After last year’s best-selling The Husband’sSecret, Australian Moriarty brings the edginess of her less-known The Hypnotist’s Love Story (2012) to bear in this darkly comic mystery surrounding a disastrous parents' night at an elementary school fundraiser.
Thanks to strong cocktails and a lack of appetizers, Pirriwee Public’s Trivia Night turns ugly when sloshed parents in Audrey Hepburn and Elvis costumes start fights at the main entrance. To make matters worse, out on the balcony where a smaller group of parents have gathered, someone falls over the railing and dies. Was it an accident or murder? Who is the victim? And who, if anyone, is the murderer? Backtrack six months as the cast of potential victims and perps meet at kindergarten orientation and begin alliances and rivalries within the framework of domestic comedy-drama. There’s Chloe’s opinionated, strong-willed mom, Madeline, a charmingly imperfect Everywoman. Happily married to second husband Ed, Madeline is deeply hurt that her older daughter wants to move in with her ex-husband and his much younger, New-Age–y second wife; even worse, the couple’s waifish daughter, Skye, will be in Chloe’s kindergarten class. Madeline’s best friend is Celeste, mother of twins Max and Josh. It’s hard for Madeline and the other moms not to envy Celeste. She's slim, rich and beautiful, and her marriage to hedge fund manager Perry seems too perfect to be true; it is. Celeste and Madeline befriend young single mother Jane, who has moved to the coast town with her son, Ziggy, the product of a one-night stand gone horribly wrong. After sweet-natured Ziggy is accused of bullying, the parents divide into defenders and accusers. Tensions mount among the mothers' cliques and within individual marriages until they boil over on the balcony. Despite a Greek chorus of parents and faculty sharing frequently contradictory impressions, the truth remains tantalizingly difficult to sort out.
Deservedly popular Moriarty invigorates the tired social-issue formula of women’s fiction through wit, good humor, sharp insight into human nature and addictive storytelling.
A hint of the supernatural spices the latest from a mystery master as two detectives try to probe the secrets teenage girls keep—and the lies they tell—after murder at a posh boarding school.
The Dublin novelist (Broken Harbor,2012, etc.) has few peers in her combination of literary stylishness and intricate, clockwork plotting. Here, French challenges herself and her readers with a narrative strategy that finds chapters alternating between two different time frames and points of view. One strand concerns four girls at exclusive St. Kilda’s who are so close they vow they won’t even have boyfriends. Four other girls from the school are their archrivals, more conventional and socially active. The novel pits the girls against each other almost as two gangs, with the plot pivoting on the death of a rich boy from a nearby school who had been sneaking out to see at least two of the girls. The second strand features the two detectives who spend a long day and night at the school, many months after the unsolved murder. Narrating these chapters is Stephen, a detective assigned to cold cases, who receives an unexpected visit from one of the girls, Holly, a daughter of one of Stephen’s colleagues on the force, who brings a postcard she’d found on a bulletin board known as “The Secret Place” that says “I know who killed him.” The ambitious Stephen, who has a history with both the girl and her father, brings the postcard to Conway, a hard-bitten female detective whose case this had been. The chapters narrated by Stephen concern their day of interrogation and investigation at the school, while the alternating ones from the girls’ perspectives cover the school year leading up to the murder and its aftermath. Beyond the murder mystery, which leaves the reader in suspense throughout, the novel explores the mysteries of friendship, loyalty and betrayal, not only among adolescents, but within the police force as well.
Everyone is this meticulously crafted novel might be playing—or being played by—everyone else.
The big life and fast times of one of the most charismatic and dangerous good ol’ boys in America’s criminal history.
No matter how you approach him, the legendary gambling mogul Benny Binion (1904-1989) was one lying, sneaky SOB, so it’s impressive that Dallas Morning News investigative projects editor and crime novelist Swanson (House of Corrections, 2000, etc.) has dug up this much dirty laundry. In this well-researched and executed biography, the author offers a head-scratching explanation as to how a Texas-bred hillbilly with an IQ in the double digits came to lead a multimillion-dollar gambling empire. Fans of other gangster histories will likely be intrigued by Binion’s arc, which spanned the 20th century and took him from the sticks of Texas to shape the modern-day direction of Las Vegas. Nicknamed “the Cowboy” after gunning down a local rumrunner, Binion soon came to be one of the most dangerous gangsters in Dallas, with several murders executed by his own hand. He admired his own ilk early, going so far as to arrange the delivery of a wreath at Clyde Barrow’s funeral in 1934—from an airplane, no less. In the most damning and fascinating story in the book, Swanson relates Binion’s feud with a long-standing rival, Herbert Noble. After an irate Binion put a price on his head, Noble survived nearly a dozen assassination attempts, all related in detail here. Finally, a car bomb that killed his wife nearly drove Noble over the edge before he finally got himself blown up in 1951. “They said he had nine lives,” said Binion of his foe. “Damn good thing he didn’t have ten.” The later sections of the book will be of interest to poker fans, as Binion retreats to Sin City to buy casinos and accidentally creates a legacy when he founds the World Series of Poker as a promotional stunt.
