Books We Loved, Dec. 2016
Tana French, The Trespasser (Penguin, 2016)
Tana French is Irish, and all her books take place in or outside Dublin. To say that they are all murder mysteries is accurate but doesn’t even get close to a real description of her body of work. While some of her plots are better than others, it’s not wanting to know "who done it” that drives most readers to madly turn the pages. It’s her characters, male and female, that are so wonderful—many of them fast-talking, sometimes vulgar, hard-living, gritty, smart Ds (detectives) whose conversations are so much fun to listen in on that putting the book down for a period of time can feel like being forced to leave a party just when it’s getting going. Tana French’s work is addictive, and good news for anyone who never read her but wants to give her a try, The Trespasser is her best to date.—JS
Gillian Hamer, Crimson Shore (Triskele Books, 2014)
A taut suspense novel, with just the right amount of creepiness. Hamer doesn’t falter with the police procedural. Her narrative, which alternates letters from an abandoned child with the point of view of the investigating police officer and the experiences of the various victims, maintains interest. The plaintive letters act as a motif to increase our curiosity about the abandoned child, who may have grown up to be a serial murderer. Disturbing but never grisly, the novel describes the demise of the deserving, while giving us hope for the remaining victims. Sympathetic portrayals of the police on the case, especially the romantically confused Irishman DS Dara Brennan, round out the offerings. I’m looking forward to reading the next installment.—GM
Ursula LeCoeur, The Devious Debutante (Royal Street Publishing, 2015)
Although most of the novels I read and write have elements of romance, it’s a long time since I dove into a series as focused on physical attraction as this one. Still, there’s a lot going on in this novel (and its predecessor, The Willing Widow, who is not as willing as the title suggests) to please readers of all types. Herea wealthy young woman living in 1880s New Orleans discovers a tin of opium among the roots of the red camellia she has just received as a gift. Her efforts to discover the source of the drug lead her to witness a brutal murder. That, combined with her determination to have the man she wants and not the one her father has chosen for her, jeopardize her survival as she draws ever closer to the thugs who smuggle opium into the city. Richly descriptive writing and a deft hand with historical detail make for an entertaining tale. For an interview with the mother/daughter team that writes under the Ursula LeCoeur pen name, see New Books in Historical Fiction.—CPL
Ann Swinfen, The Bookseller’s Tale (Shakenoak Press, 2016)
I originally planned to recommend The Play’s the Thing (Shakenoak Press, 2016), seventh in the wonderful Christoval Alvarez series—and that’s a fine book, too. But when I remembered this new series by the same author, I decided to give it a try and discovered I loved it as well.
Nicholas Elyot, a bookseller in fourteenth-century Oxford, straddles the line between town and gown. Once he aspired to join the Fellows of Merton College, sworn to celibacy, but a romance with the beautiful Elizabeth changed his mind. Then the Black Death took his wife, leaving him with two children and a sister to keep house—all of them dependent on him for support. Returning home one afternoon, he sees a body in the Cherwell and wades in to the rescue—too late, as it turns out. The local constable suspects suicide. The priest argues for an accident. Nicholas insists it was murder, and the coroner agrees. But who would kill a student distinguished only by his exquisite skill with a pen? The answer may lie with a precious book….
Fast-paced, with credible and sympathetic characters and a rich, well-developed plot, this first Oxford Medieval Mystery leaves me eager to dive into its sequel, The Novice’s Tale. In fact, I’m already halfway through it.—CPL