Adolescence is, if nothing else, a time of high drama. Part of it is, of course, those crazy hormones coursing through young bodies, but there’s also a definite lack of perspective – without a substantive field of experience, small things can loom very large while important ones appear insignificant. The resulting hullabaloo can be comic, but there is also the occasional tragic result such as teen suicide, school shooting or other lapses in judgment that can shadow an entire lifetime. And when things go bad, no one captures the angsty existence of today’s teens with more vivid power than the immensely talented Megan Abbott, as evidenced by her latest excellent effort The Fever.
Julia Keller’s first novel was a knockout, and this second book in the series may even be better. She brings an amazingly assured voice to her storytelling, reminiscent very much of Sharyn McCrumb’s classic ballad novels. The thing is, McCrumb wrote those after she’d cut her teeth on her (admittedly great fun) Elizabeth McPherson books. While Keller has been a journalist and has written a non-fiction book, she plunged into novel writing full speed ahead with the first in this series, A Killing in the Hills.
On a recent train trip to Chicago, with the expected Amtrak delays, I had plenty of time to read, and in fact finished this whole novel on the ride. It was an absolute inhale – I couldn’t put it down, and half way through my trip started rationing the pages so I wouldn’t finish too quickly. To me a great book recommendation is: when you are reading this book, you are looking at the dwindling number of pages left and saying “oh, no.”
This novel fits in nicely with some recent, creepy thrillers like Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, S.J. Watson’s Before I Go to Sleep, Elizabeth Haynes’ Into the Darkest Corner, and the great S.J. Bolton’s Dead Scared. So, you are forewarned.
You know how back in the 30’s and 40’s there was a famous “Detection Club”, with members like Agatha Christie and Ngaio Marsh? That was the so-called “golden age” of detective fiction. I think the U.K. now needs a new club for writers – “The Creepy British Women Mystery Writers Club.” Either it’s something in the water over there or a national predilection, but it can’t be a coincidence that writers like S.J. Bolton, Sophie Hannah, Jane Casey, Denise Mina, Mo Hayder, Tana French, Val McDermid (and I’m sure there are others) are producing such genuinely disturbing books that they almost make you flinch to open them. All of these women are the direct descendants of the great Ruth Rendell, who could teach just about any of them the meaning of the words “concise, yet creepy.”
Krueger has long been one of my favorite writers – and he’s a favorite of many of our customers as well, who are often annoyed when another Cork O’Connor book doesn’t appear quickly enough. From the very beginning I’ve been captivated by this writer’s prose and the depth of character he’s is able to convey. And of course, he’s a wonderful mystery writer, good with suspense, action, and plot twists. That’s a rare enough combination that Krueger is one of the best in the contemporary mystery field.
Jenny Milchman’s atmospheric debut novel would probably make you feel a chill even in August. Set in a tiny Adirondack town, main character Nora Hamilton wakes up one morning to find her whole world blown apart. She’d been happily married to a police officer – one terrible morning she finds he’s hanged himself in the attic.
From there, it’s almost as you are with Nora on her confusing journey of grief and revelation as she tries to figure out why her apparently happy and loving husband would have done something like this. Of no help are her cold, stand-offish mother-in-law; any cop in town, most of whom tell her to stay home and get better; or her own parents, who are whisked off canvas almost immediately.
Laura Lippman keeps growing as a writer. For a reader, this is a true delight, and each novel is something of a surprise. She’s hewing more, lately, to the standalone model than to the Tess Monaghan novels that started her career, and she has plenty to say. This novel is both a good story and a nuanced look at ethical behavior and choices.
Her central character is Heloise Lewis, who, it quickly becomes apparent, is a high class madam in the Heidi Fleiss mode. Making the novel a look at the politics of prostitution from the opening scene, Heloise overhears a conversation in line at the Starbucks about the recent suicide of a “suburban madam”. As she challenges the easy assumptions of the couple behind her in line, she’s really challenging her own assumptions. The articulation of her thoughts to a strange couple merely starts her own thought process.
This was a book club selection, and it’s one of the few I can remember where I had advance e-mails from delighted club members saying how much they loved this book. One woman even came in and bought another copy to give to a friend. When I finally got to reading this book – a multiple award nominee this year in the U.S., and last year in the U.K. – I found out how intelligent my book club members really are. I loved it too, and like them, I couldn’t put it down. I was making a drive home and had to pull into a rest stop to finish reading it. The last book that required such a drastic measure was Michael Connelly’s The Poet.
I think it’s safe to say this is the book of the year, and there isn’t always a “book of the year”, a book everyone’s talking about and reading. But the premise and the voice in this book are so original and so captivating that the story will probably stay with you for a long, long time, and you’ll probably want to talk about it.
The author is definitely channeling psychological masters like Ruth Rendell and Patricia Highsmith. Putting together this lean, vicious, compelling book is a real act of writerly fortitude, because it’s an exhausting and sometimes terrible sprint. And, like a Rendell or Highsmith book, when you get to the twisty middle, you know things are only going to get far, far worse.
Sorrow is always your own, offering no temptation to fickle gods. Fucking joy, on the other hand? You might as well string your heart from the ceiling for use as a frat-party piñata.
I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that Cornelia Read’s voice is one of the most original, vivid and memorable in all of contemporary crime fiction. I think I would be happy to read anything she wrote, in novel form or no, but happily she also writes wonderful novels. While her books are technically a series, I think each of them stand well alone, and each have a different slant which sets them apart from one another.