Bruce Tierney

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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

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.

WAKE

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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★ Rock of Ages

Junior Bender, burglar by profession but crime solver by avocation, doesn’t get much of a chance to pursue his ostensible career in Timothy Hallinan’s wildly entertaining Los Angeles-set caper Rock of Ages. Junior’s sleuthing skills are requested by nonagenarian gangster Irwin Dressler, which in Junior’s world is akin to being summoned by God. Dressler has invested in a rock ’n’ roll revival tour, but now none of his co-investors, who are also criminals of note, are returning his calls. Sensing that he is about to get stiffed, Dressler hires Junior to ascertain whether his worries have merit and, if so, to stymie the efforts of his potentially larcenous partners. No salary is mentioned for the gig; it is a simple exchange of favors, with Dressler’s favor to Junior being Junior’s continued existence. Hallinan worked in the music industry for years before becoming an author, and his insider familiarity with the LA music scene shines through in Rock of Ages. Those of us who remember classic rock when it was just “rock” will be amused to recognize the real-life stars Hallinan’s fictional doppelgängers represent. As a special added attraction, Junior’s smart and sharp-tongued daughter, Rina, plays a more central role than previously in the series, and she is seemingly poised to follow in her dad’s furtive footsteps.

★ Last Call at the Nightingale

At first blush, Vivian Kelly, the protagonist of Katharine Schellman’s Prohibition-era mystery, Last Call at the Nightingale, displays little in the way of sleuthing credentials. By day, Vivian is a seamstress in what we would now consider a sweatshop, and by night she is a regular at the Nightingale, a Manhattan speakeasy of some note among Jazz Age cognoscenti. She dances, she flirts without gender bias, she drinks, and for a while each evening, she forgets about her daytime drudgery. But when Vivian stumbles upon a dead body in the alley behind the club, the speakeasy’s hitherto bon vivant ambiance begins to melt away, revealing something altogether more sinister. Vivian is hauled off to jail in a police raid that happens soon after she discovers the body, and Nightingale boss Honor Huxley puts up her bond. In return for this kindness, Vivian agrees to have a quiet look into the murder of the man in the alley. She discovers early on that she possesses quite a knack for investigating, though she is often oblivious to the dangerous ripples she’s causing. The well-developed supporting cast is diverse in race, gender and sexuality, and the suspense will keep readers guessing until the end.

★ Wild Prey

Wild Prey, the second book in Brian Klingborg’s series featuring Chinese police inspector Lu Fei, takes him from his home in the northeastern corner of China to the steamy wilds of Myanmar. The story starts with Tan Meirong, a doggedly persistent teenage girl who insists that her sister, Meixiang, has gone missing. Meixiang worked at a gangster-owned restaurant that provides rare foods for wealthy clients to gorge on, ostensibly for medicinal purposes. (People in China have long consumed parts of bears, rhinoceroses, tigers and more, often for use as aphrodisiacs.) Lu launches an investigation and soon comes around to his supplicant’s way of thinking: Something is clearly amiss. However, Lu excels at incurring the wrath of his superiors, and this time is no exception. He gets pulled off the case, then suspended. Soon afterward, he is quietly approached by a Beijing bureaucrat who asks him to spearhead an undercover operation targeting a wild-game preserve in Myanmar. The bureaucrat believes the preserve is central to the illegal exotic animal trade into China, so perhaps this investigation will help Lu find Meixiang as well. Klingborg nails the atmosphere of Myanmar—the longyi, the flip-flops, the works. Lu is well drawn, world-weary but not beaten, and he has markedly upped his game in this second adventure.