An entertaining and provocative portrait of a man whose dichotomies were largely a product of the violent times in which he thrived.
Five years after his last recorded case (Exit Music, 2008), John Rebus returns, and welcome.
Now a civilian trolling through cold cases for the about-to-be-dismantled Serious Crime Review Unit of the Lothian and Borders Police, retired DI John Rebus can still drink Scotland’s lochs dry, leave conversations in the middle to go out for a smoke, and raise insubordination to high art. When a call comes through from Nina Hazlitt insisting that there are similarities between two recent disappearances and the unsolved case of her daughter Sally, missing since New Year’s Eve 1999, Rebus hesitantly agrees that the A9 route through the Highlands, where the girls were last seen, may warrant a closer look. His decision lands him under the baleful eyes of his former ally Siobhan Clarke and her boss and brings him once more to the attention of Malcolm Fox, his nemesis in Internal Affairs, who’d be only too happy to prove Rebus guilty of something, perhaps planned during his fortnightly pub meetings with pastured criminal kingpin Big Ger Cafferty. The A9 isn’t the only clue to surface. There’s also a photograph the girls sent to friends over the phone on the day they went missing. Trudging back and forth between Edinburgh and several North Scotland villages, Rebus and Siobhan disconcert various police forces, sidestep voracious media types, concentrate on a wrong suspect or two, and are ordered to step down. Rebus, of course, keeps at it, finally scaring a confession out of a perp by engineering one more abduction with the help of a ruthless teenager on track to be the next Cafferty.
Rankin deserves every award he’s been given: an Edgar, a Gold Dagger, a Diamond Dagger. Surely there’s another one waiting for Rebus’ thrilling return to the fold.
In his last case, former DI Charlie Resnick revisits a mystery from his own past in Harvey’s moving and moody 12th series installment.
The discovery of a body under concrete at a Nottinghamshire home ignites a long-dormant investigation: the search for answers concerning the disappearance—and now murder—of Jenny Hardwick in 1984. Thirty years ago, Resnick was a newly promoted DI amid the increasingly violent British Miners’ Strike and the growing hatred for Margaret Thatcher. He ran undercover operations, sending coppers disguised as union sympathizers into the ranks of the protesters to gather intel. Now, three decades later, he’s officially retired but working as a civilian investigator when the skeletonized remains are identified as Jenny Hardwick. DI Catherine Njoroge, a friend of Resnick’s in the East Midlands Serious Organised Crime Unit, lands the cold case and asks Resnick for help given his familiarity with the tense months of the strike. While women joining the striking miners was not unusual, Jenny’s situation was complicated by the fact that her husband, Barry, still worked in the mines, dividing their household into “scab” and protester. Harvey (Cold in Hand, 2008, etc.) seamlessly weaves together the present-day investigation into Jenny’s death—a process complicated by not only the passage of time, but also the lingering distrust stirred up by the strike and its aftermath—and the last weeks of Jenny’s life.
As Resnick revisits one of Britain’s most painful events, he wrestles mightily with his own grief over the death of his girlfriend and struggles with the inevitability of his finite time as a detective.
A tale of espionage, alcoholism, bad manners and the chivalrous code of spies—the real world of James Bond, that is, as played out by clerks and not superheroes.
Now pretty well forgotten, Kim Philby (1912-1988) was once a byname for the sort of man who would betray his country for a song. The British intelligence agent was not alone, of course; as practiced true-espionage writer Macintyre (Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies, 2012, etc.) notes, more than 200 American intelligence agents became Soviet agents during World War II—“Moscow had spies in the treasury, the State Department, the nuclear Manhattan Project, and the OSS”—and the Brits did their best to keep up on their end. Philby may have been an unlikely prospect, given his upper-crust leanings, but a couple of then-fatal flaws involving his sexual orientation and still-fatal addiction to alcohol, to say nothing of his political convictions, put him in Stalin’s camp. Macintyre begins near the end, with a boozy Philby being confronted by a friend in intelligence, fellow MI6 officer Nicholas Elliott, whom he had betrayed; but rather than take Philby to prison or put a bullet in him, by the old-fashioned code, he was essentially allowed to flee to Moscow. Writing in his afterword, John Le Carré recalls asking Elliott, with whom he worked in MI6, about Philby’s deceptions—“it quickly became clear that he wanted to draw me in, to make me marvel…to make me share his awe and frustration at the enormity of what had been done to him.” For all Philby’s charm (“that intoxicating, beguiling, and occasionally lethal English quality”), modern readers will still find it difficult to imagine a world of gentlemanly spy-versus-spy games all these hysterical years later.
