On the Bright Side
By Hendrik Groen, translated from the Dutch by Hester Velmans. (Grand Central, 432 pages, $27.)
I fell in love with the 83-year-old Hendrik Groen two years ago when his internationally bestselling “secret diary” about life in an Amsterdam old folks’ home was published in the United States. Hendrik is a fictional character and the “diaries” are novels in diary form. It’s not clear who wrote them — the author has kept his (or her) name private, perhaps to give Hendrik more credibility. And Hendrik is plenty credible; his voice never falters. He is funny, thoughtful and curmudgeonly. He also has strong regrets, enjoys a few drinks and some practical jokes, and seriously dislikes growing old.
In the first book, he and his buddy Evert formed “The Old But Not Dead” club, in which select residents of the home planned monthly outings at restaurants and museums.
“On the Bright Side” opens two years later. It is a darker book. Hendrik is older and sadder, his health a little more frail. Evert is ill (though hiding it). The winter in Holland is a “horror winter,” with record cold. The staff at the care home has changed, and the home itself is threatened with closure. Death is on Hendrik’s mind.
Still, the Old But Not Dead club continues its escapades, someone is stashing fruit in illicit places all around the home just to be annoying, and the book’s darkness is leavened with moments of hilarity.
Fortified with alcohol, friendship, his diary and, eventually, a dose of antidepressants, Hendrik makes it to his 86th year, old but not yet dead. His diary is thoughtful, entertaining and wise. Long may he live.
By Lisa Jewell. (Atria Books. 324 pages, $26.)
In her latest mystery, bestselling author Lisa Jewell combines the cloistered charm of a small English village with the curiosity, paranoia and nosy fatalism of “Rear Window.” Then comes a dose of lust and lies and the sinister pursuit of “Fatal Attraction.”
It’s a thrilling trifecta, not conducive to “read a few pages and fall right to sleep.”
Jewell’s setting is Melville Heights, an exclusive neighborhood on a hill overlooking gray and foggy Bristol. Meandering spirit Joey Mullen has just married Alfie, a good-natured hunk she met on holiday, and her successful brother Jack and his pregnant wife Rebecca have agreed to take them in. Joey remembered as a child longing for a house on the hill, and she basks in her good fortune, not to mention the newlywed glow whenever Alfie is around.
But that glow turns to a searing fire when she meets a neighbor, Tom Fitzwilliam, handsome headmaster of the local high school. Tom is the town’s favorite, kind to all, admired and adored by parents (especially the mothers) and students (we’ll meet an intriguing and suspicious handful). Joey quickly develops an infatuation and makes a series of libido-driven decisions that will come to haunt her.
And then, of course, there’s a murder. Jewell thrusts forward a series of likely suspects and more than a few red herrings. Salacious secrets start to emerge like rats from a hole as the mystery builds to its final surprise. (Don’t leave before the credits roll, as they say.)
Jewell’s psychological thrillers have been compared to “Gone Girl,” “The Girl on the Train” and Ruth Ware’s “In a Dark, Dark Wood” (a favorite). With 16 novels to her credit and more twists up her sleeve than a master magician, Jewell is sure to keep you up at night.