheriff Kick’s return.


In rural New South Wales, Australia—part of the legendary Outback where spiders, snakes, crocodiles, etc., are all eagerly waiting to kill you—it bodes well to remember that sometimes the human inhabitants can be lethal as well. Such is the case in Shelley Burr’s debut, WAKE, which centers on the 20-year-old cold case of missing (and now presumed dead) Evelyn McCreery. Evelyn’s twin sister, Mina, soldiers on, now something of a recluse in her remote farmhouse. All these years later, she remains a suspect in the disappearance of her sister, particularly in online forums where the acronym WAKE is used to mean “Wednesday Addams Killed Evie,” a nod to Mina’s resemblance to actor Christina Ricci in the 1990s films about the creepy, unorthodox Addams family. Mina is forced to revisit Evelyn’s disappearance when Lane Holland arrives in town. A freelance private investigator, Lane makes his living via the rewards he collects after solving missing persons cases. Mina’s late mother established a reward of $2 million, but Lane isn’t just motivated by the money; something altogether deeper, darker and more personal has led him to Mina’s door. Burr won the 2019 Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger award for WAKE, and after reading it, you’ll be applauding their choice right along with me.

From the Shadows

In James R. Benn’s From the Shadows, Captain Billy Boyle, a onetime Boston cop now assigned to the European theater of World War II, is snatched from some much needed R & R in Cairo and tasked with a dangerous new mission: Billy must locate an English operative in the wilds of Crete, after which they will head to newly liberated France via Algiers, liaise with the French Resistance and weed out enemies from allies. That’s the plan, anyway; but in wartime, things do not often go according to plan, and this mission is no exception. As is the case with the 16 previous books in the Billy Boyle series, the action takes place against a backdrop of real-life operations and personnel. The reader is introduced to Jack Hemingway, son of iconic writer Ernest; to Wells Lewis, son of author Sinclair; to the heroic 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the most decorated unit in U.S. military history, which was composed primarily of Nisei, second-generation Japanese Americans; to the stubborn and tragically inept General John E. Dahlquist, commander of “The Lost Battalion”; and to Daniel Inouye, who lost his right arm to a grenade in France and went on to serve as a U.S. senator for Hawaii. Without a doubt, I have learned more about WWII history from Benn’s novels than I ever learned from a textbook. Where he excels, though, apart from superb suspense plotting, is in documenting vignettes of humanity and its black-sheep cousin, brutality. Benn makes combat feel real and immediate to his readers, even those who have never experienced it firsthand. It would be impossible to depict war accurately without killing off some of the good guys, and there are a couple of losses here that will truly hurt, as they should.

These beautiful rural landscapes are anything but peaceful, plus James R. Benn's latest gets a starred review in this month's Whodunit column.
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To Kill a Troubadour

Everyone’s favorite French police chief Benoît Courrèges—aka, Bruno, Chief of Police—faces a new threat to his usually bucolic Périgord existence: Spanish terrorists protesting the Catalonia separatist movement. As Martin Walker’s To Kill a Troubadour opens, controversy swirls around “Song for Catalonia,” a wildly popular song that, because of its tacit support for the separatists, has recently been banned by the Spanish government. Les Troubadours, the music group that popularized the song, are gearing up for a free concert in Périgord that promises to be the best-attended event of the summer. Meanwhile, Spanish nationalist extremists have been observed crossing the border into France, intent on inflicting mayhem—or worse—on the assembled music lovers who have given voice to the separatist movement. Then a bullet is found in the wreckage of a recently stolen car, a bullet designed for a high-powered sniper rifle that can kill from several kilometers away. Bruno fears snipers will set their crosshairs on the crowd, on the band or on the songwriter, who openly sympathizes with the Catalonia movement, but the real scheme is much, much worse. But do not fear—despite the tenser-than-usual plot, all of Walker’s fan-favorite characters are present and accounted for, as well as all of Bruno’s treasured pastimes: sports competitions, gourmet cooking and, of course, his engaging basset hound, Balzac.

