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Books that will keep you past your bedtime

Karen MacPherson

THE WASHINGTON POST – For readers who like mysteries that are suspenseful but not frightening, here are five new and recent books that may keep you up late finding out whodunnit – but won’t scare you out of sleeping altogether.

Sixty-year-old widow Vera Wong’s rigidly structured schedule – up at 4.30am to exercise, in bed before 9pm – is disrupted one morning when she finds a body on the floor of her teahouse in San Francisco’s Chinatown.

The police believe it’s an accidental death, yet the indefatigable Vera is convinced that the man has been murdered, and she’s determined to find the killer.

In Vera Wong’s Unsolicited Advice for Murderers), Jesse Q Sutanto details how Vera’s investigation – which includes specially chosen teas and home-cooked meals for her suspects – cracks opens her cloistered life to new possibilities, people and even danger.

As in her best-selling 2021 novel, Dial A for Aunties, Sutanto deftly combines her Indonesian-Chinese background, quick wit, a fast-paced plot and a quirky protagonist to create a highly entertaining mystery with a nifty twist at the end.

Janice Hallett presents readers with a unique challenge in The Twyford Code. The story is told entirely through transcripts of audio files.

But don’t be daunted by the format; Hallett, author of The Appeal, is a deft storyteller, and her latest combines humour and pathos. Steven “Smithy” Smith is an endearingly self-aware ex-con obsessed by a children’s book by Edith Twyford.

He believes that the book contains a secret code that leads to buried treasure.

As he desperately works to crack the code, Smithy follows clues all around England and eventually finds himself in danger from other frantic treasure hunters and shadowy figures from his past.

He also discovers some tragic, long-buried secrets about his family that help explain his criminal propensities.

The madcap plot will keep readers in suspense until the final page.

It’s been four years since Deborah Crombie published an installment of her best-selling series featuring Scotland Yard sleuths (and spouses) Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James.

Her new book, A Killing of Innocents, was worth the wait as Crombie once again showcases her ability to intertwine family drama with a gripping police procedural. As the book opens, a young doctor named Sasha Johnson is found stabbed in London’s Russell Square, and Duncan and his team must find the killer.

The pressure builds when a second doctor, the man who supervised Sasha, is found stabbed several days later.

Meanwhile, Gemma, chafing at her new desk job, is only too happy to do some off-hours undercover work for Duncan’s team.

Against the grim backdrop of the murder investigation Crombie sets Duncan and Gemma’s generally happy but often-chaotic family life as the couple juggles solving crimes with raising three children.

Crombie fans will welcome updates on Duncan, Gemma and other favourite characters, but A Killing of Innocents stands on its own for anyone new to the series.

In her debut novel, The Golden Spoon, Jessa Maxwell takes a classic detective fiction device – suspects all gathered in a country mansion – and blends it with the cutthroat competition of a baking show to produce a delectably fun mystery.

Six finalists gather at a rural Vermont estate for Bake Week, an annual, nationally televised event where amateur bakers compete to win the Golden Spoon.

Hosted by Betsy Martin, TV baker extraordinaire, at her family’s manor home, Bake Week is an American tradition.

But everything seems a bit off this year, beginning with the fact that the producers have forced Betsy to take on Archie Morris, the lecherous star of another popular cooking show, as co-host.

Meanwhile, someone is sabotaging this year’s competition: One baker’s sugar is substituted with salt, while another’s orange essence is replaced with gasoline.

Tempers flare and one finalist angrily quits the show, but things really heat up when Archie is murdered – and everyone is a suspect.

Harbinder Kaur is newly arrived in London, after being promoted to Metropolitan Police detective inspector, when she’s thrust into a high-profile case involving two murdered members of Parliament in Elly Griffiths’s engrossing Bleeding Heart Yard.

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