I Saw Him Die
By Andrew Wilson. (Washington Square Press, 400 pages, $16.99.)
In the great tradition of Agatha Christie, Andrew Wilson's "I Saw Him Die" features a cast of upper-crust British gathered at a remote estate on the Isle of Skye in 1930. The host is murdered, the guests are forbidden to leave, and the mystery is on.
At the heart of this book is Christie herself, also a character in three previous novels by Wilson, who is a noted biographer and journalist as well as novelist. "I Saw Him Die" is great fun, with Christie summoned to the house along with her friend John Davison, a member of the Secret Intelligence Service. Their mission was to prevent the murder of the host but, failing that, to solve his murder. Instead, another murder takes place, and then another, and Christie finds herself among the suspects.
Wilson's Christie is a great character, filled with self-doubt and angst, eager to leave Skye and get on with her wedding to her lover, Matt, but at the same time swept away by the possibilities of the investigation. The mystery takes innumerable twists and turns, and while I thought I knew who the killer was, my conclusion kept changing as the story moved forward. This book is great, engrossing fun — just what we need right now when the world feels too dark.
Shadowplay By Joseph O'Connor. (Europa Editions, 400 pages, $26.)
In description, "Shadowplay" sounds like it's all about plot but, in reality, it's all about sentences so lush you could wrap them around you like a cloak. Joseph O'Connor's novel involves (possibly gay?) Bram Stoker writing "Dracula," Jack the Ripper striking repeatedly, Stoker and real-life acting legends Henry Irving and Ellen Terry trying to hold a Victorian-era theater together and several relationships unraveling.
But "Shadowplay" lacks narrative momentum because O'Connor is more interested in crafting passages like this corker: "Thunder and cinders, coalman and boilerman, black cast iron and white-hot friction, rattling on the roadway of steel and olden oak as dewdrops sizzle on the flanks. Foxes slink to lairs. Fawns flit and flee. Hawks in the yews turn and stare."