As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust
By Alan Bradley, Doubleday Canada, 360 pages, $29.95
Just when I think I've had enough of young Flavia de Luce and her quaint English gardens and her poisonous potions, Alan Bradley turns her around and makes her new again. That's what happens in this, the seventh book in the series, when Flavia is banished to a boarding school in the wilds of Canada. Flavia is on our very own ground, with a mummified corpse dropping out of a bedroom chimney. There's nothing of Harry Potter's Hogwarts in Miss Bodycotes Female Academy. There's a former murderess on the staff, stories of students who've mysteriously disappeared and, of course, the corpse that Flavia is determined to identify. This one is great fun.
By Quintin Jardine, Headline, 368 pages, $22.99
What better way to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo than with a terrific novel from one of Britain's best storytellers? It's 1818 and Quintin Jardine's Mathew Fleming returns to Scotland from his Napoleonic adventures a scarred but never bitter man. Carluke, the small Lanarkshire village he left as a boy of 19, is in flux and nothing turns out the way he planned. Jardine's talent is for building a story detail by detail and it's the everyday lives and people that give this story its centre. There are murders, of course, two to be exact, but we know who commits them and why. Just how Mathew settles scores is what keeps the pace moving, and it's slow and deadly. "Revenge is a dish best eaten cold," as the old proverb goes. Jardine's dish is chilled to perfection with just the right touch of bitterness.
The King of Shanghai
By Ian Hamilton, Spiderline, 408 pages, $19.95
The seventh book in the terrific Ava Lee series sees Ava taking over her late uncle's connections and businesses. She's set to start a new life as a partner in Three Sisters venture capital. At last Ava is on her own and she's off to Shanghai to check out investment possibilities, including a high-end fashion line. But then one of her uncle's mentees, a charming young man named Xu, hoves into view. He's a Triad leader and she should stay away, but old habits and old memories remain. Xu wants to rise in the Triad world and he wants to enlist Ava as a guide and adviser. Will Ava say no and stick with designer frocks? One of Ian Hamilton's best.
The Gift of Darkness
By V.M. Giambanco, Quercus, 484 pages, $26.99
This is a great debut from a new British author. V.M. Giambanco was born in Italy, lives in London, and has set her first novel in Seattle. As a filmmaker, Giambanco knows the importance of detail, and she has a great eye for the gorgeousness of Washington State. Setting aside, there's a terrific story here, beginning with the kidnapping of three children in the Hoh River wilderness and the death of one. Twenty-five years later, an entire family is murdered in a pleasant Seattle suburb. The only clue is the words "thirteen days" scratched on the wall of the crime scene. Homicide Detective Alice Madison is convinced that there's a connection to the Hoh crime but her team disagrees. There's a suspect in view and a case to close. If Alice is right, then she has 13 days to solve the case and save more lives – but what are the connections? You won't put this one down.
By David Thomas, Quercus, 383 pages, $26.99
This is based on a true account by a detective-turned-SS-killer and while it's fiction, it takes one to the very edge of what really happened in wartime Germany. I started this book thinking of Philip Kerr's Bernie Gunther series but Detective Georg Heuser is no Gunther. In 1941, Detective Heuser, nicknamed the Beagle, was on the famed Berlin Murder Squad, searching for an elusive killer who was beating women to death on the S-Bahn trains and then tossing the bodies to the side of the rails. Detective Heuser outwitted the killer and seemed headed for a great career. Fast-forward to 1959: A team of dedicated German investigators is in search of Nazi war criminals hiding in plain sight. One of those criminals is Georg Heuser, now the chief of detectives in Rhineland-Pfalz. Still the Beagle, still successful and respected. He's also a man who murdered thousands in the Bloodlands of Eastern Europe. What happened to clever young Heuser?
The Girl on the Train
By Paula Hawkins, Doubleday Canada, 316 pages, $24.95
There are a lot of books promising the same chills and twists as Gone Girl; this is the first novel I've read that has them. Paula Hawkins's debut is full of the same brilliant characterization and clever plotting that keeps readers wondering. The story begins with Rachel, the girl on the train. Every day, she takes the same commuter route to her city job. She glides along the tracks seeing the same houses, terraces and trees. And she sees the same couple, every day, having breakfast on their roof terrace above a garden. She names them Jason and Jess and looks forward to the daily "meet." The woman seems so happy, so unlike Rachel with her failed marriage. Then, one day, Jess disappears and Rachel finds herself caught up in a very real mystery, one where she seems more stalker than observer and where watching from a train may just get her arrested for murder.