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The Opportunist, by Elyse Friedman (HarperCollins Canada, 275 pages)

Confession time: I have never missed an episode of Succession. Not since the heyday of I, Claudius has a family’s foibles kept me so riveted to the screen. So when I read the blurb on The Opportunist by Toronto author Elyse Friedman, I couldn’t resist. Succession in Canada? Why not?

Ed Shropshire is the zillionaire patriarch, happily ensconced on his private B.C. island and planning his wedding to his nurse, a bright young woman 50 years younger. Could this be a love match? Enter Ed’s sons who seriously doubt the bride’s motives, especially the charitable foundation that will be hers to manage and control once Ed pops his clogs. Anything the sons say will be ignored. After all, they have a lot to lose. But Ed has a daughter, Alana, estranged, disinherited, a single mother with a seriously disabled daughter. Alana might just be able to drive a wedge into the wedding plans.

This plotline sounds a tad hackneyed but you should read on. What makes Succession work is the utter venality of everyone in the cast and especially the aptly-nicknamed Shiv Roy, only daughter and ace plotter. Alana could use a dose of Shiv’s spite but Friedman is a good writer and she gives Alana enough vinegar to keep her interesting. Friedman has written several novels and a book of poetry. If this is her first mystery, she should keep it up. The Opportunist is good.

The General Of Tiananmen Square, by Ian Hamilton (House of Anansi, 326 pages)

What’s better than a book about hugger-mugger in the movies? Big egos meet bigger bucks and that’s the perfect spot for international business espionage. Enter Ian Hamilton’s stellar sleuth, Ava Lee, in her fifteenth outing. At a point where many series are collapsing, Hamilton’s heroine stars in his best book yet.

The story opens in the perfect place, the great Cannes Film Festival where fortunes and reputations are made. Ava is along for the ride. Her partner Pang Fai is one of the stars of The General Of Tiananmen Square, one of the festival highlights. By the end of the week, General has racked up awards for everyone, especially star director Lau Lau, and the film gets a lucrative distribution deal.

Flush with success, everyone, including Ava, heads for Hollywood and the Oscars, but then things start to unravel. Distribution is delayed. Then the distributor goes missing. The Chinese government has good reasons for not wanting this film released and Ava realizes that her friends could lose more than an Oscar if she doesn’t step in.

The Bullet Garden, by Stephen Hunter (Atria, 466 pages)

I grabbed this book off the shelf and read it in a weekend. I loved Stephen Hunter’s Bob Lee Swagger series, as well as his other works, but I really fell hard for his early novels featuring Bob Lee’s father, Earl, who surged into my life in Hot Springs, Ark., an homage to my very own hometown. Earl drifted away when Bob Lee came into the picture, but I missed him. Now he’s back in The Bullet Garden, a prequel about his adventures in France during the Second World War. Whoopee!

We begin with a confrontation between French underground fighters and a team of OSS operatives setting things up for D-Day. Earl isn’t there but problems are and we know that he’ll be along soon. The British captain in charge is insufferable. The American seems docile. What happens next sets all the action to come. In the midst of the awful news from Ukraine, Swagger and Hunter seem very relevant and the twists don’t stop coming.

The Murder Book, by Mark Billingham, (Little, Brown, 405 pages)

Be warned. This is a D.I. Tom Thorne novel and that means a lot of bodies and some grisly scenes. To wit: the first murdered man (dead in his bed, naked) has his ears removed. The next ones are worse. DNA evidence reveals that Thorne and his partner, Nicola Tanner, are searching for a female serial killer. A suspect turns up and fits the bill, but Thorne’s significant other, psychologist Melita Perera, isn’t convinced. Then things get really scary. This is one of Billingham’s best ever.

Lying Beside You, by Michael Robotham (Simon & Schuster, 389 pages)

This brilliant novel is a whodunnit that morphs into a serial murder that evolves into a chase-to-save-the victim, and then adds a final twist. And it’s all done without a smidge of silly filler (what they ate and drank) or mediocre and unwanted sex. Add that to a pair of marvelously done narrators and you have a simply terrific mystery novel.

The story begins as forensic psychologist Cyrus Haven faces a life crisis. His brother, Elias, a patient in a secure psychiatric hospital, is on the verge of parole. Twenty years before, Elias murdered his parents and twin sisters. He’s the reason Cyrus became a psychologist. Now, Cyrus must take responsibility for Elias’s future. Is he still a danger?

That opening ends when Cyrus is summoned by the Nottingham police to a crime scene. A man is dead and his daughter is missing. Foul play is obvious. The police begin to assemble clues as Haven begins to profile the murder. When a second woman disappears, it’s clear there may be a serial killer about.

As the police gather their information, another person is involved. Evie Cormac is Cyrus’s lodger, a girl he rescued from an orphanage and is trying to salvage from a series of tragedies. Who Evie really is and what happened are just bits of flotsam in this story. But Evie’s ability to read the truth is essential and her clever ruses (which often misfire) are part of the solution. As the case develops, so does the suspense and Robotham doesn’t let up until the last paragraph. Will Evie and Cyrus return? Don’t know, but I can hope.

Before You Knew My Name, by Jacqueline Bublitz (Atria, 320 pages)

Alice Lee was a small-town girl in need of a new life. With $600 and a bus ticket, she headed to New York with high hopes and bigger dreams. In a matter of weeks she ended up a nameless corpse who no one missed: a sad little Jane Doe. Ruby Jones is another woman in search of a new life in Manhattan. What she finds is Jane Doe’s body. There are no clues, no forensics, not even a name, but Ruby is determined to follow everything she can find and give Jane Doe a name if not justice. That is where this excellent novel begins, and I found it irresistible.

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