★ Razzmatazz

Christopher Moore’s latest novel, Razzmatazz, is the wild card of this group: It’s a mystery, to be sure, but one with snippets of folklore, science fiction and the supernatural, all blended with the author’s legendary irreverent humor. For example, very few noir novels have ever begun with a tongue-in-cheek minihistory of China’s Qing dynasty. (“The sky is black with the smoke of burning villages, and it is widely agreed throughout China that the soup of the day is Cream of Sadness.”) Also, to my recollection, zero noir novels have ever featured a dragon that wasn’t just a tattoo. As this sequel to 2018’s Noir opens in 1947 San Francisco, bartender and “fixer” Sammy Tiffin has been tasked with a couple of jobs: 1) tracking down the killer of Natalie Melanoff, aka Butch, a bouncer at a lesbian nightclub who was found floating faceup in San Francisco Bay; and 2) locating a mysterious dragon statuette that went missing some 40 years prior and is now an object of keen interest to the Chinese criminal underworld. Much of the story centers on Jimmy’s Joynt, the club where Butch worked, which is a relative oasis of joy in an era not noted for its acceptance of LGBTQ people. Racism rears its ugly head as well, particularly toward the Chinese community that, then as now, constitutes a significant portion of the population in the City by the Bay. Moore provides a warning in the preface about the period-correct dialogue, noting that “the language and attitudes portrayed herein regarding race, culture, and gender are contemporary to that time, and sadly, all too real.” Be warned, but know that Moore and his merry band of miscreants are firmly on the right side of history—and they will make you laugh until it hurts.

Let loose at a rock 'n' roll tour or a fabulous nightclub—just try not to get murdered. Plus, Brian Klingborg ups his game with his second Inspector Lu Fei mystery.
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The Wild Life

Joe Brody, aka “The Bouncer,” actually holds a more important position in the New York Mafia than that title might suggest: He serves as the in-house “sheriff” for an organization not exactly noted for enlisting the aid of conventional law enforcement. Indeed, Joe even wears a sheriff’s badge, though not the bronze sort that gets pinned to an elected official’s khaki shirt pocket. His is tattooed on his chest, a lifetime appointment, albeit one with perhaps a shorter life expectancy than his counterparts on the other side of the blue line. In David Gordon’s The Wild Life, Joe goes in search of some missing sex workers. Their profession may be known for its high turnover, but this time it’s more troubling: The women have disappeared without a trace, leaving behind their passports and savings. High on the suspect list are Jim Hackney, a well-connected property developer with a history of employing prostitutes, and his namesake son, a daddy’s boy with a penchant for big-game hunting. Joe’s smart-aleck attitude quickly gets him crosswise with the pair, and the situation deteriorates rapidly. Complicating matters is Joe’s budding romance with FBI agent Donna Zamora, a situation that must be kept secret from both their employers—which is not easy when they are investigating the same case from opposing perspectives. I must admit to being partial to mysteries in which one of the protagonists works within the framework of the law and the other suffers no such constraints. I usually find myself more drawn to the outlaw of the pair, especially if they’re as gritty and funny as Joe Brody.

Overboard

At the beginning of Overboard, Sara Paretsky’s 22nd V.I. Warshawski novel, the Chicago PI has just lost control of her two large dogs while walking them alongside Lake Michigan. Scuttling down some treacherous rocks in pursuit of the disobedient doggies, V.I. is horrified to find a battered teenage girl barely clinging to life. At the hospital, the victim’s vital signs are stabilized, but she has no identification and seems unable or unwilling to converse in any language. It is clear that she is terrified of something or someone, and she escapes from the hospital at her first opportunity. As V.I. looks into the case of the missing girl—pro bono, which she can ill afford—disturbing connections come to light in relation to some questionable legal shenanigans involving a synagogue and a prime piece of Chicago waterfront property. And then the murders begin. The COVID-19 pandemic plays a key role in the story’s backdrop, something we will certainly see more and more often in literature as the pandemic wears on. V.I., who narrates in the first person, has some strong left-leaning feelings on how the crisis has been handled in America, but they never detract from Paretsky’s compelling, fast-paced and original mystery.

