THE WASHINGTON POST – Good eats, bad chaps and problematic marriages – who’d have guessed? – abound in this early-fall assortment of mysteries and thrillers. These top-grade novels put new twists on familiar themes.
THE BITTER TASTE OF MURDER BY CAMILLA TRINCHIERI
A young Tuscan police official in Camilla Trinchieri’s second Nico Doyle mystery (following last year’s Murder in Chianti) advises the retired NYPD homicide detective that when considering suspects in the poisoning murder of an obnoxious wine critic: “Fry the fish, but watch the cat.” Doyle is a man of kindly but often melancholy temperament – he left New York for Tuscany under a legal cloud and lost his Italian wife, Rita, to cancer. Now he works in Rita’s family restaurant and helps his pal Salvatore Perillo solve crimes. Trinchieri writes two other mystery series under the names Trella Crespi and Camilla T Crespi, but this is the one with dishes like spaghetti all’Arrabbiata to savour on nearly every page, adding to the book’s considerable pleasure.
THE CORPSE FLOWER BY ANNE METTE HANCOCK
The title of this structurally flawless murder mystery refers to a Sumatran flower that lures beetles in “by emitting an odour of death.” The plant is referred to in a letter sent by wanted killer Anna Kiel to Copenhagen journalist Heloise Kaldan, whose career is in jeopardy after she was burned by a source. An emotionally wobbly Kaldan teams up with the “dry, undiplomatic” police detective Erik Schafer – they’re the stars of Hancock’s prizewinning series – to uncover not just the heartbreaking roots of a homicide but a corner of Danish society the two can barely stomach.
DAMASCUS STATION BY DAVID MCCLOSKEY
Set during the Syrian civil war, former CIA analyst David McCloskey’s exciting spy thriller is rife with “paranoia, the birthright of all Syrians,” the “quotidian brutality” of Bashar al Assad’s multiple “security” organisations, and the often byzantine machinations of the regime’s foreign and domestic opponents, including the Obama administration. The protagonist, CIA operative Sam Joseph, is both a good explicator of modern Syria’s ugly history and an expert gatherer of the human intel the United States needs to counter Assad’s chemical weapons programme. Less convincing is Joseph’s affair with his main asset, the well-connected Mariam Haddad. The spy genre seems to require periodic “slow-motion rapture” these days, and McCloskey is dutiful in that regard.
A LINE TO KILL BY ANTHONY HOROWITZ
“Two thousand alcoholics clinging to a rock” is the unoriginal but convincing enough description of the Channel Island of Alderney, the setting for Anthony Horowitz’s latest novel. It’s the third featuring former detective inspector Daniel Hawthorne, who was sacked from Scotland Yard for tossing an accused child molester down a flight of stairs. Like its predecessors, A Line to Kill shows off Horowitz’s dry wit and playfulness with the genre. This time he pokes fun at the literary community: The whodunit takes place at a literary festival whose attendees include one Anthony Horowitz. When a festivalgoer is fatally stabbed in the neck with a letter opener, the sleuthing – and delightful banter – begin.
NO ONE WILL MISS HER BY KAT ROSENFIELD
The narrator of Rosenfield’s psychological thriller is Lizzie Ouellette, the “junkyard jezebel” of Copper Falls, Maine. She seems to be addressing readers from the grave. But is she? Rosenfield, the author of two YA novels as well as a novel written with superhero icon Stan Lee, explores class, provincialism and bad marriage in a book that is both amusingly satirical and darkly bloody. Her characterisations – of Lizzie, her opioid-addicted husband, and a stupendously awful Boston couple who rent Lizzie’s summer cabin – are spot on. Lizzie’s fate may have been foretold when she was a child and a neighbour boy murdered her cat. What became of that sadistic lad? Lizzie reports to us, much later, that “reader, I married him.”