Malla Nunn and Kwei Quartey present two African mysteries that are sure to thrill the armchair traveler looking for a suspenseful police investigation.
Racism and police corruption during Apartheid in Johannesburg, South Africa are the subjects Nunn tackles in her novel, Present Darkness. Emmanuel Cooper is a flawed detective who rose from the mean streets of Sophiatown to enter the police force and must hide the fact that he is in an illegal relationship with a woman of color. When a European couple is found severely beaten in their home and the main suspect is a Zulu named Aaron Shabalala, the youngest son of Cooper’s friend and colleague, Cooper is cautioned strongly not to investigate. Cooper as he ignores the direct order of his supervisor in order to save the son of a man to whom he owes his life. Nunn’s exploration of this difficult time in South African history is compelling, and her thoughtful prose creates a chilling atmosphere that is sure to enthrall the reader until the novel’s heart-stopping conclusion.
In Murder at Cape Three Points, Quartey introduces the reader to Detective Inspector Darko Dawson, who works in Accra on the coast of Ghana. Late one night, a canoe is found drifting near an off-shore oil rig. In the canoe are the bodies of the Smith-Aidoos, an influential, highly educated couple. Darko digs deeper and uncovers corrupt real estate deals and bribery, all threatening to the local fishing trade and seeming to stem from the oil industry. With a growing list of suspects and a tenacious family member looking for results, Darko must put all of his skills to the test. Quartey has a more traditional approach to crime solving, and fans of police procedurals will enjoy this novel.
Both writers excel at detailed descriptions of their respective countries and will appeal to readers who love visiting an exotic locale. Readers who enjoy these selections can find earlier novels in the series from both authors. Those who like the African setting and are longing for more should try Michael Stanley and Deon Meyer.
Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, is back to solve another baffling historical mystery in Why Kings Confess by C. S. Harris. The French Revolution is over, and Napoleon seems poised to usurp the French throne from the Bourbons. A secret delegation of royalists has been dispatched to England to try and make peace with the British monarchy. French physician Damion Pelletan is discovered in a back alley, his body mutilated and his companion, Alexi Sauvage, badly injured. Sauvage, a woman trained as a physician but unable to practice in England or France due solely to her gender. Sebastian knows Alexi from an unfortunate encounter in the past, but quickly realizes that he must leave the past behind, investigate the murder and find her attacker. Soon he will become embroiled in a hotbed of political intrigue and conspiracy as he encounters the tale of the “Lost Dauphin.” Is it true that there is a surviving male heir to the throne of France, spirited away under the cover of darkness years before? With concerns for his wife Hero and their unborn child, Sebastian plunges forward, using his preternatural gifts of sight and hearing to try and piece together this rather difficult and dangerous puzzle.
C. S. Harris is the pen name for Candice Proctor, who earned both an MA and PhD in history. This is apparent in Why Kings Confess, the ninth title in the Sebastian St. Cyr series. Regency England plays an important role in the novel, and there is rich historical detail that will enlighten and educate the reader as well as keep them entertained. The mystery itself is complex, with several suspects and plot twists that will delight anyone interested in a traditional whodunit. The audio edition, narrated by Davina Porter, is particularly well done, as her narration brings the text to life. The series, beginning with the novel What Angels Fear, is also available for download as an e-book.
New reporter Rebekah Roberts is haunted by the mother who abandoned her to return to her secretive Hasidic family. After a childhood in sunny Florida with her adoring father and stepmother, Roberts moves to New York with dreams of becoming a renowned journalist. In Julia Dahl’s debut novel Invisible City, the world of print media is fading fast. However, Roberts lands a job as a glorified tabloid reporter, sent to the scene of the seediest crimes where she hopes to eke out a living reporting facts that someone else will write. After receiving a call to report to a crime scene, she finds herself immersed in the murder mystery of a Hasidic woman who is from the same community as Roberts’ mother is.
When Roberts meets Jewish detective Saul Katz at the home of the victim, he recognizes her based on her uncanny resemblance to the mother she never knew and she is catapulted into a world shrouded in tradition and secrets. With each new fact she discovers, another question replaces it. Her past motivates her to dig further, which leads her into undeniable danger.
With each new turn of the mystery, Roberts finds herself learning more and more about her mother’s Hasidic world. Roberts watches the body taken away by Jewish “police” instead of the medical examiner. She learns that an autopsy will not be conducted, and the victim buried before evidence can be collected. Clearly a murder, the case might never be solved unless Roberts can expose the truth behind the crime and her own ties to the community.
