For a person who lives in a one-bedroom apartment, I have a lot of books. Too many books, my husband argues whenever he crashes into one of the biblio-towers around my desk (an area he lovingly refers to as The Death Trap). Since I don't have time to talk about the entire collection (that would take months), I'll focus on a few recent reads I loved:
The Book: The Bad Kitty Lounge by Michael Wiley
What the Jacket Says: Greg Samuelson, an unassuming bookkeeper, has hired Joe Kozmarski to dig up dirt on his wife and her lover Eric Stone. But now Samuelson has taken matters into his own hands. It looks like he's torched Stone’s Mercedes, killed his boss, and then shot himself, all in the space of an hour. The police think they know how to put together this ugly puzzle. But as Kozmarski discovers, nothing’s ever simple. Eric Stone wants to hire Kozmarski to clear Samuelson. Samuelson’s dead boss, known as the Virginity Nun, has a saintly reputation but a red-hot past. And a gang led by an aging 1960s radical shows up in Kozmarski’s office with a backpack full of payoff money, warning him to turn a blind eye to murder. At the same time, Kozmarski is working things out with his ex-wife, Corrine, his new partner, Lucinda Juarez, and his live-in nephew, Jason. If the bad guys don't do Kozmarski in, his family might.
What I Say: The Bad Kitty Lounge got its claws into me from the first line, which is the best I've read in a while: "I sat in Tommy Cheng's Chinese Restaurant facing a window onto North LaSalle Street and watched a four-story condo complex where Eric Stone was screwing another man's wife." Loved this book from the first page to the last. I haven't read Michael Wiley's work before, but this has convinced me to pick up his other books. I'll be recommending this to friends who enjoy a great PI novel.
The Book: Kingdom of Strangers by Zoë Ferraris
What the Jacket Says: A secret grave is unearthed in the desert revealing the bodies of 19 women and the shocking truth that a serial killer has been operating undetected in Jeddah for more than a decade. However, lead inspector Ibrahim Zahrani is distracted by a mystery closer to home. His mistress has suddenly disappeared, but he cannot report her missing since adultery is punishable by death. With nowhere to turn, Ibrahim brings the case to Katya, one of the few women in the police department. Drawn into both investigations, she must be increasingly careful to hide a secret of her own. Portraying the lives of women in one of the most closed cultures in the world, award-winning author Zoë Ferraris weaves a tale of psychological suspense around an elusive serial killer and the sinister forces trafficking in human lives in Saudi Arabia.
What I Say: I don't have time to say anything, since immediately after I read this, I had to rush out to the nearest bookstore and buy Zoë Ferraris's earlier two novels, which are also set in Saudi Arabia and feature several of the same characters.
What the Jacket Says: When respected ex–Canadian Forces commander Bern Fortin cuts short his military career to take a job as the coroner for a small mountain town in the heart of BC, he’s hoping to leave the past behind. Bern’s looking forward to a quiet life, but the memories of what he witnessed during his stints in Afghanistan and other war-torn countries haunt him still. When the body of one of the workers is found floating in the huge bottle-washing tank at the local brewery, Bern is called in for a routine investigation. What first appears to be a tragic accident takes a menacing turn when the body of the worker’s girlfriend is discovered in a nearby field. Bern needs the help of brewery safety investigator Evie Chapelle, who, burdened by tragedies she might have prevented, is more determined than ever to keep her workers, and their tight-knit community, safe. Soon, Bern and Evie find themselves risking their jobs—and their lives—to uncover a killer hiding in a place where it is awfully hard to keep a secret. Deryn Collier’s debut novel is a taut mystery full of suspense. Confined Space was shortlisted for the Arthur Ellis Award for best unpublished first crime novel by the Crime Writers of Canada.
What I Say: This is a book I've been looking forward to for months, and I had the good luck to get my hands on an advance reading copy, which I cracked open last Friday (Confined Space will be published on June 5th, 2012). I'm still reading, but I'm definitely hooked by the fascinating characters and the graceful prose.
The Book: Mr. Churchill's Secretary by Susan Elia MacNeal
What the Jacket Says: London, 1940. Winston Churchill has just been sworn in, war rages across the Channel, and the threat of a Blitz looms larger by the day. But none of this deters Maggie Hope. She graduated at the top of her college class and possesses all the skills of the finest minds in British intelligence, but her gender qualifies her only to be the newest typist at No. 10 Downing Street. Her indefatigable spirit and remarkable gifts for codebreaking, though, rival those of even the highest men in government, and Maggie finds that working for the prime minister affords her a level of clearance she could never have imagined—and opportunities she will not let pass. In troubled, deadly times, with air-raid sirens sending multitudes underground, access to the War Rooms also exposes Maggie to the machinations of a menacing faction determined to do whatever it takes to change the course of history. Ensnared in a web of spies, murder, and intrigue, Maggie must work quickly to balance her duty to King and Country with her chances for survival. And when she unravels a mystery that points toward her own family’s hidden secrets, she’ll discover that her quick wits are all that stand between an assassin’s murderous plan and Churchill himself. In this daring debut, Susan Elia MacNeal blends meticulous research on the era, psychological insight into Winston Churchill, and the creation of a riveting main character, Maggie Hope, into a spectacularly crafted novel.
