Whodunit: There's something wicked in this house
If you’ve been pining away for a first-rate gothic murder mystery for the past 40-odd years since Agatha Christie’s passing, hie yourself to your local (or online) book vendor for Ruth Ware’s The Death of Mrs. Westaway. It has everything you’re looking for: a dreary Cornish manor house; a dysfunctional family with secrets in every closet; and a recently deceased matriarch who has made a startling pronouncement in her will. Meanwhile, in the seaside resort town of Brighton, Harriet “Hal” Westaway pursues a grifter’s existence. She gives tarot readings in a tiny kiosk, owes an increasing debt to a rapacious loan shark and hovers on the brink of insolvency. And then a letter shows up in her mailbox, announcing that she is a beneficiary in the will of her grandmother, Hester Westaway. Problem is, Hal’s grandma was named Marion Westaway. Still, an inheritance, even a small one, may present a solution to her money problems—if she can pull off the deception. Atmospheric and twisting in a very Christie-like manner (manor?), The Death of Mrs. Westaway is guaranteed to keep you flipping pages well past your bedtime.
We all long for a romantic relationship without conflict—endless days of bliss and toasting to each other’s good luck in finding the perfect partner. Now picture the polar opposite of that ideal—infatuation bordering on obsession, coupled with a dark religious cult—and you will begin to understand the relationship of Toru Narazaki and Ryoko Tachibana, the star-crossed lovers in Fuminori Nakamura’s Cult X. Tachibana has gone missing, and Narazaki is hot on her trail. He discovers that Tachibana was last seen in the clutches of a fringe religion dubbed “Cult X” by the Department of Public Security. Narazaki decides to expose himself to this religious group in order to find out what happened to Tachibana, but Cult X is more malevolent than his wildest dreams. Cult X was inspired by Aum Shinrikyo, the group responsible for the 1995 sarin attack in the Tokyo subway, but that is just a starting point, for Nakamura weaves in themes of personal commitment, politics, religion and much more. It’s not, however, for the faint of heart.
Private detective Charlie Parker has made a career of battling supernatural foes—not quite as powerful as Dracula or Baba Yaga but certainly imbued with an innate evil. In turn, Parker has become something of a legend himself. In John Connolly’s 16th Charlie Parker book, The Woman in the Woods, the intrepid PI accepts an assignment to find a missing child, which should be a fairly low-key job. But an Englishman named Quayle is also on the hunt. He believes that the child is the key to finding the location of The Fractured Atlas, a book that will change the course of the world in favor of the dark side. Quayle is accompanied by a young woman named Pallida Mors (whose name is Latin for “pale death”), and together they make a formidable and lethal team, murdering their way across the Midwest in anticipation of their inevitable showdown with Parker. The Woman in the Woods is creepy, character-driven to the max and quite capable of making you suspend your disbelief in the supernatural for a while.
TOP PICK IN MYSTERY
Bruno, Chief of Police, is high on the short list of literary characters I would like to know (or be). He is a great home chef, charming to women (without even a bit of arrogance about it), a loyal friend, a clever investigator and a lifelong resident of the Périgord region of France. I even like his dog. This time out, in Martin Walker’s A Taste for Vengeance, Bruno, newly promoted to a position of authority that reaches far beyond his small village of St. Denis, must look into a double murder with Irish Republican Army (IRA) connections. The IRA, you say? Didn’t they die out years ago? Apparently not, and once they have served their sentences, they are free to live anywhere in the European Union, even on Bruno’s home turf. And when the murder victims turn out to have a background in the intelligence community, the case takes on even greater international implications. Everything that Bruno readers love is present and accounted for: horseback rambles through the verdant Dordogne countryside; recipes so artfully presented you can almost smell the herbs; and, of course, the romance, which is never far from the main stage whenever Bruno is nearby.
This article was originally published in the June 2018 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.