The Dark Flood

South African writer Deon Meyer returns with The Dark Flood, the seventh installment of his series featuring Cape Town police detective Benny Griessel. Griessel, a confirmed disobeyer of orders from above, is once again in the soup. The commissioner wants to see Griessel sacked, but cooler heads prevail, and he is instead demoted and reassigned to a suburban outpost where nothing much happens. Well, nothing much until Griessel arrives, and then—as has been known to happen before—all hell breaks loose. First, a college honor student goes missing, and then there’s the disappearance of a businessman who allegedly engineered an economy-toppling scheme, but the forensic accountants have yet to sufficiently untangle the multilayered mess. In a parallel storyline, we follow the financial woes of Sandra Steenberg, a young real estate agent who has fallen behind on her mortgage, her car payments and the tuition for her young daughter’s school. Sandra needs some quick cash, and she is willing to bend a few rules to facilitate that end, even if it means covering up an unexpected death. As with the previous entries in the series, The Dark Flood is a character-driven novel, and Griessel’s history of alcoholism is one of the main characters (albeit one without a speaking role). Larceny abounds, and in at least a couple of the cases, readers will almost hope that the perps get away with it. Even the book’s villains are laden with backstory, and it is borderline impossible to avoid feeling some level of sympathy for one and all. Fans of Jo Nesbø’s similarly character-driven Harry Hole mysteries will find lots to like here.

Geiger

Gustaf Skördeman’s debut novel, Geiger, is a first-class story of the modern-day repercussions of Cold War espionage—not the first thing you’d expect from a thriller set in Sweden, which was a decidedly neutral country for most of that conflict. The story centers on the murder of a retired TV personality, Uncle Stellan, who was at one time the Johnny Carson of Sweden, beloved by adults and children alike. The book is not a whodunit in the true sense of the word, as we know who the killer is from the moment the bullet exits the gun. What we don’t know is the reason Agneta, Stellan’s wife of 50-odd years, chose to kill him after answering the phone and hearing a one-word message: “Geiger.” Detective Inspector Anna Torhall has been assigned to the case, and she brings Officer Sara Nowak on board since Sara has known Uncle Stellan’s family since she was a child. The two friends attended police academy together, and they value each other’s insights, at least to a point. Sara and Anna initially presume Agneta was either abducted by the killers or perhaps dead herself, and for quite some time, nobody even floats the notion that she might be the murderer. But as their investigation wears on, some disturbing connections to Communist East Germany come to light—connections that may lay the groundwork for an act of terrorism that would make 9/11 pale by comparison. Geiger is a truly excellent first novel: deeply researched, painstakingly crafted and thrilling on every page.

This month’s top pick in mystery, Gustaf Skördeman’s debut novel, Geiger, has a beginning you’ll never forget: A woman shoots her husband of 50 years after hearing the titular word on a mysterious phone call.
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The Echo Man

The only thing in this line of work that gives me more pleasure than reading a killer debut novel is reading a serial killer debut novel. The serial killer in Sam Holland’s The Echo Man tallies up an impressive body count, handily surpassing the known body count of any real-life serial killer in the U.K. Detective Chief Inspector Cara Elliott and Detective Sergeant Noah Deakin are investigating a series of murders, deaths they eventually realize are all evocative of different serial killers from history. Meanwhile, suspended cop Nate Griffin spends his downtime ferreting out his wife’s murderer, the same unauthorized inquiry that got him suspended in the first place. After joining forces with fugitive murder suspect Jessica Ambrose, Nate essentially throws the rulebook out the window. They’re a rather formidable pair, unfettered by the constraints of on-duty police officers. As the tension mounts, Holland poses a creative and frightening question: When and how will the killer stop being a copycat and deliver his coup de mort, the deathblow that will cement his legacy in the annals of murder?

Fierce Poison

In Victorian London, one fictional detective stands out from the others: Sherlock Holmes. But author Will Thomas gives a convincing account of why attention should be paid to two others, Cyrus Barker and Thomas Llewelyn, whose 13th adventure plays out in Fierce Poison. It starts off dramatically, when a rather unwell-looking man named Roland Fitzhugh enters their office, promptly slumps to the floor, implores, “Help me,” and then dies before their eyes. Senior partner Barker feels honor bound to investigate, especially after it is revealed that his new (-ly deceased) client was a member of Parliament. This is but the beginning of a rash of poisonings that terrorize the citizenry of England’s capital city: first, a young boy selling sweets outdoors, followed by his entire family, save for an infant girl. Then the poisonings get closer to home, targeting the two detectives themselves. On the suspect list are a gardener who maintains a plot of lethal plants, an herbalist well versed in the preparation of illicit potions and any number of people who disliked Fitzhugh, both in his political career and in his former life as a barrister. Narrated in the first person by Llewelyn, who serves as smart-alecky Archie Goodwin to Barker’s Nero Wolfe, Fierce Poison is cleverly told with humorous asides, period particulars and all the requisite red herrings.

