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Many novels conclude with the wedding of characters we care about, but Crimes and Covers, the fifth book in Amanda Flower’s Magical Bookshop Mystery series, begins with one: the Christmastime union of Violet Waverly, the charming owner of Charming Books in the charming village of Cascade Springs in upstate New York, to the drop-dead gorgeous police chief, David Rainwater.

Among the guests are Violet’s energetic Grandma Daisy, the village mayor and former “caretaker” of the magic-infused bookshop; Violet’s warmhearted friend Sadie; and, to the bride’s astonishment, her elusive dad, Fenimore. But alas, the newlyweds don’t get to make merry post-ceremony because murder most rude pushes all else aside.

Blame Henry David Thoreau. As in previous volumes in this series, a literary classic lies at the mystery’s center. The murder victim is a strange woman who tried to sell Violet a signed first edition of Walden. Violet is an English professor, Thoreau scholar and bookseller, so she was able to discern that the book actually belonged to someone else, Imogene “Thoreau,” whose life is devoted to establishing her blood relationship to the author. Would Imogene spill blood to prove her claim?

Violet puts her honeymoon on hold and dives into a search for answers, some of which come from “the essence,” the magic that oozes from the ancient birch towering in the middle of the bookshop. Along with ensuring that the right books land in just the right hands (Violet’s customers are always so impressed with her recommendations!), the essence conveys clues to help Violet in her amateur sleuthing. (The bookshop’s star tenants, Faulkner the sharp-tongued crow and Emerson the tuxedo cat, also help.) Copies of Walden periodically float through the air, opening to pages that offer transcendental words of wisdom.

Crimes and Covers hits the right cozy notes: an appealing setting (with snow to boot!), a close community and a credible yet unchallenging plot that includes romance and deaths that break few hearts. Although not all the characters are fully drawn, threads occasionally dangle in ways that don’t feel intentional, and moments of tension or heart-stopping thrills are few, this is a satisfying read, providing hours of quiet pleasure rather than the “quiet desperation” Thoreau speaks of. The whimsical touches of bookshop magic are skillfully balanced by plot lines with more gravitas, like the publish-or-perish element in Violet’s academic community and the challenges of relationships, particularly between parents and children. Most importantly, Violet herself is a winning character and narrator: warm, witty, principled and smart, someone you’d enjoy meeting again. So if the tall birch in my backyard, stubbornly short on essence, were to toss another Magical Bookshop Mystery my way, I would be, well—charmed.

Crimes and Covers hits the right cozy notes and will provide hours of whimsical pleasure.

Mystery novelist and amateur sleuth Lady Amy Lovell is back in The Mystery of Albert E. Finch, the latest installment in Callie Hutton’s Victorian Book Club Mystery series.

The novel kicks off with Amy’s wedding to Lord William Wethington, a fellow member of the Mystery Book Club of Bath. During the celebratory wedding breakfast, Amy’s cousin, Alice Finch, is poisoned and collapses face-first into her meal. There’s no reviving Mrs. Finch, and soon the Wethington wedding reception is declared a crime scene.

Local detectives charge Mrs. Finch’s husband, Albert, with her murder, but Amy isn’t sure that he’s guilty. With their honeymoon on hold, Amy and William put their sleuthing skills to the test and begin their own investigation. When a second body turns up, the newlyweds must race to figure out who is poisoning their wedding guests—and why.

Hutton’s Victorian-era Bath is a delightful setting, even given the murders taking place in its streets. And it’s easy to root for the newlywed sleuths, whose relationship is clearly rooted in friendship and respect. Though the story takes a humorous turn when several of Amy’s relatives unexpectedly move into the couple’s home, The Mystery of Albert E. Finch also addresses issues like misogyny and classism with grace and heart.

There’s a running joke about William’s disappointment in his delayed honeymoon that goes on for a bit too long and loses steam, but overall, Hutton’s writing is sharp and witty. Amy and William are in top form, and readers will enjoy reuniting with them and the rest of the Mystery Book Club in this consistently pleasurable cozy mystery.

The latest Victorian Book Club Mystery takes on issues like misogyny and classism with grace and heart.

Love gone terribly wrong is at the heart of two paranoid thrillers that ask: Is a fresh start possible if you don’t fully reckon with the past? Two female protagonists contend with corrosive lies, nefarious intentions and gaslighting galore as they struggle to drag long-buried secrets into the light.

Reading Darby Kane’s The Replacement Wife is like looking at the world through a window that’s blurry with the lingering fingerprints of traumas past and suspicions present.

