Get lost in a sensational German thriller, an Agatha Christie-esque historical mystery and more in October's best mysteries.
The Orphan’s Guilt
John Rust, by all accounts an amiable lush, has just been stopped (yet again) for erratic driving. This could be the ticket that costs him his driver’s license, so he hires a shrewd defense attorney. The defense is centered on extenuating circumstances, in that the defendant’s brother, who never recovered from a brain injury suffered in childhood, has just died. Rust was his brother’s only caregiver and, save for his battle with the bottle, is considered to be a saint by all who know him. The defense of a DUI might not seem like the sort of storyline that would engage a reader for several hundred pages. No worries on that count, though, because Archer Mayor’s The Orphan’s Guilt, the 31st installment in the popular series featuring Vermont homicide investigator Joe Gunther, explodes into an investigation of a decades-old corporate scam in which millions of dollars disappeared; the unearthing of a cold case of child abuse with modern-day ramifications; and a murder or two for good measure. All avid mystery readers know the old adage “follow the money.” You’ll need to be on your toes to follow the money this time, and what it leads to is downright lethal.
A Pretty Deceit
Anna Lee Huber’s fourth mystery featuring intrepid English intelligence agent Verity Kent, A Pretty Deceit, opens near a World War I battlefield in Bailleul, France. Still numb from the news of her husband’s death in combat, Verity delivers a message to a field commander and, moments later, the command post is hit by a mortar shell and blown to bits. In the next scene, she is blithely motoring in the Wiltshire countryside a year and a half later, riding shotgun in a new Pierce Arrow roadster expertly driven by her husband. Wait a minute. Um, didn’t he die? Turns out not; communications were not always accurate in those times, and thanks to that, Verity has a new lease on life. Her contentment will not last long, though. While visiting a titled auntie who has fallen on postwar hard times, Verity finds herself on hand for the immediate aftermath of what may be a homicide on the estate grounds. Combine that with priceless heirlooms gone missing, a disappeared staff and a ghost sighting or two, and you have the makings of a historical mystery to delight fans of Agatha Christie or Daphne du Maurier.
Back Bay Blues
The first time readers met Andy Roark, in Peter Colt’s 1982-set noir thriller The Off-Islander, he was a cop. Not anymore. He is also no longer a soldier deployed to Vietnam, although he carries strong influences from both professions into his new gig as a private investigator. Three years have gone by since the events chronicled in The Off-Islander, and now Andy returns for his sophomore appearance in Back Bay Blues. Despite the passage of time, his connection to Vietnam has only grown stronger. He has befriended Vietnamese refugees in Boston who fled their country by sea after the fall of the South Vietnamese government. So it is natural for him to enter into the investigation of the murder of a Vietnamese journalist, Hieu, whose death has been dismissed by police as a mugging gone wrong. But Hieu’s associates strongly suspect that he was on the verge of exposing the criminal leanings of the powerful anti-Communist group known simply as the Committee, a move that is not (and in Hieu’s case, was not) conducive to long life. As Andy becomes more and more drawn into the case, he demonstrates to both himself and the reader that although you can take the man out of Vietnam, you cannot take Vietnam out of the man.
★ Dear Child
Fourteen years ago, Munich college student Lena Beck disappeared. Now she has apparently been found, having escaped the newly deceased madman who kept her under lock and key in a remote cabin along the Czech border. When her overjoyed father meets her at the hospital, however, he is shocked to discover that this woman is not his Lena. The woman’s young daughter who escaped the woods with her, however, is a dead ringer for Lena, and a hastily administered DNA test confirms that the child is indeed Lena’s daughter. So what happened to Lena? The investigation in Romy Hausmann’s debut thriller, Dear Child, which is already a sensation in her native Germany, moves along in fits and starts, jumping between the perspectives of the young girl, Hannah; the grieving father, Matthias; and the mysterious woman called Lena, who is not the Lena of happy endings, at least not for the Beck family. And the one person who could tie up these disparate and conflicting narratives is, well, dead on the cabin’s living room floor, his head bashed in by a snow globe. I didn’t even try to figure out whodunit. I just kept turning pages, wondering what the hell was going to happen until I had finished the book in one sitting, in the small-numbered hours of the late night.