Sophie Hannah: The Killings at Kingfisher Hill

Golden age detectives are the perfect characters to provide a continuation of a series.  Nero Wolfe, Miss Marple, Hercule Poirot – all have such well established character traits, and yet do not especially develop or change  – that they can be taken by another writer and made fresh.  Sophie Hannah is obviously familiar with Poirot and obviously loves him, as every reader does, despite his quirks.

Hannah also manages the feat of showing, not telling, Poirot’s cleverness and intelligence as he unravels a tricky case.  Like the great queen of crime herself, Hannah’s unraveling is only tricky from a certain angle, from another (Poirot’s) it’s more straightforward.  The telling is all in the angles.  This is a feat of sheer storytelling power. read more

Dianne Freeman: A Lady’s Guide to Mischief and Murder

This delightful series continues to enchant.  The first book introduced the widowed Frances, Lady Harleigh, rich and on the loose in 1890’s London for the first time.  By this third installment, she’s engaged, is busy with her daughter, Rose, and is supervising the wedding plans for her sister Lily, who is inconveniently pregnant.

Frances is nothing if not practical, and she and her fiancée George quickly arrange for Lily to be married from George’s family seat while George’s brother is abroad. The wedding party is smallish, but for a house party – and a pool of murder suspects – plenty big enough.  Combining the classic British house party whodunnit with a lighter, funnier version of an historical cozy, Freeman is a deft hand with both narrative and character, and she keeps things percolating. read more

Allison Montclair: A Royal Affair

I loved the first book in this series, The Right Sort of Man, and I loved this installment every bit as much.  Iris Sparks and Gwen Bainbridge own The Right Sort marriage bureau, operating in post war London, and while they are still working to match couples, they do seem to get caught up in a great deal of subterfuge.  Which, for the lucky reader, is all to the good.

As Iris and Gwen are working away one day, their afternoon appointment turns out to be an envoy from the royal household, with the hope that Iris and Gwen can vet a possible marriage candidate for the young Princess Elizabeth.  This of course is none other than Prince Philip, and as any devoted royal watcher knows, Philip’s backstory is almost like a novel.  The talented Montclair takes this fact and runs with it. read more

Elly Griffiths: The Lantern Men

This novel will be released on July 14.

It’s rare for a writer to sustain interest and excitement through a long series.  Elly Griffith’s Ruth Galloway series, now twelve books strong, has had a few entries not quite as great as some of the very best ones, but this one is one of the best ones.  There might be a couple reasons – one, Griffiths has now refreshed herself with a very different series (the Magic Men books). For another, she’s taken this book and skooched Ruth two years ahead in time from the last book and much has happened.  It’s only unsettling for a moment – you’ll catch on – especially as all the changes are pretty briskly introduced in the first chapter. read more

Peter Robinson: Many Rivers to Cross

This melancholy, thoughtful novel finds Inspector Banks struggling with some of the knottier issues confronting the world at the moment – immigration, drug use and human trafficking.  Mystery novelists are often among the first to write about “issues,” wrapping them in stories that make the reader think. Robinson is embracing this macro view of the universe, while applying a writer’s micro view – the humans who populate the drama.

There are two main story threads in this book.  One involves a young Arab boy found dead, stuffed in a garbage bin.  The police are having a hard time locating any ties for him, and of course he turns out to be a refugee, with a particularly heartbreaking backstory. read more

Sophie Hannah: Perfect Little Children

There’s a classic French novel called Le Grand Meaulnes, which is basically in two parts. The first is about a runaway schoolboy who stumbles into a marvelous, fairy tale experience in an isolated, ancient mansion in the countryside. The second half is the prosaic, logical explanation of this seemingly magic occurrence and the resulting quotidian grind of real life. In a way it’s satisfying to know what really happened, but in another way you want to rip the book in two and throw the ending out of the window. Or in the words of the marvelously named Sacheverell Sitwell, “In the end, it is the mystery that lasts and not the explanation.” read more

Deborah Crombie: A Bitter Feast

I don’t think there was a book I was more excited to read this year than this one and happily, I wasn’t disappointed.  It’s been three long years since the last novel, The Garden of Lamentations, and I have missed Crombie’s perceptive take on human nature.  It’s character that dominates her novels.  Characters are the alpha and omega of her writing, and this book is no exception to the rule.

I have to say I nearly swooned when I discovered the book was set in the Cotswolds.  There can be no more English village-y type setting, and contemporary writers from Erin Hart to Elizabeth George to G.M. Malliet have taken this classic setting and run with it.  There’s a depth to Deborah Crombie’s writing that sets her apart, and it percolates through every detail of her novels, from setting to plot to whatever she has chosen to examine in a particular book. read more

Ann Cleeves: The Long Call

Ann Cleeves wrapped up her stellar Shetland series and has turned her hand and eye to Devon, a British resort area where of course she finds out what’s lurking under the surface. She introduces the reader to detective Matthew Venn, who has a complex backstory that would seem to lend itself to further discovery in more books down the road.

Matthew is a bit OCD, reminding me slightly of Margaret Maron’s great creation, Sigrid Harald. He was raised by parents who were members of a Christian cult and when he renounced their faith he was banned from their lives. He’s married to the lively, artistic and sometimes messy Jonathan, who runs the local center for art and disabled adults. The odd combination of artistic pursuit and mental health and disabled adult care seems to work well and the center is a lively place, important to many families in town. read more

Kate Atkinson: Big Sky

It’s been a long wait for the new Jackson Brodie novel. Kate Atkinson was writing Life After Life and other literary hits. But her unlucky-in-love, tough-but-soft-hearted P.I. is back. This time Jackson’s 13-year-old son Nathan is staying with him on Yorkshire’s east coast while his mother Julia, Jackson’s former flame, acts in a TV crime series. Jackson’s daughter Marlee is now a law graduate and about to be a bride. Jackson does “dog work for solicitors—debt tracing, surveillance, and so on.” He also documents adulterous couples. read more

Rhys Bowen: Love and Death Among the Cheetahs

Every time I finish a Lady Georgie book by Rhys Bowen I think to myself, well, there’s no way she can write another book that’s so insanely enjoyable. But every time…she does write one that’s just as positively crazily enjoyable as the one before. She has the gift of narrative in spades, but she also has a light hand with it. Each time, she puts her characters in a fresh situation, and this is book 13 in a series. In the last book (Four Funerals and Maybe a Wedding) Georgie and Darcy were married at last. So what comes next? A honeymoon, naturally. read more