Louise Penny has somehow outdone herself again with her latest Inspector Gamache mystery.
My Sweet Girl
Sri Lankan writer Amanda Jayatissa’s debut, My Sweet Girl, is a dark thriller of international deceit and murder, narrated in alternating chapters by 12-year-old Paloma, who is adopted from a Sri Lankan orphanage by a wealthy American couple, and her adult self 18 years later. The Paloma of the present day is estranged from her parents and haunted by hallucinations (or are they?) of a strange woman who eats the faces of beautiful young girls. One evening, Paloma returns to her apartment and finds her roommate brutally murdered, after which she flees the scene and gets blackout drunk. By the time the police arrive, the scene has been sanitized, leaving no trace of any such killing, but how can that be? Paloma doesn’t know, and neither do we. As the story unfolds, the reader begins to recognize incongruities between the younger and older Palomas, incongruities that are not easily reconcilable and are increasingly unsettling. I thought I had twigged to the ending before the Big Reveal, and I was quite proud of myself. But I was way wrong. I love it when that happens.
Road of Bones
September, 1944. As James R. Benn’s 16th Billy Boyle novel, Road of Bones, opens, the U.S. Army investigator is hitching a ride to Ukraine aboard a B-17 bomber. And then all hell breaks loose: German fighter planes drive the bombers into ground fire range, and one by one the American airplanes fall, including the one carrying Billy’s friend, Big Mike Miecznikowski. Some of those aboard the disabled bomber parachute to an unknown fate below, but it is not clear whether Big Mike is among them. Billy’s airplane makes it safely through to Poltava air base in Ukraine, where he has been tapped to investigate the murder of a pair of soldiers, one Russian, one American. If the Russians have their way, it will be an American taking the fall. Optics are everything, right? Billy must balance his investigation with his personal need to learn the fate of his friend and also somehow placate the Russians at every turn—no mean feat. A fascinating subplot has Billy encountering the Night Witches, an all-female band of Russian fighter pilots who took stealth bombing to a new level by turning off their engines as they approached their targets, silently gliding in to deliver their deadly payloads. As always, Benn covers all his bases with a taut narrative, relatable characters and crisp dialogue. Road of Bones is another superlative installment in the best World War II mystery series on offer.
The Darkness Knows
Thirty years ago, a Reykjavik businessman named Sigurvin disappeared. A suspect, Hjaltalín, was arrested at the time but later released for lack of evidence. Now, thanks to climate change, the melting of an Icelandic glacier has exposed Sigurvin’s frozen body (surely the textbook definition of a “cold case”). Arnaldur Indridason’s latest novel, The Darkness Knows, finds retired police detective Konrád, the original investigator on the case, at loose ends. He has never entirely recovered from the death of his wife, and truth be told, he is somewhat bored with life nowadays. Konrád’s initial mandate is simply to re-interview Hjaltalín, who is now incarcerated for a different crime, but he continues to maintain his innocence. Konrád has no official standing, but the case nagged at him when he first worked on it, and he finds it beginning to nag at him once again. So he launches what is essentially a private citizen’s investigation, stripped of most of the tools of his trade. It is slow going, as might be expected of a decades-old case, and Konrád is not as spry as he once was. So if you are looking for explosive action and edge-of-the-seat suspense, it would be best to look elsewhere. The Darkness Knows is slowly and deliberately plotted. No stone is left unturned; indeed, no stone is left undescribed. But Indridason is a consummate storyteller, one of the cream of the Nordic noir crop, and if methodical police procedurals are your thing, you have come to the right place.
★ The Madness of Crowds
The Madness of Crowds is Louise Penny’s 17th novel featuring Sûreté du Québec Chief Inspector Armand Gamache. The chief inspector is well known among his compatriots and readers alike for staring down ethical dilemmas, and this time he is facing a real conundrum. In Gamache’s Canada, there is a growing (or festering, depending on your viewpoint) movement dedicated to the idea of withholding care or outright euthanizing older and disabled people in order to preserve valuable resources for those likely to have better outcomes. The de facto leader of the movement is professor Abigail Robinson, a statistician whose numbers are more on target than her morality. The argument has polarized Canadians to the point of violence, and it falls to Gamache to provide security for Professor Robinson as she speaks to an unruly crowd of both supporters and naysayers. Gunshots ring out, and Gamache secures his charge, preventing tragedy. But then the professor’s assistant is brutally bludgeoned to death shortly afterward, in what was perhaps a case of mistaken identity. Gamache has personal feelings about this ethical dilemma, as one of his grandchildren has Down syndrome and would be affected if the laws that Robinson advocates for were implemented. Gamache’s decision to afford protection to a constituent who, even theoretically, threatens a family member isn’t one he takes lightly. The Madness of Crowds is not an easy read by any means, but it’s easily one of the best mystery novels (or novels of any genre) in recent memory.