For of the most effective crime novels of fall 2020
Autumn crime summary
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Like everything else, book publishing has gotten a hit from COVID-19. Many titles have been postponed or forced to compete in a dizzying series of emergencies (including elections). I see the silver lining for crime novels: the opportunity to immerse yourself in worlds where murder and confusion may reign but order will eventually be restored.
It’s an exceptionally bountiful harvest this fall, with excellent new entries in popular series and even more exciting stand-alone books pushing the mold forward – debuts crackling with authenticity, lives we don’t normally read about, and boundaries rising up exciting way to be broken. When written by women, like the curated selections below, there is a risk of secrets being filed incorrectly amid domestic tension. But what these standout novels do, across all subgenres, is immersion in life that has not been seen before – darkness and all.
“Confessions at 7:45 am”
From Lisa Unger
Park Row: 368 pages, $ 27.99
Lisa Unger is an established writer and focuses on craft exhibitions. Last year’s “The Stranger Inside” was excellent at shedding light on the stress of motherhood, but all of Unger’s work is characterized by a skillful handling of creeping tension, multiple viewpoints, and rich psychology. “Confessions on the 7:45”, her 18th novel, is a highwire genre bender with debt to “Strangers on a Train” and “The Talented Mr. Ripley” but a complicated structure of domestic tension.
Selena Murphy is back in the workforce right now after years of looking after her young sons. After hiring young Geneva to replace her as a carer, she discovers through a nanny camera that Genevahas worked with Selena’s unemployed husband Graham. Selena happens to be sitting next to a stranger named Martha on the local train. When the train stops, they break out the mini liquor bottles and the confessions begin to flow. Martha happens to have an affair with her boss’s husband; Selena shares about Graham’s affair.
“Don’t you ever just wish your problems would take care of themselves?” Martha asks, before adding that it would be great if her lover “had just died …” For her part, Selena “understood for the first time in her life how people could kill each other – married people who were once passionate about each other and devotion that once wept happy tears at the altar. “
Martha’s question sets off a series of revelations that relentlessly skew Selena’s and the reader’s understanding of the characters and their motives. The compromises and sacrifices of marriage and motherhood are at the core of this novel, making it one of Unger’s most complex and nuanced – at the level of the best psychological tension at the highest level.
“The girl in the mirror”
From Rose Carlyle
William Morrow: 300 pages, $ 27.99
New Zealander Rose Carlyle is a law professor who has participated in scientific yacht expeditions and sailed from Thailand to South Africa. With this exciting debut, she more than held her own in fiction. Before you think back to another story called “Girls,” you should consider the fascinating premise: the two Carmichael sisters Summer and Iris seem to be mirror images of each other except for their slight facial asymmetries. Even her organs mirror each other, giving Iris a “misplaced” heart on her right side, a fitting metaphor for her prickly personality and persistent envy of her sunshine and the “twinnie” of lollipops.
Iris’ father Ridge taught her early on that “Nice is stupid,” and he certainly wasn’t nice. Instead of dividing his $ 100 million fortune among his seven children through three women, the aggressive entrepreneur bequeathed it to his first legitimate grandchild, whose parents would give him the surname Carmichael. Iris begins marrying the first sensible sperm donor to cross her path at the age of 18, thwarting Summer and her much younger stepsisters. Just sweet summer vows to marry for the nicest reason: love.
Fast forward nine years. Iris’ marriage in New Zealand has collapsed while Summer in Australia is happily married to a charismatic Seychelles man. Her new husband is wealthy enough on his own to buy the Carmichael yacht Bathsheba and sail her around the world with his wife and son from his first marriage. A number of Snafus strand him in Phuket, Thailand, while Iris joins Summer to sail to the Seychelles together. The following mishaps are just the beginning of a journey of envy, greed, and delusion. Carlyle’s expertise in sailing and living prose is breathtaking, while her research on twin psychology puts the plot into reality. In the end, readers will find that they have sailed a course that is both unpredictable and expertly planned.
“A Question of Treason”
By Anne Perry
Ballantine: 284 pages, $ 28
Anne Perry’s fictional patch has been Victorian England for more than 40 years. Your detectives solve crimes in three series and two generations. But last year she introduced a new heroine with “Death in Focus”, Elena Standish, who – crucially in 1933 – brought an important message to Berlin, even as an affair with the traitorous agent of the Foreign Office Aiden Strother, her reputation and her ambitious career ruined. Now she’s being asked to take on her first official assignment for MI6, the intelligence agency her grandfather Lucas once ran. She has to go to Trieste, Italy, under cover with a photo assignment, and contact her agent, who has information about Austria’s fascists, and help him escape if necessary. To her shock, this contact is Strother, who appears to be a double agent who is still loyal to the Crown.
Elena is full of doubts and still makes progress. Meanwhile, her older sister Margot travels to Berlin to attend a friend’s wedding with a Gestapo officer. At the reception she heard talk of a right-wing group emerging in Austria. Despite their increasingly problematic connections, the unwavering noble convictions of the sisters turn “A Question of Treason” into a turnaround – and now a response when it is easy to see how collective self-interest could accelerate the slide into fascism. “People tend to believe what they need,” Lucas tells a questioning Margot, “what protects them and supports all the things they love and want. We are all like that. Somewhere within us we will struggle to believe that the world is what we thought it was. “
“When nobody is watching”
By Alyssa Cole
William Morrow: 353 pages, $ 17
In her technically first thriller, Cole brings with her a wealth of experience writing historical, contemporary, and science fiction novels, novels that are characterized by strong black characters and meticulous accuracy. Those strengths are wreaking havoc on the history of Gifford Place, a neighborhood in Brooklyn populated by black stalwarts embroiled in a war of attrition with gentrifying white newcomers lured by a Big Pharma opioid research center. Ominously framed by the terrifying account of Brooklyn’s real-life 19th-century slavery theme park, the novel moves through the perspectives of two characters on opposite sides of the battle.
Recently divorced Sydney Green has returned home from Seattle to care for her ailing mother, fend off “another real estate agent’s” lucrative offer for your home, “and develop a more racially-inclusive Brownstone Brooklyn historical tour. Theo is one of the newcomers, a bearded hipster with a troubled past who bought the house across the street with his girlfriend Kim, the offspring of a damn rich lawyer. When the ponytail Lululemon, as Sydney mockingly calls her, has a racist encounter in a Muslim bodega reminiscent of the recent “Karen” incident in Central Park, the neighborhood breaks out in arrests and disappearances that arouse suspicion and action.
The secret behind the sudden discord at Gifford Place unites Sydney and Theo in search of a connection between modern displacement and racist history. Theo wakes up with the lessons of the neighborhood: “When I think of a black community, the first thing that comes to mind – even if I don’t want to – is crime. Drugs. Gangs. Welfare. Not old people drinking tea. No complex, self-sustaining financial systems that had to be created because racism means being left dry. “
“When nobody is watching” is not didactic, but rather a deterrent – “Get Out” for gentrification, with a little romance in the mix. It’s everything a 2020 thriller can and should be.
Woods is a book critic, anthology editor, and author of the Detective Charlotte Justice Trial.