By Sarah Vaughan
Atria Books, 336 pages, $36
Well into this solid English courtroom drama, Emma Webster finds herself in the dock at the Old Bailey. Until now, life has been going swimmingly for Emma. She’s a Labour MP, four years on the job, popular with the media, and even though she sits in the Opposition, she’s largely responsible for the passage of a significant piece of social legislation. Then Emma’s life slips out of her control. There’s a violent death. The Crown insists it’s murder, that Emma committed it, and we proceed to court for almost half the book. Sarah Vaughan shows sharp courtroom savvy in handling this legal narrative, and it turns into grabby stuff. When the trial ends with the jury’s verdict, there are still fifty pages to go. Readers are advised not to resume breathing until the finale.
By Joachim B. Schmidt
Bitter Lemon Press, 352 pages, $23.95
If Kalmann Odinsson, the central character in this wild, weird and often funny novel, had a role model, it would be Forrest Gump, except that Kalmann would be too dim for that. In his early education, he got the worst marks “in the entire history of school grades.” Now Kalmann is 34 years old and no brighter, a guy who makes his living in part as a shark catcher. All of this takes place in remotest Iceland, which explains a lot, Icelandic crime fiction being notable for its eccentrics. “Kalmann,” the novel, explodes way beyond eccentric into comically bizarre territory. Crime enters the tale when the richest man in Kalmann’s village vanishes, leaving behind nothing but a pool of blood. Since it’s Kalmann who happens on the blood, he’s drawn into the mystery, more as the crime solver than he realizes. Kalmann is also the book’s narrator. To no surprise, he falls into the unreliable category.
The It Girl
By Ruth Ware
Scout Press, 352 pages, $26.99
As this tantalizing whodunit gets under way, the scene is an Oxford college about ten years ago. The mood, events and characters, though decidedly contemporary, wouldn’t be out of place in a novel from Agatha Christie or Dorothy L. Sayers or any other Golden Age mystery writer. The murder victim of the piece is a student named April, “intimidatingly beautiful and conspicuously wealthy.” A hapless college employee takes the fall for the killing, but when he dies of natural causes after eight years behind bars, the former student whose testimony most contributed to the poor sap’s conviction decides to act on her second thoughts. Did she properly identify the guilty party? Apparently not, but the complex sleuthing she undertakes runs hardly as smoothly as in a Christie or a Sayers. This story is more modern, perverse and crowded in long-term puzzles.
Things We Do In The Dark
By Jennifer Hillier
Minotaur Books, 352 pages, $36.99
Here’s a shape-shifting crime novel, one that starts promisingly as one kind of puzzle, then swerves into something entirely different. It seems that an attractive Seattle yoga instructor is about to go on trial for the murder of her millionaire husband. Everything — witnesses, evidence, arguments and counter arguments — are in place for a solid courtroom drama. Then the scene switches to Toronto where a fresh fact situation and an apparently new set of dramatis personae emerge to work their deep influence on the Seattle trial. The material that originates in Toronto packs authentic surprises, but does the basic and pure forensic battle in the Seattle courtroom present the more legitimate clash? Who’s to guess the answer when Jennifer Hillier gets her ever active imagination at work?
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