Brian Klingborg: Wild Prey

This is the second novel about Inspector Lu Fei, who works in a small town outside of Harbin, China.  The charm of the first novel, Thief of Souls, were the inner workings of a small town Chinese police department and the lives of the officers, including and especially Lu Fei, who is an incredibly appealing character.  In Wild Prey Lu Fei remains appealing, but the topic Klingborg has chosen to spotlight is far more difficult.  The first novel was a serial killer story; this one focuses on the illegal (and immoral) killing of rare animals for food. read more

Charles Todd: A Game of Fear

Through now 24 novels, Charles and Caroline Todd have provided their readers with excellence, pure and simple.  The first novel in the Rutledge series, A Test of Wills, is a classic, and the rest of the series, elegiac, carefully plotted, and richly characterized, have all been solid and worthy reads. Sadly, this is the last novel written in collaboration with Caroline Todd, who passed away in 2021. She leaves a huge legacy.

In this novel, set in 1921, Inspector Rutledge has been called in from Scotland Yard to look at a case in Essex.  He goes where he’s sent by his higher ups, but he is puzzled to be looking in a case that seems to involve a ghost.  No-one is better than the Todds at setting up a disturbing premise that sticks in your mind as you read, wondering what’s going on.  Twenty-four books in, I was pretty comfortable waiting to discover the solution. read more

John Keyse-Walker: Palms, Paradise, Poison

This is the third book in John Keyse-Walker’s enjoyable Teddy Creque series, set on the fictional island of Anegada in the British Virgin Islands. Similar in tone and feel to the TV series Death in Paradise, Keyse-Walker’s main character is not an imported British superintendent, but an island born constable, risen to the top of the heap in tiny Anegada.  He’s also a fisherman, and his community plays a huge part in the story.

While the first book in the series was a traditional police procedural story with the added zing of the Caribbean setting, this one is a stripped down wonder that embraces the setting completely.  The book opens with a hurricane hitting the island (a sadly common occurrence in the Virgin Islands), and Teddy, while trying to evacuate the islanders to safety further inland, goes out to rescue a fellow fisherman who is out in one of the worst storms in island memory. read more

Linda Castillo: Fallen

It’s amazing to me that Linda Castillo can work within such a tight construct and still, every time, produce an original and thoughtful book.  Her set up: Chief of Police Kate Burkholder, who has grown up Amish, is the insider/outsider head of law enforcement in tiny, Amish centric Painter’s Mill, Ohio.  She has connections with the Amish but they don’t fully trust her as she’s left the faith, but she still has insider knowledge of the culture that help her to solve the crimes that occur in her community. read more

Sarah Stewart Taylor: A Distant Grave

The second in Stewart Taylor’s Maggie D’Arcy series follows her elegiac first outing, The Mountains Wild, my favorite read of 2020.  Maggie is a Long Island homicide cop, but as the first novel explored, she has deep roots in Ireland.  In the first novel she searches for her long lost cousin’s killer; in the second novel, the crime occurs up the street from her home, but the roots of the story again take her back to Ireland.

She’s left behind a new-old flame in Ireland and has been planning a long vacation there with her daughter to visit him, but she catches a homicide case two days before they plan to leave.  When it turns out the victim was Irish, she figures she can combine business and pleasure, and her boss gives her leave to take off. read more

Jane Haddam: One of Our Own

I had mixed feelings opening this book.  Jane Haddam died in 2019, after completing this one last book, and I was reluctant to start it.  I love this series and am sorry to see it end.  Jane Haddam was a combination of a traditional detective fiction writer and a contemporary social issue writer.  In her best books, the social issues didn’t overwhelm the story – in her worst books, they did.  This book is a loving wrap up to her long, revered and beloved series, and if you are a fan of Gregor Demarkian I recommend it. read more

Ann Cleeves: The Darkest Evening

This book will be published on September 8.  You can pre-order it here.

Along with Deborah Crombie, Peter Robinson, and Louise Penny, Ann Cleeves is one of the very best writers of traditional detective fiction at work at the moment.  With now three strong series to her credit, one of the most delightful features the cranky Vera Stanhope, whose hopelessly messy and unstylish appearance conceals a sharp and perceptive mind.  She’s Columbo in the British countryside, just a shade less congenial.  This installment finds Vera face to face with the fancier branch of her family, impoverished landholders who can’t keep up the stately family home. read more

Sarah Stewart Taylor: The Mountains Wild

This novel will be released on June 23, 2020.

I was a huge fan of Sarah Stewart Taylor’s Sweeney St. George series, published in the early 2000’s.  Sweeney was an expert on gravestone iconography, and the books were beautifully written, thoughtful mysteries.  Stewart Taylor has been away from mystery fiction since 2006, and this return feels more polished, more pointed in its narrative drive – it’s a step up.  I’ll say up front it’s one of the best books I’ve read this year.

It’s not a total departure from the Sweeney books – the passion is there, the love of history is there, but it’s more focused.  It follows the story of Maggie D’Arcy, who, as an adult, is a homicide detective on Long Island, but who, as a 20 something, lost the cousin who was like a sister to her.  The cousin, Erin, had left the states for Ireland, and hasn’t been heard from since 1993.  There are other young women who were killed (and discovered) in the same area, and Maggie and the rest of her family are pretty sure Erin is dead, but they’d like to know. read more

Hilary Davidson: Don’t Look Down

This tightly woven thriller-slash-police procedural is set in New York City, and like that city, the pace does not let up, from first page to last.  It opens with Jo Greaver, a young cosmetics magnate, on her way to meet her blackmailer, toting a huge bag of cash.  To the reader it’s not clear why she’s being blackmailed or who is doing the blackmailing, but it’s very clear something is very wrong and that very definitely something will go wrong.

It does, and it’s a cascade of wrong things, things that string poor Jo up tighter and tighter.  There’s a shootout at the blackmail meetup, leaving Jo injured.  She attempts to get through her day pretending she’s fine but the pain finally kicks in.  There’s a dead, or at least seriously injured person, at the blackmail meetup.  And the police have a bag load of evidence tagging Jo as the murderer. 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