As the days continue to get longer, lose yourself in one of these six mysteries, sure to keep you enthralled well past dark.
The Dark Flood
By Deon Meyer, Translated by K.L. Seegers (Grove Atlantic, 416 pages)
The 14th crime novel by the uber-talented Deon Meyer is absolutely superb. Once again, we have detective investigator Benny Griessel but he’s been demoted from his Cape Town precinct’s elite murder squad, the Hawks. Griessel and his sidekick, Vaughn Cupido, fell afoul of political power in their previous book, The Last Hunt. Their reward for revealing corruption is to be shipped to a static post in a remote small town, but someone is watching out because the demotion and reposting are delayed and the pair end up in Stellenbosch, which also happens to be Meyer’s hometown. There’s still corruption and politics but at least it’s close to the Cape.
Along with the usual batch of very rich and a larger batch of very poor, Stellenbosch has a huge student population and the case that Griessel and Cupido catch is a missing student. Rich, white and solitary and somehow connected to a gang member. What appeared to be a missing kid on a naughty weekend instantly morphs into a possible kidnapping and worse. Then there’s the strange message that Griessel gets telling him that there’s trouble in the Stellenbosch police and to avoid the phones.
If all this sounds like a complicated plot, well, you know you’ve got vintage Deon Meyer. I’ve just touched on the early high points and a lot moves from there. Meyer also has another plotline of a local real estate agent and a missing development magnate, which is loosely based on a true story from Stellenbosch. Lots of fun and, as always, yards of South African culture and colour and a lot of really slick humour. For those who don’t speak Afrikaans, there’s a glossary at the end to help.
One For Sorrow
By Helen Fields (HarperCollins 361 pages)
This is the seventh novel in Fields’s series set in Edinburgh, featuring the detective combo of DCI Ava Turner and DI Luc Callanach, and the first one I’ve read. I finished it in one weekend and then rushed to order the other six. I found this book completely riveting.
The title is from a children’s rhyme: “One for sorrow, two for joy. Three for a girl, four for a boy” and so on. It’s a clue about a terror bomber who seemingly strikes at random, and the police seem always to be behind. Then the clues start coming in. It’s soon clear that the “clues” are also traps for Turner and Callanach. They are the prey and the bomber is using his bombs to target them.
The book unfolds in two sections. One is the terror and the investigation. The second takes the reader into the backdrop and motive. Or that’s what it seems. Just when I thought I’d figured this story out, it moves sideways and leads in another direction. Fields is a superb plot master and she keeps the reader engaged right to the last paragraph. I can’t wait to read more in this series.
Darkness in the Light
By Daniel Kalla (Simon & Schuster, 297 pages)
Trust Daniel Kalla to come up with the perfect post-COVID thriller. We’ve all read the stories about the psychological after-effects of the pandemic. We’ve also read about the shortage of trained professionals to deal with those after-effects. So Kalla delivers a psychiatrist, himself a recovering depressive, who works out of Anchorage, Alaska, treating patients in fly-in communities through virtual therapy. When one patient, seemingly doing okay, overstays her virtual time, he cuts her off. A few days later, she’s dead. Worse, she tried to take her four-year-old daughter with her.
That’s Kalla’s opening and it grips the reader. Dr. David Spears blames himself. Weeks after Brianna’s suicide, another patient of Spears’s disappears. Amka Obed was a friend of Brianna’s. Could she have decided to kill herself? There’s no clue and, hoping that she’s alive, Spears heads for the far northern community of Utqiagvik, a place so small and isolated it seems no one could hide for long.
Kalla’s writing has grown over the years and this book, with its well-written descriptions of the far north, is one of his best. He blends social and cultural images into the thriller and keeps the pace running. A storyline, I was convinced was the plot, turns out to be a huge herring. Shows I can still be hornswoggled by a good twisty tale.
Framed In Fire
By Iona Whishaw (TouchWood, 483 pages)
I really like a good historical mystery and Iona Whishaw’s books with Inspector Darling and wife, Lane Winslow, offer a delightful peek at old British Columbia. Framed in Fire is No. 9 in this series, a point where many authors begin to flag but not Whishaw. This tale, which touches on Indigenous cultural issues, is more than a slick little whodunit.
It’s 1948 and Lane is back in New Denver, anxious to meet with her friend Peter Barisoff, but he’s out. She heads for a meadow in search and comes upon Tom, a man in search of his ancestral lands. Lane is intrigued by the quest but things go awry when Peter returns and the pair discover human remains near his garden. Are these recent or ancient? Regardless, Lane is obligated to inform her husband, Inspector Darling, that she’s intruded accidentally into his territory.
Just what happened to the corpse in the garden is only the beginning of this excellent mystery, which incorporates a lot of thought-provoking issues without resorting to boring speechifying. At the same time as the investigation into the body in New Denver, Sgt. Ames, back in Nelson, is investigating arson at the restaurant of the Darlings’ friends, the Vitalis. Then it all leads to an investigation of Darling himself. Definitely one of Whishaw’s best.
By Louise Candlish (Simon & Schuster Canada, 406 pages)
“Kieran Watts has been dead for over two years when I see him standing on the roof of a building in Shad Thames,” begins The Heights. How does the narrator know Kieran Watts is dead? Because she killed him.
How and why and what transpires from this is the rest of this brilliant novel by Candlish. If you haven’t already discovered her, this is the book to start with, and then turn to the more than a dozen others, starting with Our House, soon to be a TV series. Her plots are complex, her pacing slow and steady, and her settings take you right to the heart of the place. As for character, well if you can resist a narrator whose hate is all consuming and whose thirst for vengeance is as steady as a metronome, you should avoid good crime fiction. I read this book in two afternoons and could hardly stop to sleep. Look for it to end up on some “best of” lists.
Last One Alive
By Amber Cowie (Simon & Schuster, 336 pages)
A witch hunt? When I read the blurb on this book I almost put it aside. Witches are not really my thing but I went back and discovered a well-written book with references to some good Golden Age mysteries. Still Amber Cowie is a B.C. author and I wanted to give it a chance and I’m glad I did.
The book begins with a death but an ordinary one. Marianne was a college history professor and writer. She died instantly of a brain aneurysm. Penelope Berkowitz was her best friend and is now her executor. She is in Marianne’s apartment to clear out her personal items. One item of exceptional interest to Penelope is Marianne’s notebook. The dead woman had been working on a novel in which a publisher was interested. She also had notes for other works.
From there, we move to months later. Penelope has published a successful novel, made a lot of money and that same editor is asking about a new novel. Penelope is stalling. She doesn’t have one. But she has notes for one. It involves a strange tale of a witch on Stone Point, a remote part of the Pacific Northwest. Penelope is planning a trip to Stone Point to examine the remains of the house where a century ago, the owner was murdered and his wife vanished. More recently, a young couple bought the property with plans to turn it into an eco-lodge for tourists. Work was barely begun when the couple disappeared.
There are some clues that lead to the supposed witch and Penelope sees the possibility of that elusive second novel. Penelope decides to carry out a trip to Stone Point with a group of Marianne’s friends and relations, a trip Marianne planned before her death. From the beginning, the trip seems cursed but then people start to disappear. Is there really a witch cursing Stone Point? I guessed the “secret” Penelope is hiding after the first five pages and you will too but that’s not really the centre of this plot. Just who and why and what is happening to the people who went the Point and who will be the last person standing is as clever a twist as Ms. Christie ever envisioned.
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