It’s Sherlock Holmes versus Jack the Ripper—in World War II? Find out how in this month’s Whodunit column.
Lesson in Red
Maria Hummel’s Lesson in Red finds Los Angeles writer/editor Maggie Richter in Vermont, nursing her emotional wounds after the severely traumatic events chronicled in Hummel’s hit 2018 thriller, Still Lives. But Maggie is soon summoned back to LA to investigate some unsettling circumstances around the suicide of a talented young film student. Maggie has strong reservations about returning to the City of Angels, which has been anything but angelic for her. But on the other hand, it promises to be a well-paid gig, and it appeals to her innate inclination toward investigative journalism (with its inevitable attendant perils). Just as in Still Lives, Hummel tempers the intriguing investigation and glitzy depiction of the West Coast art world with a sobering examination of the roles of women in creative endeavors and the biases they must endure therein.
A Study in Crimson
When Universal Studios acquired the film rights to Sherlock Holmes in 1942, they changed the setting of the stories from the Victorian era to the then-present day. The 12 films starring Basil Rathbone as Holmes and Nigel Bruce as John Watson in World War II-era Britain serve as inspiration for Robert J. Harris’ A Study in Crimson. In 1942 London, the newspaper headlines are all about the war. That’s good news for Scotland Yard Detective Lestrade, who would like to keep his investigation of a Jack the Ripper copycat under the radar. No point in further scaring Londoners who are already frightened out of their wits by the nightly bombings. “Crimson Jack” has been taunting the police, leaving cryptic notes at the scenes of his murders and timing the killings to the precise dates of the original Ripper’s murders. Lestrade’s strong suit is knowing when he is outmatched, and he summons Holmes to “lend a hand” (i.e., solve the case). Harris’ take on the iconic characters is outstanding. Fans of the films will have no problem evoking mental images of Rathbone and Bruce moving through their wartime London milieu.
Twins are often said to share a special bond. That certainly seemed to be the case with Cambry and Lena Nguyen, until Cambry’s unexpected suicide. At the outset of Taylor Adams’ gripping thriller Hairpin Bridge, Lena is beginning to come to terms with her loss but still feels like there is something off about the official police account of Cambry’s death. So she decides to travel to Montana to get a firsthand look at the bridge from which her twin allegedly jumped to her death. She meets with Corporal Raymond Raycevic, the officer who discovered the body; he is affable and forthcoming, but something feels strange about him as well. The pragmatic Lena is aware that she may be grasping at straws, as if wishing that the cause of her sister’s death were something other than suicide might make it so. But early on, Lena discovers that Corporal Raycevic had stopped Cambry for speeding just a short time before she died. His glib explanation and wave-of-the-hand dismissal of this coincidence rings false to Lenaor, at the very least, seems incomplete. And so a game of cat and mouse begins, and readers won’t find out until the final pages whether Lena is a grief-stricken fantasist or an exceptionally canny adversary (albeit one who is perhaps destined for the same fate as her sister). Hairpin Bridge reads like a Stephen King novel and is especially reminiscent of Misery in how the characters shape-shift as the narrative progresses, leaving the reader wondering who is more dangerous—and more importantly, which one will prevail.
★ The Granite Coast Murders
Jean-Luc Bannalec’s The Granite Coast Murders is the latest mystery to join the throng of whodunits set in gorgeous French locales. Police Commissaire Georges Dupin has been well established as a coffee-swilling workaholic in Bannalec’s five previous books, but this time Dupin is on a forced holiday in the Pink Granite Coast of Brittany. He has been told in no uncertain terms that work is not allowed to intrude on his fortnight by the sea, and he is chafing at the uncustomary idleness. But when the body of a beautiful victim is found in a granite quarry, all bets are off. Still, Dupin must employ a certain degree of subterfuge to conceal his investigation from his significant other, his superiors and, most especially, the rather territorial local police inspector, who has heard lurid tales of Dupin’s habit of inserting himself into investigations well outside his purview. Fans of Martin Walker’s Bruno, Chief of Police series will find lots to like here (although I doubt that Bruno and Dupin would be friends in real life). Also, the descriptions of Brittany are mesmerizing. It has been elevated into my top 10 places I need to visit, all thanks to Bannalec.