I Saw Him Die by Andrew Wilson (Washington Square)
In I Saw Him Die, the fourth book with Agatha Christie as the main character, Christie is asked by the British secret service to find out who has sent a threatening note to murder a former operative (Robin Kinmuir) who now runs a hotel in his ancestral home in the Isle of Skye (Scotland). Robin was responsible for a failed mission that led to the deaths of 11 operatives. They expect the attempt to be made by one of the guests. Christie, who is preparing to marry her second husband, agrees reluctantly to accompany Davison, also a secret service agent, as his cousin. They meet the host who is ‘a difficult and promiscuous’ man, his nephew and the nephew’s artist friend, Robin’s actress-mistress, a beautiful botanist, twin sisters who write romances, a handsome and mysterious man who is not what he seems, and a cheery doctor. Robin is killed the next day, and the nephew-heir confesses to shooting him in the leg after mistaking him for grouse. After examining him the doctor announces that it is murder. Enter Hawkins, a policeman sent from the mainland who too may have things to hide. Wilson uses several of Christie’s motifs including embedding clues in sentences and nursery rhymes, using her expertise in poisons to figure out the solution. The dramatic wildness of Skye is used to vivid effect. Like the earlier books, it is wonderfully atmospheric and captures the spirit of Agatha Christie’s voice and era.
A Will to Kill by RV Raman (HarperCollins)
A Will to Kill is a deftly executed country house mystery set in a mansion in the Nilgiris. Having finally won the court case launched by his now deceased siblings, and reclaimed his family property, Greybrooke Manor, a wheelchair bound patriarch (Bhaskar Fernandez) has called his nephew and two nieces to reconcile with him and his son. Having suffered an attempt on his life, Bhaskar hires a seasoned investigator (Harith Athreya) to discover who is planning to kill him. Bhaskar has made two wills whose contents are not known to his family. Which one comes into force will depend on whether he dies a natural or an unnatural death.
Athreya, a cool, rational man with links to the police, arrives to find that a landslide has cut them off from the rest of the world. The cast of characters includes a willowy son, an anxious but plucky niece who is worried about her ne’er do well brother, another less plucky niece married to a ‘crook of the first water’ who has been barred from showing his face in the manor and is staying in the resort next door, Bhaskar’s devoted Man Friday, a mysterious artist, a cheery padre, a retired and bluff armyman and his young attractive wife and the disreputable owner of the resort next door. When one of the characters is murdered in the chapel, and another one follows, Athreya has to piece together a complicated story that goes back to Bhaskar’s past. Raman weaves in a believable and well-thought-out plot that stays faithful to the mood of a country house murder. The ghost-ridden misty landscape of the Nilgiris is an ideal setting for a cosy winter afternoon read.
Shed No Tears by Caz Frear (Zaffre)
An excellent police procedural starring DC Cat Kinsella. A body is found in a muddy field in Cambridgeshire. It turns out to be Holly Kemp who was last seen six years ago entering the house of a convicted and now dead serial killer. But discrepancies (unreliable witnesses, missing evidence) crop up in the original investigation which was led by a now high-ranking officer. Can Cat take on her colleagues who may have something to hide? Cat pops off the page as a snarky cop with an unusual background with a complicated love life. Her father is a high-up gang member, a fact that she has hidden from her colleagues and boss. This is a twisty, pacey, tension-filled read not to be missed.
In A Will to Kill, RV Raman weaves in a believable plot that stays faithful to the mood of a country house murder. The ghost-ridden misty landscape of the Nilgiris is an ideal setting for a cosy winter read
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V2 by Robert Harris (Hutchinson)
A superb blending of fact and fiction, Robert Harris’ book is set in the winter of 1944. The story is told from two viewpoints: Kay Connolly, a young Women’s Auxiliary Air Force officer and Rudi Graf, a German rocket engineer. Graf is a dreamer who wanted to build a spacecraft with his motley group of fellow dreamers but ended up creating V2, the long-range ballistic missile that is wreaking havoc in London. His discomfort at having their experimental rocket used as a killing machine has got him into trouble with the Nazis in the past and they are now very suspicious of him as he inspects the rockets before they take off from a secret site on the Dutch coast. Having narrowly escaped death from a V2 strike, Kay, a convent educated, Cambridge University archaeology major manages to get a job with a team of mathematicians in Belgium who have to find these secret launch sites. Harris is a superb storyteller and keeps us at the edge of our seats.
A gripping historical thriller.
