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Whodunit: Try not to lose your head
When a new Scandinavian mystery hits the stands, you pretty much know it’s going to be good, and Swedish author Camilla Grebe’s The Ice Beneath Her, translated by Elizabeth Clark Wessel, does not let the team down. All the tried- and-true adjectives apply here: gripping, atmospheric, nuanced and, of course, graphically violent. The scene is set as a beautiful woman lies dead in the home of a much-vilified Stockholm businessman—and not peacefully deceased, but beheaded, with the head artfully arranged adjacent to the body. The crime bears disturbing similarities to an unsolved murder from 10 years earlier. To complicate matters, the chief suspect has disappeared, his abandoned girlfriend is on the warpath, and the lead profiler in the case suffers from what may be early onset dementia. And that’s just the setup. Through it all, the true killer remains as elusive as smoke on a breezy day, and when the twist comes, it’s one that even jaded Nordic noir fans likely won’t see coming.
DOWN AND OUT
If you are planning to write a novel about spies, it would be good to have some intelligence credentials. Such credentials don’t come a lot more, well, credible than those of author Simon Conway, a former British Army officer who was tasked with clearing land mines and unexploded bombs in many of the world’s contemporary war zones. His latest novel, The Agent Runner, draws on that experience as he spins the tale of Edward Henry Malik, an MI6 officer who is the handler of one of the most valuable double agents in Pakistan. But when that double agent’s cover is blown, Malik becomes persona non grata, along the lines of “The Spy Who Got Kicked Out into the Cold.” He won’t stay that way for long, however, because his checkered past has become known to master Pakistani espionage agent Major General Javid Aslam Khan, who will find some use for Malik, alive or dead. If you’re in the mood for duplicity, violence and behind-the-scenes political deal-making, you’ve come to the right place. Conway delivers in such an authoritative manner that the reader may suspect this is a true story that never quite made it to the headlines.
Peter Swanson’s psychological thriller Her Every Fear has “movie adaptation” written all over it. It has an alluring location, a fragile yet resilient protagonist and a thoroughly Hitchcockian storyline, replete with the requisite false starts and plot twists. Some time ago, Kate Priddy suffered a terrifying and nearly fatal attack at the hands of an ex-boyfriend. He still haunts her dreams, and she is plagued with panic attacks in her waking hours. On impulse, she accepts an offer from a distant cousin to swap her London flat for his tony Italianate apartment in Boston, a six-month trade ostensibly to facilitate the cousin’s temporary posting to the U.K. Things begin to go downhill the day after she arrives in Beantown, when she discovers that her new next-door neighbor has been murdered, and there is evidence to suggest that her cousin may have been involved. A tenant across the courtyard claims he saw Kate’s cousin and the murdered woman together on numerous occasions, although her cousin denies knowing the victim. But even with all of Kate’s neuroses ready to dominate her life at a moment’s notice, she cannot begin to imagine the true enormity of the situation. High tension, lightning-fast pacing and psychological drama in spades all lead up to the ultimate question: Is it paranoia if somebody really is out to get you?
TOP PICK IN MYSTERY
Two Days Gone, Randall Silvis’ gripping new literary thriller, tells the story of a life turning from charmed to charred in the wink of an eye. Looking in from outside, you might think Thomas Huston had it all: a beautiful wife, three charming young children, a book atop the bestseller list and a tenured professorship at a prestigious Pennsylvania university. But not anymore, for his family lies dead in their suburban home, stabbed and slashed with almost surgical precision, and Huston is on the run. Sergeant Ryan DeMarco, who knows Huston peripherally, cannot get his head around the idea that Huston was responsible for the heinous act. But DeMarco has demons of his own to stare down, and he realizes that he may not be thinking empirically. Tension climbs and nerves fray as Huston tries to make sense of his family’s murder and DeMarco relentlessly follows the trail of clues. The fact that this book will be marketed as genre fiction is misleading; it’s more than that. It’s literature posing as a mystery, like works from Attica Locke or Louise Penny. Two Days Gone will be one of the best reading investments you make this year.