The globe-hopping mysteries and thrillers in this month's Whodunit column offer an international array of intrigue.
The Girl in the Mirror
Every time I read a mystery novel about twins, my mind goes right to the trope of one of them posing as the other for nefarious purposes. Let’s address that notion right here at the beginning: In Rose Carlyle’s The Girl in the Mirror, that’s gonna happen, but not how you think. When wealthy Aussie businessman Ridge Carmichael dies, his will features a strange stipulation. His $100 million fortune will go to the first of his six children to bring a grandchild into the world. He is amenable to a female child, as long as she retains the Carmichael name on her birth certificate. Two of Ridge’s kids are too young to be meaningful competition for the prize, and a third has no interest in the money. But the race is on between the other three, although good luck getting any of them to cop to it. Two of them, Iris and Summer, are twins. One of them is going to get pregnant. One of them is going to die. One of them is going to assume the other one’s identity, with some disastrous results. And one of them is going to surprise the hell out of you at the end of the book. Good luck figuring out which one. . . .
Murder in Old Bombay
Based on a true incident, at the time declared to be “the crime of the century,” Nev March’s Murder in Old Bombay is a tale of intrigue, duplicity and, as the title suggests, murder. In 1892, the mystery of the clock tower deaths (sounds like a Nancy Drew title, doesn’t it?) is the stuff of headline news worldwide. Two girls from a good family fall from the Rajabai Clock Tower at Bombay University. Initially, suicide is widely rumored, but then a young Indian man is arrested for murder, tried and speedily acquitted in what many people feel was a sham trial and a gross miscarriage of justice. The official government report ultimately lists the cause of death as accident or suicide. Enter Anglo-Indian army captain James Agnihotri, who offers his investigative services to the grieving family and has a nose for truth not unlike that of his hero, Sherlock Holmes. First-time author March deftly uses James’ biracial background to depict the societal structure of India during the British Raj and, by extrapolation, to indict other societies in which race and caste are sources of discrimination.
The Witch Hunter
Finnish author Max Seeck’s debut novel, The Witch Hunter, provides further proof that some of the best contemporary mysteries come from Europe’s frozen north. The book’s protagonist, author Roger Koponen, has made his mark with a trilogy of tales about modern-day witches. During a meet-and-greet at a local bookstore on the other side of the country from his Helsinki home, an audience member poses an unsettling question: “Are you afraid of what you write?” If Roger is not now, he is about to be, as the murders begin to pile up, each one mirroring a scene in the Witch trilogy. It falls to Helsinki cop Jessica Niemi to investigate the first murder, that of Roger’s wife, whose face was sewn into a demonic, deathly grin with well-concealed fine thread. Jessica has demons of her own to deal with as well, some of which are revealed in a flashback parallel narrative in which she embarks on a dangerous affair with an Italian violinist in Venice. (Trust me, I will not be the only one to equate violins and violence before said flashback reaches its flashpoint.) Atmospheric to the max, the gray skies and snowy city streets of Seeck’s Helsinki would be enough to give you the shivers on their own, but the killer (or killers) at play here are the stuff of nightmares.
★ The Dirty South
When haunted former NYPD detective Charlie Parker first hangs out his shingle as a private investigator, he has only one client: himself. He’s determined to find the killer of his beloved wife and daughter and bring that person to justice of one sort or another, and reports of a similar string of murders lead him to rural Burdon County, Arkansas. The Dirty South is a prequel to John Connolly’s supernatural noir series, and in it a raw, brash, 20-years-younger version of Parker moves through unfamiliar territory, his progress mired at every turn by forces of good and evil alike. Parker realizes “the fix is in” when a young woman’s death is ruled accidental, despite the presence of some rather graphic evidence to the contrary. A huge business is looking to put down roots locally, and any suggestion of a murder in the vicinity might be enough to cause them to pull out of negotiations. There are powerful locals who will go to whatever lengths necessary to prevent that from happening—if needed, much further than simply falsifying cause-of-death reports. Despite its mystical elements, the Charlie Parker series is still more James Lee Burke than Stephen King. No vampires or zombies populate these pages, but the ghosts of restless spirits, residing for a time in the minds of the living, hovering in the corners of Parker’s eyes, most certainly do.