The Last Dead Girl
By Harry Dolan. (Amy Einhorn Books, 416 pages, $26.95.)
It was raining lightly the night David Malone met Jana Fletcher on a dark, rural road. Jana had hit a deer, and her car was damaged. David gave her a lift home and ended up spending the night, and his life was forever changed. Ten days later, Jana was dead and David was the main suspect. He didn’t kill her, but who did? This prequel to Harry Dolan’s popular “Bad Things Happen” and “Very Bad Men” tells the back story of David Loogan, the main character in those novels, before he changed his last name and became editor of a crime magazine.
David puts his life, including the relationship with his fiancée, Sophie, and his home inspection business, on a shelf to try to find who killed Jana. His goal is not only to clear his name but to solve the mysteries surrounding Jana, with whom he had fallen quickly and madly in love. Jana’s story is interwoven with David’s in a series of interludes. Sometimes this technique is confusing and frustrating, but Dolan tells the stories seamlessly. One key element is revealed rather early in the book, leaving one to wonder what is left to come. Just keep reading — not that you will be able to stop.
Judy Romanowich Smith
By Kate Racculia. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 340 pages, $25.)
“Bellweather Rhapsody,” Kate Racculia’s second book, is a Gothic-tinged novel, with young innocents trapped in a ghostly old mansion (in this case, a hotel) and all manner of creepy doings.
It starts with a murder-suicide and ends with a murder that might be a suicide, and in between there are flashbacks aplenty to memories of abuse and trauma. And yet the book refuses to be dark; instead, it’s warm, entertaining and thoughtful, and a glorious celebration of music.
The story centers on endearing teenage twins Alice and Rabbit, both musical protégés, who travel to the stately but deteriorating Bellweather Hotel along with hundreds of other high school students to take part in an annual music competition. A blizzard paralyzes the town, a girl disappears, a ghost might or might not appear, and love blooms and is dashed.
Rabbit (real name, which he hates: Bert) puzzles over first love and tries to figure out how to come out to his overwhelming steamroller of a sister; Alice, for her part, is nursing a broken heart and trying to solve the mystery of her possibly dead but definitely disappeared roommate.
Fans of Racculia’s first book, “This Must Be the Place,” will recognize her quirky style and her great affection for her oddball characters.