NORTH SEA REQUIEM
By A.D. Scott (Atria Books, 326 pages, $16)
This satisfying mystery opens with a gasp when Nurse Urquhart — nurse to the local soccer team — sets about doing the team's laundry and finds, inside a uniform, a severed leg. Not long after that, she is permanently blinded when someone throws acid in her face. Such creepy doings for such a sweet Scottish town! Meanwhile, newspaper reporter Joanne Ross, tired of being relegated to "women's news" and hungry to crack the front page, pursues the story of an American jazz singer who has come back to Scotland to find out details about her husband's death. Slowly, the singer's story begins to dovetail with the story of the unfortunate Nurse Urquhart.
A.D. Scott handles multiple threads deftly, including the tenuous love affair between Joanne and her editor. "North Sea Requiem" is the fourth book in this series, which is set in the Scottish Highlands of the 1950s and involves the dedicated staff of the Highland Gazette. Like the earlier books, it has plenty of red herrings, tons of atmosphere and a page-turning plot.
By Joyce Maynard. (William Morrow, $25.95, 306 pages.)
Joyce Maynard has a gift for exploring how dark and unexpected events can turn the staid, quiet lives of American suburbanites, especially children and young people, upside down. "After Her" may be her best novel yet, a psychological murder mystery set in Northern California's Marin County in the 1970s that's loosely based on real events. Thirteen-year-old Rachel narrates the story, in which she and her kid sister Patty come of age in a shabby home that sits at the edge of a beloved mountain where a strangler has preyed on several women.
Their father, who is divorced from their depressed, passive mother, is a glamorous, womanizing homicide detective whose star rapidly falls as the unsolved cases pile up. Although the young sisters are the presumed focus of the novel, the real protagonist is their complex, fascinating, flawed father — without him, this story would be pretty predictable. He's a good man with bad habits and big problems, and the pages come alive whenever he shows up.
Maynard also successfully evokes the general bland nuttiness of the 1970s in California via its music, fashions, politics and landscape. That, and the suspense the story builds, hold the reader well, and what emerges at book's end is not at all what we expect, and well worth the wordy wait.
West Metro editor