Give Unto Others

The COVID-19 pandemic hovers in the background of Donna Leon’s latest installment of the Commissario Guido Brunetti series, Give Unto Others. Tourism is down, crime is down and a kind of malaise seems to have settled over the city of Venice. So when an old acquaintance approaches Brunetti to look into a worrisome family matter, Brunetti accepts, albeit not without reservations. The concern is centered around Enrico Fenzo, an accountant who has been acting strangely of late. When confronted by his wife, he alludes to a “dangerous” situation and declines to say more. As Brunetti launches his clandestine inquiry into the situation, it appears that perhaps he is ruffling some feathers: A break-in takes place at the veterinary clinic run by the accountant’s wife, and one of the dogs lodging there is badly mauled, perhaps as a warning against further investigation into the accountant’s potentially illegal affairs. As is the case with most of the other 30 Brunetti novels that precede it, Give Unto Others is a largely character- and milieu-driven novel. There is a central mystery, to be sure, but the characters and their evolving relationships are the driving force of the series as it explores Venice, its history, its culture and, of course, its crime. 

★ The Sacred Bridge

I was a big fan of Tony Hillerman’s Leaphorn/Chee series, so I approached Spider Woman’s Daughter, Anne Hillerman’s first book in the continuation of the series, with a bit of trepidation. Turns out, I needn’t have worried; Anne Hillerman so adeptly channeled her father’s narrative voice that 20 pages in, I had completely forgotten it was not a Tony Hillerman book. She also brought positive changes to the series, giving Jim Chee’s wife, police officer Bernie Manuelito, and Joe Leaphorn’s inamorata, anthropologist Louisa Bourebonette, larger roles in the story. In Hillerman’s latest installment, The Sacred Bridge, Leaphorn’s role is tangential but critical: He sends Chee in search of a lost cave chock-full of artifacts, but before Chee can locate it, he spots a dead body floating facedown in a lake. When the autopsy suggests foul play, Chee is called in to assist. Meanwhile, Bernie pursues a separate line of inquiry into a hemp processing plant on Navajo Nation land after witnessing a deliberate hit-and-run that killed a plant employee. Once again, Hillerman nails her father’s style, fleshes out the female characters and brings the Southwest to life on the printed page.

Two wickedly clever serial killers are at large in this month’s Whodunit column.
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★ Shadows Reel

I have been a fan of C.J. Box’s Joe Pickett mysteries since the outset of the series. The 22nd offering, Shadows Reel, narrows in on Pickett’s pal, outlaw falconer Nate Romanowski, as he hunts down the thieves who killed some of his prized raptors and stole the rest of them. Romanowski is a sidekick in the mold of Spenser’s Hawk or Elvis Cole’s Joe Pike: hardboiled, loyal to a fault and probably tougher than the nominal hero of the tale. That said, Romanowski’s quarry is easily as well trained as he, and younger and stronger to boot, which is a potentially lethal combination for the aging warrior. Meanwhile, a Nazi relic creates quite a buzz in the town of Saddlestring, Wyoming—especially after its owner, a crusty old fishing guide, gets murdered most gruesomely. It will not be the last relic-related murder, as the killer has instructions to let nothing stand in his way, and he takes these instructions very literally. A recurring theme in these books is Pickett’s struggle with his deep-seated “cowboy code” morality, which is juxtaposed against the often frustrating legalities of the situations he comes up against. This time out, that conflict will give Pickett’s conscience a world-class workout. 