★ The Shadow Lily

Swedish author Johanna Mo returns with The Shadow Lily, the suspense-laden second book in her series featuring police detective Hanna Duncker, who, after years of working in Stockholm’s urban center, has returned to her small island homeland of Öland. Both Hanna and the other islanders have mixed feelings about her return, as her father was convicted of one of the most brutal murders the community has ever seen. In her latest case, Hanna is tasked with locating a missing man and his infant son, knowing that as the hours tick by, the chances of finding them alive grow smaller and smaller. Mo employs alternating perspectives to great effect, using them to deepen the reader’s understanding of the events and the characters involved. One arc covers the final day of a character who is killed off relatively early in the narrative; in the second, we observe the day-to-day police procedural; in the third, Mo reveals the backstory of the victim from the first arc and the decisions that led to his untimely end. But most compelling of all, The Shadow Lily sheds further light on what drove Hanna back home: the visceral need to know the whole story about her father.

Death Doesn’t Forget

Jing-nan, a dumpling stall operator in a Taipei night market, is not your typical food dude. He is a tech-savvy social media influencer, a born marketer—and an inadvertent sleuth. While Jing-nan is cursed with nefarious family members and cronies, Death Doesn’t Forget starts out with some good fortune: Jing-nan’s girlfriend’s mother, Siu-lien, wins half of a sizable lottery, which she must share with her ne’er-do-well boyfriend. But by the very next day, the good fortune has all dried up. The boyfriend has been killed, the winnings are in the wind and Jing-nan is on the hook for finding, if not the murderer, at least the missing money. Complicating matters further is the fact that Jing-nan’s girlfriend, Nancy, wants to get married. Barring that, she wants a proposal that she can consider, so that “the egg timer would be set . . . a countdown to either getting married or breaking up for good.” Siu-lien looks on this union with disfavor, but successfully returning her money would go a long way toward warming her chill toward Jing-nan. Author Ed Lin recounts all this cultural and familial interplay with good humor, peppering the text with Taiwanese bromides both old and new. (My favorite is this gem regarding prison terms: “Sentences handed down were longer than the gaps between Ang Lee films.”) With its great suspense and plot development, Death Doesn’t Forget is good fun all-round.

★ The Murder Book

Mark Billingham’s Detective Inspector Tom Thorne books are consistently excellent, but his 18th entry in the popular series, The Murder Book, raises the bar considerably. In a twist that will thrill longtime fans of the series, arch villain Stuart Nicklin, described as “the most dangerous psychopath [Thorne] has ever put behind bars,” is back for a return engagement. This time, Nicklin is serving as Svengali for Rebecca Driver, a female serial killer who mutilates her victims a la the dictates of the three wise monkeys: see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. For bonus points, she even honors a fourth monkey that is sometimes included in the traditional crew, along with the maxim “Do no evil.” (I will leave the details of Rebecca’s gruesome methodology to your imagination.) Nicklin’s own bad deeds were well chronicled in Thorne’s 12th adventure, The Bones Beneath, and suffice it to say that the intervening years have done nothing to mellow his penchant for brutality. Thorne turns to the ubiquitous British camera surveillance system to bring Rebecca to justice, but as Billingham takes pains to point out, surveillance cameras can be employed with devastating results on either side of the thin blue line. How, exactly? Thorne, and the reader, will soon find out.

