The third appearance for Swedish cop Fabian Risk and his colleagues in Helsingborg’s crime squad (The Ninth Grave, 2017, etc.) presents them two very different crime waves, one that might have been ripped from the headlines, the other more baroque, fantastic, and transcendentally evil.
Astrid Tuvesson, the problem drinker who heads the squad, gets off to a bad start when her car is clipped by a BMW that takes off at high speed and her pursuit of it ends when it drives off a quay into the harbor below. Things get worse when pathologist Einar “Braids” Greide announces that Peter Brise, the celebrated video game designer pulled from the water, actually froze to death two months ago. Since plenty of people have seen Brise quite recently, that means something’s seriously wrong, and that something turns out to be a long-unsuspected case of identity theft on a grand scale. While the crime squad is turning over every stone looking for the man who carefully selects wealthy targets, imprisons them in chest freezers until they’re dead, impersonates them with a master’s improbable hand, and drains their assets, uniformed officer Dunja Hougaard, recently arrived from Copenhagen, runs into an unrelated and much more horrifyingly realistic series of crimes by a masked crew of thrill killers who beat and kick random street people to death just for fun. Since Kim Sleizner, Dunja’s abusive boss back in Copenhagen, continues to do everything he can to torpedo her investigation, she persuades mate Magnus Rawn to join her outside official regulations to catch the killers. But it’s the coldhearted virtuoso whose remorseless planning stands in such striking opposition to the thrill killers that will haunt your memory long after you’ve finished reading.
Hats off to Ahnhem for creating a villain more powerful than the franchise team charged with bringing him in.
In 2014, 35 years after Berlin-based CIA worker Helen Abell went rogue to uncover a high-level agent as a serial rapist, she and her husband are murdered in their farmhouse on Maryland's Eastern Shore—both shot in the face with a hunting rifle.
Initially, it is assumed that the couple's mentally ill 24-year-old son, Willard, committed the crime. But his older sister, Anna, believing him incapable of such an act, hires Henry Mattick, an investigator, to help uncover the truth. She is amazed to discover that her secretive mom was once a spy in Europe and may have been targeted in connection with her activities there. The book continues with alternating sections following Anna in the present and Helen in the past. In Berlin, the innocent but strong-willed Helen, 23, has the job of tending to four safe houses for the Company. During a surreptitious middle-of-the-night visit to one of them, she witnesses a man assaulting a young woman and stops the attack. Warned by her superiors to forget the encounter and stay away from the assailant, an operative code-named Robert, she continues her pursuit on the sly via a network of female colleagues who are well-aware of the man's transgressions. Just as Anna will put her trust in Mattick, who once worked for the Department of Justice in Baltimore, Helen puts her trust—for a time—in her lover, Clark Baucom, a veteran operative with the manner of Robert Mitchum and weariness written into his DNA. Fesperman (The Letter Writer, 2016, etc.) takes a risk in dividing the narratives so cleanly, but the strategy pays off when they converge, one story deepening the meaning and intensity of the other. Unlike some spy novels, this one never bogs down in gamesmanship, spy talk, or cheap reveals. It strives to be truthful.
Prolific spy novelist Fesperman delivers another winner, this one as fiendishly clever as it is richly entertaining.
When Rebecca’s boyfriend goes missing, she learns that he may be caught up in the stranger game. So she, too, begins to play. Rule No. 1: Choose random people to follow, and don’t get caught….
Gadol’s (Silver Lake, 2009, etc.) novel explores the inherent loneliness of modern life and suggests that, in our desperate search for meaning and connection, we are willing to do almost anything. When Ezra disappears, Rebecca finds a copy of an article on his desk written by A. Craig (a pseudonym) about how, in his own desire to escape the crushing isolation of his life, he begins to follow total strangers. Eventually this “game” becomes all-consuming. According to the detective to whom Rebecca reports Ezra’s disappearance, more and more people are dropping out to play the game. Even more troubling, there are underground versions of the game in which people break into empty houses or hire “stagers” to create potentially violent confrontations. The police may even be involved, so Rebecca has to be careful whom she trusts—and that includes her new lover, Carey. The irony, of course, is that while the founder of the stranger game claims that following strangers helps him develop empathy, players actually just impose their own assumptions on the narratives they craft to explain the motives of another. In other words, we don’t truly see other people for who they are; instead, we filter what we see through our own experiences, preventing us from learning new perspectives on the world. Perhaps the best we can do, Gadol suggests through Rebecca and Ezra, is “to know one person as completely as possible” and ask, “How could you draw a line connecting you and this one great love? How could you make that line indelible?”
