The Most Dangerous Thing By Laura Lippman, Morrow, 394 pages, $33.99
Laura Lippman's series detective, Tess Monaghan, makes a brief appearance in this excellent novel of psychological suspense, but it's not in any way a traditional mystery. There is no murder, in the ordinary sense, although it does begin with a death. What keeps the story moving are characters so beautifully drawn each is a individual small story. How they come together and then move apart is the heart of the tale.
One can only pity Gordon (Go-Go) Hammond, a 40-year-old with two ex-wives and two children, who lives with his mother and is known by his infant nickname. Go-Go tells the first chapter, and it's his funeral that draws the little gang back together after more than 30 years. Go-Go was the baby of the three Hammond boys. With his brothers, Sean and Tim, he haunted the woods of Baltimore's Leakin Park, along with the girls, Gwen and Mickey. What happened to them all those years ago?
When the four remaining adults assemble for Go-Go's funeral, they are an unhappy group. Sean lives in Florida with his wealthy and domineering wife. Gwen is using her ailing father to avoid facing the failure of her second marriage. Tim is a successful lawyer who doesn't comprehend his spoiled daughters. Mickey has changed everything, including her name.
Lippman uses different voices to tell happened in Leakin Park that summer long ago. This is a very different novel from her usual tightly plotted and fast-moving style. It's slow and revealing, and it stays with you.
Flash and Bones By Kathy Reichs, Scribner, 278 pages, $29.99
Kathy Reichs's 14th Temperance Brennan novel left me sleepy. It wasn't the plot; Reichs has her formula down to perfection. A dead body, an investigation, solid forensics, and all with her eye for detail and professional knowledge. So just what made Flash and Bones drag?
In a word, NASCAR and the Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway. Just as Race Week is getting under way, a buried oil drum turns up with a skeleton inside. Brennan is called in, but FBI takes over. The next day, Wayne Gamble, a NASCAR crew member, tells Brennan that his sister Cindi, just 17, disappeared along with her boyfriend 12 years earlier. Is it possible that the bones are one or the other?
This plot has all Reichs's hallmarks. While she's working the case, it's all fine. What dragged was the setting. Reichs apparently reckoned that many of her readers would know nothing about NASCAR and, to keep the story's momentum, goes into detail about the sport. Unless you are a NASCAR fan, it's just not interesting. When I reread the novel, skipping the NASCAR bits, I enjoyed it, including Tempe's confrontations with the FBI.
The Traitor's Emblem By Juan Gomez-Jurado, translated by Daniel Hahn, Simon & Schuster, 336 pages, $28.99
This sensational novel from Spain has everything a historical mystery fan could want. There's the exotic setting – Munich in the last days of Weimar and the early days of Nazism – and a great central character. There's plenty of ambiguity and a delicately constructed love story.
The bones of the plot are from a true story. In 1940, a Spanish sea captain rescues four German castaways in a small boat. He knows nothing about them and learns even less. One, as they part, gives him a gold-and-diamond emblem in thanks. Decades later, the captain's son is offered a huge sum for the emblem, and the potential buyer has a great story to tell, beginning in 1919 in Germany.
From that snippet, Gomez-Jurado has created a spellbinding story that is part family saga and part historical thriller.
The Hidden Child By Camilla Läckberg, Translated by Tiina Nunnally, Harper, 506 pages, $19.99
Camilla Läckberg is another of Sweden's seemingly endless supply of talented writers with solid backlists ready for translation. The Hidden Child (2007) is her fifth novel to appear in English. Like the others, it combines history and modern living. Crime writer Erica Falck is returning to work; her detective husband, Patrik Hedström, is on paternity leave with their infant daughter. Falck uncovers a couple of strange mementoes in her late mother's trunk, a bloodstained baby shirt and an old medal. She takes the medal to a local historian, who later turns up dead. Patrik finds it hard to stay on leave and out of the investigation, especially when his family may be in danger. This book is at least 100 pages too long, but still riveting.
The Bad Always Die Twice By Cheryl Crane, Kensington, 279 pages, $28.95
Readers under 50 may not recognize the name Cheryl Crane. She is the only child of the late glamour queen Lana Turner, and in 1958, she achieved notoriety by stabbing her mother's boyfriend, petty criminal Johnny Stompanato, to death. If you're expecting a reprise of that plot in Crane's debut, forget it. In this clever Hollywood puzzler, Turner (renamed Victoria Bordeaux) is alive and available to assist her daughter, Nikki Harper, as she uncovers the mystery behind a man who seems to have managed to die twice.
Nikki's reason for chasing clues is her oldest friend, and her partner in Palm Beach real estate, Jessica Martin. The dead man is Rex March, star of a 1970s sitcom, whose wife is a client of Jess and Nikki's. Since Rex died in a plane crash six months ago, his wife has "moved on" to a younger and more adoring man. Then Rex turns up dead in Jess's bed.
I didn't expect much from this novel, which Crane plans to turn into a series. But there's a good plot with a twist, and some very clever Hollywood insider bits. The name-dropping of luxury brands is tiresome, and there are some scenes right out of reality TV (including a visit by the rich to the poor in South Central LA), but Crane has possibilities.
Death at the Chateau Bremont By M.L. Longworth, Penguin, 311 pages, $16.50
It must be the scented air of Aix-en-Provence that makes expatriates want to share its charms with those unfortunates who can't afford a villa rental. We've had seasons in Provence and meals in Provence and now M.L. Longworth gives us murder in Provence. This stylish debut introduces Antoine Verlaque, chief magistrate of Aix, and his delightful female companion, law professor Marine Bonnet. There is an intriguing murder – the local nobleman falls out of the window of his château – and it wasn't suicide.
There are several nasty suspects, but it takes the intuition of Bonnet to uncover the killer for M. Verlaque. This clever puzzle really is all about the gorgeousness of the setting and the eccentricities of character. Longworth has a good eye and a sharp wit, and this introduction to Verlaque and Bonnet holds promise for a terrific series.