Alice Henderson: A Solitude of Wolverines

This book will be published October 27, 2020.

If this book isn’t the birth of a long running series, I would be stunned.  A definite relative of Nevada Barr’s long running and beloved Anna Pidgeon series, Alice Henderson has created an adventure suspense mystery with a foundation in the natural world.  While Anna Pigeon is a parks ranger, Alex Carter is a biologist who studies endangered species in their dwindling habitats.  Like Anna, however, Alex is definitely a bad ass.

Proving her hand with action scenes, the book opens with Alex attending an event celebrating the saving of a natural habitat within a city.  Her discovery of over a hundred species of birds who called the area home has prompted the city of Boston to create a protected space, upsetting plans for a development project.  Alex is due to be interviewed by a TV reporter – during the interview the two women are shot at and while Alex escapes, she is traumatized by the incident. read more

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

Susan Allott: The Silence

This is a very melancholy novel about people who live near each other, yet in isolation, thanks to a profound lack of communication.   It’s set in Australia in the late 60’s, with a portion in the late 90’s.  Two couples live side by side in a new neighborhood, right on the ocean.  Louise and Joe, immigrants from England, live in one house with their daughter, Isla.  Next door are Steve and Mandy, who are childless.  Mandy often looks after Isla.

As the book opens, the adult Isla gets a call from her father, who says the police have been by to discuss Mandy, who had disappeared from the neighborhood many years ago.  The central nugget of suspense in the novel concerns the relationships between the neighbors and between the couples themselves.  What happened in the past that caused Mandy to disappear?  Why would Isla’s father, who seems devoted to his family, have had anything to do with her disappearance? 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

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

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

Karen Odden: A Trace of Deceit

A Trace of Deceit is the third Victorian mystery by Karen Odden, who has taught at the University of Michigan.  It is a suspenseful, compelling novel set in London’s art world in 1875.  The protagonist, a talented young painter named Annabel Rowe, is one of the few female students at the Slade School of Art, one of the only art schools to admit women at the time.  When she goes to visit her brother Edwin, she finds the police in his rooms, searching through his belongings.  Of course, Edwin has been murdered, and Annabel, while shocked, is not wholly surprised.  Edwin, a brilliant young artist, has led a dissolute life of gambling and drug use, and had recently been released from prison, where he spent time for forgery.  Annabel and Edwin were close as children, but had grown apart after Edwin left for boarding school, and he had hoped to rebuild his relationship with her.  Annabel wants to believe Edwin had reformed, but she is not always so sure, and she blames him for their parents’ deaths, because they died of a fever they supposedly caught from Edwin after one of his visits to an opium den. 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

Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig & Karen White: All the Ways We Said Goodbye

Williams, Willig and White, three bestselling authoresses who write historical adventures, romances and mysteries, have teamed up for the third time to write a wonderfully rich novel with a through line of the Paris Ritz.  Being a hotel brat myself, I enjoyed this method of tying the novel together.  It has three separate storylines, each focused on a different woman – one in 1914, one in 1942, and one in 1964.  In the two earlier storylines, there’s a woman who lives in a suite at the Ritz. She’s the first character’s mother and the second character’s grandmother.  The tie the third woman has to the first two is more tenuous and is one of the mysterious threads of the novel. read more