I’ve been alerted to the start of school by the crossing guard at my street corner and the waves of tiny children with neon-bright backpacks streaming past my front door. The beginning of the academic year makes me want to branch out from my usual detective fiction set in small British villages. I love spending afternoons curled up on the couch with a book, and to that end, here are a few recommendations to read with a mug of hot cider.:
The Crimson Rooms by Katharine McMahon
Set in London in the 1920s, this novel manages to combine mystery, family drama, and history in an effective and evocative story. Meredith and a young boy arrive on Evelyn Gifford’s doorstep one late night, claiming to be her younger brother’s fiancé and son. Evelyn’s brother was killed during WWI, and the young boy’s striking resemblance persuades her to invite them to stay with her family. Meredith's motives for seeking out the Gifford family are unclear, and possibly more damaging than they realize. Meanwhile, Evelyn has recently begun working as one of the few female lawyers in London. Her small firm takes the case of a veteran accused of killing his new wife during a picnic. The story not only gains momentum through the personal and legal mysteries Evelyn confronts, but through its thoughtful exploration of post-war England and the entire country’s sense of loss.
The Cutting Season by Attica Locke
Caren Gray is the general manager of a former southern plantation in Louisiana, now a tourist attraction and event space. When the body of a migrant worker from the nearby cane fields is found in the slaves’ quarters, the police quickly accuse one of Caren’s staff. In questioning the thoroughness of the investigation, she uncovers links between the current murder and the disappearance of a freed slave years previously. Locke’s novel is at once an absorbing mystery and an exploration of public memory. The story’s backdrop allows the reader to recognize the complexity with which Americans do and do not engage with such a dark time in the nation’s history. Locke provides a thought-provoking discussion of her inspiration for the novel on her website.
The Headmaster’s Wife by Thomas Christopher Greene
Arthur Winthrop has spent nearly his entire life living on the grounds of the Lancaster School, first as a student and then as a faculty member with his wife, Elizabeth. When found wandering naked in Central Park, Arthur slowly explains the events that led him to New York and his arrest. Initially I thought the novel was taking a predictable course, but the writing kept me engaged and managed to completely upend my expectations. Arthur’s unreliability as a narrator contrasts with his wife Elizabeth’s descriptions of the same period of their lives, weaving a story of tragedy, love, and consequences.
The Wicked Girls by Alex Marwood
I read this book in just over two days, basically only taking breaks for work and meals. The Wicked Girls follows Kirsty Lindsay and Amber Gordon, two women who met briefly at age eleven and were convicted of murder. Twenty years later, they meet again while Kirsty reports on a series of murders at the amusement park where Amber works. The novel is filled with flawed, dark characters and plot turns that are surprising but not blindsiding. One of my pet peeves in modern mysteries is authors’ frequent decision to save a twist until the final page, which therefore overturns all of the logic that the reader followed until the end (I’m looking at you, Michael Connelly). Marwood succeeds at extending the suspense and leaving the reader with the sense that the ending was coming all along, whether they could see it or not. Further, Marwood’s story explores the idea of reinvention, the prevalence of violence against women, and the gray area between good and evil.
I hope you enjoy these as much as I did! Any recommendations for me this fall?