Cara Black has earned a loyal following with her series starring Parisian investigator Aimée Leduc. This year, Ms. Black showed a new facet of her talent with the historical thriller “Three Hours in Paris” (Soho Crime 348 pages, $27.95). It’s the ticking-clock saga of Kate Rees, a sharpshooting American war widow trained by the British and smuggled into Paris in 1940 to assassinate the leader of Nazi Germany. The reader assumes Kate will miss her shot at Adolf Hitler—this is not alternative history—but what surprises is what comes next. Kate makes contact with Resistance operatives in a race to elude a German policeman tasked by the Führer himself with her swift capture.
“The Bramble and the Rose” (Norton, 198 pages, $25.95) is Tom Bouman’s third novel featuring rural Pennsylvania police officer Henry Farrell. An introspective loner, Henry approaches a personal and emotional epiphany after learning of a grisly crime: a headless corpse found in a forest. Was the victim, an out-of-town private eye, killed by a bear or a man? And what brought the victim to this neck of the woods? Henry teams up with Mary Weaver, a biologist, to hunt for a rogue animal who may or may not have acquired a taste for human flesh. “A man-killer isn’t stupid,” she explain. “It stalks its prey in absolute silence. . . . Most survivors never hear or see it . . . until it’s less than fifty feet away. And if it has a taste for man, harsh words won’t stop him.”
Cormoran Strike, the detective hero of an enjoyable series of books by Robert Galbraith (a pen name for J.K. Rowling), has his most complex adventure yet in “Troubled Blood” (Mulholland, 933 pages, $29). This hefty volume is stuffed with intrigue, surprise, action, violence, social comedy and romance: “value for money,” as the British say. It starts with a cold case: the disappearance some 40 years ago of a doctor whose daughter still wants to learn what happened. “The truth’s out there,” Strike promises. But time, fate and other folk seem to conspire against Strike and his business partner, Robin Ellacott. The ongoing dramas in the two investigators’ own families also threaten to lead them astray. But our pseudonymous author sorts everything out by the end with the skill of a world-class storyteller.
A cellphone swiped from a lawyer striding through New York’s Grand Central Terminal triggers the infernal plot-machine of Patrick Hoffman’s “Clean Hands” (Atlantic Monthly, 280 pages, $26). The phone is loaded with confidential information pertaining to a high-profile lawsuit between two banks. Getting the phone back is vital. But was the theft genuine? The lawyer’s boss calls on Valencia Walker, an ex-CIA case officer, to put out the blaze, but the blaze keeps spreading. Street-level crooks lead to smalltime hoods who point to bigger gangsters—all the way up the criminal food-chain to where everything must converge. “It just seems,” Valencia finally says, “like this might be one where it would be better if everybody would just stand down.” But is it too late for that?
Joe Ide’s novels about Isaiah “IQ” Quintabe, a young private investigator in East Long Beach, Calif., are among the most inventive and smartly written books in the genre. “Hi Five” (Mulholland, 341 pages, $27), IQ’s fourth case, is his most unpredictable yet. An illicit arms dealer hires him, under threat of breaking his violinist girlfriend’s fingers, to solve the murder of the crook’s daughter’s boyfriend, a killing for which the daughter stands accused. Complicating matters further, the daughter is a multiple personality; IQ must prove each of the defendant’s five “alters” innocent to save his girlfriend’s digits. All in a week’s work for this Holmesian avatar in a gritty Southern California suburb.
Movie directors can be eccentric, but Tony Rees—in Elizabeth Little’s witty and suspenseful “Pretty as a Picture” (Viking, 338 pages, $27)—takes things to an extreme. Rees is at the helm of a film shooting on a small island off the Delaware coast. His set is closed; script and production details are classified, while cast and crew are required to sign nondisclosure agreements. Film editor Marissa Dahl, the book’s narrator, joins this project mid-shoot to replace the original editor, who left because—well, that’s a secret, too. Rees, we learn, is filming a dramatization of a real-life murder mystery that occurred on this island decades ago. Is he trying to solve the case? Or is this a hubristic exercise in artistic tyranny? Marissa thinks she has what it takes to sort the puzzles at hand, but as a local tells her: “You movie people are all the same. You think just because you didn’t know something all along it must be a brand-new discovery. But this isn’t a twist—you’re just the last person to figure it out.”
“The Thursday Murder Club” (Pamela Dorman, 355 pages, $26), in Richard Osman’s winning debut novel, consists of four residents of “Britain’s First Luxury Retirement Village” who gather weekly to try their hands at solving cold-case homicides, using files provided by a retired policewoman. “People love a murder, whatever they might say in public,” insists Joyce, the club’s latest member, who finds the meetings invigorating: “A few glasses of wine and a mystery. . . . It is good fun.” That changes, though, once the community’s builder is killed in his own home. The amateur sleuths turn semi-pro, and their efforts may contribute to a second murder. Mr. Osman achieves an irresistible blend of humor and harsh reality in an environment whose occupants have learned: “Life goes on, until it doesn’t.”
The crimes in Louise Penny’s books featuring Armand Gamache, senior officer in the Sûreté du Quebec police force, often connect to persons, events and consequences far beyond the immediate incident. Such is very much the case in “All the Devils Are Here” (Minotaur, 479 pages, $28.99), in which Armand’s French godfather is struck down by a hit-and-run driver during the Gamache family’s Paris vacation. While the injured man, a billionaire financier, lies comatose in a hospital, the inspector assigns himself the job of finding out who wanted his godfather dead. His dangerous quest, assisted by family members and a high-level French police official, uncovers corporate coverups and a global conspiracy—as well as highly personal questions of loyalty and courage.
London in 1910 is the setting of “One Fatal Flaw” (Ballantine, 308 pages, $28), Anne Perry’s third chronicle of the conscientious young lawyer Daniel Pitt, whom a woman begs to defend her boyfriend from a charge of murder. He accepts the case and wins it, with the help of expert testimony from a highly regarded forensic pathologist. Then the same woman demands Pitt (and his expert witness) save her from conviction of an identical crime. Pitt is certain his unwelcome client is guilty. “We’ve got to be seen to try our damnedest to get her off, yet see to it that we fail,” he says after devising a daring double-game to serve both justice and his own conscience.
It’s one thing to read all the murder-mysteries on a bookseller’s blog-list of the best crime novels of all time, quite another to use those books as templates for actual killings. But in Peter Swanson’s “Eight Perfect Murders” (Morrow, 270 pages, $27.99), that’s exactly what an FBI agent suggests is being done, with a list once posted by Boston bookshop owner Malcolm Kershaw. At first, the FBI agent and the mystery maven swap clues and theories like collaborating armchair detectives. But things get less cozy once narrator Malcolm deduces: “The killer knows me.” Then again, how well does the reader know Malcolm? Or, for that matter, this intrepid FBI agent? Separating truth from fiction and facts from alibis are matters of life and death in this fiendishly concocted chiller.
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