A preternaturally brainy novel within a novel that’s both a pastiche and a deconstruction of golden-age whodunits.
Magpie Murders, bestselling author Alan Conway’s ninth novel about Greek/German detective Atticus Pünd, kicks off with the funeral of Mary Elizabeth Blakiston, devoted housekeeper to Sir Magnus Pye, who’s been found at the bottom of a steep staircase she’d been vacuuming in Pye Hall, whose every external door was locked from the inside. Her demise has all the signs of an accident until Sir Magnus himself follows her in death, beheaded with a sword customarily displayed with a full suit of armor in Pye Hall. Conway's editor, Susan Ryeland, does her methodical best to figure out which of many guilty secrets Conway has provided the suspects in Saxby-on-Avon—Rev. Robin Osborne and his wife, Henrietta; Mary’s son, Robert, and his fiancee, Joy Sanderling; Joy’s boss, surgeon Emilia Redwing, and her elderly father; antiques dealers Johnny and Gemma Whitehead; Magnus’ twin sister, Clarissa; and Lady Frances Pye and her inevitable lover, investor Jack Dartford—is most likely to conceal a killer, but she’s still undecided when she comes to the end of the manuscript and realizes the last chapter is missing. Since Conway in inconveniently unavailable, Susan, in the second half of the book, attempts to solve the case herself, questioning Conway’s own associates—his sister, Claire; his ex-wife, Melissa; his ex-lover, James Taylor; his neighbor, hedge fund manager John White—and slowly comes to the realization that Conway has cast virtually all of them as fictional avatars in Magpie Murders and that the novel, and indeed Conway’s entire fictional oeuvre, is filled with a mind-boggling variety of games whose solutions cast new light on murders fictional and nonfictional.
Fans who still mourn the passing of Agatha Christie, the model who’s evoked here in dozens of telltale details, will welcome this wildly inventive homage/update/commentary as the most fiendishly clever puzzle—make that two puzzles—of the year.
Down-on-his-luck grifter Rowan Petty is talked into taking part in an iffy get-rich scheme by Dandy Don, an ex-con in Reno, only to be set up for a fall.
A crew of Afghanistan soldiers in cahoots with Afghan truckers has siphoned $2 million in ghost payments and kickbacks to Los Angeles, where it has been hidden by Tony, a wounded young veteran. Don promises Petty a big chunk of the cash if he can put his hands on it. Posing as a plumber, Petty searches the kid's apartment for a possible hiding place. An armed thug sent by Don bursts in demanding the money and is shot dead by Tony, who is so rattled by the thought of going to prison that he offers Petty a share of the $2 million if he takes care of the body. Petty devises a scam to abscond with all the money. Standing in his way is Diaz, the coldblooded vet behind the original theft, who is back in the U.S. Petty's situation is further complicated by two women: Tinafey, a smart and sassy hooker he falls for, and his long-estranged 21-year-old daughter, Samantha, who is diagnosed with a serious medical problem. As he did in the gritty Angel Baby (2013), Lange brings a fresh dimension to noir by making parenthood a central theme (Petty's father was a failed gambler). Petty's romance with Tinafey, who becomes his reluctant accomplice, can get a bit squishy. Like his protagonist, Lange "ha[s] a soft spot for hookers." But he is such a breezy, stylish writer that even scenes that in other hands would be filler, like those in which Petty indulges Tinafey's shopping and sightseeing desires, have something to reveal.
In this breezy page-turner, Lange shows off his uncommon ability to combine toughness and tenderness.
A Virginia judge’s 6-year-old twins are kidnapped by someone who wants to influence an important ruling he’s soon to make—and doesn’t mind putting him through the emotional wringer in the process.
The abduction has all the hallmarks of a professional job. Someone convincingly impersonating Alison Sampson picks up Sam and Emma from their Montessori school in a vehicle that looks just like hers, transfers the children to another car a discreet distance away, and texts Scott Sampson to warn him to say nothing until he receives further instructions. These come in the form of a series of directives about how to conduct himself in the matter of Rayshaun Skavron, an excruciatingly unremarkable midlevel drug dealer. Sampson’s dismay over the widening gap between how he’s commanded to act and how he thinks he ought to be acting is matched by his increasingly frantic attempts to keep his dilemma secret from the police, the U.S. Marshals, even Alison’s family members. Every step he takes enmeshes him even more deeply in danger from his boss’s boss, from influential congressmen, from predatory online newshounds, and of course from the criminals themselves, who demonstrate early and often that they’re not afraid to hurt his children to keep him in line. Parks (The Fraud, 2015, etc.) dispenses plot twists with a poisoned eyedropper, sparing no detail as Sampson describes his pain, his increasingly paranoid suspicions of people he’d been trusting for years with secrets now grown too hot to handle, and his supremely frustrating inability to take the direct counteractions that he gradually becomes convinced are absolutely necessary.
