Criminal, by Karin Slaughter, Delacorte, 436 pages, $32
If there’s anyone still out there who hasn’t discovered the Sara Linton series, get to the bookstore now. This superb cycle doesn’t so much continue as evolve. We first met Sara as a rural Georgia pediatrician . We followed her through marriage to a Georgia policeman, widowhood, transfer to a large Atlanta hospital and now a budding romance with Will Trent, another policeman. And there are all those great mysteries.
This time, Will has a missing college student. But that’s just the MacGuffin that gets the story rolling. We’re really about to uncover the story of Will’s orphaned childhood and how it leads to the toxic relationship with his soon-to-be-ex wife, Angie.
Can Will save the college girl? What does it all have to do with his boss, the formidable Amanda Wagner? Can Sara save Will from Angie’s tentacles? Slaughter doesn’t miss a trick in this terrific story, including hints of a new career to come. Stay tuned.
Niceville, by Carsten Stroud, Knopf, 384 pages, $32
Toronto-based Stroud has a list of bestsellers to his name. Niceville promises to be another. This is a mystery but also a ghost story, with a touch of horror. It works as all three.
A small boy is on his way home from school when he disappears. Investigators quickly uncover his movements and his last seconds in front of a surveillance camera. What it shows is that Rainey Teague simply disappeared – pop! – while staring into the store window.
How could this happen in Niceville, an idyllic town on the Florida/Georgia boundary? There are live oaks and Spanish moss, wide streets and old homes full of family antiques. They are also, of course, full of family secrets, and Niceville cop Nick Kavanaugh has to sort out several.
Meanwhile, a bank robbery in a nearby town has left four policemen dead, shot by a skilled sniper. The money and the thieves are in the wind, a local woman disappears, and Niceville suddenly isn’t so nice.
Stroud does a great job using the town as a central character and building suspense. The characters are terrific and there are a lot of really funny bits and some great dialogue. This is a very sharp Canadian view of traditional Southern Gothic.
The Nightmare, by Lars Kepler, translated by Laura A. Wideburg, McClelland & Stewart, 500 pages, $29.99
It’s sad to report that, after the runaway success of their debut, The Hypnotist, the husband-and-wife team known as Lars Kepler have fallen prey to the sophomore slump.The Nightmare brings back the interesting and capable Swedish-Finn detective Joona Linna. But that’s all. The brilliant psychiatrist who served as Linna’s foil in The Hypnotist is missing. In his place is petulant beauty Saga Bauer, who stamps her little feet and demands her due as an investigator for Sapo, the Swedish version of the FBI or MI-6.
Kepler heads the plot into the murky world of international arms-dealing. As Linna and Bauer try to track an international hit man with a seemingly limitless death list, one target is trying to survive on a nearby island. Not as good as Kepler’s debut, but good enough to make me want more Joona Linna.
Blind Goddess, by Anne Holt, translated by Tom Geddes, Simon & Schuster, 352 pages, $17
Those of us who loved the first Hanne Wilhelmsen novel, 1222, have eagerly awaited a new story. Blind Goddess is an earlier book, published in Norwegian in 1993. This is before the shootout that leaves Hanne disabled, so we meet a bright young investigator in a more traditional cop-shop milieu, which Holt handles as ably as she did the locked-room mystery 1222.
The victim is a vicious drug dealer beaten to death, his face so mutilated he is unidentifiable. The body is discovered by lawyer Karen Borg. When a suspect is located, he insists on Borg’s presence,. Then another lawyer is killed, and investigators Hakon Sand and Wilhelmsen follow a trail that unexpectedly leads them away from Oslo’s underworld and into the highest echelons of government.
Beach Strip, by John Lawrence Reynolds, HarperCollins, 274 pages, $22.99
It has been nearly a decade since Burlington, Ont.’s, Reynolds’s last mystery, too long for any writer this good. Beach Strip, set along Southern Ontario’s watery edge, is a tight, well-written mystery with an engaging new character and plenty of action.
The story opens with a suicide. Police officer Gabe Marshall is dead on the beach, naked. There’s a bullet in his brain and a gun at his side. There’s even a motive, provided, sadly, by his wife, Josie.
Except that Josie is convinced that Gabe’s death is murder. As she hunts along the beach strip for clues, she uncovers a whole new world that is as exotic as Nairobi to most Canadians. Welcome back, Mr. Reynolds.
Lake on the Mountain, by Jeffrey Round, Dundurn, 488 pages, $11.99
Toronto author Jeffrey Round has published five other mystery novels. This one introduces Dan Sharp, a Toronto investigator specializing in missing persons. Dan is also gay and a father. His first case, set at a stylish wedding in lush Price Edward County, involves his partner, Bill, a doctor whose penchant for drugs, drinks and public promiscuity do not bode well for a long-time relationship.
Dan is fixed on the case of a lost wedding guest when he is presented with another hunt, for a man who went missing 29 years before, and whose family hasn’t missed him until now. This promising series reminds me a bit of the late, great Joseph Hansen’s Dave Brandstetter series.