Harlan Coben: the Boy from the Woods

Harlan Coben’s The Boy from the Woods is one of his fresher – and angrier – books in awhile.  He’s using lawyer Hester Crimstein as his main character (mostly), and as readers, we get some of the fierce Hester’s backstory, as she listens to her grandson when he tells her he’s worried about the disappearance of a bullied girl in his class.

There’s also the titular character, the “boy from the woods,” aka Wilde, a man who was discovered as a 6 or 8 year old in the woods, apparently having survived living on his own for quite a while.  He learned English from breaking into abandoned homes and watching television but as a grown man, he’s still most comfortable alone in the woods. read more

Julia Spencer-Fleming: Hid from Our Eyes

If you’re a fan of Julia Spencer-Fleming’s, you’ll be delighted to know that Hid From Our Eyes picks up right where One Was a Soldier left off.  Since it’s been awhile I’ll recap: Episcopal priest Clare Fergusson and her husband Russ Van Alstyne have welcomed their first child (read the book to find out the child’s name and sex).  Clare is in addiction recovery, and believably – for anyone familiar with addiction – she teeters from sober to wishing she wasn’t.  That’s the rich background. read more

Cara Black: Three Hours in Paris

This book will be available on April 7, 2020.

This ticking clock thriller feels like the book Cara Black has long wanted to write, it’s so explosive, so taut, and so impossible to stop reading.  The propulsive narrative follows Kate Rees, a young American sent to assassinate Hitler when he visits Paris for three hours in 1940.  The set up introduces Kate as she’s waiting with her sniper rifle for Hitler’s appearance; then it goes back in time, very briefly, to establish Kate as a person.  She’d been living in Scotland with her Welsh husband and their baby daughter when she loses them both to a German bomb, making her determined to fight the Germans with every bit of herself. read more

Carol Goodman: The Sea of Lost Girls

Carol Goodman’s luscious prose doesn’t mask her storytelling drive, and it’s a haunting and unforgettable combination.  The Sea of Lost Girls is set at a girl’s boarding school in Maine, centering on the family of Tess, Harmon and Rudy.  Tess and Harmon both work at the school; Rudy is Tess’s son and Harmon’s stepson, as well as a student at the school. The book kicks off with him texting his mother in the middle of the night, and she rushes off to find out what’s wrong.

As a reader, I was instantly drawn into the dynamic between Tess and her son, who has had some troubles but whom she loves fiercely.  Her greatest goal is that of any mother’s: to protect him.  And, as it turns out, he needs it.  His girlfriend, Lila, whom he had been fighting with, turns up dead the next morning and suspicion falls on both Rudy and Harmon in turn. read more

Serena Kent: Death in Avignon

This was a delicious slice of armchair travel – I have never personally been to Provence, but I think my new life goal might be to get there.  Serena Kent’s British heroine, Penelope Kite, has started over in Provence after a divorce and seeing her children out of the nest.  She’s rehabbed a gorgeous old stone farmhouse (I’m assuming it’s gorgeous, because, by the sound of the book, everything in Provence is gorgeous). She lives a pleasant life walking into the village for croissants, eating lots of incredible sounding meals, drinking wine that sounds just as luscious, practicing her cello, and oh yes – she has a flair for detection. read more

Lori Rader-Day: The Lucky One

The Lucky One follows the stories of Alice Fine, who as a child emerged unscathed from a kidnapping, and Merrily Cruz, who wants badly to find her missing father – or the closest approximation to a father that she’s known.  Rader-Day, in her typical fashion, fleshes out these women’s stories with psychological background to each character, building and building them, until the two women practically become real.

Alice’s obsession with her kidnapping leads her to a website called The Doe Pages, where people are searching for the lost.  She’s drawn to it and she also thinks maybe she can find her kidnapper there.  Her life is a little shut off – she’s broken up with her fiancée and she lives alone.  She works in the office of the family construction company, with her father and uncle as benevolent bosses.  The women on the Doe Pages, strangers, become acquaintances, then friends. read more

Book Club Read: The Moonstone

For our March book club, we’ll read Wilkie Collin’s 1871 classic, The Moonstone.  We are meeting on Thursday, March 26, 6 p.m. at Seva, which is at Westgate shopping center.  This book is Victorian so the writing is more flowery and detailed than you might be used to but the story it fantastic and the basis for so many other detective stories throughout history.  From a review on NPR by Chitra Divakaruni in 2013:

“I was struck by how masterfully Collins pulls together the different strands of a complicated plot. T.S. Eliot called The Moonstone “the first, the longest, and the best of the modern English detective novel.” I could see why. Reading the book was a little like seeing the Wright brothers maneuvering their first aircraft, except there was no awkward bucking, no crashes. read more

Simone St. James: The Sun Down Motel

Simone St. James is one of the best of all modern gothic novelists, and importantly, the ghosts in her books are real, they’re not actually mysterious human strangers hanging around in vacant buildings for nefarious reasons.  She combines her ghost stories with cracking good mysteries, an irresistible combination, and unlike practically any other mystery novelist, the characters are pretty much exclusively female.  There are a few male characters for sure, but they are more on the window dressing side of things.  It’s the ladies that carry the narrative. read more

Love Stories in Crime Fiction

Ever since Nancy Drew met Ned Nickerson, love stories have been a part of crime fiction.  Maybe not the main player, but some books have relationships that help define them.  Here are some of my favorites.

In the golden age, Patricia Wentworth stands out, as she always foregrounded romance as part of her stories.  Unlike some of the other authors I’ll mention, she wrote a series, but the romantic characters didn’t recur or involve the main characters, with one exception: Miss Silver Comes to Stay (1948), where Rietta Cray and Randal March, a former pupil of Miss Silver’s and now a Chief Constable, find slightly late in life love.  March is a re-occurring character, and he and Rietta appear in other books, complete with a family to Miss Silver’s doting delight.  Love in a Wentworth novel is quiet, intense and somehow dignified. read more

Susan Elia MacNeal: The King’s Justice

This title will be available February 25, 2020.

As I was writing my review, instead of adding “Susan Elia MacNeal” as the author, I almost typed “Maggie Hope,” so indelible and real has this character become.  Maggie, the red haired spitfire who began the first book as Churchill’s secretary, has now left the SOE (Secret Executive Organization) after being sequestered on a Scottish island (see The Prisoner in the Castle).  It’s now 1943 and she’s defusing bombs for the war effort. read more