The nerve-shredding never lets up for a minute as Parks picks you up by the scruff of the neck, shakes you vigorously, and repeats over and over again till a climax so harrowing that you’ll be shaking with gratitude that it’s finally over.
Rosato & DiNunzio, Philadelphia’s most drama-ridden law firm (Damaged, 2016, etc.), faces perhaps its most dramatic episode ever when it’s threatened from both outside and in.
Sales rep Simon Pensiera’s wrongful-termination case against OpenSpace, from which his boss, Todd Eddington, fired him when his daughter Rachel’s medical expenses rose into the stratosphere, ought to be open and shut—especially since Simon, the son of one of Matty DiNunzio’s oldest South Philly friends, is practically a cousin to Matty’s daughter, Mary, who offers to take the case for free. It turns out, though, that Mary’s partner, Bennie Rosato, has long represented Dumbarton Industries, OpenSpace’s owner, so there’s an obvious conflict of interest. Or maybe not so obvious, Mary and Bennie decide separately after doing a little independent research. Even so, it’s clear that Mary really wants to take the case, and Dumbarton CEO Nate Lence, who’s always had a thing for Bennie, really wants her to leave it alone—so much that when Bennie tries to resolve the conflict by pulling all Dumbarton’s business, Nate files a retaliatory defamation suit seeking $2 million from the newly unemployed Simon, who already can’t afford the bone-marrow transplant Rachel desperately needs. Can things get any worse? Of course they can, as Mary shows when she launches the nuclear option and leaves the firm, a move that not only rocks Bennie’s world, but makes the two former partners adversaries in nearly every sense imaginable. Then Todd Eddington is murdered with all the evidence pointing directly to Simon, and this wild, intricate, yet perfectly clear, greased-lightning legal nightmare still has half its length to run.
Despite some overheated damsel-in-distress complications toward the end, a stellar demonstration of the proposition that although it can’t bring back the dead, “justice was still the best consolation prize going.” The final curtain will find you cheering, and Scottoline will have earned every hurrah.
Forgoing the historical excursions that tangled the first two cases of Trondheim’s Inspector Odd Singsaker (Dreamless, 2015, etc.), Brekke mingles the immediate past, present, and future to produce an even more tangled, but deeply rewarding, tale.
The story begins, sort of, with Singsaker standing in a burned-out room somewhere in the north of Norway, ordered at gunpoint to pick up a shotgun lying at his feet, next to a corpse. An investigation conducted by Internal Affairs Officer Kurt Melhus will focus not only on what happened next, but on why Singsaker, who’s on sick leave, ever got involved in the case. The short answer is that he’s been trying to find out what happened to his wife, American ex-cop Felicia Stone, a recovering alcoholic who ran off but has been trying to make her way back to her husband. Cutting freely backward and forward over a kaleidoscopic period of several crucial weeks, Brekke interleaves the stories of Felicia and Singsaker with those of dirty Narcotics cop Rolf Fagerhus, fatally indebted cocaine addict Knut Andersen Stang, and an enforcer for drug lord Geir Karlstad who calls himself Sving. Although each plot strand includes felonies aplenty, few readers will figure out the connections among them before the author sees fit to reveal them as the quintessence, the ethereal fifth element that supplements the four ancient elements of black bile, yellow bile, phlegm, and blood.
The intricately linked plotlines will appeal to puzzle fans. But it’s Brekke’s prodigious powers of invention, his ability to keep coming up with unforgettable characters and indelible episodes, that lift this above his own earlier work and most of the heavy Nordic competition.
Overwhelmed by complications arising from her unplanned third pregnancy, a Hertfordshire housewife flees her home for the comforts of an upscale Arizona resort and lands smack in the middle of a fictionalization of the JonBenét Ramsey case, which quickly swallows her up.