Narrator Elisa Wright spends her days feeling fragile and distressed, still reeling from a horrific event at her workplace 11 months ago. But things have been looking up: She’s focusing on caring for her son, Nate, and has even ventured out of the house for an occasional errand or lunch with her husband, Harris.

Despite these improvements, Elisa grapples with a disturbing question that her gut won’t let her push aside. Is her brother-in-law Josh a good guy with very bad luck . . . or is he a charming sociopath with a penchant for murdering women he professes to love? 

Elisa knows it’s a wild-sounding train of thought, one Harris is extra-loath to entertain because his and Josh’s lives are so enmeshed. But she’s always wondered if there was more to the story Josh told them when his fiancée, Abby, disappeared seven months ago, leaving without a goodbye to Elisa, her close friend. Now Josh has a new girlfriend named Rachel with whom he’s already quite serious. Does Rachel know about Abby—or Candace, Josh’s wife who died in an accident at home? 

Determined to protect Rachel, Elisa struggles to appear supportive of the new relationship while searching for clues and clarity. It isn’t easy, especially with everyone looking askance at her whenever she wants privacy (read: an opportunity for serious snooping). She can’t tell if she’s paranoid, or getting close to a terrible reality.

Kane has created a compellingly claustrophobic thriller rife with gleeful misdirects, possible gaslighting and plenty of damaging secrets. Readers will feel dizzy and disoriented right along with Elisa as she tries to discern whether her instincts are steering her in the right direction or putting her in the path of danger, all while hoping against hope that she’ll figure it out before it’s too late for Rachel—or herself.

The three women in Leah Konen’s The Perfect Escape venture farther from home than Elisa does, but not as far as they’d like. 

Sam, Margaret and Diana don’t know each other that well, but they’ve bonded over a few months of intense venting and drinking sessions concerning the sad state of their respective relationships. A Saratoga Springs girls’ weekend, complete with spa treatments and margaritas, sounds like a logical next step in their quest to shake off the tarnish left by love’s demise. What could go wrong?

The trio merrily sets off from New York City, but just a couple of hours north in the small town of Catskill, Margaret loses the keys to their rental car. No others are available nearby, so Diana suggests a pivot: They’ll rent a house for the night, go out for some fun and figure out the rest of their trip in the morning. 

It’s not what they had planned, but it’ll distract them from their crumbling relationships nonetheless, so they go to a local bar called Eamon’s for booze and adventure. Sam is especially enthused; she knows her ex-husband, Harry, lives in Catskill and is likely to see a strategically tagged Instagram post. In the meantime, Margaret grooves with a sexy local guy named Alex, and Diana sashays out to the patio.

The next morning, Sam and Margaret awake to hangovers and confusion as they realize Diana is missing. To their horror, they learn that blood has been found at Eamon’s—and suddenly, skeptical police officers are asking questions the women don’t want to answer.

Konen pulls the reader into Margaret’s and Sam’s perspectives in turn as they reluctantly reveal their sad backstories and unseemly secrets and try to figure out just who they should be scared of. This twisty, creepy and increasingly disturbing story has a delicious, unhinged energy, hinting at all manner of suspects as the women’s motives are gradually revealed to be even deeper—and perhaps darker—than they first seemed.

Love gone terribly wrong lies at the heart of two paranoid thrillers.

Find Me

Three women take center stage in Alafair Burke’s latest thriller, Find Me: NYPD detective Ellie Hatcher, attorney Lindsay Kelly and amnesiac Hope Miller, who remembers nothing of her life prior to a devastating car crash she survived 15 years ago—or so she says. Now, sans ID or history, Hope works under the radar for a real estate agent, getting paid under the table to stage houses for prospective buyers. Then, as often happens in novels about amnesiacs, a random aha! moment triggers a memory, and we’re off to the races. Hope disappears, blood is spilled and the DNA found at her last-known location matches that of unidentified blood found at an old crime scene halfway across the country. The crime in question is one of a spate of killings thought to be the work of a serial killer, and the case was supposedly solved 15 years ago. Lindsay, who has been Hope’s friend ever since her accident, begins to investigate her disappearance and eventually draws Ellie into the fray. Ellie’s father, who was also a cop, was assigned to the same serial killer case that’s somehow connected with Hope’s disappearance. The two women feverishly piece together the disparate parts of the story, and Burke’s masterful control over pacing and plot reveals will make readers just as anxious to uncover the truth. 

