Bell Elkins is one of the greater creations in recent mystery fiction. A feisty, smart, no-holds-barred prosecuting attorney in tiny Acker’s Gap, West Virginia, each book is infused with both the love of the land and the tragedy of it, a shadow that’s deepened and grown darker through the course of the series. From the very first novel, A Killing in the Hills, Keller has had her finger on the pulse of contemporary culture. In that novel, the central event was a mass shooting at a fast food restaurant. In the most recent novel, Fast Falls the Night (2017), Keller focused on an alarmingly high series of overdoses related to opiods in one 24 hour period.
It’s 1942, and SOE agent Maggie Hope is stuck in the wilds of Scotland, essentially on a time out from the war. She and her fellow inmates on the Isle of Scarra are sequestered there because they know too much or seem to be in danger of spilling what they do know. Maggie, who was whisked to Scarra fresh from a Gestapo interrogation in Paris (The Paris Spy), is resentful she’s not doing her bit for the war effort. Her fellow inmates have all been traumatized by their war experience in various ways, but all of them feel the same as Maggie. Unfortunately, news of the war is almost non-existent and contact with anyone back home is completely non-existent.
This book is a knockout. I’ve read several books by St. James, but this one is by far my favorite. While she doesn’t have a recurring series character, her novels are always historical, and they all feature an actual ghost. There are some mysteries where a ghost is suggested but turns out to be something else more explainable. St. James is firmly in the old school ghost story camp and it serves her well.
The Broken Girls takes place at a girls’ boarding school in Vermont. Part of the book is set in the Vermont of the 50’s when the boarding school was still operational; and part of it is set in 2014 Vermont, where we meet central character Fiona Sheridan, who is much scarred by the now 20 years ago death of her sister on the boarding school grounds.
Timely, suspenseful, well crafted – all true, and irrelevant, as this novel is impossible to put down, so as you read you may simply be inhaling Ryan’s words. It’s going back into the story that gets you really thinking. Ryan frequently uses her extensive professional background as an investigative reporter to good advantage in her fiction, giving her characters, journalists all, a real ring of truth. It adds to the street cred of her novels. You can believe what she’s saying, because she knows what she’s talking about.
Owen Laukkanen and Nick Petrie are two of the most talented and original thriller writers at work at the moment. Owen’s latest book, Gale Force, is a bravura tour de force set on board a salvage ship; Nick burst on the scene with The Drifter and hasn’t made a wrong move since.
Q: I’ve been reading and selling mysteries for so long now I’ve started to feel like a biologist, making categories. I had just read a bunch of cozies before I read your books and started thinking about how thrillers and cozies have some similarities. Certain tropes are expected. Can you talk about how you utilize tropes to structure your books?
This is an expansion of an earlier essay and the basis of a talk I’ve given a couple times.
Like many of you, I started reading mysteries in the form of Nancy Drew in grade school. I was entranced, and in middle school I decided to read every novel by Agatha Christie. I found I could read one a day and after reading a great many of them, I was able to figure out whodunit – sometimes.
During college I discovered Dorothy Sayers, Ngaio Marsh and Margery Allingham, and when my husband and I moved to Ann Arbor in 1988, it was only a couple years before we opened Aunt Agatha’s. My husband Jamie worked at Borders for a few years and when we decided to branch out on our own, we went with the mystery genre. We named our store after Agatha and she remains, after 26 years, our bestselling author.
Kathryn Casey is America’s greatest living True Crime writer, as evidenced by the fact that her books have been reviewed more often by Aunt Agatha’s than any others in that genre. The reason for this is simple—Casey has a firm grasp of the most important ingredients for any writing, fiction or non. First and foremost is character, and her latest has a doozy of a cast. She has a real talent for presenting the histories of the major actors in such sharp detail that the fatal product of their collision seems somehow inevitable.
Deep into a now 80 book and counting career, and 27 in to his iconic Amos Walker series, what is Loren Estleman going to come up with that might be new? You might be surprised. In this novel Walker crosses paths with one of Estleman’s other characters, Peter Macklin, who hires Walker to look after his ex-wife. She’s being stalked by his son, Roger, who has gone into the family business – contract killing.
Dividing the segments of the novel into “Me” (Walker), “Him” (Macklin), as well as “Her” (the ex-wife) and “Them” (various, but often Roger) has injected a fresh energy into this novel. As always, Estleman writes tight – this book clocks in at 240 pages – and also as always, his prose and expression are absolute treasures. Reading an Estleman novel is almost like eating a too rich slice of chocolate cake – you have to read slowly, because if you don’t you won’t be able to savor the prose and the witty sleight of hand that comprises Estleman’s dialogue. People in an Estleman novel speak like you wish you could and maybe the way you would if you had a long time to come up with the perfect turn of phrase. Alas, I think there are few human brains that actually operate on that elevated scale, but it’s certainly a delight to encounter it in print.
Elly Griffiths goes from strength to strength with her Ruth Galloway series. She’s created a long form look at a main character that most readers not only love, but identify with. In this outing as Ruth hits the beach with her glam friend Shona, her discomfort at wearing her old black one piece in public is something pretty much any woman can relate to. But of course there’s more than an identification with Ruth Galloway that makes Griffiths’ novels a standout – she’s an effortless and energetic storyteller who punctuates her writing with healthy dollops of humor. What’s not to love?
Jenny Milchman’s talent for suspense is of a very high order. I read lots and lots of mysteries – obviously – but it’s rare that I read a book that makes me so squirmy I have to put it down a couple times as I read it. She reminds me of Joseph Finder, in that I had to keep telling myself that this was fiction and wasn’t actually happening.
The book opens at a lovely wedding, but of course, as any suspense fan knows, this wedding is not going to end well. In this case, it’s not the wedding that’s the problem, it’s the honeymoon. Natalie and Doug have a camping/canoeing trip planned for their honeymoon, one that takes them deep into the Adirondack wilderness.