Sandrine's Case, by Thomas H. Cook (Mysterious Press, 352 pages, $26.50)
Let's not quibble: This is one of the best mystery novels I've ever read. Cook has it all. The nuanced engaging characters, the clean and subtle plot, a perfectly imagined setting, and a slow-burn pacing that makes it impossible to stop reading.
Sandrine and Samuel Madison are professors at a modest southern college. One day Sam finds Sandrine dead of a lethal combination of barbiturates and alcohol. He says suicide, the police say "maybe." It turns out that Sandrine had ALS, a.k.a. Lou Gehrig's disease, and was destined to die in a particularly grim scenario. Mercy killing? Or was Sam just not willing to become a full-time caregiver?
Soon, Sam is on trial for his life in a town where everyone believes he's guilty. He's sly, an intellectual snob of the first order, at work on a magnum opus that he's convinced will outdo every writer from Henry Fielding to Saul Bellow. If he can finish it. His wife, on the other hand, was a beloved teacher, caring and loaded with talent. Sam isn't alone in wondering why she married him in the first place. He was the stolid doctoral student. She was the brilliant bohemian, destined for great things to end up in his academic backwood. As the case moves forward, more and more of the complicated relationship between the pair emerges and that's the best mystery of all. This is Gone Girl with no tricks and characters complex enough to remember months after reading. Don't miss it.
Police, by Jo Nesbo, translated by Don Bartlett (Random House Canada, 528 pages, $24.95)
Ten books on, Jo Nesbo's Harry Hole series just keeps getting better. This time out, the victims are the cops themselves, killed at the scenes of their own unsolved murders. It's clear that there's a grudge, but how to ferret it out? Enter Hole, Norway's expert on serial murder, but this time he's facing a formidable foe whose targets are people Harry knows and, at times, loves. This plot has people, pacing, and place that keep the action moving right up to the final chapter. A must for Harry Hole fans and a great place to start for those who haven't discovered this superb series.
Barrett Fuller's Secret, by Scott Carte (Dundurn, 272 pages, $19.99)
How much of him/herself does a writer put into a story? In the case of famed children's author Barrett Fuller, extremely little. So little, in fact, that he writes under a pseudonym so that fans (and their parents) won't know he's a narcissistic womanizer with a serious drug problem. Then one day, someone discovers his secret and sends him a letter: Live up to your imaginary morality or else … This is the terrific premise of Scott Carter's second novel and it's even better than Blind Luck, his excellent debut.
Strange Shores, by Arnaldur Indridason, translated by Victoria Cribb (Random House, 304 pages, $26.95)
The end of a great series is always an unhappy event. This novel is Erlendur's final case, although I hope it's not the end of Arnaldur Indridason's Reykjavik detective novels. Recent books have focused on Erlendur's team, especially the fine Sigurdur Oli, but this time Erlendur is alone and winter is coming. He's far from Reykjavik on Iceland's eastern fjords, where he spent his childhood and where he comes to hike and think. A chance encounter leads him to an old death that opens up Erlendur's own past wounds. It's not the dead he cares for, it's the ones left behind. "The people I pity are the ones left with the fallout. Who have to endure the sadness for the rest of their lives." It's why Erlendur became a policeman and it's how he'll go out. If you're encountering this series for the first time, don't start here. Go back to the beginning.
Light In A Dark House, by Jan Costin Wagner, Translated by Anthea Bell (Harvill Secker, 336 pages, $22.00)
"In an autumn when no rain fell, Kimmo Joentaa was living with a woman who had no name. The anticyclone keeping the weather fine had been christened Magdalena. The woman told people to call her Larissa. She came and went. He didn't know where from or where to."
That's the opening for the fourth and best of this superb series set in Finland and written in German. Joentaa has already developed a following of fans, of whom I'm one, and he deserves more.
In this novel, Joentaa is summoned to a local hospital where a formerly comatose woman, unidentifiable, has been murdered. Joentaa quickly discovers that the murder was unusual; there are tearstains on the bedsheets. Whoever killed her wept for her. Mercy or murder?
Those sheets haunt Joentaa as he tries to uncover the victim's identity and, through it, her killer. Then, as the case drags on with no clues, Joentaa's unnamed girlfriend disappears. Was it a plan or payback?
The Ways Of The World, by Robert Goddard (Bantam, 432 pages, $23.95)
Robert Goddard channels John Buchan in this marvellous tale of spies and chases set in Paris during the 1919 Peace Conference.
Sir Henry Maxted, a senior member of the British delegation (but not a truly essential member), has died falling off a roof while visiting his very charming mistress. The death is hushed to save both his family and the British delegation from scandal.
Enter Sir Henry's younger son, James (Max) Masted, ex-Royal Flying Corps ace and perfect embodiment of old-fashioned derring-do. The pages fairly ripple with secret plans, foiled plots and some pretty women to save. This seems to be the first of a continuation. Lots of fun and perfect for long plane rides.
Dexter's Final Cut, by Jeff Lindsay (Doubleday, 368 pages, $28.95)
Those of us who sat riveted to the final frames of HBO's Dexter series know that our antihero's Miami series has come to an end, but Dexter and his Dark Passenger are on to new horizons (sort of).
Fans know, though, that Dexter the novel and Dexter on HBO follow very different paths, so a "final cut" novel in the week the final show airs seems to be an end. Certainly the plot takes us toward pursuit or prison. There's a twist that no one will see coming and several memorable moments. Is Dexter out? Read and see.