Patrick Burrows is a good provider and a good man, but he really doesn’t want any more children. So Cara Burrows runs away from home—there’s no better way to put it—and sinks a third of the family’s savings into a two-week stay at the Swallowtail Resort and Spa, which feels like the capital of “America: Land of Hyperbolic Overstatement.” In a place dedicated to fulfilling her every whim, night clerk Riyonna Briggs accidentally gives her a key to the wrong room, and the conversation she overhears from the bathroom she thinks is her own plunges her into the case of Melody Chapa, whose parents were convicted of her murder in Philadelphia seven years ago even though her body was never found. Cara becomes convinced that the girl she overheard is Melody, and she’s not the only one: regular guest Lilith McNair has been announcing sightings of Melody every year even though nobody pays any attention. Will anyone pay attention to Cara? Tearful Riyonna is no help; the rest of the Swallowtail staff treats Cara to a series of simpering brushoffs; and Lilith McNair seems even crazier in their sole one-on-one conversation. Only sharp-tongued florist Tarin Fry and Zellie, her daughter and sparring partner, take Cara seriously, and their interest doesn’t prevent either Riyonna or Cara from vanishing as competing parties—the variously compromised local cops, the FBI, the TV host of Justice with Bonnie who played a key role in getting Naldo and Annette Chapa convicted all those years ago—paw the ground and look accusingly at each other while Cara’s peril deepens.
Hannah (Closed Casket, 2016, etc.) continues her quest to identify all the reassuring certitudes mystery novels take for granted and demonstrate how much fun it is to toss them overboard. There’s no point in objecting to the coincidences and implausibilities required to launch this brilliant nightmare: resistance is futile.
The 30th novel by the creator of Harry Bosch (The Wrong Side of Goodbye, 2016, etc.) and the Lincoln Lawyer (The Gods of Guilt, 2013, etc.) introduces an LAPD detective fighting doggedly for justice for herself and a wide array of victims.
Ever since her partner, Detective Ken Chastain, failed to back up her sexual harassment claim against Lt. Robert Olivas, her supervisor at the Robbery Homicide Division, Renée Ballard has been banished to the midnight shift—the late show. She’s kept her chin down and worked her cases, most of which are routinely passed on to the day shifts, without complaints or recriminations. But that all ends the night she and Detective John Jenkins, the partner who’s running on empty, are called to The Dancers, a nightclub where five people have been shot dead. Three of them—a bookie, a drug dealer, and a rumored mob enforcer—are no great loss, but Ballard can’t forget Cynthia Haddel, the young woman serving drinks while she waited for her acting career to take off. The case naturally falls to Olivas, who humiliatingly shunts Ballard aside. But she persists in following leads during her time off even though she’d already caught another case earlier the same night, the brutal assault on Ramona Ramone, ne Ramón Gutierrez, a trans hooker beaten nearly to death who mumbles something about “the upside-down house” before lapsing into a coma. Despite, or because of, the flak she gets from across the LAPD, Ballard soldiers on, horrified but energized when Chastain is gunned down only a few hours after she tells him off for the way he let her down two years ago. She’ll run into layers of interference, get kidnapped herself, expose a leak in the department, kill a man, and find some wholly unexpected allies before she claps the cuffs on the killer in a richly satisfying conclusion.
More perhaps than any of Connelly’s much-honored other titles, this one reveals why his procedurals are the most soulful in the business: because he finds the soul in the smallest details, faithfully executed.
A missing neighbor, a series of fires, and turmoil at work are just the start of Samantha Clair’s problems.
A hangover has put Sam, a Canadian-born book publisher living in North London, in a foul mood. But she can’t say no to her elderly friend Viv when she asks for help in learning whether her friend Dennis, who lives upstairs from her in a council flat, is missing or perhaps lying dead on his floor, since no one's seen him in days. A search of the flat reveals no body and no reason for Dennis to be missing, and the police are not much interested. So Sam goes into sleuthing mode over the objections of her CID boyfriend, Jake. The next disaster to strike the neighborhood is a fire that destroys a house that sheltered several squatters who've all lived there for years: Mo and Dan and their son; electrician Mike; and gardener Steve. Jake, who isn’t up on the local gossip, is not pleased to hear about the squatters and even less pleased when Sam decides to let Steve use her front yard to grow veggies. When Dennis is found dead at the fire scene, Sam learns that although he worked for the local council, he also ran an after-school teen club. Because a large amount of cash was found in his flat, the working theory is that he was a drug dealer using neighborhood teens to help deliver his wares. At Sam’s publishing house, a team of management consultants who lack even basic knowledge of the business is driving everyone crazy, and at home, Sam and Jake continue to bicker over the squatters. Although Sam thinks she’s discovered little that will help solve the neighborhood’s problems, a series of scary incidents forces her to consider what she really does know.
The highlights of the third in this marvelous and often amusing series (A Bed of Scorpions, 2016, etc.) are neighborhood characters who are a basket of enjoyables and a complex and brainy heroine.