A Narrow Door

Joanne Harris’ darkly humorous and deliciously evil A Narrow Door is a quintessential and unputdownable English mystery. Rebecca Buckfast, headmistress of noted Yorkshire boarding school St. Oswald’s and one of the first-person narrators of this tale, is nothing if not straightforward. She recounts the steps she had to take to become the first female head of the school in its 500-year history. Rebecca doesn’t sugarcoat anything, including the two murders she committed (“one a crime of passion, the other, a crime of convenience”), and yet it is difficult not to respect her motivations and even like her. Sort of. Meanwhile, a parallel tale is offered up by St. Oswald’s teacher Roy Straitley, in the form of a diary that outlines the discovery of what appears to be human remains in a construction site on the school grounds. As Roy’s and Rebecca’s stories unfold, both of the narrators take satisfaction in the secrets they are hiding from each other—or, more precisely, the secrets they think they are successfully concealing. A Narrow Door is an exceptionally good novel, such a masterpiece of storytelling that when Rebecca likens herself to a modern-day Scheherazade, it doesn’t feel like hyperbole in the slightest.

Silent Parade

By all accounts, 19-year-old Saori Namiki was on track to become the next big thing in the world of J-pop music. And then, inexplicably, she vanished, and stayed missing until her remains were discovered three years later in a suburban Tokyo neighborhood. Another body is found at the same place: Yoshie Hasunuma, an unremarkable woman save for her stepson, Kanichi, who is widely believed to have skated away from a murder charge years ago and looks pretty good for this latest double homicide as well. In the same way that Scotland Yard Inspector Lestrade often sought the assistance of supersleuth Sherlock Holmes, Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department Chief Inspector Kusanagi regularly summons brainiac physicist Manabu Yukawa, known as Detective Galileo, to consult on particularly difficult homicides. Keigo Higashino’s Silent Parade showcases the fourth such pairing, and is in many ways the most intricate. Detective Galileo must reconsider his theory of the crime again and again, tweaking it repeatedly until he is more or less satisfied with his assessment. He is a very clever man, smart enough to stay a step or two ahead of the police department, the perpetrator (or perpetrators?) and the reader, and that is no mean feat.

BOX 88

The title of Charles Cumming’s latest espionage thriller, BOX 88, refers to a fictional clandestine ops organization that is jointly operated by the United States and the United Kingdom. BOX 88 does not possess a license to kill a la James Bond, but the management certainly utilizes a “license to look the other way” on occasions when wetwork is required. BOX 88 begins a series starring Scottish spy Lachlan Kite, who in this book must come to grips with a very cold case: the 1988 downing of PanAm Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. Close to half the narrative consists of flashbacks to immediately after the plane crash, when Lachlan was a green recruit. In the present day, Lachlan lets down his guard at the funeral of his old friend, with disastrous results. He is kidnapped by an urbane-seeming Iranian man who turns out to be anything but urbane when it comes to securing intelligence from a perceived enemy combatant. Worse yet, the kidnapper’s team has also captured Lachlan’s very pregnant wife. If torture will not get them what they want, perhaps threats to Lachlan’s family will do the trick. Despite his mistake at the funeral, Lachlan is a seasoned operative and, if anything, more dangerous to his captors than they are to him. Meanwhile, British intelligence agency MI5 is in hot pursuit, not to help Lachlan but rather to out him as an operative of a rogue agency. The suspense is palpable, the characters flawed but sympathetic in their own ways and the story gripping. In a month of really excellent reads, BOX 88 is a clear standout.

In a month overflowing with superb mysteries and thrillers, a deliciously evil boarding school-set thriller and a pitch-perfect espionage novel rise to the top.

Whatever one may think of Anthem, Noah Hawley’s latest literary thriller, no one could ever accuse the author and award-winning creator of the television series “Fargo” of skimping on plot. His action-stuffed follow-up to Before the Fall is an exciting cautionary tale that addresses just about every social ill facing Western civilization.

The action begins calmly enough: In 2009, a white judge named Margot Nadir and her second husband, a Black man named Remy, are watching their 9-year-old daughter, Story, sing the national anthem at a recital near their Brooklyn home. In a nice bit of foreboding, the Nadirs (one of the novel’s broad touches is their name) say they’re proud to “belong to the party of Lincoln” and feel that “the desire to belong, to be something, doesn’t make that dream come true.” As readers soon discover, their ambition, including Margot’s nomination to the Supreme Court, doesn’t shield them from real-world complexities and tragedies they could not have foreseen.

Hawley shifts the narrative a few years into the future, when a plague afflicts the world. As Hawley, one of the more skilled writers of pithy lines, puts it, “The summer our children began to kill themselves was the hottest in history.” Soon the crisis spreads worldwide, with more and more 12- to 25-year-olds taking their lives. Markets tank. Thousands die each day. And every victim scrawls “A11” near the site of their death.

