What do England, Sweden and France all have in common? In this month’s Whodunit column, it’s murder!
Island of Thieves
When freelance security consultant and former ace thief Van Shaw gets tapped to perform an art heist, ostensibly to test the security of a storage facility, he harbors some initial reservations. But the contract is ironclad, his duties are defined clearly and there is no danger of running afoul of the law. As Van philosophically notes, “Taking isn’t always stealing . . . Not if you’ve got permission.” The rousing success of that venture prompts his billionaire client, Sebastian Rohner, to secure Van’s services again, this time to guard an art installation during a gathering of entrepreneurs at Rohner’s private island. The title of Glen Erik Hamilton’s sixth Van Shaw thriller, Island of Thieves, is not the actual name of the island, but it might as well be, given the rather large proportion of the cast engaged in that heady pursuit. The security gig is merely a cover designed to draw attention away from the raison d’être of the meeting: corporate larceny that is breathtaking both in its scope and its audacity. And if all goes according to malicious plan, Van will be made the fall guy, while the bad guys gleefully divvy up their ill-gotten gains—but then someone goes and gets killed, and suddenly the plans are out the window. With every man for himself, the island of thieves is poised for a reenactment of Lord of the Flies. As ever, Van proves to be a wry, reliable guide through the relentless action of Hamilton’s always thrilling series.
Then She Vanishes
Claire Douglas’ Then She Vanishes is an English cold-case thriller that tells the story of three women: Flora, who disappeared years ago as a teenager; Heather, her younger sister, who now lies in a coma after allegedly killing an elderly mother and son in cold blood before turning the gun on herself; and Jess, a close family friend from back in the day who is now a reporter for a small local newspaper. At the outset, there appears to be no connection whatsoever between Heather’s crimes and Flora’s disappearance. But as often happens in small towns, old transgressions can come bubbling to the surface at inconvenient times, and Jess has the “nose for news” to uncover them. The question is, who is the culprit? Does Heather have anything in her history to suggest she could be guilty of such a violent act? Um, yes. Has Heather’s Uncle Leo, a middle-aged Lothario with a penchant for teenage girls, been keeping a guilty secret for all these years? Um, yes. And what do we make of the fact that Heather’s husband was seen bellowing at one of the decedents shortly before the double homicide but told the police he had never met either of them? Dodgy, that. And I am just scratching the surface here. If you are a fan of suspense, twists and more twists, Then She Vanishes should be right up your alley.
The Night Singer
Swedish author Johanna Mo’s English-language debut, The Night Singer, begins the saga of police detective Hanna Duncker, newly returned to her native island of Öland after years in Stockholm. It is a troubling milieu for her, in part because she is the daughter of Öland’s most infamous murderer, and her return is definitely rattling old skeletons that some people would prefer to leave in the closet. The story centers on the apparent murder of a 15-year-old boy, the son of Hanna’s best friend from high school. He was by all accounts a troubled youth, although there was nothing to suggest he’d be a candidate for murder. In the course of Hanna’s investigation, Mo explores themes of bullying, infidelity, familial violence, discrimination based on sexuality and gender—in short, many of the bugbears that plague 21st-century Western culture. The Night Singer is just excellent and the perfect setup for a sequel, which I hope is in the offing imminently.
★ The Coldest Case
While I am an avid fan of one-sitting, page-turner books (like the other three reviewed in this column), I am also quite taken with books that force me to pause every few pages or so to savor and reflect a bit before continuing—to enjoy a deft turn of phrase or imagine the smells and sounds of the locale. Martin Walker’s books fall squarely into the latter category, and his latest, The Coldest Case, is a prime example. The star of the series is Bruno Courrèges, chief of police of St. Denis, a small town in France’s Périgord region. This time out, he finds himself embroiled in a cold case of a young man bludgeoned to death 30 years ago, a time predating modern forensic procedures such as DNA testing and facial reconstruction identification. Deeper investigation sends Bruno free-falling down a rabbit hole that leads not only to the long-undetermined identity of the deceased but also to possible Cold War espionage connections that may have somehow survived into the present day. As is always the case in Walker’s Bruno books, food and wine regularly figure into the narrative, as well as French culture and history, love, equestrianship and basset hounds, but it’s all delivered with much more bonhomie and much less preciousness than you might expect.