A job at the École des Beaux-Arts and a search for a Serbian lowlife combine to lead Aimée Leduc (Murder on the Quai, 2016, etc.) through the upscale part of Paris’ Left Bank.
With Leduc Detectives in a temporary office in the former 17th-century cloister now housing the famed art school, it seems natural enough for directrice Sybille to hire Aimée to investigate a case involving one of its professors even though Jules Dechard won’t tell Aimée what the case is about. All he’ll divulge is that he wants a list of all email sent to and from a particular address. Since her partner, René Friant, is a computer whiz, email snooping is child’s play for Aimée. So she has enough time to also help her old friend Suzanne Lesage, a former member of an elite counterterrorism squad. Suzanne’s convinced she’s seen Mirko Vladi?, a sadistic murderer blown up in Serbia, alive and well in Paris. The tabac where Suzanne spotted Mirko is right behind the Saint-Sulpice Métro stop, so Aimeé can check it out easily on her way from the office. But none of the Balkan émigrés who frequent the shop has seen Mirko. A lull in both her cases doesn’t mean a respite for Aimée, though. Like a bad centime, Melac, the father of her baby, is back, and Aimée can’t decide whether all the free babyproofing in the world is worth the heartache Chloé’s sexy, married dad may bring.
Black's detective is hitting her post-pregnancy stride, bringing up bébé while battling the bad guys with the best of them.
In 1949, CIA agent Frank Weeks was exposed as a Communist spy and defected to the Soviet Union. A dozen years later, his brother, Simon, a publisher, gets into deep trouble when he travels to Moscow to work on Frank's memoir.
A memoir from "the man who betrayed a generation" is guaranteed to be an international bestseller—even if, as approved by the KGB, it will be full of omissions, half-truths, and fabrications. A born charmer—smart, irreverent, and brilliantly persuasive—Frank has mastered the art of self-preservation. Playing on his younger sibling's love for him, he draws Simon into a dangerous scheme he swears is motivated by a desire to save his wife, Joanna, from her deepening depression. Simon was once involved with Joanna and still has feelings for her. Recruited by Frank as an OSS intelligence analyst during World War II—and forced to resign his subsequent job at the State Department after Frank's cover was blown—Simon now finds himself caught between two worlds. The deeper he's pulled into his brother's orbit, the more he's put in touch with a cold streak of his own. Most of these plot elements will be familiar to readers of John le Carré, Gerald Seymour, and other great spy novelists. But with his remarkable emotional precision and mastery of tone, Kanon transcends the form. In its subtly romanticized treatment of compromised lives, this book is even better than his terrific previous effort, Leaving Berlin (2015).
A blend of Spy vs. Spy and sibling vs. sibling (not since le Carré's A Perfect Spy has there been a family of spooks to rival this one), Kanon reaffirms his status as one of the very best writers in the genre.
Well, that didn’t take long. By the end of Black Widow (2016), spy Gabriel Allon had finally agreed to become chief of Israel’s intelligence services. All it takes is a terrorist attack on London’s West End—and a whisper that Allon’s current nemesis was the mastermind behind it—to get this storied spy out from behind his desk and back into the thick of it. As they track the man known only as Saladin, Allon and his team travel from Britain to Saint-Tropez and Morocco. They enlist the grudging assistance of a glamorous French entrepreneur (who is in reality a drug smuggler) and his partner, a beautiful onetime model. And they discover the Islamic State has plans that go beyond suicide bombers and vehicular homicide. As usual, Silva has crafted a story that feels ripped from the headlines—possibly tomorrow’s headlines. His characters are confronting an Islamic State that is redefining itself as a virtual entity as it loses physical territory. They’re also fighting against an organization that is shifting its focus from building a caliphate in the Middle East to inflicting casualties in Europe and the United States. This is a less psychologically intense novel than Black Widow, and fans drawn to this series by Gabriel’s sideline as a restorer of Old Master paintings might miss the art history. But this is still a riveting thriller, and Silva’s writing has lost none of its elegance. He provides readers with just enough real-world geopolitics to make sense of his narrative, and his depictions of the different styles of the world’s diverse intelligence services is fascinating as always. What’s different in this installment is the sense that the role of the United States is diminishing in the world. Even though the U.S. asserts itself into the search for Saladin, there’s a clear sense among the British, the French, and the Israelis that their American counterparts are no longer reliable allies.
Another chilling glimpse inside global terror networks from a gifted storyteller.
What appears at first to be a double hate crime in a tiny Texas town turns out to be much more complicated—and more painful—than it seems.
