Essential Mystery Novels to Read in May…
With the Edgars recently announced and summer just around the corner, now is the perfect time to get a head start on some award-winning writers of years past and some newer voices who will hopefully grace podiums in the future. This month sees the much-anticipated return of two genre heavyweights, an always-welcome standalone novel from one of crime fiction’s consistently sharpest voices, a new installment in a series that should be on everyone’s radar, and a psychological thriller from across the pond that will leave you guessing until the end.
John Hart (Thomas Dunne/St. Martin’s, May 3)
It’s been five years since readers last saw multiple Edgar winner John Hart. He’s back with another Southern Gothic-tinged tale of redemption that’s possibly just out of reach for his cast of characters. Though it’s an ensemble story, the main action revolves around North Carolina detective Elizabeth Black who’s embroiled in the aftermath of a deadly police shooting that left two suspects dead and freed a kidnapped teenager from continued sexual assault. Not only is there a racial angle to consider, but Elizabeth is accused of using excessive force to take down the assailants. Further complicating matters is the recent parole of ex-cop Adrian Wall, convicted of a brutal murder 13 years ago for which he always proclaimed his innocence. Elizabeth always felt close to Adrian, though she also bonded with the son of the woman he allegedly killed. When another body is soon discovered, Adrian is immediately a suspect, setting in motion a complicated but ultimately satisfying plot that Hart fans will relish.
Laura Lippman (Morrow, May 3)
Known as much now for her standalone novels as for her series featuring Baltimore PI Tess Monaghan, Lippman delivers a complex family story with a hint of To Kill a Mockingbird that’s as much about the crimes committed as the ripples they create years later. Newly installed as the first elected female state’s attorney in Maryland’s Howard County in her hometown of Columbia, Luisa “Lu” Brant now holds the same post her widowed father did when she was a child. Growing up with her older brother, AJ, Lu spent her time buried in books and slightly in awe of her law-loving father. Now she’s a widow herself, raising eight-year-old twins, and faced with her first murder case as state’s attorney: the death of a woman during what appears to be a home invasion by a mentally unstable man. Whether or not there are connections between this case and the tragic events that occurred on AJ’s high school graduation night in 1980 is just one of the myriad questions Lippman lays on the table, none of them easy—to ask or to answer.
Lucie Whitehouse (Bloomsbury, May 3)
Once, years ago, Rowan Winter and Marianne Glass were thick as thieves. Then something happened—to give out any details would ruin Whitehouse’s surprise, or several—and it’s been a decade since the two have spoken. Now Marianne is dead, supposedly the victim of a senseless accident involving her Oxford roof and clumsy footing. But Rowan knows that her former best friend always suffered from crippling vertigo, so something doesn’t add up. When she reluctantly attends the funeral and finds herself back in the folds of the lively, if understandably now more subdued, Glass family, Rowan takes it upon herself to investigate Marianne’s final days, as well as her glamorous life as one of the darlings of the art scene. The sense of foreboding lies as heavy over each scene as one of Marianne’s brushstrokes and menace lurks in the depths of even the most innocuous-seeming of characters until Whitehouse reaches her final, chilling conclusion.
Steve Hamilton (Putnam, May 17)
Nick Mason might not be the kind of guy you bring home to meet your parents, but on the spectrum of bad guys, you could do a whole lot worse. In the midst of serving a 25-to-life bid, Chicagoan Nick meets Darius Cole, fellow inmate and crime boss, who pulls some strings (isn’t that what crime bosses do?) to get Nick out after only serving five years. But there’s a catch, of course. Nick is now tied to Darius, at his beck and call while set up in a swanky Lincoln Park pad that’s a far cry from where he used to hang out before he wound up inside, leaving an ex-wife and daughter he’d still like to know before she forgets all about her no-good father. Darius doesn’t just want Nick around for decoration: he wants him to kill. So sets in motion a high-octane plot worthy of the Hollywood adaptation that’s allegedly already in the works. Nick is a stoic but empathetic hero, trying to redeem himself as a man and a father, and Chicago is the perfect backdrop for a battle between shades of bad guys.
Trail of Echoes
Rachel Howzell Hall (Forge, May 31)
In Howzell Hall’s third installment in her phenomenal LA-based series featuring Detective Elouise “Lou” Norton, a serial killer is targeting black girls and leaving their bodies in duffel bags. Lou, still reeling from a series of personal shocks that include divorce and the long-delayed solving of her sister’s decades-old murder case, grew up in the same projects as the first victim, Chanita Lords, so the case strikes especially close to home. Lou and her partner, the Colorado-born and very white Colin Taggart, consider a sex offender in the area but the pieces don’t quite fit, even when more girls turn up dead. In the midst of it all, Lou’s father, who abandoned the family years earlier, re-enters her life, which isn’t the kind of distraction she needs, as the homicide investigation ratchets up into dangerously high gear. Howzell Hall writes compelling, real characters and, perhaps most importantly, she writes a fully realized black heroine who is competent, complex, and beyond able and ready to take her place among the (too white) ranks of contemporary crime fiction’s best and brightest.