Beautiful, thoughtful meditation on the invisible ties that bind us—even to strangers.
Hercule Poirot gets pulled into a mystery in the most awkward possible way when someone signing himself Hercule Poirot writes four letters accusing four different people of the same murder.
Not only did she not kill Barnabas Pandy, a furious Sylvia Rule assures the famous detective; she’s never even heard of him. Neither has John McCrodden, who assumes that his father, Rowland, whose fierce advocacy of the death penalty has won him the sobriquet “Rowland Rope,” conspired with Poirot to accuse his long-estranged son of murdering Pandy. Annabel Treadway has certainly heard of Pandy—he was her grandfather, after all—but she tearfully claims that she didn’t kill him either, though at least she’s willing to listen to Poirot’s own protestations of innocence. So is ebullient Turville School housemaster Hugo Dockerill, who passes the accusation off as a joke despite his own connection to Pandy, whose great-grandson, Timothy, Annabel’s nephew, is a pupil of his. With all due respect to the obvious questions he shares with his “friend and occasional helper,” Scotland Yard Inspector Edward Catchpool—which, if any, of these suspects actually killed Pandy? Why would anyone trouble to drown a 94-year-old slate magnate, no matter how wealthy has was, in his bathtub? Who wrote the letters?—Poirot is fascinated by a more puzzling question: Why would anyone want to write those four letters in the first place? A series of variously edgy conversations, a proffer of alibis, and another sudden death will intervene before Poirot, skillfully exploiting his trademark fondness for neat patterns, is able to make good on his uncharacteristically rash promise to reveal all in a roundup of the unusual suspects only a week later.
As in her two earlier Agatha Christie pastiches (Closed Casket, 2016, etc.), Hannah is content to supply boundless ingenuity in place of more 1930s detail, this time adding a divinely inspired denouement that seems to go on for longer than the week that leads up to it.
Demoted back to local policing from the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department’s Homicide Division, Kyochiro Kaga (Malice, 2014) makes a deep impression on the quiet Nihonbashi Precinct.
The girl at the rice cracker shop is probably the first to notice Kaga’s novel approach to investigation. Rather than focusing on the crime scene in Kodenmacho where Mineko Mitsui was found strangled in her apartment, Kaga begins by looking at the rhythms of the street. Why do businessmen walking from the Hamacho neighborhood to the Ningyocho subway station still have their jackets on, while the men coming from Ningyocho have them slung over their shoulders? Naho Kamikawa, the shopkeeper’s granddaughter, feigns indifference as she sits sipping her banana juice with Kaga, but still she’s impressed at his perceptiveness. So are Yoriko, owner of a traditional restaurant down the street, and Akifumi, the apprentice at irascible Mr. Terada’s clock shop. As author Higashino describes Kaga’s incursion into the lives he finds at each of the street’s small shops, he seems to be crafting a chain of tiny, gemlike short stories—until the tales start intersecting, scaffolding on one another, and eventually creating a bridge between the lives of the longtime residents of Kodenmacho and the death of a woman who, for her own private reasons, chose to live in this obscure quarter of one of the world’s busiest cities.
Part Sherlock Holmes, part Harry Bosch, Higashino’s hero is a quietly majestic force to be reckoned with. Here’s hoping his demotion continues to bring him to the attention of readers from East to West.
Boston FBI agent Rob Barrett gets himself sent to Port Hope, Maine, the town where his grandfather lived and where he spent his childhood summers, to help crack the case of a young couple's murder, which appears to have been committed by a childhood antagonist of Barrett's.
