STARRED REVIEW
October 15, 2019

Slapstick suspense

STARRED REVIEW
October 15, 2019

Slapstick suspense

October 15, 2019

Slapstick suspense

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For readers in the mood for murder and mayhem with a light touch come two laugh-out-loud mysteries from Lynne Truss and Susan Isaacs.

In the first entry of Truss’ mystery series, 2018’s A Shot in the Dark, the year was 1957, and 22-year-old Constable Twitten, an upper-crust know-it-all whose father was a famous criminal psychologist, had just joined the Brighton police force. His arrival came not a moment too soon, as his boss, Inspector Steine, and senior officer Sergeant Brunswick had (through their sheer blundering obliviousness) nurtured a thriving community of thieves, murderers and con men in Brighton. The majority of these lawbreakers report to the police station’s charlady, Mrs. Groynes, who leads a double life as the mastermind of Brighton’s seething criminal element—but only Twitten knows the truth about their Cockney compatriot.

When The Man That Got Away begins, Twitten is reading Noblesse Oblige by Nancy Mitford, a real book that addressed vocabulary differences between English social classes, albeit in a somewhat satirical way. The bestseller becomes a running motif of the novel: “It’s been quite controversial,” Twitten tells Inspector Steine, who has clearly not personally caught a whiff of the controversy. “And I’m sure the whole field of socio-linguistics has practical applications for policework, you see, but people keep getting annoyed when I talk about it, so I should probably bally well belt up about it, sir.”

When a bright young civil servant, Peter Dupont, has his throat slit in broad daylight, Constable Twitten launches an investigation, despite Inspector Steine’s boneheaded insistence that Peter died by suicide. Mrs. Groynes claims she can help—but can straight arrow Twitten bring himself to partner with a cold-blooded criminal, no matter how nice her cakes and cuppas are?

Truss expertly mines this slapstick absurdity for maximum amusement. When a couple of “Brighton Belles” encounter a strange old man on the pier trying to pass himself off as nobility-in-exile and trying to fence gold bricks for 25 pounds apiece, “the two women exchanged glances. They’d been warned about con men, but they’d somehow imagined that a con man would be a little bit harder to spot.” At one point, Mrs. Groynes absent-mindedly reveals a familiarity with the criminal underworld no charlady should have, and “Twitten watched as the ghost of a question crossed Brunswick’s face, but (as usual) didn’t settle.”

The Man That Got Away is a dark, screwball crime novel in the vein of the 1955 British film The Ladykillers that will also appeal to fans of Truss’ runaway bestselling grammar guide, Eats, Shoots & Leaves—as well as Anglophiles in general. Chock full of clues, criss-crossing subplots and wry dialogue, Truss’ latest is a pleasure from start to finish.

The inimitable Susan Isaacs, master of sardonically witty observation and genre-bending suspense, is back with Takes One to Know One, her first standalone novel since 2012. Thirty-five-year-old FBI agent Corie Geller has traded in her badge for the chi-chi enclave of Shorehaven, Long Island: “When I married Joshua Geller and adopted Eliza a year later, I had such a bubbly version of suburban life. Ah, normality! I pictured a racially and ethnically diverse group of friends holding Starbucks cups, dressed like a Ralph Lauren ad, each demanding to know if I thought Naguib Mahfouz deserved to win the Nobel Prize.”

Josh and Eliza provide the cozy stability that Corie has always craved, and life as an agent was never really part of her plan anyway. After 9/11, Corie ended up being using her degree in Arabic to follow her dad into law enforcement in the counterterrorism division of the FBI. But when Corie becomes a mom and moves to the ’burbs, leaving the bureau for a job “on the outskirts of publishing”—reading Arabic-language novels and evaluating them for potential translation—feels like a natural end point for her first career. “There was nothing more I thought I wanted than what Josh offered,” Corie observes. She’s happy enough to let new acquaintances assume she has always worked in publishing rather than voluntarily share details of her former career.

But Corie realizes she misses her life as a special agent when her past beckons from the strangest of places—her weekly lunch meet-up of freelancers, none of whom know the truth about Corie’s professional past. Pete Delaney, a freelance packaging designer, captures her attention by sitting in the same spot at lunch every week and keeping a watchful eye on the parking lot. Yet aside from this quirk, “truly, the only intriguing aspect of Pete—a guy so careful, so predictable—was that he was so nothing. His friendly neighbor shtick felt like an add-on, as if he recognized that he, too, needed some gear to tote around.” The FBI academy trained Corie not to ignore her gut—and her gut ends up leading her into a possibly hair-brained investigation that ensnares her retired cop dad, her college best friend and her former lover—but leaves her husband completely in the dark.

With shades of Agatha Christie and “Law & Order,” blended with the high drama of a conventional suspense thriller and a generous portion of Isaacs’ signature wry and brainy observational humor, Takes One to Know One will be catnip to longtime Isaacs fans and new readers alike.

Get the Books

The Man That Got Away

The Man That Got Away

By Lynne Truss
Bloomsbury
ISBN 9781635570731
Takes One to Know One

Takes One to Know One

By Susan Isaacs
Atlantic Monthly
ISBN 9780802147554

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