By Louise Penny, Minotaur, 387 pages, $33.99
It's number 13 for Louise Penny's Armand Gamache series, the point where many characters and plots start to wither. Not so here. Penny's latest is one of her best ever. From the very first page, when Gamache begins his testimony in a court case, the reader is riveted. The story is told in flashes from several months before the trial, and the events of the trial provide the framework for a strange and compelling tale. It's November in the lovely village of Three Pines, the friendly little community Penny has created on the Quebec-Vermont border. But there is an upsetting image on the village green. A spectre, dressed in black and hooded, with a mask, is standing completely still. Nothing, even Gamache, can get a word or an explanation. The person just stands silently staring at the citizens as they go about their days. This person upsets people, of course, but since he/she isn't doing anything, the police are helpless. Gamache, meanwhile, can't spend his time fretting over his neighbours' complaints: He is on the biggest and most important case of his life. He must win, and so a person dressed as death, however creepy, has to be ignored. Then there's a death and the suspense builds. I couldn't stop reading. This is the perfect holiday weekend book.
The Good Daughter
By Karin Slaughter, William Morrow, 512 pages, $34.99
Readers of the Sara Linton and Will Trent books know just how well Karin Slaughter tells a tale, but The Good Daughter, a standalone novel, is even better. Be prepared: Slaughter is unsparing. This heart-wrenching tale of two sisters and their father begins 28 years ago. Samantha and Charlotte Quinn are settling into life in a rickety old farmhouse outside Pikeville, Ga. Their family home has just been burned to the ground, vengeance from a distraught local against their father, Rusty, a defence lawyer who believes that everyone accused deserves the best defence, even when the crime is murder, drug dealing or rape. Before the night is out, Charlotte and Samantha and their mother will meet another pair of angry men who believe Rusty deserves to die. Nearly 30 years later, Rusty is still taking on the cases no one else will touch. He's the most-hated man in town, possibly in all of Georgia. There's a terrible crime: A school shooter kills a beloved middle-school principal and an eight-year-old girl. The killer, gun in hand, confession on lips, is a 17-year-old girl. Naturally Rusty takes the case and Charlotte, now a lawyer, will have to face the demons of that long-ago day of horrors all over again. Warning, do not, under any circumstances, read the end first.
The Winners' Circle
By Gail Bowen, McClelland & Stewart, 372 pages, $32
This is another long-running series that holds up well. Joanne Kilbourn (now Kilbourn-Shreve) is back for the 17th time in a solid who and why done-it that works like a Swiss watch. The Winners' Circle is a charmed group of lawyers. It's just after Thanksgiving and the cheery partners of Falconer Shreve Altieri Wainberg and Hynd have just put the finishing touches on a great holiday at their country homes on Lawyers' Bay outside Regina. The group has been together since law school; they were winners then and now. They all head back to the city with the usual promises of until the next time. Then tragedy comes to the Circle. What's happened is known, it's just that no one understands why. Joanne can't stop scratching for answers and, when they come, they're even more vexing than she could have imagined. One thing is certain: The only thing worse than knowing is not knowing. The Winners' Circle is a terrific quick read to take us into the fall.