To the surprise of local cops who haven't been able to get 22-year-old drug addict Kimberly Crepeaux to utter a word about the murders of Jackie Pelletier and Ian Kelly since she turned herself in and admitted she was part of it, interrogation specialist Barrett quickly gets her to open up about everything. She swears the killer was Mathias Burke—despite his reputation as "the paragon of the peninsula"—a local man who had built up a large landscaping and caretaking business. Kimmy says Mathias forced her and her friend Cass Odom to help him dump the bodies in a pond, but when divers can't find any corpses, evidence points to another suspect, and a humiliated Barrett is forced to admit Kimmy must be lying. He's reassigned to Montana—to the taunting delight of Mathias. Months later, after having received repeated phone messages from Kimmy, who's just out of jail, and from Jackie Pelletier's pleading father, Barrett returns to Maine to resume his investigation on the sly. There, he has his eyes opened to the lethal toll of a heroin blend that was responsible for Cass' death three days after Jackie and Ian's murders. The only questions are how Mathias is connected to all those deaths and what price Barrett will pay in his pursuit of the truth. Is Koryta capable of telling a less-than-gripping tale? This book may not be as ambitious as his best efforts (including Rise the Dark, 2016), but it is flawless, unpredictable storytelling streaked with his usual dark undercurrents.
A redheaded waitress, a good-looking private eye, insurance fraud, arson, rough sex, and a long hot summer: some like it noir.
With her 23rd novel, Lippman (Wilde Lake, 2016, etc.) pays tribute to a literary predecessor who, like her, began his study of crime as a journalist at the Baltimore Sun—James M. Cain, author of The Postman Always Rings Twice, Double Indemnity, and Mildred Pierce. Lippman’s version of the sexy stranger passing through town starts with Polly Costello (that’s one of her names, anyway) on a beach vacation in Fenwick, Delaware, with her husband and 3-year-old daughter, Jani. One morning she says she needs a break from the sun, then grabs her duffel and heads down the road. “What kind of woman walks out on her family? Gregg knows. The kind of woman he picked up in a bar four years ago precisely because she had that kind of wildcat energy.…She scratched, she bit, she was up for anything, anywhere, anytime.” Actually, poor Gregg, suddenly a single dad, doesn’t know the half of it. Someone who does have a much fuller picture of Polly’s background is Adam, a good-looking, Oberlin- and culinary-institute–educated fellow she runs into at a bar her first day on the lam. Neither Adam nor Polly is candid about what has brought them to stools at the High-Ho, but both stick around and get jobs there, as chef and waitress. By the time their connection in the bedroom blossoms into something more serious, the skeletons in the closet have been joined by fresh new ones. Lippman’s trademark is populating a whodunit with characters so believably complicated that they don’t need the mystery to carry the book. If that’s not quite the case here, you can tell how much fun the author had updating the classic noir tropes, and it’s contagious.
Plotty, page-turning pleasure plus instructions on how to make a perfect grilled cheese sandwich and how to stab a man in the heart.
A mommy group attempts to get to the bottom of a baby’s disappearance in Molloy’s debut.
“Bad things happen in heat like this.” The May Mothers is a group of Brooklyn women whose children share May birthdates and who enjoy bonding over the trials and tribulations of new motherhood. There’s gorgeous and brash Brit Nell Mackey, ghostwriter Colette Yates, sweet-natured Southerner Francie Givens, and Token, which is the nickname they’ve given the sole stay-at-home dad in the group, whom they assume is gay. Then there’s single mom Winnie Ross, an otherworldly beauty who sets herself apart but seems devoted to her little boy, Midas. When Nell suggests a moms’ night out without the babies, Winnie is reluctant to go, but Nell won’t take no for an answer, even offering to provide a babysitter. They drink the night away at a local bar, and before they leave, Nell receives a phone call from the babysitter with the news that Midas is missing, taken from his crib while she slept. Against the sweltering Brooklyn summer, the ladies, horrified at the mounting sensationalism of the case, use their various skills to dig into Winnie’s secretive past, hoping to bring little Midas home. The narrative rotates among the moms, offering insight into their varied lives, and readers will think they’ve got this one figured out, but the surprises, and revelations, come fast and often. A bonus: Emails sent to the May Mothers by a website called The Village—where they all registered—precede each chapter, doling out smug, one-size-fits-all advice on babies' milestones.
Molloy, a master of clever misdirection, deftly explores the expectations, insecurities, and endless judgement that accompany motherhood in this fast-paced thriller featuring a bevy of strong, smart, and realistically flawed women who, refreshingly, have each other's backs when it counts the most. Mesmerizing.
