Summer’s here. That means a cold beverage on the veranda, lolling on the beach and chilling at the cottage with ample time for getaway reading. Here are six books guaranteed to help while away those idle days of pure pleasure.
Dead Man’s Wake, Paul Doiron (St. Martin’s Publishing Group, 320 pages) I’ve become hooked on this superb series set in the Maine woods and featuring game warden Mike Bowditch. The role of the game warden is unusual because Bowditch carries a gun, has some police powers, and consults with the state and local police on investigations.
So, there are crossover crimes such as this one – set on a lake in Maine over the Labour Day weekend. Mike is visiting his stepfather’s luxurious lakeside home with his fiancée and her family. There are wedding plans and good times as summer ends. The idyll is interrupted by the sounds of a boat going far too fast. Mike goes out to check and hears a dreaded sound: The boat has hit something and experienced ears think it’s a body. Shortly after, the worst is confirmed when the Mike and his future father-in-law find a detached arm. It’s clear that the boat caused the damage and that the rest of the body is submerged. It’s a case for the Maine warden but it soon becomes something quite different.
Doiron is a master of nature writing, and you can smell the leaves and feel the breeze in his descriptions of the woods and lakes. I also really enjoy the continuing family stories that are in the background but give depth to already fascinating characters. The pacing is superb and you can drift in and out of this read, although I confess, I couldn’t wait and read all through the night.
Zero Days, Ruth Ware (Simon & Schuster, 368 pages) When you tire of restful summer days, it’s time for a truly gripping tale of psychological suspense. We open in downtown London with a young woman breaking into a highly-secure company. This is Ware at her best, moving us carefully and efficiently into a book about … well, I don’t want to spoil it. Suffice it to say that, as always, Ware builds the suspense to the breaking point and then, drops a murder into it.
Jacintha “Jack” Cross is the woman doing the break-in and, while she’s slipping past the cameras and locks, her beloved husband’s voice is in her earpiece, giving her advice and marking her progress right up to the moment she’s stopped and arrested. There’s a confrontation with a policeman, with whom she obviously has a history and then off again into Ware World where nothing is ever what it seems. The murder comes as a total surprise and when Jack goes on the run, we have tricks galore. You can’t doze with Ware so save this one for a rainy day read.
Death Under A Little Sky, Stig Abell (HarperCollins, 344 pages) Stig Abell is a well-known British journalist (The Sun and the Times Literary Supplement, plus radio) who is also a very well-read mystery fan as this excellent debut novel demonstrates.
The story begins with Jake Jackson, a burnt-out cop whose marriage is ending and who has also inherited a house and money from an uncle. The house is in rural England, in a place called Little Sky. Jake quickly resigns from his job and heads to the country where there is no internet, little phone service and the “village” is really just a hamlet with a shop that doubles as a pub. Jake spends his time swimming in a very cold pond and reading his uncle’s vast collection of classic mysteries.
Things change when Jake meets Livia, the local vet, and starts to engage in the town’s culture. During a treasure hunt, human bones are discovered, which are soon identified as a local girl who died 10 years ago. Accident or murder? Livia and Jake start assembling clues when another, more violent death occurs. Jake finds his detective skills are enhanced by his endless reading, and fans of classic mysteries will love sorting out the clues Abell gives.
The writing is dreamy, with wonderful passages describing the gorgeous countryside. And most of the characters are well done. The love story – yes, there is one – is creaky and overdone and the references do get tiresome but those are first-novel glitches that a writer as good as Abell can correct. This is a great addition to the cozy read corner and I look forward to Jake Jackson books two and three.
Murder Under A Red Moon, Harini Nagendra (Constable, 289 pages) Every cottage has its rack of mystery novels. The Golden Age puzzle plots of Christie, Sayers and Marsh seem to go perfectly with loon calls and hammock naps. What if the house party and the squire were transported to 1920s India, with a much younger Miss Marple clad in a sari and married to a very nice doctor? That’s the premise of this second in a series by Nagendra set in Bangalore, a princely state run by a Maharajah (the first book is the excellent The Bangalore Detectives Club). New bride Kaveri Murthy is chief of the Bangalore Detectives Club, which meets in a shed in her garden and under the eyes of her grimly disapproving mother-in-law.
The story begins at a dog show: To Kaveri’s surprise, her mother-in-law arranged to meet her there and infers that she wishes a favour. This allows for a lovely description of a traditional English tea overlaid with Indian twists and which, in turn, opens the plot to a crime based on growing anti-British feeling and the battle for women’s suffrage. This is not your ordinary Miss Marple and I loved it all. Nagendra doesn’t play fast and loose with the form, she just embellishes it like a gorgeous bit of embroidery and it’s all great fun.
To make it all work, there’s a map at the beginning and a handy glossary for new words. There are also a small batch of recipes for some of the treats mentioned. I haven’t tried any but they’d make a great weekend addition to reading the book.
The Girl By the Bridge, Arnaldur Indridason (Minotaur, 352 pages) A young writer wanders along a bridge in Reykjavik and sees an old doll floating in a pond. Curious, he drops down to fish it out and finds the corpse of a child. That’s the beginning of the latest Konrad novel by Indridason, one of the first and still the best of the brilliant crop of Icelandic crime novelists. Moody, filled with atmosphere and certainly far away from a bucolic Canadian getaway, the book takes us from the pond back in time to a children’s party. Konrad’s friend Eyglo is ill at ease, wandering through the very luxurious house and she encounters a strange little girl who says only “I’ve lost her,“ and then wanders off. The little girl haunts Eyglo decades later.
From those opening scenes we go to the present day. An elderly couple want Konrad, a retired cop, to find their missing granddaughter, Danni, who in their eyes, is a problem. A wild girl, possibly a drug mule with a boyfriend, Lassi, who’s up to no good. Konrad isn’t really interested but he’s willing to spend a bit of time on the case until Danni turns up dead and nothing, not Lassi, not even the grandparents are what they seem.
This is classic Indridason with a complicated plot covering half a century and with more clues to the unsolved murder of Konrad’s father, 50 years before. Strange, haunting and perfect for reading by firelight.
Killing Moon, Jo Nesbo, translated by Sean Kinsella (Knopf, 496 pages) After a few days of country air, I’m ready for urban grit and Scandi Noir and Nesbo fit the bill. This is the 13th Harry Hole book and, while the series is getting long in the tooth, there’s some life left still.
Harry is in L.A. drowning his sorrows after his wife Rakel’s murder (see last novel). The trope of the drunk, burnt-out copper has been done to death but Nesbo manages to inject newness by introducing Harry to Lucille, an aged actress who becomes his friend and confidant and then his client. Lucille has borrowed a lot of money from some dangerous people who kidnap her for ransom and Harry has 10 days to get the cash. That leads him to investigate a current crime in Oslo, which may net him Lucille’s cash but the return opens a lot of not-very-closed wounds and a connection with his old partner.
Intertwining two stories is standard for Nesbo and, although we know Harry will prevail, he’s adept at using the police procedural process as his outline. We follow Harry’s reasoning as he sorts information, follows several red herrings, connects with clues and eventually gets on the right track. At the same time we have to enter into his tortured mind, which is replete with guilt, revenge and assorted nastiness. Nesbo’s characters have always been drunken, misogynistic and generally unpleasant but Harry has redeeming points that keep things from getting too mean. All in all, this is a good Harry Hole – not the best of the series but a good one that will make for a great weekend read.