Every month, Daneet Steffens uncovers the latest goings on in mystery, suspense, and crime fiction. See previous columns on the Criminal Fiction archive page
With novels due out from a wealth of wonderful writers – including Denise Mina, Meg Gardiner and Dennis Lehane — crime fiction in 2017 is already making its mark.
If you’re not already subscribed to Sarah Weinman’s The Crime Lady newsletter, well, what are you waiting for? Her first missive of the year had excellent books-to-look-forward-to choices from a canny range of fellow critics including Steph Cha, Charles Finch, Jordan Foster, Oline Cogdill as well as Weinman.
If anyone thought for a second that Ian Rankin’s former Edinburgh Detective Inspector John Rebus would stay retired longer than you could say, “I don’t believe it,” they’re not thinking it now. Rather Be the Devil (Little, Brown), Rebus’s 21st outing in 30 years, sees him roped in with colleagues Siobhan Clarke and Malcolm Fox once again as they investigate a younger-generation gangster with possible dubious financial ties. Also not coping too well with his retirement – and adding extra frissons here and there to Edinburgh’s seamier underbelly – is Rebus’s BF (Best Frenemy), the once-powerful gangster Big Ger Rafferty. Excellent. Join Ian Rankin at the Seattle Public Library on February 21.
A niftily structured psychological thriller about a perfectionist architect, his dream house and two women who inhabit it at different times, JP Delaney’s The Girl Before (Ballantine) is both a page-turner and a semi-meditation on dark desires as intractable personal traps. The home, which appears to be equipped with built-in empathy as well as emotional intelligence, plays a not-so-subtle role in this double-layered creepfest.
Jane Harper’s The Dry (Flatiron) opens decades ago, with Aaron Falk and his father hightailing it out of their tiny rural hometown of Kiewarra in the Australian Outback. Called back to attend the funeral of a childhood friend, Aaron returns to find Kiewarra suffering from a lengthy drought, far too much gossip and plenty of long, vengeful memories. Now a professional federal agent in the finance division, Aaron stays on to examine his friend’s accounts but finds himself quickly mired in the vagaries of a small community with a humongous set of collective baggage.
Based on the videotaped directive of a dying man, San Francisco homicide detective Gavin Cain exhumes a 30-year-old grave. The coffin’s gruesome content sets the tone of The Dark Room (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), the second in a San Francisco-based mystery trilogy by Jonathan Moore, but it’s Cain’s thoughtful persistence that sets the pace of this tension-filled, twisty thriller. Exuding noirish elements and utilizing the city’s mean streets to their full, atmospheric effect, The Dark Room oozes dastardly deeds from blackmail to murder – and beyond.
I loved last years’ Orphan X and Gregg Hurwitz’s follow-up, The Nowhere Man (Minotaur), stays true to the previously set target. As a former assassin for a covert government program, Evan Smoak puts his skills – marksmanship, nerves of steel, ability to heal his own wounds (or at least stitch them up), yadda yadda yadda – to their most challenging of tests, acting as a one-man rescue operation with the ultimate pay-it-forward system: once he helps someone, he only asks that they pass his name and number to someone else in need while he waits the next call in his fancy Fortress of Solitude. But when Smoak is captured during one of his missions, the entire game changes. Propulsive page-turner, yes, and a nail-biter to boot.
Her Every Fear by Peter Swanson (William Morrow) appears at first to be a novelistic take on the Cameron Diaz-Kate Winslet starrer The Holiday: London-based Kate Priddy does apartment swapsies with her second cousin Corbin Dell – whom she’s never met – and finds herself wowed by his fancy Beacon Hill apartment. Until, that is, a dead body turns up across the hall. And that’s just the beginning of this claustrophobic thriller. Swanson deftly weaves an intricately and beautifully tangled web, lit with nimble nods to both Alfred Hitchcock and Wendy Hiller movies.
Thoft’s Boston-based PI Fina Ludlow’s life is fraught with complexities, personal as well as professional, all of which she manages in a switched-on, mouthy and head-butting way. She’s the in-house investigator for her family’s business, a firm of high-class lawyers who don’t always play by the rules; she also has to contend with her oldest brother’s non-business transgressions. In Duplicity, out this month from Putnam, Fina tangles with the Covenant Rising Church – which has suspicious similarities to a brain-washing cult – while fending for her vulnerable, partly-orphaned niece, Haley.
The Seattle-based author, who originally hails from Marblehead, Mass., calls both Beantown and the Emerald City home.
What or who are your top five writing inspirations?
I’m inspired by the news and real mysteries,particularly by the “why?” rather than the “how.” The intersections between money, power, ethics, values, and tradition inspire meto ask questions in my books that readers can contemplate through their own lens of experience. I’m inspired by fellow mystery writers who write more than one book a year! When the writing isn’t easy,I’m inspired by people who do much more demanding, difficult jobs. I’m inspired by my readers who are incredibly supportive.
Top five places to write?
At my desk with a lovely view of the water. On my couch when my back is acting up. Scrawling notes in the early morning from my bed when an idea strikes. Occasionally, on an airplane. Someday on a tropical beach with lots of snorkeling breaks!
Top five favorite writers?
Yikes! Only five?! Sue Grafton, P.D. James, Barbara Kingsolver, Jane Hamilton and Jane Smiley.
Top five tunes to write to?
I can’t write while listening to lyrics, so if I have music on, it’s classical. Favorites include Ottmar Liebert (flamenco guitar), Bach, and Mozart. When doing work-related activities that require less concentration (social media, for instance,) I listen to Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, Prince, Michael Jackson, and George Michael.
Top five hometown spots?
Seattle is where I live now, but my hometown, Marblehead, is north of Boston. In Seattle: La Fontana Siciliana, the bar at Aqua, the Olympic Sculpture Park, any of the city’s great bookstores, Molly Moon’s for salted caramel ice cream. In the Boston area: lobster rolls from Kelly’s Roast Beef; the lighthouse at Chandler Hovey Park and fried clams at the Barnacle, both in Marblehead; Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood; the Liberty Hotel, the city’s former jail repurposed into a luxury hotel.