Summer books: Mysteries

  • Article by: CAROLE E. BARROWMAN , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 31, 2013 - 2:31 PM

Black Star Nairobi By Muhoma Wa Ngugi

“Fear in the Sunlight,” by Nicola Upson (Bourbon Street Books, $14.99)

Alfred Hitchcock once noted that we all fear the dark, but fear in the sunlight is more terrifying. In Nicola Upson’s best book yet, the epigram is subtly tested. This is a carefully researched and richly detailed historical mystery featuring a fictional Josephine Tey and the portly English director. The “privileged retreat” of Portmeirion on the Welsh coast is a resort “unashamedly quixotic and dream-like,” a fitting place for Hitchcock to woo Tey for the film rights to one of her novels. With a strong cast of characters and most of the murders occurring off page, Upson packs this superbly crafted traditional mystery with enough motives and machinations, family charades and costly lies to make Hitchcock himself shiver.


“A Bat in the Belfry,” by Sarah Graves (Bantam, $26)

I’m not usually a fan of books that tout extras like recipes for jam or knitting patterns for sweaters, but Sarah Graves is such a good writer that I’m OK with her Home Repair Is Homicide hook (chapters open with repair tips). Jake Tiptree gets involved in this latest drama when a childhood friend of her son becomes the suspect in the murder of a teenager killed in the titular belfry. As a “gullywhumper” of a storm thrashes Eastport, Maine, a dangerous tide rises until the investigation crashes onto the doorstep of Jake’s perpetually-in-renovation Victorian mansion.


“The Other Typist,” by Suzanne Rindell (Putnam, $25.95)

Suffused with the sensibilities of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” and the suspense of Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl,” this debut is a Jazz Age stunner. As the “most accurate typist” for the New York City Police Department, the narrator, Rose Baker, “could take the confession of Jack the Ripper … and not bat an eye” despite being in a “premature state of spinsterhood.” Rose’s life changes when Odalie Lazare joins the typing pool. She’s everything Rose is not: sophisticated and stylish, with a voice that’s a “paradox of innocent surprise and devilish complicity.” This book is as chilling and quietly calculating as its key characters.


“Lost,” by S.J. Bolton (Minotaur, $25.99)

Missing boys are found murdered under London’s Tower Bridge, where they are laid out “like they’re asleep.” In her gut, Dana Tulloch, the Scot heading one of London’s Major Investigation units, thinks the killer is a woman, but is Dana projecting her own maternal feelings, or is she sensing something deeply off-kilter in this horrifying case? Bolton’s narrative is taut and twisty and dark, and her pacing unrelenting. Her characters are not only psychologically provocative (especially Lacey Flint), but they command a presence on the page that’s as strong as anything you’ll read this summer.


“The Doll,” by Taylor Stevens (Crown, $24)

If you can stand the heat, Stevens’ third thriller is a sizzler, featuring mercenary of sorts, Vanessa Munroe. Kidnapped and taken to an underground dungeon in Croatia, Munroe is blackmailed into delivering a high-profile “package” for an international slave trader. If she refuses or takes the “package” to safety, the few people Munroe loves will be killed. The narrative cuts between southern Europe and Texas (where Munroe’s cohorts are working to find her) as Munroe and the “package” fight to take control of their fates. The author’s back story reads like a thriller on its own. Deprived of an education, Stevens was raised by a religious cult living in communes all over the world. Breaking free in her 20s, she returned to the United States, where “she taught herself to write.” She learned well.


“The Wild Beasts of Wuhan,” by Ian Hamilton (Picador, $15, June 15)

With its exotic settings (from Asia to America and places in between) and its equally exotic investigator, this book is miles from the ordinary. The main character, Ava Lee is “the whole package.” A forensic accountant for hire, Ava practices “bak mei, an ancient and lethal martial art,” dresses in Brooks Brothers (her “butch look”) and is fiercely loyal to Uncle, her “mentor and partner,” an elderly enigmatic businessman with a “massive network of contacts,” some legit, many not. One of China’s most powerful men hires Ava to uncover a forgery ring that’s sold him a collection of fake Fauves. In the process of unravelling their provenance, Ava begins to discover who she really is.


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