It’s 1944, the closing days of World War II. Two men dig feverishly in a peat bog in Scotland to create a hole large enough to accommodate a pair of American motorcycles. Fast-forward to current day, when the granddaughter of one of the men decides to unearth the motorcycles. The first motorcycle has survived its lengthy incarceration beautifully, but there’s a dead body where the second should be. Enter Karen Pirie, cold case detective (because, hey, cases don’t get much colder than this), in the fifth installment of Val McDermid’s popular Karen Pirie series, Broken Ground. Things take a turn for the weird(er) when the body, supposedly buried for some 70 years, is discovered to be wearing a pair of Nikes. McDermid’s books are relentlessly excellent, with sympathetically flawed characters, well-crafted storylines, a clever twist or two and crisp dialogue. It’s no wonder she is considered the queen of Scottish crime fiction.
It seems that Major Sir Robert and Lady Lucy Kurland need only drop in on a new city for a death to occur. Thankfully they’ve become so adept at sleuthing they can almost schedule it alongside their travel itinerary. In Death Comes to Bath, the sixth in Catherine Lloyd’s series, Robert has had a medical setback, so the pair, along with Lucy’s sister, travels to “take the waters” in England’s famed Roman baths. After befriending an older gentleman, the pair is dismayed when he drowns, and foul play is apparent. Lloyd balances period history (Robert was injured in the Battle of Waterloo), a tense romantic subplot and some extravagant vacation shopping while respecting the grave nature of the crime. Class divisions—and the way money can help one surmount them—make for a rich suspect pool. It may be cruel to hope Robert and Lucy keep visiting new cities, given what tends to happen, but watching this duo in action is a joy.
Gytha Lodge’s suspenseful new psychological thriller, She Lies in Wait, tells the story of a ruinous outing and its aftermath decades later. Thirty- odd years ago, six friends went camping. Only five came home, and there was never a trace of the missing girl, Aurora Jackson. Her friends, a wide-ranging volunteer search party and even police with cadaver dogs turned up nothing—until now, when a young girl on a family holiday discovers a detached finger beneath a hollow tree within steps of the friends’ original campsite. Police Detective Chief Inspector Jonah Sheens knew Aurora peripherally from his high school days, but he decided to stay on the investigation—a decision his assistant, Detective Inspector Juliette Hanson, will come to question as the investigation proceeds. This isn’t the only secret that comes to light: One of the campers, an Olympic star in later life, displayed a morbid fascination with young women; another of the group, now a well-regarded politician, was caught by Aurora in flagrante delicto with another boy, and more importantly, he had placed a large supply of Dexedrine in the hollow of that tree. I am just scratching the surface of the secrets here. There are plenty more to unearth for yourselves.
James Lee Burke is one of a small handful of elite suspense writers whose work transcends the genre, making the leap into capital-L Literature. You don’t have to get past the opening paragraph of The New Iberia Blues to see his mastery of the craft: “Desmond Cormier’s success story was an improbable one, even among the many self-congratulatory rags-to-riches tales we tell ourselves in the ongoing saga of our green republic, one that is forever changing yet forever the same, a saga that also includes the graves of Shiloh and cinders from aboriginal villages.” First-person narrator Dave Robicheaux is on hand and in fine fettle. Fans have watched Robicheaux age in real time, battling his demons, losing one wife, then another and another, raising the refugee girl he rescued from a submerged airplane when she was a small child and skating close to the edge (and sometimes over the edge) of the law. This time out, he will investigate the ritual slaying of a young black woman, nailed to a cross and left to the vagaries of the rising tide. There is a film company in town, and Robicheaux cannot shake the notion that they are somehow at the epicenter of this homicide, and as he gets closer to proving his thesis, the body count piles up. It is a long book, but I read it slowly, pausing from time to time to digest the first-rate prose, the atmospheric bayou setting and the complex interactions of people I feel I have known for 30-plus years.