In The Lady of Sorrows by Anne Zouroudi, the reader is reacquainted with the enigmatic investigator Hermes Diaktoros in the fourth novel in the Seven Deadly Sins mystery series. Throughout the four novels, Hermes has remained very much a mystery. The reader knows he doesn't work for the police, but instead for a “higher authority.” He has an unstoppable need to see that justice is served, but not always in the legal sense of the word. He also has an uncanny timing that allows him to show up just when a murder is about to be committed. In the latest installment, Hermes arrives by boat to the island or Kalkos where he takes a particular interest in the painting of a Madonna that is rumored to have miraculous powers. The arrival of the Madonna also spawned a tradition of icon painters on the island, and it is rumored that when the elder painter dies, he can pass on the talent to his son by the touch of his hand. Hermes is not convinced that divine intervention is involved, especially when he begins to question the authenticity of the famous painting itself. Soon, the island’s resident icon painter is dead by an apparent poisoning, and Hermes realizes that sins run deep on the isle of Kalkos.
Zouroudi writes mysteries in the classic tradition, and readers who enjoy an interesting detective and an involved mystery will find much to love here. The author spends careful time on the suspects, delving into their hidden desires and motives. She pays careful attention to the unraveling of the mystery to pique the interest of any curious reader. She writes with a thoughtful style, and there is often a philosophical or ethical undercurrent to the mystery that becomes heartbreaking in the final solution. Readers may want to begin with The Messenger of Athens, the first in the series. Fans of Agatha Christie or Josephine Tey will be thrilled to find a contemporary author that captures their genius. Also available on e-book.
Sometimes, what you cannot see is the most terrifying of all. For five years, the world has been plagued by…something; something that, if seen, causes a person to lose their mind and inflict unspeakable violence upon themselves and those immediately around them. Josh Malerman’s debut novel Bird Box brings horror to a new level. Devoid of blood, guts and things that go bump in the night, Malerman’s tale never reveals the monster. Is it even really a monster? Is it a physical being at all? Or is it the mind of man taken to the extreme? Perhaps the most terrifying of all is the lack of answers and how, at any moment, chaos might erupt.
Malorie and her two young children live in darkness in a boarded up home. They only go outside for water from the well and, when they do, they are always blindfolded. The children, known only as Boy and Girl, have learned since birth how to function without their sight. They wear their blindfolds indoors and practice honing their other senses. Malorie spends hours making noises throughout the house and quizzing Boy and Girl, because she knows that when the time comes, this alone will be their only chance for survival.
Malerman shifts between scenes set in the present to those in the not too distant past. We learn how Malorie came to be in the house with the children, and what happened to the group of survivors who welcomed her in. Bird Box is a terrifying story with mystery around every corner and behind every sound.
Malerman is the lead singer for the band The High Strung, best known for performing the theme song to the Showtime series Shameless.
Note to self: When writing a groundbreaking book about relationships, make sure your own house is in order. This is what therapist Grace Reinhart Sachs learns in Jean Hanff Korelitz’s new book You Should Have Known. Grace has the seemingly perfect Manhattan life with her family, ensconced in the apartment from her childhood: her husband is a popular pediatric oncologist, she has a successful practice and their preteen son is at an exclusive private school. She has a newly published book, also titled You Should Have Known, about how many of the women she has counseled over the years possess the internal knowledge and discernment to make good decisions and head off bad choices before they engage in an unhealthy relationship. Just before the book’s much-anticipated release date, a seemingly unconnected murder of a parent at her son’s school leads to her marriage’s unraveling. With the discovery of her husband’s secrets and deceptions, Grace’s own life begins to very publicly implode. Escaping to the family’s remote lake house, she finds healing and rebuilding away from the public eye, and begins to see the true picture of the life she thought she knew.
Although a murder mystery factors into the plot, this character-driven story is one of personal discovery and growth at a time when one thinks their life and fate have been decided. Grace’s husband Jonathan has a quiet creepiness that becomes louder as we learn more about his disingenuous nature, and readers will relate to Grace as she repairs the damage Jonathan had underhandedly wrought in her life. Quietly suspenseful and slower revealing than Gone Girl or The Silent Wife, but equally as compelling, readers will discover a satisfying story that ends with the characters looking towards an unknown, yet more hopeful, future.
Travel to the French department of Dordogne and meet the delightful Police Chief Bruno Courreges in the novel The Resistance Man by Martin Walker. Bruno spends his time in St. Denis pining over one lost love while trying to maintain the affections of a new girlfriend. He finds solace in food, wine and the adorations of a rambunctious puppy named Balzac, but his free time is often cut short by deadly events. Bruno is pulled into planning the funeral for a veteran of the French Resistance, one who has some curious currency that may have come from a wartime train robbery. There have also been a string of robberies across the French countryside, including the home of a former British spymaster, and residents are looking to Bruno to get results. An antique dealer is found battered to death and the contents of his van stolen, it appears to have some connection with the thefts. When the main suspect turns out to be the man’s former lover who is now on the run, Bruno has to put all of his skills to the test to track down the killer.