This month's cleverest whodunits feature idiosyncratic, complicated gumshoes.
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The Hidden One

Lapsed Amish police chief Kate Burkholder returns in The Hidden One, the 14th entry in Linda Castillo’s popular series. This time, church elders call on Kate after the police unexpectedly make an arrest in a high-profile murder case that dates back more than a decade. It’s a little outside Kate’s bailiwick, but special circumstances apply: The suspect is Jonas Bowman, her first-ever boyfriend. He’s accused of killing Amish bishop Ananias Stoltzfus, whose remains have been unearthed in a recently cleared field. The murder weapon, an antique rifle found buried alongside the deceased, belonged to Jonas, a fact he freely admits while maintaining he had nothing to do with the crime. Kate’s nosing around brings to light some disturbing information about Ananias, suggesting that he had not been the upright individual one might have expected a bishop to be. And thus the suspect list lengthens, and then lengthens some more, as stories surface about Ananias’ malicious actions toward some of his parishioners. With great suspense, well-drawn characters and a totally unexpected ending, The Hidden One is a standout installment in a rightfully beloved series.

Vera Kelly: Lost and Found

The titular character in Rosalie Knecht’s Vera Kelly: Lost and Found is a PI (and ex-CIA operative) who lives with her girlfriend, Max, in Brooklyn in the early 1970s. When Max’s wealthy parents summon her to their home in Los Angeles, Vera joins her for moral support, although Max’s homophobic family would more likely refer to it as immoral support. Max disappears the next morning, and her parents’ cluelessness about what could have happened to her seems highly suspect to Vera. Seeing as she’s already persona non grata, Vera liberates Max’s Avanti sports car from the garage and sets off in search of her missing lover. And then, as they say, hijinks ensue. In addition to providing a fascinating and spot-on look at the LA of the 1970s and the lifestyles of the wealthy, entitled and dysfunctional, Vera Kelly: Lost and Found also contains my favorite line of the month: “To my surprise, I saw she was trying not to cry. It was like watching watercolor wick through paper.”

Hatchet Island

Paul Doiron returns with Hatchet Island, a new adventure featuring Maine game warden investigator Mike Bowditch. As the tale opens, Mike and his girlfriend, Stacey Stevens, are en route by kayak to Baker Island, home of the Maine Seabird Initiative, a project to restore puffin habitats and protect endangered avian species. It seems that the project manager, an irascible woman named Maeve McLeary, has gone missing, perhaps because of her anti-lobster fishing activism and the threats that followed. Three other researchers share the island with Maeve. In the following days, two of them are murdered and the third, Garrett Meadows, disappears. It is unclear whether Garett is another victim or the perpetrator, and the fact that he is the lone Black man in the lily-white community does not improve his prospects for vindication. Doiron paints a complex portrait of coastal Maine, where residents are caught up in uneasy alliances and squabbles among the townsfolk, the fishing community, eco-activists and the wealthy summer residents. It is a comparatively rare thing for tensions to rise to murderous levels, but when they do, it is a mighty fine thing to have a Mike Bowditch on hand to sort things out. Fans of C.J. Box’s Joe Pickett mysteries will particularly enjoy this gripping tale. 

Little Sister

Detective Chief Inspector Jonah Sheens has just settled in for a pint of lager in the garden of the Spreading Oak pub when a teenage girl covered in blood emerges from the trellised gateway adjacent to the road. Concerned, he asks if she needs some help. She replies, “I don’t. But maybe Nina does.” When queried as to Nina’s current whereabouts, the girl replies enigmatically, “Oh, I’m not going to tell you yet, detective. That would be too easy.” And thus begins Gytha Lodge’s Little Sister, a cat-and-mouse game between the seasoned DCI and the girl, Keely, while the life of Nina, her younger sister, may hang in the balance. The story unfolds at a tantalizing and deliberate pace, especially in the first-person chapters from Keely’s perspective that detail years of abuse in the English foster care system. Jonah and his team begin to notice small discrepancies in Keely’s narrative that they take for clues, despite worrying that these breadcrumbs might just be clever manipulations on her part. And the clock ticks on. . . . Despite its borderline improbable premise, Little Sister is suspenseful to the nth degree as Lodge raises the bar for twists and turns to lofty nosebleed heights and saves a deliciously diabolical surprise for the very end. 

A PI searches for her missing girlfriend in 1970s California and an Amish bishop has some dark secrets in this month's Whodunit column.

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