The Shadows of Men
Calcutta, 1923: Then, as now, the state of Muslim-Hindu relations evoked an image of a short-fused powder keg, awaiting only the striking of a convenient match. The murder of a prominent Hindu theologian provides said spark, setting the stage for Abir Mukherjee’s fifth novel, The Shadows of Men. Police Captain Sam Wyndham and Sergeant Surendranath Banerjee are tasked with unraveling the circumstances of the homicide before holy war breaks out in the streets and alleyways of West Bengal’s most populous city, Calcutta. Things take a complicated turn almost immediately, as Banerjee finds himself framed for the aforementioned murder and thus removed from the state of play, at least in any official capacity. But he and Wyndham have never been what you’d call sticklers for the rules, and this time will prove to be no exception. Their investigation, at times in tandem but more often in parallel, will carry them to Bombay, which is unfamiliar turf to both of them. There they will discover that there is more afoot than just age-old cultural and religious enmity, and that certain third parties may harbor a keen—albeit covert—interest in fanning the flames of mutual intolerance. The narrative is first-person throughout, switching from Wyndham’s perspective to Banerjee’s in alternating chapters, an unusual and clever approach that keeps readers dead center in the melee, while at the same time poised on the edges of their seats.
All Her Little Secrets
Wanda M. Morris’ debut novel, All Her Little Secrets, is a multilayered, atmospheric thriller with subplot atop subplot. In a 200-odd-word review, I can barely scratch the surface. The main characters are Atlanta corporate attorney Ellice Littlejohn, a Black woman who is the lead counsel for a thriving transport company; her brother Sam, a ne’er-do-well who skates very close to the edge of legality, and sometimes over the edge; her auntie Vera, once a ball of fire, now laid low by advancing episodes of dementia; and CEO Nate Ashe, a Southern gentleman who might be looking out for Ellice’s interests but who also might be a corrupt businessman attuned to the optics of displaying a minority woman in a position of power. Then there is a murder, and another, and it becomes next to impossible for Ellice to determine who is in her corner. Examinations of racism, sexism, ageism and classism (and probably other -isms I have forgotten about) abound, making All Her Little Secrets a very timely read, in addition to being one heck of a debut.
Psycho by the Sea
A handful of pages into Lynne Truss’ hilarious new installment in her Constable Twitten series, Psycho by the Sea, I found myself imagining it as a BBC TV series with an eccentric “Fawlty Towers” sort of vibe, perhaps with a screenplay penned by Graham Greene. The characters are delightfully overblown, the storyline whimsical (well, if a cop killer who boils his victims’ severed heads fits your notion of whimsy).The novel is set in 1957 in the English seaside town of Brighton, which is not the sort of place that jumps to mind as crime central. Still, a number of locals make a good living pushing the boundaries of the law, including Mrs. Groynes, the lady who makes the tea at the Brighton police station. Privy as she is to the daily departmental goings-on, she ensures that the constables will be conveniently far from wherever her crimes are set to take place. When the severed-head-boiling killer escapes from the psychiatric detention facility he has called home for several years, perhaps aided in that getaway by a staff psychotherapist, all manner of ghoulish things begin to take place in the otherwise somnolent resort. While Psycho by the Sea is not the most suspenseful story on offer this month, it is easily the funniest, the quirkiest and the most entertaining read of the bunch.
When John le Carré passed away in December 2020, he left a gift behind for his readers: Silverview, one last novel from the master of espionage. The story goes that le Carré began work on the book nearly a decade ago, but it was held for publication as the author “tinkered” with it (a sly nod to his 1974 book Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy?). The tinkering paid off. Silverview is one of his best works, an intricate cat-and-mouse tale in which just who is the feline and who is the rodent is up in the air until the final pages. When bookshop owner Julian Lawndsley meets Edward Avon, he is virtually bowled over by the larger-than-life demeanor of the elderly white-haired gentleman. Together they hatch a plan to expand Julian’s bookstore. Meanwhile, British intelligence has launched an investigation into a long-ago incident in Edward’s life, one that suggests he may still be in the spy game. If this is true, it’s anybody’s guess who his employer might be, for it is certainly not the home team. Not that the home team could even remotely be considered the good guys, mind you. But I suppose treason is treason, irrespective of the morality of the players. Perhaps even more world-weary in tone than the le Carré books that preceded it, Silverview will make readers look askance at the sort of things their countries do on the world stage.