Gripping and as well-crafted as an episode of Smiley’s People, full of cynical inevitability, secrets, lashings of whiskey and corpses.
Though it pivots on the Pearl Harbor attack, this worm’s-eye view from thoroughly corrupt Los Angeles is a war novel like no other.
It’s complicated, and the author (The Hilliker Curse, 2010, etc.) wouldn’t have it any other way. There's no telling the good guys from the bad in Ellroy's Los Angeles, because there are no good guys. The major distinction between cops and criminals is that the former have the power to frame the latter and kill the innocent with impunity, which they (or at least some) do without conscience or moral compunction, often in complicity with the government and even the Catholic Church. With his outrageously oversized ambition, Ellroy has announced that this sprawling but compelling novel is the beginning of a Second L.A. Quartet, which will cover the city during World War II and serve as a prequel to his L.A. Quartet, his most powerful and popular fiction, which spans the postwar decade. Thus, it includes plenty of characters who appear in other Ellroy novels, sowing the seeds of their conflicts and corruption. On the eve of Pearl Harbor, the four corpses of a Japanese family are discovered in what appears to be a gruesome ritual suicide. It seems they had advance knowledge of the attack (which, by the end of the novel, appears to have been the worst-kept secret in history). The investigation, or coverup, pits Sgt. Dudley Smith, full of charm but devoid of scruples (“I am in no way constrained by the law,” he boasts), against Capt. William Parker, who's plagued by demons of alcoholism, faith and ambition (and who is one of the real-life characters fictionalized in a novel where Bette Davis plays a particularly sleazy role). Caught between the rivalry of the two are a young police chemist of Japanese descent and a former leftist call girl–turned-informant. The plot follows a tick-tock progression over the course of three weeks, in which “dark desires sizzle” and explode with a furious climax.
Ellroy is not only back in form—he's raised the stakes.
An exquisitely tuned exploration of class in post-Edwardian Britain—with really hot sex.
It’s 1922, and Frances Wray lives with her mother in a big house in a genteel South London neighborhood. Her two brothers were killed in the war and her father died soon after, leaving behind a shocking mess of debt. The solution: renting out rooms to Leonard and Lilian Barber, members of the newly emerging “clerk class,” the kind of people the Wrays would normally never mix with but who now share their home. Tension is high from the first paragraph, as Frances waits for the new lodgers to move in: “She and her mother had spent the morning watching the clock, unable to relax.” The first half of the book slowly builds the suspense as Frances falls for the beautiful and passionate Lilian and teases at the question of whether she will declare her love; when she does, the tension grows even thicker, as the two bump into each other all over the house and try to find time alone for those vivid sex scenes. The second half, as in an Ian McEwan novel, explores the aftermath of a shocking act of violence. Waters is a master of pacing, and her metaphor-laced prose is a delight; when Frances and Lilian go on a picnic, “the eggs [give] up their shells as if shrugging off cumbersome coats”—just like the women. As life-and-death questions are answered, new ones come up, and until the last page, the reader will have no idea what’s going to happen.
Waters keeps getting better, if that’s even possible after the sheer perfection of her earlier novels.
Who would shoot an inoffensive retiree in the middle of an otherwise routine robbery?
One minute, geology student Martin Pavel is queued up at the post office; the next, he’s lying on the floor at the command of a man with a mask, an AK-47 and a very short temper. Yet Martin is a lot luckier than Brendan Lyons, the retired bus driver who offered to help the gunman collect the loot and got thoroughly shot for his trouble. It seems clear that the robber recognized the old man, but even so, why would he feel the need to kill him? DS Alexandra Morrow would love to bear down hard on the case, but as usual, there are other problems. After pulling over dicey driver Hugh Boyle, DC Tamsin Leonard and DC George Wilder have found £200,000 concealed in his car; instead of turning it in, Wilder’s had the bright idea of splitting it between themselves; and the surprisingly resourceful Boyle has photographed them in possession of the loot. So, even though Alex gets a promising lead that links the gunman to the anonymous figure who menaced householder Anita Costello three years ago, Strathclyde’s finest is hardly enjoying its finest hour. Higher up in the social ranks (though equally far down the ethical scale), Labour MP Kenny Gallagher is battling rumors that he’s taken party volunteer Jill Bowman, 17, under more than his wing—rumors that are particularly hard to scotch since they’re true.
As Gallagher faces the ruin of his career, readers will wonder how Alex (The End of the Wasp Season, 2011, etc.) can possibly tie these cases together. Though the final surprise doesn’t have the snap of logical inevitability, it’s depressingly realistic.