Brunetti and his wife, Paola, attend an early performance, and Flavia receives a standing ovation. Back in her dressing room, she finds bouquets of yellow roses--too many roses. Every surface of the room is covered with them. An anonymous fan has been showering Flavia with these beautiful gifts in London, St. Petersburg, Amsterdam, and now, Venice, but she no longer feels flattered. A few nights later, invited by Brunetti to dine at his in-laws' palazzo, Flavia confesses her alarm at these excessive displays of adoration. And when a talented young Venetian singer who has caught Flavia's attention is savagely attacked, Brunetti begins to think that Flavia's fears are justified in ways neither of them imagined. He must enter in the psyche of an obsessive fan before Flavia, or anyone else, comes to harm.
Whodunit: Secrets come back to bite you
The crime of blackmail must be about as old as mankind, when the first child caught his sibling doing something naughty and cagily offered the offender an out—for a price. Countless tales have been spun about blackmail, but rarely with such an original twist as in Harlan Coben’s The Stranger. For the person known only as “the Stranger,” money is secondary to the justice he (or she) is able to mete out to wrongdoers who erroneously believe the Internet offers them a measure of anonymity. Case in point: With the help of an Internet novelty company, Corinne Price faked a pregnancy and a subsequent miscarriage to salvage a marriage she felt was coming apart. Pregnancy test: paper strips that show “positive” every time. Sonogram: someone else’s, doctored with Corinne’s information. Abdomen: an ever-increasing jelly belly that would magically disappear with the “miscarriage.” Now the deception has come back to bite her in a big way, at the most inopportune time imaginable. This is but one of several deceptions, each separately and painstakingly constructed, connected only by the shadowy and distinctly ominous presence of the Stranger.
Longtime readers of Donna Leon’s Commissario Guido Brunetti novels are in for a treat. Her new book, Falling in Love, harkens back to the first novel in the series, Death at La Fenice, in which Brunetti cleared the name of opera singer and murder suspect Flavia Petrelli. The diva is in need of Brunetti’s help once again, this time as victim rather than as suspect. It seems an obsessed fan has entered Petrelli’s life, bombarding her with bouquets of exquisite yellow roses. At first the attention and the adulation was flattering, but that was before the roses began to pile up in her dressing room and in her locked apartment. And before a young singer publicly complimented by Petrelli was brutally thrown down a staircase. Brunetti must intervene (with the able assistance of ever-so-resourceful and devious Signorina Elettra) in an attempt to forestall any further violence. Fans of exceptionally character-driven mysteries will find lots to like here.
Of all the would-be successors to John D. MacDonald’s legendary Travis McGee, Randy Wayne White’s Doc Ford stands out as the clear frontrunner. Cuba Straits, the latest in a long line of tropical adventures, finds the canny Florida marine biologist and his hippie sidekick, Tomlinson, tangled up in a situation with tendrils reaching back to the heady days of the Cuban revolution. Meanwhile, in modern times, as the U.S. and Cuba edge ever closer to détente, Juan Garcia’s business of smuggling first-rate Cuban baseball players to American teams may be in jeopardy. But the danger of that endeavor pales in comparison to the sensitive nature of some letters he has recently acquired for resale. Ostensibly love letters indicating that Fidel and Raúl Castro were once in love with the same woman, these pages may expose something altogether darker—something worth killing over almost 60 years later. And then Garcia disappears, basically without a trace. If the hitherto forbidden landscape of Cuba speaks to you, if you miss Travis McGee like a long-lost brother, if you value a writer whose easy familiarity with his milieu is evident on every page, look no further.
TOP PICK IN MYSTERY
Norwegian author Jo Nesbø, who has notably chronicled the life and times of Oslo cop Harry Hole, has jumped the tracks with his latest standalone novel, Blood on Snow, taking his readers along for the first-person narrative of Olav, a slightly slow-witted contract killer, or “fixer.” Olav has tried other crime jobs over the years, driving getaway cars, robbing banks and so on, but the only thing he seems talented at is “fixing” people. Now he faces a conundrum: Olav’s boss wants his wife fixed. If Olav carries out this fix, he will hold dangerous knowledge about his boss. And if he doesn’t, when some other fixer does the job, Olav will still know that the boss is responsible. It’s truly a damned-if-you do, damned-if-you-don’t situation. So Olav must navigate uncharted territory to do the bidding of his boss, but in such a way as to ensure against any deadly repercussions. At the heart of the story is the fact that Olav is basically a sweet-natured individual, not the hardened sociopath one might expect of someone in his line of work. In the end, this may prove to be his salvation—or his undoing. This is a fascinating character study, a clever and engaging mystery and a terrific example of a chameleon-like writer successfully stretching his already broad limits.