Midnight Atlanta by Thomas Mullen (Little, Brown)
Mullen’s highly acclaimed Darktown series is set in the American South during the segregation era of the 1950s. The editor (Arthur Bishop) of Atlanta’s premier Black newspaper is murdered in his office. Reporter Tommy Smith, formerly a cop in Atlanta’s only Black police unit, who discovers the body, finds himself being viewed by racist white cops as the main suspect. He has to find out what story Bishop was working on just before his death in order to figure out who wanted him dead. Tommy is helped by his ex-boss, a white sergeant, Joe McInnis, who has to tackle belligerent racist detectives and federal agents who would prefer that the truth remain hidden. The historical landscape—Rosa Park’s protest, the emergence of Martin Luther King Jr and the anti-communist drive—weaves in seamlessly with the high drama of Smith’s race to exonerate himself by finding the killer.
Eight Detectives by Alex Pavesi (Michael Joseph)
Eight Detectives is a charming and clever ode to the classic Golden Age cozies that speaks to the bones of the perfect mystery novel. Julia Hart, a young editor, arrives on a remote island in the Mediterranean to meet and convince a reclusive author (Grant McAllister) to republish a set of detective stories he wrote 30 years ago to demonstrate his theory. The mathematician-turned-author’s theory is that a mystery structure can be explained by four ingredients: two or more suspects, one or more victims, a detective or detectives, and a killer or a group of killers. The only condition is that the killer must come from the group of suspects. As the editor reads and discusses stories with the author, she is struck by several inconsistencies that leave her wondering how much was based on facts. The elegance of the narration is matched by the intelligence of the plotting, and the integral link between the settings (deserted island, a manor house) and the stories (families ruled by a terrifying matriarch, poisoned drinks and chocolates, vanishing weapons, bodies in the attic).
Eight Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson (William Morrow)
Years ago, the owner (Malcolm Kershaw) of a mystery bookshop made a list of eight perfect murder mysteries for a blog on crime fiction. An FBI agent (Gwen Mulvey) shows up at the doorstep of his Old Devil’s Bookshop in Boston with the list. Someone has been recreating and carrying out murders based on the list. Someone who knows Mal, and who has been to his bookshop. As the bodies begin to pile up, we realise that the victims are linked to Malcolm who has his own dark secrets, and with whom the killer is playing a grisly game. Another splendid ode to the mystery genre even if the denouement is not as satisfying as one had expected.
In Eight Detectives the mathematician-turned-author’s theory is that a mystery structure can be explained by four ingredients: two or more suspects, one or more victims, a detective or detectives, and a killer or a group of killers
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Troubled Blood by Robert Galbraith (Sphere)
Cormoran Strike, the wounded war hero-turned-detective, is back with his partner, Robin Ellacott in this 900-page mystery by JK Rowling. A doctor (Margot Bamborough) disappears on her way to the pub from her surgery, after seeing her last patient. No body, no sighting, and a badly botched-up police investigation. The policeman in charge of the case is in the midst of a nervous breakdown and begins thinking in star signs, black magic and pentagrams while investigating the case, which makes for a very peculiar set of notes. Forty years later, Anne, her daughter, hires Cormoran to investigate her mother’s disappearance. The suspects include the staff (the receptionist, a nurse) and partners (a misogynist doctor) in Margot’s practice, her husband who is now married to the nanny, a former boyfriend and a couple of patients who had come to see her on the evening she disappeared. As they track the suspects and piece together Margot’s personality and preoccupations, the duo also tackles their own private demons, and a simmering but unspoken attraction to each other. The book sketches the emotional landscapes extremely well, creating in the process depth and vividness.
Blue Moon by Lee Child (Bantam)
Bionic man, ex-military cop and proverbial loner Jack Reacher gets off the bus to prevent the mugging of an elderly man carrying a wad of cash to repay a loan shark. Reacher escorts the man home after the Albanian gangster sends a message saying, ‘Come in the evening’. There he learns why the couple are in the clutches of a loan shark and offers to help. He arrives in the bar and finds a Ukrainian gangster who has just taken over the business. Reacher realises he has landed smack in the middle of a gang war between the Ukrainians who own the west side of town and the Albanians who own the east side. A waitress who seems to know more
than she lets on quickly becomes his love interest. She helps him along with her friends who (too handily) possess all the right skills to face brutal mobsters. Unlike some earlier books, this one has all the signature elements of a Reacher novel.
Fast paced, gritty and a well-researched subject, ticking clock, minute details, and action scenes. It is also more savage, and Jack is even more of a superman than in the earlier books. Reacher fans will enjoy it.
Fair Warning by Michael Connelly (Orion)
Veteran journalist Jack McEvoy returns home from work at Fair Warning (an investigative news organisation) to find two homicide detectives waiting for him. A woman with whom he had a one-night stand a year ago has been brutally murdered. Though he is a ‘person of interest’ McEvoy’s reporter instincts kick in and he carries on a parallel investigation with the help of another reporter and his ex-FBI ex-girlfriend. They discover links between the murder and other similar murders and realise that a serial killer is loose. Connelly, a reporter in his previous life, skilfully uses the techniques of investigative journalism to draw us into the billion-dollar unregulated world of DNA testing and its dark side. A solid thriller.