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Category Archive for 'Mystery, Thriller, Noir'

If Jeremy Olson’s arresting cover art does not inspire new readers to investigate this book, the descriptions in the novel’s epigraph certainly will. Here July, the sister of September, describes her sister as, among other things, a black hole, a falling tree, the last packet of crisps, and a bricked up window. It takes little imagination to appreciate that this book is about to become a dark, perhaps horrific, psychological novel involving two sisters and, at a distance, their mother. Quickly involving her readers in the narrative, author Daisy Johnson depicts the disturbed family arriving at a decrepit house in the North York Moors. The sisters and their mother have moved there from Oxford, where the girls have lived all their lives to date, and none of them have any real expectation that they will be leaving this remote location anytime soon. Sheela, the mother, promptly disappears into a neglected but unoccupied room which will be hers for the expected duration, while the girls will be on their own in their own area of the house. Hints about the past and references to something the girls have done in Oxford may have been responsible for the mother’s silence and isolation, and July suspects that their real crime is having been born at all. A suspenseful can’t-put-it-downer.

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Ten pages into this novella, which Muriel Spark claimed was her favorite among all her novels, the fate of main character Lise is not in doubt. Lise will be dead before the book ends. Since the reader will suspect who the murderer is well before the murder happens, the author has always preferred to refer to this book not as a “whodunnit,” but as a “whydunnit,” a term she uses within the book. From the outset the reader observes surreal, alarming, and clinically insane behavior from Lise, the victim. At the same time the person who seems to be her murderer appears to be a just bit wacky. Unexpected ironies throughout turn the novel on its head, creating a mood in which dark humor and bizarre surprises keep a smile on the face of the reader almost all the way through the novel – until the reader discovers the truth, that the person in “the driver’s seat” throughout the novel’s action is actually neither of the two main characters. It is Muriel Spark herself, whose ability to play with the reader’s sensibilities, control them, and then reveal the extent to which they have been manipulated turns the “whydunnit” into an unparalleled tour de force.

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Australian author Christian White uses two separate narratives to create a murder mystery which goes way beyond the usual thin characters forced to deal with bizarre and unexpected experiences. By alternating chapters between two families, he focuses instead on creating real people who find themselves suddenly dealing with events for which they have never prepared, many of which are now crises that have evolved from experiences buried deep in their past. The two narratives have few connections until late in the novel, as “The Wife” and “The Widow” share their lives with the reader but do not know each other and have virtually no contact. It is not until the ferry arrives on tiny Belport Island with Kate Keddie and her father-in-law, Fisher Keddie, about a third of the way into the novel, that the mystery takes off. Arriving at their summer house, they discover that there is food in the microwave, a shopping bag on the counter, and a note to himself written by John Keddie. Fresh sheets on a bed, items in the bar fridge, and a room service menu prove to Kate and Fisher that John has, in fact, been at the island during his “missing” weeks. Unfortunately, however, a body is soon found inside a car that has been located in deep water off the harbor docks, and, not surprisingly, the body inside is John’s. He has been murdered. Written in clear, precise prose, and filled with drama and excitement, the novel raises questions about sacrifice and guilt which will linger long.

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The Glass Kingdom, a large high-rise community in Bangkok, has seen better days. A once-fashionable community built in the 90s, consisting of four towers connected by glass walkways, gardens, and a swimming pool, today it is “a corner of upperclass affluence hidden within a forgotten ruin.” Into this scene comes Sarah Mullins, a thirty-something American who left New York just a week ago on business involving the theft of $200,000, and she intends to make herself invisible in Bangkok. Once established there, Sarah tries to remain aloof and avoid questions, but she quickly becomes friendly with Mali, a woman whom she meets at the pool, and two other women, each of whom also has some secrets. Author Lawrence Osborne uses these women’s lives at the Kingdom as a microcosm of life in Bangkok, freely shifting points of view back and forth among the women and establishing in more detail the atmosphere of the Kingdom and of Bangkok, in general. Then a murder takes place, and Sarah is at the heart of it.

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To celebrate the Ray Bradbury Centennial (1920 – 2020), Hard Case Crime has published a deluxe new edition of twenty Bradbury crime stories from early in his career, most of them published in pulp magazines before he began his sci-fi and fantasy work. Some of these stories later inspired novels such as Dandelion Wine and Death is a Lonely Business. Republishing his work and themes from when he was in his early twenties and thirties provides an up close look at his development as a writer, one who gradually increased the complexity of his themes while reducing some of the gore. Bradbury fans will thrill at seeing some new stories and a dozen artworks associated with them.

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