Martin Walker is the senior director for the Global Business Policy Council and the editor-in-chief emeritus of United Press International, and uses skills acquired from these positions to craft quite a story in the sixth installment of the Bruno Chief of Police series. Combining French politics, international affairs and gastronomical delights, Walker creates an intriguing world where events beginning in the French countryside often extend to the entire European continent. Readers wanting to start with the first novel of the series will want to read Bruno, Chief of Police first. Readers who enjoy the French setting should also try Claude Izner or Fred Vargas.
Hesteyri: A beautiful location by the ocean, a popular summer tourist destination, an entrepreneurs golden opportunity. When friends decide to purchase and renovate a house to start a bed and breakfast, they find their dream quickly transforms into a nightmare. I Remember You by Yrsa Sigurdardottir is a spectacularly terrifying ghost story, and the most frightening and suspenseful novel I have read in recent memory. Readers meet the three friends as they are traveling on a small boat to the island, the location of their renovation project. It is a dreary and blustery winter’s afternoon and the seas are rough, indicative of a threatening storm. After disembarking at the uninhabited village, the captain encourages them to call if they need to leave before the predetermined departure a week later. He seems to struggle with divulging something menacing, but elects to hold his tongue. The author’s brilliant foreshadowing paints an atmosphere very different from the bright hopes and expectations of the main characters. Their house creaks and moans, there is a putrid stench which emanates periodically from the kitchen, wet footprints appear overnight, objects move on their own… and the disturbances are only beginning.
I Remember You is actually two tales which are told in alternating chapters. The second story line involves a doctor on the mainland who has recently relocated to the area. Having suffered the unbearable loss of his young son who disappeared three years before, he and his wife have just divorced and he is attempting to move on with his life. As the only professional in the town with any psychiatric experience, the police have called him to a preschool which has been extensively vandalized. Every item in the room is broken, every piece of artwork shredded and the word “dirty” has been written repeatedly on the wall. Even more bizarre is that it perfectly mimics a crime at an elementary school 60 years ago. The investigation reveals multiple classmates from the earlier crime have died under suspicious circumstances.
Discovering the truth behind these mysteries is a thrilling and terrifying adventure. Readers will appreciate the break in the ghostly hauntings when the storyline switches to the mainland. But only for so long, as it becomes evident there are sinister otherworldly events taking place there as well. If you are looking for a great ghost story, check out the Scandinavian thriller I Remember You.
What do a group of computer-savvy youths, a television psychic, a devoted grandfather and a murder spree have in common? Ripper. This is the name of the online computer game that six teenagers use to puzzle out historic murder mysteries, such as the case of Jack the Ripper. Each player has an assumed identity and his or her own particular area of criminal expertise. Ripper is also the title of Isabel Allende’s newest novel, an ingenious whodunit that will baffle readers as thoroughly as it does the police department investigating the series of murders tormenting its city.
After a psychic predicts a bloodbath in the city of San Francisco, the Gamemaster proposes the Ripper players attempt to crack these most peculiar murder cases. Their theoretical game takes a tragic turn when Indiana, the mother of the Gamemaster, goes missing. It will take all of their resourcefulness to try to find her before she is added to the list of victims. Readers will enjoy this plot-driven storyline that progresses steadily even as the body count rises. The story intensifies toward a dramatic conclusion that will have people revisiting early chapters of the book in astonishment.
In a departure from her previous novels featuring magical realism, bestselling author Allende brings her character-rich writing style to this modern day suspense story. According to Booklist, “Allende creates a compassionate and gripping mystery stoked by the paradoxes of family and community and the consequences of abuse.”
Shunned and Dangerous is the third in the Amish Mystery series by Laura Bradford. Claire Weatherly left the corporate world behind and used her nest egg to purchase Heavenly Treasures, a gift shop that sells Amish-made goods in Heavenly, Pa. While on an outing to a local corn maze, Claire happens upon the body of Harley Zook, a kind-hearted Amish man who unfortunately made a few enemies. She quickly calls handsome detective Jakob Fisher, who has been shunned by the Amish community for leaving to pursue a career with the police force. Unfortunately, the man most upset by Jakob’s shunning is his father, Mose, who has become the prime suspect. Claire is determined to help Jakob and begins to investigate on her own. Soon other suspects emerge, and Claire finds herself unraveling a puzzle as complex as a corn maze.
Shunned and Dangerous is a cozy mystery with plenty to keep the reader enthralled. Bradford creates a plucky heroine and pleasant, friendly supporting characters, including her good friend Esther, a young Amish woman who works in her store and makes hand-made gifts to sell. Bradford is familiar with the Amish way of life and includes cultural tidbits about the community that the reader may not know. The mystery is solid, with enough clues and suspects to keep a reader guessing. The novel is quaint and light, never gory or shocking, and readers looking for a gentle read for a warm spring day need look no further. Readers who enjoy this may want to also read Hearse and Buggy and Assaulted Pretzel, the first two novels in the series.