What I Say: I don't gravitate to historical mysteries, so one needs to be exceptional to catch my eye, and Mr. Churchill's Secretary is. Susan Elia MacNeal manages to create wonderfully memorable characters, but she also manages to make the historical figures in her novel — most notably Winston Churchill himself — come alive, warts and all.
I'd also like to mention a couple of books I haven't read yet, but I am very eagerly anticipating getting into them soon.
The Book: Dare Me by Megan Abbott
What the Jacket Says: Since both girls were small, Addy Hanlon has always been Beth Cassidy's best friend and right-hand lieutenant. Beth calls the shots and Addy carries them out, a long-established order of things that has brought them to the pinnacle of their high-school careers. Now they're seniors who rule the intensely competitive cheer squad, feared and followed by the other girls - until the young new coach arrives. Cool and commanding, an emissary from the adult world just beyond their reach, Coach Colette French draws Addy and the other cheerleaders into her life. Only Beth, unsettled by the new regime, remains outside Coach's golden circle, waging a subtle but vicious campaign to regain her position as "top girl" - both with the team and with Addy herself. And then a suspicious suicide hits close to home, and the police investigation focuses on Coach and her squad. As Addy begins to suspect what really happened, the line between right and wrong grows blurrier, and she must decide where her loyalties truly lie-and how far is too far to go for someone you love. The raw passions of girlhood are brought to life in this taut, unflinching exploration of friendship, ambition, and power. Award-winning novelist Megan Abbott, writing with what Tom Perrotta has hailed as "total authority and an almost desperate intensity," provides a harrowing glimpse into the dark heart of the all-American girl. (Coming in July 2012)
The Book: Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig
What the Jacket Says: Miriam Black knows when you will die. Still in her early twenties, she's foreseen hundreds of car crashes, heart attacks, strokes, suicides, and slow deaths by cancer. But when Miriam hitches a ride with truck driver Louis Darling and shakes his hand, she sees that in thirty days Louis will be gruesomely murdered while he calls her name. Miriam has given up trying to save people; that only makes their deaths happen. But Louis will die because he met her, and she will be the next victim. No matter what she does she can't save Louis. But if she wants to stay alive, she'll have to try.
The Book: Ransom River by Meg Gardiner
What the Jacket Says: Rory Mackenzie is juror number seven on a high-profile murder case in her hometown of Ransom River, California. It’s a place she vowed never to visit again, after leaving behind its surfeit of regret and misfortune and the specter of a troubled past that threatened to disturb the town’s peaceful façade. Brilliant yet guarded, Rory has always felt like an outsider. She retreated into herself when both her career aspirations and her love affair with a childhood friend, undercover cop Seth Colder, were destroyed in a tragic accident. While most of the town is focused on the tense and shocking circumstances of the trial, Rory’s return to Ransom River dredges up troubling memories from her childhood that she can no longer ignore. But in the wake of a desperate attack on the courthouse, Rory realizes that exposing these dark skeletons has connected her to an old case that was never solved, and bringing the truth to light just might destroy her. Departing from her popular series novels, Meg Gardiner has gone deeper than ever into the utterly convincing lives and compelling pasts of her characters. Ransom River is an intimate crime thriller with a dark mystery at its heart—one that will keep readers breathless until the very last page. (Coming in July 2012)
What the Jacket Says: Daniel Byrne is an investigator for the Vatican’s secretive Office of the Devil’s Advocate—the department that scrutinizes miracle claims. Over ten years and 721 cases, not one miracle he tested has proved true. But case #722 is different; Daniel’s estranged uncle, a crooked TV evangelist, has started speaking in tongues—and accurately predicting the future. Daniel knows Reverend Tim Trinity is a con man. Could Trinity also be something more? The evangelist himself is baffled by his newfound power—and the violent reaction it provokes. After years of scams, he suddenly has the ability to predict everything from natural disasters to sports scores. Now the mob wants him dead for ruining their gambling business, and the Vatican wants him debunked as a false messiah. On the run from assassins, Trinity flees with Daniel’s help through the back roads of the Bible Belt to New Orleans, where Trinity plans to deliver a final prophecy so shattering his enemies will do anything to keep him silent. (Coming in July 2012)
What have you read lately that you loved? What are you looking forward to reading soon?
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PS I'm heading to Toronto for Bloody Words (June 1-3). On June 6th, I'll be at Book Expo America in NYC, signing books at the Mystery Writers of America booth at 10:15am. In mid-June, I'm bound for British Columbia in for a series of library and bookstore dates with authors Ian Hamilton, Robin Spano, and Deryn Collier — we'll be in Vancouver, Richmond, Squamish, and Burnaby. If I'm in your area, please come by to say hello! (Complete listing of events here. Latest reviews of The Next One to Fall are here. News and interviews are here.)