If you reveled in the shenanigans of Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley, you’re the target audience for Sabine Durrant’s Sun Damage. A caper novel set in the sun-drenched south of France, Sun Damage follows a con man named Sean who plays Svengali to his acolyte, Ali, as they set up an elaborate scheme to relieve a young socialite of her fortune. It all goes sour when said socialite is killed in a boating accident that is perhaps not as much an “accident” as it appears. Ali realizes that she is at risk of taking the fall for the death, so she does what any good con artist would do: exits stage left. With any luck, that would have left Sean holding the bag, but of course, Ali’s plan soon goes remarkably awry. Durrant ratchets up the suspense as Ali does her level best to stay at least one step ahead of Sean, who is in hot pursuit, while also trying to elude the authorities. Or perhaps that is not what is really going on after all, because if there is one thing that Durrant is exceptional at, it is misdirection. This book needs to be read on a float in a swimming pool, or better yet, on a Mediterranean beach somewhere. But keep an eye on your valuables.
Flavia Albia is a private informer, an ancient Roman precursor to the contemporary private investigator that conveniently utilizes the same abbreviation: PI. Flavia returns for her 11th case in Lindsey Davis’ intricate and entertaining historical mystery Fatal Legacy. The book starts out simply enough, with Flavia in pursuit of a pair of deadbeats who skipped out on their bill at her family’s restaurant. But after she deals with this infraction, the family of said deadbeats hires her for a much more complicated task involving a legacy that may not be entirely legal (would that be an “illegacy”?) and a surprising number of folks eager to obscure the truth for their own advantage. The debtors belong to the Tranquilla family, who were once enslaved but then freed by their former master’s will. But there isn’t any documentation asserting the freedom of one of them, Postuminus, and if Flavia can’t prove his status, his daughter’s impending marriage will be in jeopardy. Flavia is a witty observer of Roman family life and the low-grade skulduggery that was seemingly omnipresent in the ancient metropolis; it will be the rare reader indeed who does not get at least one unexpected chuckle per chapter. For my part, I will be seeking out Davis’ back catalog and paying regular visits to antiquity with Flavia.
An Honest Man
Crime fiction icon Michael Connelly referred to Michael Koryta as “one of the best of the best, plain and simple,” and Koryta’s most recent offering, An Honest Man, supports that statement and then some. The titular honest man also happens to be a killer, and the book explores that dichotomy via two plots that dovetail nicely over the course of the narrative. The first follows Israel Pike, a convicted murderer and now prime suspect in a mass killing on an expensive yacht off the coast of Salvation Point Island, Maine. Israel’s accuser and nemesis is his uncle, the island’s police deputy Sterling Pike. The second storyline is about 12-year-old Lyman Rankin, who stumbles upon an injured, hatchet-wielding young woman who threatens his life if he should tell anyone she is hiding in an abandoned house on the island. Before Israel’s and Lyman’s stories resolve, there will be violence galore and the reveal of a seamy criminal underbelly, whose powers-that-be will stop at nothing to avoid prosecution. Koryta is a force to be reckoned with in modern suspense, and An Honest Man is one of his finest achievements to date.
The Lady From Burma
Allison Montclair’s author biography mentions that she devoured hand-me-down Agatha Christie paperbacks while growing up. Just as in Christie’s novels, murders abound in Montclair’s work, often in the most innocent of locales. Her sleuths, Iris Sparks and Gwendolyn “Gwen” Bainbridge, run a matchmaking service in post-World War II London. Their fifth adventure, The Lady From Burma, opens with a visit from the aforementioned lady from Burma, Mrs. Adela Remagen, who has a strange request for the duo: find a suitable wife for her husband. For she is dying and wants to ensure that her husband, Potiphar, has someone to care for him after she is gone. An eccentric entomologist with an affection for tropical insects, Potiphar is perhaps not the easiest client for Iris and Gwen’s small agency to match. And then Mrs. Remagen gets herself murdered. If you are in the mood for a modern-day rendering of Dame Christie, look no further. The Lady From Burma will be right up your alley.