With a degree from Princeton and two years of law school under his belt, Darren Mathews could have easily taken his place among the elite of African-American attorneys. Instead, he followed his uncle’s lead to become a Texas Ranger. “What is it about that damn badge?” his estranged wife, Lisa, asks. “It was never intended for you.” Darren often wonders if she’s right but nonetheless finds his badge useful “for working homicides with a racial element—murders with a particularly ugly taint.” The East Texas town of Lark is small enough to drive through “in the time it [takes] to sneeze,” but it’s big enough to have had not one, but two such murders. One of the victims is a black lawyer from Chicago, the kind of crusader-advocate Darren could have been if he’d stayed on his original path; the other is a young white woman, a local resident. Both battered bodies were found in a nearby bayou. His job already jeopardized by his role in a race-related murder case in another part of the state, Darren eases his way into Lark, where even his presence is enough to raise hackles among both the town’s white and black residents; some of the latter, especially, seem reluctant and evasive in their conversations with him. Besides their mysterious resistance, Darren also has to deal with a hostile sheriff, the white supremacist husband of the dead woman, and the dead lawyer’s moody widow, who flies into town with her own worst suspicions as to what her husband was doing down there. All the easily available facts imply some sordid business that could cause the whole town to explode. But the deeper Darren digs into the case, encountering lives steeped in his home state’s musical and social history, the more he begins to distrust his professional—and personal—instincts.
Locke, having stockpiled an acclaimed array of crime novels (Pleasantville, 2015, etc.), deserves a career breakthrough for this deftly plotted whodunit whose writing pulses throughout with a raw, blues-inflected lyricism.
A deadly game of hide-and-seek is set inside a darkened menagerie.
Joan and her 4-year-old son, Lincoln, are playing with action figures in the Dinosaur Discovery Pit when several small explosions echo through the zoo. Joan is puzzled by the noise, but it’s nearly closing time and she doesn’t want to get locked inside, so she ushers Lincoln toward the exit. Near the gate, dead bodies litter the ground, and an armed man is entering the women's bathroom. Joan grabs Lincoln and flees into the heart of the park, searching the shuttered buildings for a place to hide while attempting to explain the situation without frightening him. The duo hunkers down, but it's not long before stress and hunger take their toll. With at least one active shooter on the hunt and an increasingly cranky child in tow, Joan faces a series of heartbreaking decisions. Phillips’ (A Little Bit of Spectacular, 2015, etc.) latest is expertly structured to maximize tension and emotional impact. The siege unfolds in real time, with each chapter noting the hour and minute. Joan’s inner monologue provides the bulk of the narration, her thoughts a rolling storm of tangents that relate history and inform motivation while governing pace and tone. Phillips’ characters are exquisitely rendered, her prose is artful and evocative, and the restraint she practices with regard to on-screen carnage grants weight to every shot fired and corpse discovered.
Poignant and profound, this adrenaline-fueled thriller will shatter readers like a bullet through bone.
Granted exactly one month to write her way back into her editor’s good graces, a spinner of romantic suspense hatches a plot with unnerving echoes of her own troubled life.
After the success years ago of Drowned Secrets, Liza Cole’s career has been nothing but a cycle of diminishing returns, and now Trevor, her editor, summarily demands an outline of her latest project and gives her a deadline only a month away. It’s not a recipe for reassurance, especially for an author who’s as agitated about childbearing as she is about bringing her story to birth. David Jacobson, her husband of 12 years, hasn’t been able to get her pregnant, and they’ve been led through an increasingly invasive and expensive set of procedures, their anxieties further ramped up by the month-old disappearance of Nick Landau, David’s law partner and best friend. Beth, the heroine of Liza’s new novel, has a 6-week-old baby, but that’s about the only way her life marks any improvement on her creator’s. Liza introduces her in the act of spotting her husband, Jake, a criminal prosecutor, sharing an intimate moment with sexy police officer Colleen Landry, and from that point on her life spirals further out of control, with stops along the way for a fling with Dr. Tyler Williams, the handsome psychiatrist Jake has arranged for her to see, and some deeply unwelcome revelations about her past from her old friend Christine. As the two plots unfold in alternate chapters, the parallels between them become more insistent and disturbing; Liza begins to hear Beth’s voice advising her at moments of fateful decision; and both stories inevitably lead to murder.
Holahan (The Widower’s Wife, 2016, etc.) spins a suffocating double nightmare that provides compelling support for her heroine’s rueful article of faith: “To be a writer is to be a life thief.”