Among them is Claire Oliver, the 17-year-old daughter of a pharmaceutical titan. Her death devastates her younger brother, Simon, who is sent to the Float Anxiety Abatement Center, where he hyperventilates into his omnipresent paper bag and contemplates the meaning of existence.

Hawley has further complications in store for Simon, and for the reader. An enigmatic Float resident who calls himself the Prophet tells Simon that God “has a mission for you”: to help build a new utopia. “The adults are lost. We, their children, are starting over.”

And that’s only the start. Anthem touches on just about every contentious topic one could name, from gun culture and climate change to race relations, extremist politicians and the “yelling box” that is the internet. The novel would have been stronger if Hawley had blended his themes more seamlessly into the narrative rather than letting his characters give speeches, but many of his painstakingly crafted scenes read like an action movie in book form. “We choose our reality,” one character says. Hawley’s novel reminds us to choose wisely.

“We choose our reality,” a character in Noah Hawley’s novel says. Anthem is a reminder to choose wisely.

Must have typing speed of 55 words per minute. Must not be emotionally affected by violent or traumatic reports. All hired candidates will be required to swear an oath of confidentiality. 

When I first read the job description for a police transcriber, I could hardly believe it was legit. This suspended belief percolated within me even as I applied, tested, interviewed, got hired, and sat down to type my first report. 

Hello, Transcriber. 

Those two words welcomed me into a world I’d never been privy to before—a world rife with death and derelicts and drugs. So many drugs. In my two years of having lived in that industrial Wisconsin city, I’d been oblivious to the underground economy that flourished there, the biggest players being heroin and crack cocaine. Sometimes prescription pills made their way into the mix. Suddenly, I knew every bad thing that happened before it hit the news. If it hit the news. 

In the days and weeks that transpired as I transcribed case after case—suspects in interview rooms, search warrants, homicide investigations, cell phone logs and more—I realized something: I had become the proverbial fly on the wall. I was a nameless, bodiless thing who stole into the police department at 10 p.m. and left before most people punched in for the morning, the only trace of my having been there a stack of perfectly typed reports and completed arrest paperwork. 

I slept by day and typed by night, utilizing my in-between hours to write another novel that would ultimately go nowhere. But if nothing else, it kept me afloat during a time when I was untethered and adrift. This dream of becoming a published author was my lighthouse when I feared I might never find my way out of the dark. 

Read our review of ‘Hello, Transcriber.’

My office was a terrarium, a narrow space with an outside wall that was a sheet of glass—the only shield between me and the horrors I typed up every night. I learned more in that small space, in that small slice of time, than I learned during any other period of my life. 

First, I awakened to the fact that I now existed in two parallel realities: one in which I was oblivious to the murders that happened just a few houses down from mine, the drug deals on the sidewalk, the car chases down Main Street; and the other in which I was the conduit between an investigator’s report and a criminal going to jail. I learned that just because the police arrest a violent criminal one day, it doesn’t mean they won’t be walking the streets the next. It’s up to the district attorney’s office and the judges to make the charges stick. 

I also learned that people are people, regardless of which role they’re assigned in a report (police officer, victim, suspect, etc.). The word sonder is a neologism from John Koenig’s Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows that he defines as “the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own.” I think that’s important for writers and human beings in general, having the ability to see things through a different lens. When you do that, you realize how fragile your own circumstances are. 

I picked up a lot of spontaneous knowledge, too, such as learning people by voice instead of face and knowing their pet words; thus, however and indicative are a handful that come to mind. I memorized badge numbers for all 216 sworn personnel, and I could guess the nature of the crime based on the length of the report. Car thefts were generally only a few minutes long, and your average search warrants were in the 7- to 12-minute range, unless you got stuck typing the report for the evidence technician. That could land you upward of 40 minutes, depending on how many items of evidentiary value were found. Homicides tended to be longer, especially if there were interviews or a neighborhood canvas involved. And so on and so on. 

Finally, I recognized that I had accidentally landed in a writer’s dream position: a unique job with behind-the-scenes access to fascinating stories and all the quiet time in the world to come up with a story of my own. This was the spark for Hello, Transcriber, a book that explores this unique and crepuscular work. Contrary to popular belief, there are professions much more solitary than being a writer. Take it from a former fly on the wall.

Author photo by Alaxandra Rutella.

Author Hannah Morrissey explores how her work as a police transcriber gave her the perfect perspective for her debut novel

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