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Eight Perfect Murders, by Peter Swanson (Morrow, 271 pages)

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The Canadian Press

This book is the perfect antidote to quarantine fog brain. It’s sharp, smart and has one of the best puzzle plots since Dame Agatha popped her clogs. Peter Swanson has created a little classic that is sure to end up on many “best of” lists this year.

Malcolm Kershaw owns and operates a bookstore in Boston. He’s also a serious mystery aficionado who has compiled a list of fiction’s “Eight Perfect Murders." But when police show up at Kershaw’s shop, they’re not shopping for books. Someone is killing people, using his list as the template. Who? and why? are the questions. And why Kershaw? There are other writers who’ve done “perfect murder” lists over the decades.

As Kershaw attempts to unravel the clues, using his own extensive knowledge of crime lit, the police continue the hunt, and the killer continues to rack up bodies. But this isn’t a gore-and-gristle book. Everything is as pure as a Miss Marple tea, and it all ends with a perfect denouement. In short, this is a delight that will keep you guessing until the final page.

The Last High, by Daniel Kalla (Simon & Schuster, 309 pages)

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Kalla already scared the bejesus out of us with his prescient debut, Pandemic, published several years ago. His new book, The Last High, is about the opioid epidemic now sweeping Canada and focuses on the police and doctors searching for a street drug that kills instantly.

Dr. Julie Rees is a toxicologist in a large Vancouver hospital. She’s in the emergency room when a group of teenagers is rushed in. They’ve ingested something deadly. Five are already dead. A young girl is revived on the table, and a boy barely survives. What did they take, and how did they get it? Vancouver detective Anson Chan is in charge of the case.

Kalla is terrific at building suspense as the case progresses, uncovering a web of dealers, sellers and users. He’s less adept at character building, and so Chan and Rees end up as thin caricatures with slightly boring backstories rather than the really interesting people they could have been.

A Match Made For Murder, by Iona Whishaw (Touchwood)

A nice romance in a good setting with a decent puzzle plot to keep the pages flipping – that’s the recipe for this excellent light mystery from Iona Whishaw. It’s the seventh in her Lane Winslow series, taking our heroine from the interior of B.C. to the deserts of Tucson, Ariz. She’s there for the perfect spring honeymoon with her groom, Inspector Frederick Darling of the RCMP. They’re settled in the ideal country inn with all the romantic possibilities, but murder is the game here, and in no time, Lane and Frederick are searching that perfect inn for clues to an imperfect murder.

While death in the desert is enough plot for one couple, regular readers know that Whishaw loves to gild the lily. Back in Nelson, Darling’s stand-in, Sgt. Ames, is investigating a serious bout of vandalism at a garage. But when the vandal is found dead, the case levels up and Ames finds himself questioning everyone, including his favourite female mechanic.

This is a charming little bit of fluff with solid characters and nice puzzle plots. It’s perfect for a mental getaway. Be sure to have a fresh bag of chips when you start reading.

The Gilded Cage, by Camilla Lackberg (Translated by Neil Smith, HarperCollins)

Fans who already know Camilla Lackberg as the mistress of Scandinavian psychological suspense can start here and work back through her bestselling list. But The Gilded Cage is Lackberg at her bristling best.

Faye Adelheim is the wife of a millionaire, part of Sweden’s glitziest set of monied aristocrats. She lives in a huge glossy penthouse and has a lovely daughter named Julienne. So why is she sitting in a Swedish prison?

Well, to begin with, Adelheim isn’t really her name, but that’s the least notable thing about Faye. She has a past that has marked her and a present that doesn’t please her. And when things don’t please Faye, she changes them.

There is so much happening in this tautly written thriller that an abbreviated plotline can’t contain more than a few scraps. But the core story is about betrayal and revenge, dark and devious and brilliantly constructed against the backdrop of life amongst the Swedish One Percent. There is serious sex and violence, be warned.

Don’t Look Down, by Hilary Davidson, Thomas & Mercer

Hilary Davidson grew up in Toronto, but for the past 20 years, she’s lived and written in New York City. Don’t Look Down, the second novel in a series featuring NYPD police Sheryn Sterling and Rafael Mendoza, is a stunning trip through the Big Apple. It’s also a deftly plotted mystery that begins with blackmail and revenge.

There are multiple narrators and points of view, but the story begins with Jo Greaver, a successful entrepreneur whose past included life as a teenage sex slave. Now someone who has pictures from that time is trying to sell them; Jo meets the blackmailer in a filthy room in Hell’s Kitchen where shots are fired. Jo runs, heads home and plans her escape to New Jersey.

The story then moves to Detectives Sterling and Mendoza, who are called to the scene. A man is dead, and Sterling finds evidence that ultimately leads to Greaver, the perfect suspect. The case should be over, but Sterling and Mendoza are not your ordinary cops, and they’re not satisfied.

This is an excellent book with good characters and an fantastic plot, but what I loved were Davidson’s descriptions of New York. The title refers to the rooftops of Manhattan as seen from the Flatiron Building – Don’t Look Down, indeed.

The Amateur Spy, by Dan Fesperman (Knopf)

Dan Fesperman continues to be one of the genre’s most reliable new spy novelists. He has an artist’s eye for setting and Le Carré’s insight into character. The Amateur Spy is his twelfth novel, and while I have a special fondness for The Letter Writer and Prisoner Of Guantanamo, this novel is definitely one of his best.

Freeman and Mila Lockhart are quietly and happily retired to a sleepy village on an isolated Greek island. After years of chaos and heartbreak working for humanitarian organizations, they’re burnt out and ready to sip wine and watch the sea.

Then, on an idyllic night, intruders come into their home. Armed and deadly, they confront Freeman for the secret he’s held for years – even from Mila. Now that secret commands him to enter into a deal to spy on a Palestinian non-governmental organization.

Meanwhile in Washington, D.C., an esteemed Arab-American surgeon is grieving the death of his daughter. Was she collateral damage by the Americans? His wife fears he may be drifting toward danger as he, too, heads for Jordan and the Middle East maelstrom. His path will cross Freeman’s, and tragedy is inevitable. If you want to escape from isolation for a weekend, this book is the way.

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