By Megan Abbott
Little, Brown, 320 pages, $29
A pretty Midwestern suburban town. A creepy toxic lake. A mysterious illness striking teenaged girls. Yes, it looks like we’re in Stephen King Land here, but Edgar Award-winning Abbott has more in her plotline than a creepy demon in this terrific psychological thriller.
There is a large cast of characters, but most of the tale is told in the voice and mindof teenage kids, which means there are limits to the affect, the language and the emotional highs and lows. Kids do not think deeply or analytically and Abbott has that edge-of-hysteria mindset down to an art. As Deenie Nash’s best friend collapses and convulses in class, there’s fear and wonder. That soon turns to frenzied action and useless mind-grinding as another girl falls ill and then another. ??There are several fevers here, including the testosterone steam of teenaged boys, sext-sending girls, and assorted other insights into edgy youth behaviour that naïve parents don’t want to know about. A reminder of the great P.D. James adage that the most dangerous emotion is love.
Nazis In The Metro
By Didier Daeninckx, translated by Anna Moschovakis
Melville House, 176 pages, $14.95Didier Daeninckx loves to drop names; he opens this novel with the Jean Jaurès, Louis de Funès, and the Cathars. If you don’t know them, keep your Google window handy because Daeninckx expects his readers to know everything from Parisian geography to the complexity of French politics and, since this book was written in 1995, that’s the politics of then, not now. All that said, this is a sizzling political thriller by one of France’s best crime novelists. PI Gabriel Lecouvreur is on the trail of the murderer of a seemingly washed-up French novelist. The trail leads to a Paris far from the gleaming boulevards of tourist delight down to a gripping underworldthat is exploding in Paris now.
The Lady Of Sorrows
By Anne Zouroudi
Little, Brown, 288 pages, $28The world needed a clever Greek detective and Hermes Diaktoros is the perfect character for the role. In this fourth of the “Seven Deadly Sins” mysteries, Zouroudi takes us from an isolated Greek island that is home to a rare and saintly icon. But when Diaktoros sees the exquisite painted Virgin, something strikes him as odd. He consults an old friend, convinced the miraculous painting is a fake. But a fake from when? Decades? Months? Centuries? This is a wildly clever tale with a stunning setting and a really delightful detective.
The Prime Minister’s Secret Agent
By Susan Elia MacNeal
Bantam, 320 pages, $18Are you a fan of The Bletchley Circle? Then you’re going to love the Maggie Hope series, set in Second World War Britain, with a clever spy/codebreaker as heroine and some perfectly puzzling plots. This fifth in the series has Maggie holidaying on the quiet Scottish coast when she’s plunged into an intriguing problem in Glasgow. Three ballerinas fall strangely ill and it will take MI5 to figure out what’s poisoning them and why. MacNeal knows her history and her plot mechanics and she makes great use of both.
Come, Sweet Death
By Wolf Haas, translated by Annie Janusch
Melville House, 240 pages, $15.95
The utter delight of discovering Wolf Haas’s superb Detective Brenner books keeps me raving about the series. Melville House is bringing out the back list so this one dates from 1998 but that doesn’t keep it from being one of the wittiest and most appealing novels of the summer.
This time out, Brenner is surviving by taking a job as an ambulance driver in Vienna. Naturally, this leads Brenner to problems. There’s the EMT’s little office pool on how many red lights they can run en route to the body/crash/hospital. Then there’s the competition between ambulance services for who can get there quicker and thus get the commission. It’s all too tawdry even for Brenner – but then there are the dying, who seem to be doing it a bit too soon.
There isn’t a sacred cow that Haas doesn’t stab in this clever, funny novel. It’s ideal for a summer shore read.
The Murder Farm
By Andrea Maria Schenkel, translated by Anthea Bell
Quercus, 208 pages, $22.99
This sinister novel, based on a true crime in Bavaria, was a best-seller in Germany and is being compared to Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. That’s a bit higher praise than it deserves but Schenkel certainly does her best to bring the bloody deeds back to life and is definitely a writer to watch.
Through a series of a first-person accounts by the locals, we get a very mixed picture of life in rural Bavaria during the Weimar Republic. Schenkel cleverly puts her clues into the mix, in a manner reminiscent of Poe’s Mystery of Marie Rogêt. Gradually, a picture of the family and the crime emerges. Read this, then watch the film The White Ribbon and you’ll begin to understand what opened the doors to Hitler.
By J. Robert Janes
Mysterious Press, 367 pages, $14.99
With more than a dozen St-Cyr/Kohler books to his credit, one might expect J. Robert Janes to be running out of plot steam, but Occupied France offers endless opportunities and Janes takes full advantage of them.
The intrepid duo are in Alsace, location of many French-German battles in several wars. In 1943, it’s German territory. The French language is forbidden and the site of a former carnival has been turned into a factory where prisoners of war and captured résistants work as slave labourers turning out textiles for the German army. Death is hardly the most dangerous event here. As always, Janes’s historical research is impeccable and he turns it to good use in a solid, procedural plot.