The Rising Tide, Ann Cleeves (Pan Macmillan, 375 pages)
I’ve read all of Ann Cleeves’s 30-plus novels, several of them more than once, and what never ceases to amaze me (and what keeps me reading) is her ability to infuse the story with atmosphere. I can visualize the sea, smell the heath, hear the birdsong. That marvellous talent moves into her characters, whether recurring or one-off. I want to know what happens to these people, where they go, what they learn. Those two strengths are what carry The Rising Tide, Cleeves’s ninth Vera Stanhope book, to an ending that left me gasping.
Cleeves begins with a death: Fifty years ago a beautiful young woman had a fight with her boyfriend and left a retreat house on Holy Island, Lindisfarne, driving too fast to reach land before a rising tide cut off the road. She didn’t make it. Ever since, a group of her friends who were there that weekend gathers for a reunion every five years. The reunion has a plan as carefully choreographed as a classical ballet. There are prayers, lots of lovely food, a great deal of catch-up chat, walks and the kind of interplay that only goes on between elderly people who’ve known each other forever. That’s before Vera enters the scene.
Cleeves’s plotline borrows from the classic locked-room mystery, but adds on the historical death (accident or murder?); then another member of the group dies. It all has to be connected but how and why? Cleeves never loses the pace or the suspense and there isn’t an extraneous word to stretch the story. I finished it at four in the morning. Be warned.
Suspect, Scott Turow (Grand Central, 488 pages)
Scott Turow is another personal favourite who never disappoints. His 15 books have built a whole world out of fictional Kindle County, a suburb of Chicago, and we are now into the third generation of people entwined by law, birth and history. Clarice (Pinky) Granum, the focus of Suspect, is the granddaughter of Sandy Stern, who first appeared in Presumed Innocent and then reappeared to become one of my pet fictional lawyers. Sandy is an eminence grise here but Pinky is a wonder and she carries this terrific tale with aplomb.
Lucia Gomez is the police chief of Highland Isle, a woman of style and intelligence who’s made her way, very carefully, in a man’s world. How she conducts herself is an essential part of her job but suddenly, three officers accuse her of sexual abuse, that she solicited sex from them in exchange for promotions. Chief Gomez says that is an absolute lie. She enlists the services of lawyer Rik Dudek (another Kindle County name) and his P.I. Pinky to build her case. The question isn’t just why this is happening, it’s what and who is really behind it all.
Carrying the storyline we have Pinky, smart, ferocious and with a fascinating backstory, which Turow sprinkles like stardust. For fans like me, there are some fill-ins on folks from other stories that I wanted to know about. All that and you get a first-rate legal thriller that keeps you reading. One of Turow’s best and that’s saying a lot.
Dark Objects, by Simon Toyne (William Morrow, 385 pages)
It was the premise that lured me into reading this novel and it didn’t disappoint. How do you investigate the murder of a person who doesn’t exist? The body is there, in the luxurious home, with all the trinkets one expects, except the name and person attached to the body don’t exist. Who’s dead? And then who killed her?
The person confronting these questions is Laughton Rees, criminologist and author of the book How To Process A Murder, which is required reading for the British police. The only clue available at the murder scene in London is a copy of her book. But what does the text by a noted academic say to the investigators? Rees doesn’t know the dead woman, and has no connection to her. But the who and why are buried in Laughton’s own history and her relationship to her estranged father, who happens to be the Metropolitan Police Commissioner. Laughton’s book forces her to join the murder inquiry and soon, stranger events draw her and her daughter further into the mysterious death of the woman who doesn’t exist.
We Spread, Iain Reid (Simon & Schuster, 284 pages)
Any time is a good time for a creepy-crawly psychological mystery and We Spread serves up a good one with a dose of scare for the elderly. Penny is an aging artist living on her own but after the death of her longtime partner, she finds herself losing bits and remembering less. Then comes the dreaded fall and the discovery that plans have been made for her increasingly frail future. It seems that long ago, it was decided that she would go to Six Cedars, a luxurious and isolated retirement home. Who decided? The owner, a woman named Shelley, says that Penny herself did.
At first, Six Cedars seems perfect. Penny no longer has to worry about the “incidents” that plagued her when she was alone. The other residents are pleasant and it’s good to be with people who understand Penny’s losses. But soon, time and events begin to blur. Shelley seems to be instituting more and more control over the residents’ lives, and Penny’s faculties are getting dimmer. But is all of this just a reflection of her age and infirmity or is there something sinister going on at Six Cedars? Iain Reid does a masterful job at unreliable narrator and keeps us off balance throughout this highly accomplished and fascinating novel.
Dirt Creek, Hayley Scrivenor (Flatiron Books, 336 pages)
Durton (Dirt Town to the locals) is a small town in the Australian Outback. It is poor, isolated, roasting in the heat and full of secrets, lies and unhappy people. That’s the setting for this extremely accomplished debut from Hayley Scrivenor, which hinges on the mystery of a missing child.
When 12-year-old Esther Bianchi goes missing, everyone in town suspects foul play at the hands of her father, Steven. Even the police are convinced he’s behind it all. Enter Detective Sergeant Sarah Michaels, tasked with solving this disappearance – but Michaels has her own secret to mull over. In Durton, meanwhile, the gossips are at work. A lot of alcohol is flowing and down the dirt road, Esther’s friend Lewis knows something about her that he thinks he ought to do something about, but not tell the police. His own father is down on that idea. All of Durton might care what happened to Esther but they’re not going to open the town secrets to outsiders. Scrivenor is a writer to watch and Sarah Michaels deserves another outing.
Forsaken Country, Allen Eskens (Mulholland Books, 304 pages)
From Outback Australia to the Minnesota wilderness, small towns and endangered kids make for great cop chases and Eskens, author of The Stolen Hours, serves up this excellent suspense novel that will keep you riveted.
Ex-Minneapolis detective Max Rupert is holed up in a cabin in rural Itasca County, mourning his dead wife. Then a local woman, Sandy Voight, disappears with her six-year-old son, Pip. It looks like a planned move. She cleaned out her bank account and her ex-husband, the man who might have wanted her gone, has an iron-clad alibi. The local sheriff sees no reason for a search but Sandy’s father is convinced she’d never have left without telling him and she’s in danger. He enlists Max’s help and the pair uncover a trail that takes them to the vast Boundary Waters wilderness. Eskens keeps the tension moving as the men face and confront one danger after another. Meanwhile, where is a vulnerable woman and a small child?
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