★ The Harbor

Katrine Engberg’s third mystery featuring Copenhagen cops Anette Werner and Jeppe Kørner perfectly balances a mysterious disappearance with the no less intriguing domestic concerns of its two investigators. At the start of The Harbor, Oscar Dreyer-Hoff, the teenage son of a wealthy family, has gone missing, perhaps kidnapped, and clues are thin on the ground. The family boat is missing, and Oscar’s backpack has turned up near the vessel’s harbor mooring. His girlfriend says she has no idea where he is and in general acts very unconcerned about the whole thing. Some time back, scandal rocked the Dreyer-Hoff family, triggering some threatening letters that must be reconsidered in light of Oscar’s disappearance. In the background, home life in the Werner and Kørner households has become less than optimal. Anette is considering an affair with a person of interest in the case, and Jeppe struggles to balance the demands of work and his new lover, whose children are none too happy about their mom’s beau. Engberg is a must read for fans of Nordic noir, and two more books starring Anette and Jeppe will soon be translated into English.

★ Girl in Ice

Erica Ferencik’s Girl in Ice is an excellent, thrilling mystery set against a quasi-science fiction backdrop. Linguist Valerie “Val” Chesterfield has accepted an unusual assignment: She’s traveling to Greenland to meet a girl rescued from an ice field who initially appeared to have frozen to death but has somehow survived. The girl speaks no known language, and Chesterfield is one of only a few scholars with sufficient knowledge of archaic Northern European languages to try and communicate with her. But there is a more pressing connection for Val: Her twin brother, Andy, died at the same Arctic outpost not so long ago, and try as she might, she cannot make any sense of his death. The novel veers into speculative territory as Wyatt, the team leader, begins to entertain the idea that the girl is not a recent freezing victim but rather is from another epoch entirely, having been cryogenically preserved using technology lost to the ages. With its fascinating science and compelling characters (one or more of whom may be a murderer), Girl in Ice demands to be read in one sitting.

★ The Berlin Exchange

It’s rare for an espionage novel’s protagonist to be a traitor, but author Joseph Kanon quite successfully breaks that unwritten rule in his 10th novel, The Berlin Exchange. As a physicist on the controversial Manhattan Project, the U.S. military program that introduced the world to atomic warfare, Martin Keller was privy to top-secret design and implementation information. Motivated by dubious idealism, Keller shared some intelligence with the opposing team and received a lengthy sentence when his subterfuge was found out. Fast forward to 1963: A prisoner exchange has been arranged, and Keller finds himself set free in East Berlin. It is a freedom that is fraught with terror from the get-go. As he passes the checkpoint, he narrowly escapes being killed by a sniper, and it will take all the resources at his disposal to stay one step ahead of whoever is trying to kill him in this chilly, elegant and consistently excellent espionage thriller.

It’s a great month for mysteries: All four of the books in our Whodunit column received a starred review!
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City of the Dead

Author Jonathan Kellerman published his first Alex Delaware mystery more than 35 years ago, but entries such as the stellar City of the Dead prove that this popular series has done anything but run out of steam. In the wee hours of the morning, in a tony neighborhood of Los Angeles, a naked man is struck headfirst by a moving van, rendering the now-corpse’s facial features totally unrecognizable. Meanwhile, a few doors down, a woman is found murdered in her bedroom. Veteran Los Angeles police homicide detective Milo Sturgis does not believe in coincidences, and as he is wont to do in these situations, he quickly solicits the aid of his longtime friend, forensic psychologist Alex Delaware. Alex is quite surprised to discover that he knew the murdered woman, Cordelia Gannett, a popular self-help influencer who once appeared as an expert witness in a court case Alex was involved in. Unfortunately for her, she was subsequently exposed as a charlatan who had created fake credentials in order to pose as a licensed psychologist. Despite this fraud, there is remarkably little evidence to suggest a motive for someone killing either Cordelia or the unknown man. This, of course, is where Alex steps in, probing the psychological profiles of everyone involved in the case, pulling on loose threads to see which ones might unravel and turning up damning evidence of previous murders in the process.

