★ The Hidden One
Lapsed Amish police chief Kate Burkholder returns in The Hidden One, the 14th entry in Linda Castillo's popular series. This time, church elders call on Kate after the police unexpectedly make an arrest in a high-profile murder case that dates back more than a decade. It's a little outside Kate's bailiwick, but special circumstances apply: The suspect is Jonas Bowman, her first-ever boyfriend. He's accused of killing Amish bishop Ananias Stoltzfus, whose remains have been unearthed in a recently cleared field. The murder weapon, an antique rifle found buried alongside the deceased, belonged to Jonas, a fact he freely admits while maintaining he had nothing to do with the crime. Kate's nosing around brings to light some disturbing information about Ananias, suggesting that he had not been the upright individual one might have expected a bishop to be. And thus the suspect list lengthens, and then lengthens some more, as stories surface about Ananias' malicious actions toward some of his parishioners. With great suspense, well-drawn characters and a totally unexpected ending, The Hidden One is a standout installment in a rightfully beloved series.
Vera Kelly: Lost and Found
The titular character in Rosalie Knecht's Vera Kelly: Lost and Found is a PI (and ex-CIA operative) who lives with her girlfriend, Max, in Brooklyn in the early 1970s. When Max's wealthy parents summon her to their home in Los Angeles, Vera joins her for moral support, although Max's homophobic family would more likely refer to it as immoral support. Max disappears the next morning, and her parents' cluelessness about what could have happened to her seems highly suspect to Vera. Seeing as she's already persona non grata, Vera liberates Max's Avanti sports car from the garage and sets off in search of her missing lover. And then, as they say, hijinks ensue. In addition to providing a fascinating and spot-on look at the LA of the 1970s and the lifestyles of the wealthy, entitled and dysfunctional, Vera Kelly: Lost and Found also contains my favorite line of the month: “To my surprise, I saw she was trying not to cry. It was like watching watercolor wick through paper.”
Paul Doiron returns with Hatchet Island, a new adventure featuring Maine game warden investigator Mike Bowditch. As the tale opens, Mike and his girlfriend, Stacey Stevens, are en route by kayak to Baker Island, home of the Maine Seabird Initiative, a project to restore puffin habitats and protect endangered avian species. It seems that the project manager, an irascible woman named Maeve McLeary, has gone missing, perhaps because of her anti-lobster fishing activism and the threats that followed. Three other researchers share the island with Maeve. In the following days, two of them are murdered and the third, Garrett Meadows, disappears. It is unclear whether Garett is another victim or the perpetrator, and the fact that he is the lone Black man in the lily-white community does not improve his prospects for vindication. Doiron paints a complex portrait of coastal Maine, where residents are caught up in uneasy alliances and squabbles among the townsfolk, the fishing community, eco-activists and the wealthy summer residents. It is a comparatively rare thing for tensions to rise to murderous levels, but when they do, it is a mighty fine thing to have a Mike Bowditch on hand to sort things out. Fans of C.J. Box's Joe Pickett mysteries will particularly enjoy this gripping tale.
★ Little Sister
Detective Chief Inspector Jonah Sheens has just settled in for a pint of lager in the garden of the Spreading Oak pub when a teenage girl covered in blood emerges from the trellised gateway adjacent to the road. Concerned, he asks if she needs some help. She replies, “I don't. But maybe Nina does.” When queried as to Nina's current whereabouts, the girl replies enigmatically, “Oh, I'm not going to tell you yet, detective. That would be too easy.” And thus begins Gytha Lodge's Little Sister, a cat-and-mouse game between the seasoned DCI and the girl, Keely, while the life of Nina, her younger sister, may hang in the balance. The story unfolds at a tantalizing and deliberate pace, especially in the first-person chapters from Keely's perspective that detail years of abuse in the English foster care system. Jonah and his team begin to notice small discrepancies in Keely's narrative that they take for clues, despite worrying that these breadcrumbs might just be clever manipulations on her part. And the clock ticks on. . . . Despite its borderline improbable premise, Little Sister is suspenseful to the nth degree as Lodge raises the bar for twists and turns to lofty nosebleed heights and saves a deliciously diabolical surprise for the very end.