A Virginia mom dutifully treading the path toward middle-class respectability is thrown down the rabbit hole when she’s accused of drug dealing and worse.
Despite having been taken from an abusive father and grown up in a series of group homes and foster homes, Melanie Barrick seems to have landed on her feet. While she works as a dispatcher at Diamond Trucking, her husband, Ben, studies history at James Madison University, where his mentor is grooming him for a tenure-track job, and her 3-month-old son, Alex, is taking baby steps toward becoming his own person. The wrecking ball is lowered on Melanie’s life when she’s late picking up Alex at day care and learns that Social Services has already spirited him away after hearing that the Augusta County Sheriff’s Office has found nearly half a kilo of cocaine hidden in the boy’s nursery together with all the evidence they need to convict Melanie of intent to sell. In short order, Melanie is arrested for assaulting a police officer, hauled off to jail, and threatened with five years in prison. Her Social Services hearing is over before it begins, and the preliminary hearing on the criminal charges goes no better. Things couldn’t possibly get any worse—unless she finds out that Ben has been lying to her for months about a very important subject and she’s charged with the murder of a man she’s only seen once before. Deputy commonwealth attorney Amy Kaye, pulled off the case of a serial rapist to slam the prison door on the Coke Mom so that her incompetent, politically minded boss, Aaron Dansby, can burnish his resume and run for higher office, smells a rat, but her attempts to undermine the case against Melanie are as unavailing as her attempts to link the Coke Mom to the Whispering Rapist.
Parks (Say Nothing, 2017, etc.) dishes out another irresistible descent into hell for a heroine who regards her harrowing plight with a sobering verdict: “It was like hitting a new bottom every day.”
The Chief Superintendent of the Sûreté du Québec finds himself in a unique position: He's tangled up in the life of a recently deceased woman, and it doesn't involve her murder.
As the first snowflakes of a major storm start to fall, Chief Superintendent Gamache is standing in front of a crooked house in the middle of the woods, unsure of whom he will find inside. Curiosity is what brings him here after receiving a vague invitation in the mail. But is there danger waiting beyond the door? It's what Gamache has been trained to anticipate. Currently suspended from his Sûreté post during the investigation into the controversial events of Glass Houses (2017), Gamache must remember he's here on unofficial business. He and two others who arrive at the house learn that they've been named executors of a will belonging to a woman they never knew in life. Stranger still, the woman, who called herself the Baroness, has left millions to her three children, money everyone is shocked to hear about. Her secretiveness was fueled by generations of family bitterness and resentment. And though it may seem like Gamache has all the time in the world to dive into this dark history, his attention is in fact divided: The deadly opioid that slipped untraced into Montreal under Gamache's watch is expected to hit the streets any day—a most unsettling thought. Penny reveals a deeper vulnerability in the introspective Gamache; is it possible he's not quite sure of himself anymore? A theme of desperation plays out in both story arcs, as characters from all walks of life move between hope and despair and traverse the fine line that separates them. The main mystery pales in comparison to Gamache's interior story, and the decisions he makes are sure to raise a few eyebrows. Moral duty has been synonymous with our hero, but Penny seems to be pushing her characters in new directions with this installment: “[Gamache] considered his options and the atrocity he was about to commit.” The ending is adrenaline-filled but, no, not because of the mysterious will.
This starts as a small-town mystery and becomes something grander and more frightening; Penny has upped her thrills-to–pain au chocolat ratio.
Valentine Pescatore, a private investigator working under contract to Homeland Security, teams with sometime cop, sometime crusading journalist Leo Méndez to penetrate the conspiracy surrounding the killing of 10 African women in a Mexican motel.