A Game of Fear

Charles Todd’s latest Ian Rutledge mystery, A Game of Fear, finds the intrepid Scotland Yard investigator chasing ghosts. This is fitting in a way, as Rutledge is no stranger to the otherworldly. The World War I veteran carries with him the “presence” of Corporal Hamish MacLeod, a man he was forced to execute for insubordination on the battlefield who now provides a snarky counterpoint to every one of Rutledge’s moods, reflections and decisions. An Essex noblewoman, Lady Benton, has claimed she witnessed a murder; the catch is, she has positively (-ish) identified the killer as someone who is already dead. In 1921 England, even an unlikely claim made by a member of nobility warrants at least a token investigation, so Rutledge is on the case. Another murder follows, seemingly unrelated save for proximity, and then there’s a too-convenient, evidence-erasing fire. The tension ratchets up when Rutledge himself bears witness to an event that seems to mirror Lady Benton’s apparition. Perhaps it’s a warning that he is getting too close for the comfort of resident evildoers, whichever side of the shadowy spectral divide they may inhabit. 

Marion Lane and the Deadly Rose

T.A. Willberg’s debut, Marion Lane and the Midnight Murder, generated a fair bit of buzz in literary circles and among mystery aficionados. Now she returns with the second volume in the series: Marion Lane and the Deadly Rose, named for “The Florist,” a serial killer who brands his victims with a rose. The aforementioned Marion is an apprentice at Miss Brickett’s Investigations & Inquiries, an underground (literally) and quite clandestine detective agency in 1959 London. In the grand tradition of English mysteries dating back to Sherlock Holmes, Miss Brickett’s serves as consultant to Scotland Yard when a case proves too baffling for the authorities’ plodding detective work. This time out, Marion is summoned to assist in bringing “The Florist” to justice. Marion Lane and the Deadly Rose’s central mystery is as strong as that of any traditional, beloved whodunit.  The book also features a cast of well-crafted characters, including a delightfully despicable villain, and a host of unexpected twists and misdirections. But the similarities to other mysteries end there, as Willberg takes readers on a wild, genre-bending ride with touches of steampunk, a dash of sci-fi tech wizardry and plenty of dry British humor. Willberg has noted in an interview that her first book was rejected numerous times for not fitting neatly into any category. I trust that the authors of those rejections have since sought more appropriate employment opportunities.

One Step Too Far

In my review of Lisa Gardner’s first Frankie Elkin novel, I opined, “Before She Disappeared is billed as a standalone, but I’m thinking it would be the perfect setup for a terrific series.” In revisiting that sentence, the only thing I would change is to replace the word setup with springboard. As good as the first book was, One Step Too Far is better in every regard, a tour-de-force in suspense and red herrings with a twist ending I did not even begin to anticipate. Frankie Elkin is a finder of lost persons. She does this on an ad hoc basis, for the satisfaction of doing some good but also to atone for some of the damage wrought in her 20s, when she was addicted to alcohol. Frankie, who has no fixed address, no car and no possessions to speak of, is a Jack Reacher-esque loner (minus the military connections and the musculature). This time, she joins a search party about to embark on their fifth expedition into the Wyoming wilderness to search for the remains of Tim O’Day, who went missing on a bachelor party camping trip, never to be seen again. Other members of the party include Tim’s father; his companions the night he went missing; a well-respected wilderness guide; a cadaver dog trainer and her golden retriever; and a noted—albeit thus far unsuccessful—Bigfoot hunter. Virtually all of them have secrets and underlying motives, as Frankie will find out, initially to her dismay and then to her peril.

Lisa Gardner outdoes herself, and a steampunk-influenced historical mystery blows our mystery columnist away.
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Find Me

Three women take center stage in Alafair Burke’s latest thriller, Find Me: NYPD detective Ellie Hatcher, attorney Lindsay Kelly and amnesiac Hope Miller, who remembers nothing of her life prior to a devastating car crash she survived 15 years ago—or so she says. Now, sans ID or history, Hope works under the radar for a real estate agent, getting paid under the table to stage houses for prospective buyers. Then, as often happens in novels about amnesiacs, a random aha! moment triggers a memory, and we’re off to the races. Hope disappears, blood is spilled and the DNA found at her last-known location matches that of unidentified blood found at an old crime scene halfway across the country. The crime in question is one of a spate of killings thought to be the work of a serial killer, and the case was supposedly solved 15 years ago. Lindsay, who has been Hope’s friend ever since her accident, begins to investigate her disappearance and eventually draws Ellie into the fray. Ellie’s father, who was also a cop, was assigned to the same serial killer case that’s somehow connected with Hope’s disappearance. The two women feverishly piece together the disparate parts of the story, and Burke’s masterful control over pacing and plot reveals will make readers just as anxious to uncover the truth. 

