It’s summer – still summer, though August is fast approaching – so I’m taking a brief break from libraries and technology to recommend some just-for-fun reading. Crime fiction is my genre of choice, and there have been some prime examples of it published in recent months. Here are a few books I particularly enjoyed.
Kate Atkinson, Big Sky – Hurrah, Jackson Brodie is back! The erstwhile police officer, now private investigator, is living in the English northeast, where tourists go to tacky Dracula-themed entertainments in Whitby, a has-been comic performs ribald and hoary stand-up on a decrepit stage, and a group of entrepreneurs has found a way to use the internet and economic desperation to entice unwary women from abroad to work at jobs that turn out to be something very different than what they signed up for, all with the backdrop of revelations reminiscent of the Jimmy Savile scandal. It sounds grim, but Atkinson is consistently funny and keenly observant. Her approach to the genre does away with the usual follow-the-evidence, restore-justice formula in favor of a tangle of crossed paths and pinballing from one moment of chance to another. The characters are both original and wonderfully observed. Top notch.
Denise Mina, Conviction – This standalone, from one of Scotland’s finest writers, is a corker. A woman who has been living under an assumed name, after the fallout from reporting her rape nearly got her killed, balances the safety of her carefully-constructed new identity as the wife of a boring but wealthy man and mother of two beloved girls with a fondness for true crime podcasts. The day she realizes she’s listening to one about the unsolved murder of an old acquaintance, her husband announces she has to move out, he’s in love with another woman, and the other woman is her best friend. After getting saddled with her former best friend’s anorexic boyfriend, a musician and social media celebrity, she determines to solve the podcasted crime - and we’re off and running. Like Atkinson, Mina manages to be both rib-bruisingly funny and as serious as a sharp knife, all while exploring what's true in an age of social media, the allure of true crime, and the potential for trolls to launch mass attacks against women who might just fight back.
Jane Harper, The Lost Man – Is it hot enough for you? No doubt, but it’s probably a lot hotter where this book is set. In the remote outback of Queensland, Australia, a rancher used to a dangerously harsh climate has inexplicably left his air-conditioned truck and perished at the base of the grave marker of a fabled stockman, a local landmark. The monument's shade provided meager protection from the baking sun, and his famly is left to wonder whether he'd lost his mind or simply his will to live. This is Harper’s third mystery, each set in a different part of rural Australia. It’s is a slow burn of a book as readers gradually untangle the relationships of a family whose lives have been shaped by the harsh conditions they have embraced for generations. The most unforgettable character at the heart of the story is the land itself in all its lethal remoteness.
Adrian McKinty, The Chain – for a classic beach read, a thriller that is pure entertainment without a serious bone in its plot structure, this one fits the bill. I admit I was reluctant to pick it up at first. McKinty is the award-winning author of a fine series set in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, so a thriller set in America with a high-concept plot sounded like a sell-out. In reality, the talented author had given up writing and was driving an Uber which paid badly, but better than his books, which had earned a niche core of aficionados but not enough sales to pay the rent. Another writer refused to let him give up his career, got him an agent, and gained him a publisher who’s ready to make this a breakout book. Before I knew that backstory, I'd decided to take the plunge because I liked McKinty's stuff, and I’m glad I did even if it’s not my usual fare. And very enjoyable it proved to be despite my initial resistance to the unlikely storyline – when a woman’s daughter is abducted, she learns she can only free her by kidnapping another child, all part of a chain that must not be broken. Don’t think about it too hard, just enjoy the ride in the company of well-drawn characters and some genuine suspense.