From short and sweet weekend reads to fast-paced action, these six mysteries have something for everyone.
Also: What we’re reading and loving this week: Shipwreck opus The Wager and food memoir The Gastronomical Me
Standing in the Shadows, Peter Robinson (McClelland & Stewart, 360 pages)
“Let me start at the beginning,” is the last line of the late, great Peter Robinson’s 28th Inspector Alan Banks novel, and it really does tie up the ends of one of crime fiction’s finest series. Banks arrived, full fledged in 1987 in Gallows View and, aside from three standalone mysteries – all superb – he flourished in the Yorkshire dales, becoming older and more alone as the books rolled on. Standing in the Shadows gives us a peek into Banks’s life before and, while it’s not the best mystery of the bunch, it demonstrates all Robinson’s considerable talent for character and setting.
The beginning is 1980, and university student Nick Hartley arrives at his flat to discover a dead woman and a missing man. Nick quickly becomes suspect No. 1, but he’s found innocent and the case slides away. Nick remembers the dead, though, and commits himself to becoming a crime reporter to be the voice of justice.
Forty years later, an anthropologist is digging a trench in search of Roman ruins and uncovers a skeleton. It’s quickly revealed that the bones aren’t a thousand years old, and it’s also clear that it’s a case of murder. Enter Inspector Alan Banks and his team. Before they can begin to investigate the death, though, they have to find out who’s dead. That’s the kind of police work that Robinson really excels at writing. His finest pages are the careful hunt for the clues to uncover motives and histories and dead bodies that no one missed or bothered to report. That’s what Standing in the Shadows does to perfection as he moves back and forward in time and place right to the final beginning at the beginning. This is a great finale to a superb series.
Closer by Sea, Perry Chafe (Scribner Canada, 258 pages)
Is this beautifully constructed novel a coming-of-age story, a mystery, or a fictional examination of the catastrophic demise of the Newfoundland cod fishery? It’s a bit of all three, but frankly, it’s just a really fine tale spun by a gifted storyteller who’s more familiar as a TV writer for the likes of the Netflix drama Frontier and the current CBC comedy Son of a Critch. Perry Chafe knows how to keep the reader reading and to toss in bits of Canadiana for spice.
We are in isolated Newfoundland in 1991. Pierce Jacobs, aged 12, is still grieving the death of his father at sea three years before and dreams of earning enough money to refit his father’s old boat and take it to sea. But this is the decade when the cod fishery, long a mainstay of the Newfoundland economy, is collapsing. Going to sea and earning a good living is no longer a realistic dream for a young man.
Then Pierce’s friend Anna Tessier goes missing. Pierce may not be able to resurrect the local fishery but he’s determined to find Anna and, with the assistance of three friends and a hermit named Solomon Vickers, he heads out. The adventures he encounters are part of the story but they are individually wonderful tales on their own. Short and sweet, it is the perfect weekend read.
The Almost Widow, Gail Anderson-Dargatz (HarperCollins, 302 pages)
When do you give up and admit the man you love isn’t missing, he’s dead? As always, Anderson-Dargatz is best at setting atmosphere and place and this one, set in the midst of a temperate rainforest wilderness, beset by tree poachers and a mysterious stalker known as The Green Man, is superb.
Piper is married to Ben, a natural-resource officer, and both are passionately committed to the preservation of their beloved habitat. Someone is cutting down the trees, obviously just for show, not for wood or fire. That someone is also stalking Piper as she mourns those lost trees; when Ben goes hunting, he disappears. A search turns up nothing but the people in charge believe that Ben is dead, but Piper refuses to stop looking for him. She knows who is responsible for whatever has happened to Ben and she also knows that someone is coming for her. The tension is taut and the action is fast-paced; save this for when you have time because you won’t want to put it down.
To Track a Traitor, Iona Whishaw (Touchwood, 494 pages)
I’ve developed quite a taste for the Darling couple of Nelson, B.C. This is Whishaw’s 10th novel and, so far, it’s avoided the dreaded period when series books get stale. This story, with a tidy spy plot, allows Lane Winslow to head to Scotland, where a family crisis awaits her. Her grandfather has had a heart attack but the real problem is Lane’s sister, Diana, who is hiding something. Lane starts deciphering clues from Aberdeen to South Africa and back again. Then an old case pops up in Nelson and the mayor demands that Inspector Darling travel to the U.K. in search of an answer. Before you can say “coincidence,” the Darlings discover they are on the same trail. Whishaw goes all out on the historical bits and it’s all great fun following post-Second World War Britain.
Adrift, Lisa Brideau (Raincoast, 352 pages)
If this were just another amnesia plot, I’d take a pass. But Lisa Brideau’s real focus in this gripping psychological thriller isn’t the heroine’s memory; it’s her instinct for survival in a world that is collapsing around her. Brideau hales from Nova Scotia and currently is a sustainability specialist for the city of Vancouver.
The story begins as Ess awakes on a boat with no memory of how she got there or who she is but questions of identity quickly take second or even fifth place to surviving. Ess’s memory may be gone but her sailor’s knowledge is in her bones and brain. Much of the best of the book is how those talents come back as she battles currents and waves in a world torn by the results of global warming. I was as transfixed by Brideau’s vision of the future as Ess’s survival. This is, in many ways, a very scary book.
The Revenge List, Hannah Mary McKinnon (Mira, 368 pages)
Frankie Morgan isn’t a likable woman. Her own father, who’s also her employer, has ordered her into anger-management therapy. From Frankie’s perspective – a bit skewed – she has cause to be permanently enraged. The person responsible for her mother’s death is alive and living well somewhere because they were never found. Her customers at the family construction firm are often unreasonable and always combative. But Frankie is willing to admit that she’s no angel, either, so when the Anger Management leader, who happens to be her father’s latest fling, tells the group to make out a list of people they blame and need to forgive, Frankie’s list is long and tidy and includes her own name.
Before the group meeting is over, Frankie’s list has gone missing and pretty soon the people on the list start dying of accidents that, if you know about the list, point to murder. At some point, the person picking off Frankie’s revenge names is going to get to the biggest name of all and before then, Frankie has to figure out whose anger is greater than her own. This book isn’t as good as McKinnon’s Never Coming Home; part of that is that Frankie isn’t as engaging a character but ultimately The Revenge List is still a fun read.