The Chicago-born Pescatore, who became a PI in Argentina after messing up as a U.S. Border Patrol agent, has recently relocated from Buenos Aires to Washington, D.C., to work again for Isabel Puente, his former boss and one-time lover. Under government protection, Méndez has moved to San Diego with his wife and children to escape the Mexican Mafia and its "rip crews"—roving robbers and killers. At the heart of the motel murders is an illicit scheme involving an American financial outfit with ties to Mexico that is being investigated for money laundering. After an Eritrean cleaning woman is sexually assaulted by one of the company's partners and escapes to Mexico with an incriminating flash drive from her attacker's computer, her life is in danger. Ultimately, wherever they go to connect the dots of the case—Mexico, southern California, Guatemala, Italy—Pescatore and Méndez are under threat as well. (Different troubles await Pescatore in Paris, where a breakup with his counterterrorism-agent girlfriend, Fatima, seems likely.) This latest installment in a series including Triple Crossing (2011) and The Convert's Song (2014) is about as tightly woven and rock-solid as international thrillers get. Rotella is as good at setting up action scenes as he is at springing them (which is saying something: the shootouts are terrific). The crisp dialogue feeds the sculpted plot and vice versa. There is nary a wasted moment in the book or one in which Rotella isn't in complete command. The entertaining combo of Pescatore and Méndez is icing on the cake.
Rotella's latest is a tense, gritty thriller—perfectly seedy when it needs to be and near-perfect in its overall execution.
For a time, it looked like Israel’s most famous spy might actually retreat to a desk job. In The Black Widow (2016) and The House of Spies (2017), it seemed as if Allon's creator was bringing younger, secondary characters to the foreground, but Allon has now taken center stage again. In this way and others, Silva's latest feels like a throwback to some of the earlier books in the series as well as to spy novels of the Cold War era. This is not the product of a lack of creativity on Silva’s part but rather a reflection of current events. Russia is the adversary here, and Allon and his team must find the one woman who can reveal the identity of a mole who has reached the highest echelons of Britain’s MI6. The search will take Allon deep into the past, into the secret heart of one of the 20th century's greatest intelligence scandals. Silva’s work has always had a political edge, and his storytelling has only grown more biting recently. Although he doesn’t name the current American leader, he does mention “a presidential tryst with an adult film star” as well as that president’s strange fondness for Vladimir Putin. Silva depicts a world in which communist true believers are dying out while far-right populists around the world look to the New Russia as a triumph of hard-line nationalism. The alliances that have sustained Western democracies are fraying, and Europe is preparing for a future in which the United States is no longer a reliable friend, nor a superpower. Silva’s work is always riveting, but this summer blockbuster isn’t exactly an escape—especially for readers who stick around for the author’s note at the end. Although the Gabriel Allon novels are interrelated, Silva is adept at crafting narratives that can stand alone. This thriller will satisfy the author’s fans while it will also appeal to those who appreciate past masters of the genre like John le Carré and Graham Greene.
A middle-aged Edinburgh librarian is sent back to 19th-century Russia with orders to complete an unspecified mission within a single calendar week of a year she can’t determine. Say what?
It’s no wonder that Shona McMonagle styles herself the crème de la crème. Not only does she do yeoman work at the Morningside Library, but as a restless alumna of the Marcia Blaine School for Girls, she’s honed such diverse skills as knife throwing and accordion playing. So Miss Blaine, suddenly appearing at the library, has no hesitation in dispatching her to an unnamed Russian town a hundred-something years ago to perform an important task that she’s sure Shona will recognize on her own. Naturally, Shona, whisked over the miles and decades, decides that her brief is to rescue novice socialite Lidia Ivanovna Chrezvychainodlinnoslovsky from the elderly general whom she seems fated to wed and match her instead with Sasha, the beautiful serf and protégé of a thoroughly irritating countess. Shona matter-of-factly accommodates herself to her new identity as Shona Fergusovna, aka Princess Tamsonova, and her own serf, a coachman named Old Vatrushkin who adamantly resists her efforts to raise his consciousness, but still faces several obstacles. Lidia Ivanovna is shy and retiring; she’s never so much as met Sasha; as Shona makes the rounds of the society hostesses most likely to organize parties that might bring them together, the hostesses develop a disconcerting habit of falling down staircases to their deaths; and Lidia Ivanovna turns out to have been on the scene of several of these fatalities. As if that weren’t bad enough, Shona, despite her finely honed research skills, just can’t figure out what year it is.
Wojtas’ debut is every bit as lighthearted, levelheaded, inventive, hilarious, and altogether enchanting as its heroine, who richly deserves another jaunt through time and space.