That Night By Chevy Stevens, St. Martin’s, 384 pages, $19.99
Long summer days and taut psychological thrillers go together like gin and tonic. Vancouver’s Chevy Stevens delivers one of the tightest thrillers of the summer, set in quiet little Campbell River, B.C. Toni Murphy wasn’t one of the in-crowd in high school. The only thing that made her life bearable was her relationship with Ryan, a local bad boy with whom she planned to escape as soon as school is over. Then, on That Night, life as Toni and Ryan know it ends. Her sister Nicole is murdered and Ryan and Toni are suspects one and two. If you’re expecting the usual kids-saved-by-sleuthing plot line, forget it. Ryan and Toni end up in prison, convicted. How the innocent learn to survive prison, despair, fear are all part of this engrossing novel. The guilty party is forced out at the end but that doesn’t change the wasted years and wasted lives, the misery accompanying them all and, most of all, it doesn’t bring Nicole back. Definitely Stevens’s best novel so far.
I Am Pilgrim By Terry Hayes, Simon & Schuster, 624 pages, $29.99
I Am Pilgrim is the sizzling debut from Australian screenwriter Terry Hayes (Mad Max, Dead Calm) and it’s everything a thriller should be. There are fascinating characters, a plot that moves from Manhattan’s mean streets across Europe into the Hindu Kush, and, at the centre, an enigmatic genius who may or may not exist.
“Pilgrim” is the code name for a man who once headed up a secret U.S. intelligence agency. Ostensibly the son of wealthy and secretive parents, he worked covertly, authored a definitive book on forensic science, and disappeared into retirement. When a dead woman turns up in a New York hotel room, with all her identifying marks removed – following “Pilgrim’s” book to the letter – NYPD detective Ben Bradley goes in search of the elusive ex-spy, and that investigation leads him far from Manhattan into a world of secrets and spies. This is a must-read for cottagers.
A Siege Of Bitterns By Steve Burrows, Dundurn, 352 pages, $15.99
A murder plot built around birdwatching doesn’t, at first, seem plausible or even possible. But Oshawa author Burrows pulls it off in a dazzling debut novel sure to make the shortlist for next year’s Arthur Ellis.
The setting is the small town of Saltmarsh in Britain’s famed Norfolk marshes, a dream destination for birders. The dead man is a famous birder and environmentalist. The copper is Canadian Dominic Jejeune, an ex-pat whose won accolades for his crime-busting exploits in his adopted country. Now, he’s the man in charge at Saltmarsh and he’s got to convince the team that he and his oddball investigative procedures are effective in a highly publicized murder. Riveting from first page to final line.
By Its Cover By Donna Leon, Atlantic Monthly, 237 pages, $32.50
This isn’t the greatest of the Commissario Brunetti mysteries but, more than 20 books on, this is still a series with life. That’s largely because Venice just has so much art, history, crime and depth that Leon can dig anywhere and come up with a fascinating plot. This time out, we are in the Biblioteca Merula, where anyone with credentials can come in and sit to read rare and exquisite books. Then one day, Brunetti is summoned when the librarian discovers that pages have been excised from valuable volumes and, further, rare works stolen. The obvious suspect is a visiting professor from Kansas who has, himself, disappeared. Naturally, Brunetti’s superior, the philistine Patta, sees no point in investigating missing books, but Brunetti perseveres and uncovers murder and motive.
The House Of Dolls By David Hewson, Macmillan, 300 pages, $32.99
David Hewson is best-known for his Nic Costa series, set in Italy. He’s also the author of The Killing, an adaptation of a Danish TV series of the same name and, now, this superb stand-alone, set in Amsterdam. Setting is always essential to Hewson and he evokes everything from scent to scenery. Here, he begins with a policewoman and a missing girl. She is attempting to engage Pieter Vos, once a Dutch detective, in discussing two crimes. One missing girl disappeared last week. The other, Vos’s daughter, Anneliese, has been missing for three years. Vos left the police and lives as a recluse on a houseboat, still searching for clues. Now, it may be possible to solve the case and reignite his life. You won’t put this one down.
Kill Fee By Owen Laukkanen, Putnam, 400 pages, $31
Vancouver’s Owen Laukkanen has made his reputation on fast-paced thrillers, and Kill Fee is no exception. The setting is quiet little St. Paul, Minn., and once again the detectives are State Investigator Kirk Stevens and FBI agent Carla Windermere. They are in search of a sniper who kills to order. The man who gives the orders runs a well-disguised website and the killers are traumatized armed-forces veterans. Stevens and Windermere must uncover the people behind the assassination bureau but they must also stop the shooter from killing his next target.
Buried Angels By Camilla Lackberg, translated by Tiina Nunnally, HarperCollins, 400 pages, $28.99
A family disappears from their home on an idyllic Swedish island, leaving a year-old infant behind. Forty years later, that infant returns to that home and, within days, an arsonist attacks the house. Just what happened at that house all those years ago? Why and who? Those are the questions that interest true-crime author Erica Falck. When her husband, Detective Patrick Hedstrom, is assigned to the arson case, Falck begins the search for answers. Definitely the best of the Falck/Hedstrom series to date.
Silver Totem Of Shame By R. J. Harlick, Dundurn, 376 pages, $17.99
Once again, R.J. Harlick turns to Canada’s mistreatment of our native people in the plot of an excellent mystery. This sixth Meg Harris novel finds Meg married and with her alcoholism finally under control. What isn’t controlled is her penchant for ending up in murder investigations. This time out, the dead man is a young and talented Haida carver, intent on telling a story of death and betrayal on a totem. As Meg and her husband, Eric, search for clues, long-buried secrets from Eric’s life come to the fore. This is the best Harlick yet.
The Day She Died By Catriona McPherson, Midnight Ink, 312 pages, $17.50
Readers know Catriona McPherson best for her terrific Dandy Gilver historical mystery series but this stand-alone psychological thriller is better than all the Dandys put together. From the isolated Scottish setting to the exotic phobia that haunts the heroine, we are closer to Ruth Rendell than Agatha Christie. A young woman steps into the shoes of a dead one. It all seems so casual, so right, but there are sinister signs that the newly constructed family may be built on a foundation of suspicion and murder.
Mona By Dan T. Sehlberg, translated by Rachel Willson-Broyles, House of Anansi, 456 pages, $19.95
The first rule for any mystery that combines deduction with speculative fiction is that the plot must be believable. Mona delivers. Eric Soderqvist, a Stockholm professor, has created Mind Surf, a thought-controlled system that allows severely disabled people to surf the web. When his wife uses his system and falls into a coma, Soderqvist is convinced that she’s the victim of a virus, but can a machine infect a human? Soderqvist begins the hunt, which takes him to a Palestinian protected by Hamas who has developed Mona, a virus named for his dead daughter, and which is targeted at the entire Israeli financial system and worse. A chilling debut from Sehlberg with a few – forgivable – first-novel faults.