Secluded Cabin Sleeps Six
If I had to sum up Lisa Unger’s Secluded Cabin Sleeps Six in 10 words, I would say “Cast of ‘Friends,’ dark and stormy night, soundtrack by Disturbed.” This friend group is much more disturbed than Ross, Chandler, Monica, et al., but there are parallels: a sister/brother pair; a female friend from the past; some canoodling that is, shall we say, detrimental to the group dynamic. Siblings Hannah and Mako are celebrating Christmas at their parents’ house when their father finds an unusual gift under the tree: DNA genealogy kits for the whole family, from an anonymous Santa. A few months later, when Hannah, Mako, their respective spouses and another couple head up to a remote cabin to unplug, the other shoe drops. Some of them did the kit and were unexpectedly proven to be the progeny of the same man, and they are not happy to know who (and what) their biological father was. Secrets abound in this psychological thriller; even the cabin itself harbors a hidden history, giving off unnerving vibes to renters and readers alike. At 400 pages, it’s a long book for a one-sitting read, but you’ll be sorely tempted.
1989 is Val McDermid’s second installment of a trilogy (which this reviewer hopes will become a quadrilogy or even a quintology) featuring Scottish investigative reporter Allie Burns. The series began with 1979, and in the sequel, readers are mired with Allie in the late ’80s, when mobile phones were the size of lunchboxes, when AIDS was ravaging the U.K., when a jetliner was bombed out of the sky over Lockerbie, Scotland, and when the Soviet Union was on the verge of collapse. All in all, not a time to be nostalgic for, and true to form, McDermid spins the tale without a whiff of sentimentality. Allie works for media mogul Ace Lockhart, who bears more than a passing resemblance to newspaper publisher Robert Maxwell (father of Ghislaine, of Jeffrey Epstein-associate infamy): flamboyant, bullying and destined for disgrace. Lockhart, who has a number of business ventures based in the Eastern bloc, senses the upcoming upheaval and sends his daughter to secure his interests in the changing political landscape. When she is kidnapped in East Berlin, Lockhart sends Allie Burns on a rescue mission, and in short order, things careen out of control. You don’t need to read 1979 to hit the ground running with 1989, but you will want to have Wikipedia open to look up all the fascinating historical and cultural moments McDermid references along the way.
Viviana Valentine Gets Her Man
Emily J. Edwards’ Viviana Valentine Gets Her Man is, hands down, this month’s most entertaining mystery. Set in 1950 New York City, it chronicles the adventures of a plucky Pennsylvania country girl, the titular Viviana Valentine. Upon arriving penniless in the Big Apple, Viviana sweet-talks her way into a girl Friday job for Tommy Fortuna, a Philip Marlowe-esque private investigator who calls her dollface. But after Tommy goes MIA and a dead body is found on his office floor, Viviana is forced to take the helm of the agency, clear Tommy’s name and crack the case he was working on. Whatever she lacks in experience, Viviana more than makes up for with her in-your-face attitude, wicked sense of humor and snappy one-liners. Her friends and acquaintances include high society debutantes, models, mobsters, cops both arrow-straight and morally flexible and a host of other ’50s types that would slot neatly into a black-and-white detective film. Edwards nails the tone, with dialogue and milieu evocative of classic noir, and presents the era warts and all: conversations that are a bit politically incorrect; men behaving toward women in ways that are borderline or flat-out predatory; and a towering amount of smoking and drinking.
★ The Devil’s Blaze
In the same fashion that Sean Connery is the quintessential James Bond for many cinema aficionados, Basil Rathbone is widely regarded as the definitive silver screen Sherlock Holmes, even though the most famous films in which he took on the role are not set in the original Victorian and Edwardian eras but smack in the middle of World War II. Author Robert J. Harris expands upon those midcentury films with his Sherlock Holmes in WWII series, the second volume of which (after 2021’s A Study in Crimson) is The Devil’s Blaze. The Germans have developed a truly insidious weapon to use against their English adversaries, a death machine of some sort that causes people to spontaneously erupt into flames. As usual, there are only two people in England clever enough (or devious enough, depending on your point of view) to approach a mystery of this magnitude: Sherlock Holmes (natch) and his longtime archnemesis, Professor James Moriarty. There is certainly no love lost between the pair, but they are forced to forge an uneasy alliance to try and save England from this terrifying new weapon. Harris never lets readers forget that this is a Sherlock Holmes novel, with the narrative turning on a dime—or a twopence, if you prefer—such that only an experienced fishmonger would be able to sort through all the red herrings. Holmes is as cerebral and arrogant as die-hard fans would expect, and Watson hews closely to actor Nigel Bruce’s portrayal in the Rathbone films: thoughtful, taciturn and usually a step behind his mentor. And Moriarty, well, he should be giving TED Talks on the subject of villainy.