A Narrow Door

Joanne Harris’ darkly humorous and deliciously evil A Narrow Door is a quintessential and unputdownable English mystery. Rebecca Buckfast, headmistress of noted Yorkshire boarding school St. Oswald’s and one of the first-person narrators of this tale, is nothing if not straightforward. She recounts the steps she had to take to become the first female head of the school in its 500-year history. Rebecca doesn’t sugarcoat anything, including the two murders she committed (“one a crime of passion, the other, a crime of convenience”), and yet it is difficult not to respect her motivations and even like her. Sort of. Meanwhile, a parallel tale is offered up by St. Oswald’s teacher Roy Straitley, in the form of a diary that outlines the discovery of what appears to be human remains in a construction site on the school grounds. As Roy’s and Rebecca’s stories unfold, both of the narrators take satisfaction in the secrets they are hiding from each other—or, more precisely, the secrets they think they are successfully concealing. A Narrow Door is an exceptionally good novel, such a masterpiece of storytelling that when Rebecca likens herself to a modern-day Scheherazade, it doesn’t feel like hyperbole in the slightest.

Silent Parade

By all accounts, 19-year-old Saori Namiki was on track to become the next big thing in the world of J-pop music. And then, inexplicably, she vanished, and stayed missing until her remains were discovered three years later in a suburban Tokyo neighborhood. Another body is found at the same place: Yoshie Hasunuma, an unremarkable woman save for her stepson, Kanichi, who is widely believed to have skated away from a murder charge years ago and looks pretty good for this latest double homicide as well. In the same way that Scotland Yard Inspector Lestrade often sought the assistance of supersleuth Sherlock Holmes, Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department Chief Inspector Kusanagi regularly summons brainiac physicist Manabu Yukawa, known as Detective Galileo, to consult on particularly difficult homicides. Keigo Higashino’s Silent Parade showcases the fourth such pairing, and is in many ways the most intricate. Detective Galileo must reconsider his theory of the crime again and again, tweaking it repeatedly until he is more or less satisfied with his assessment. He is a very clever man, smart enough to stay a step or two ahead of the police department, the perpetrator (or perpetrators?) and the reader, and that is no mean feat.

BOX 88

The title of Charles Cumming’s latest espionage thriller, BOX 88, refers to a fictional clandestine ops organization that is jointly operated by the United States and the United Kingdom. BOX 88 does not possess a license to kill a la James Bond, but the management certainly utilizes a “license to look the other way” on occasions when wetwork is required. BOX 88 begins a series starring Scottish spy Lachlan Kite, who in this book must come to grips with a very cold case: the 1988 downing of PanAm Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. Close to half the narrative consists of flashbacks to immediately after the plane crash, when Lachlan was a green recruit. In the present day, Lachlan lets down his guard at the funeral of his old friend, with disastrous results. He is kidnapped by an urbane-seeming Iranian man who turns out to be anything but urbane when it comes to securing intelligence from a perceived enemy combatant. Worse yet, the kidnapper’s team has also captured Lachlan’s very pregnant wife. If torture will not get them what they want, perhaps threats to Lachlan’s family will do the trick. Despite his mistake at the funeral, Lachlan is a seasoned operative and, if anything, more dangerous to his captors than they are to him. Meanwhile, British intelligence agency MI5 is in hot pursuit, not to help Lachlan but rather to out him as an operative of a rogue agency. The suspense is palpable, the characters flawed but sympathetic in their own ways and the story gripping. In a month of really excellent reads, BOX 88 is a clear standout.

In a month overflowing with superb mysteries and thrillers, a deliciously evil boarding school-set thriller and a pitch-perfect espionage novel rise to the top.

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