September Reads: Featuring Sophie Hannah, Stewart Neville, and Chris Holm
Now that fall is officially in the air and pumpkin spice is everywhere (is there pumpkin spiced crime fiction yet?), it’s the perfect time to curl up under a blanket with a stack of new autumn titles. September brings the return of old favorites, including a classic character under the careful hand of a new mistress of crime and a hitman whose targets are other hitters. So get the tea mugs ready and settle in for this first batch of fall reads.
In her second Hercule Poirot novel, authorized by the Christie estate, following The Monogram Murders, Hannah sends the Belgian detective with the little grey cells in 1929 to County Cork. Typical in a Christie novel, there’s a dinner party at a fancy home, intrigue, disgruntled family members, and a murder with everyone present a suspect. Hannah is able to continue the Christie tradition of plot twists and red herrings while injecting her own spin, though never too much as to distract readers from enjoying a “new” adventure of the genre’s oldest and most beloved detectives. Thankfully, her skillful handling of all things Poirot prove that the Queen of Crime’s legacy is in good hands and this latest installment will leave readers eager for more Poirot adventures under Hannah’s careful hand.
Holm returns with his hitman whose target is other hitmen in this hard-hitting sequel to the Anthony Award-winning The Killing Kind. This time, Michael Hendricks has something larger than just taking out another killer: someone took out, or tried to take out, the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, leading to massive panic, casualties, and cries of terrorism. Amidst the chaos, a federal witness, thought long dead, reappeared in a grainy cell phone video, which prompts Special Agent Charlie Thompson of the FBI to ask Hendricks for his help protecting this man, Frank Segreti, who has a body count to his name longer than most men’s rap sheets. And since he was about to turn state’s witness on the Council, a shadowy organization that epitomizes everything Hendricks hates in the world, before he was allegedly blown to bits, he’s not a popular guy. So Hendricks, reluctantly taking an eager young sidekick along for the ride—readers hope they’ll see more of Cameron—heads to San Francisco to see what he can do to help Thompson, and himself. Holm manages to write a book about terrorism that isn’t about terrorism, a book about violence that isn’t about violence, and succeeds without precedent on both counts. A surefire winner for thriller fans and beyond.
Mullen (The Revisionists) takes the current racial tensions in America back to World War II-era Atlanta in this gripping murder mystery that takes a hard look at racism and the police. The city had just hired its first black police officers but unsurprisingly, the men were restricted to patrolling black neighborhoods and couldn’t even wear their uniforms when traveling to and from court to testify. Officers Boggs and Smith are tasked with the unenviable task of investigating a case of reckless driving by a former officer—a white man, of course—whose black passenger, Lily Ellsworth, turns up dead a few days later. With the police themselves getting so little respect, the death of a black woman barely registers and the fact that she was seen in the car of a white man who used to be on the force is all the more reason for the case to be resolved quickly and quietly, just the opposite of how Boggs and Smith want to handle it. The cops are treated with disdain by their fellow officers and Mullen does a stellar job depicting the systemic racism that ran rampant in the department—and the country—in that era, and reminds us that we may have made strides in the right direction but we’ve far from solving the problem.
Belfast DCI Serena Flanagan returns after her starring role in 2015’s Those We Left Behind, a case that scarred her deeply. Now she’s investigating the supposed suicide of wealthy car dealer Henry Garrick, bedridden but slowly recovering after a serious car accident. It seems as though his wife, Roberta, who’d been painstakingly caring for Henry, along with a family friend, Reverend Peter McKay, gave Henry his regular dose of morphine, but Henry added a fatal dose. Flanagan is suspicious, even though the death is ruled a suicide and she’s dealing with her own problems at work and on the home front, following the events of Behind. She continues to pursue the case, perhaps to her own personal and professional detriment, even after it’s closed, making her one of crime fiction’s newest and most complex heroines to come around in years.
New York City det. Kathy Mallory, whose wits and often cyborg-like temperament made her a sensation when O’Connell debuted the character back in 1994, investigates a brutal quadruple murder with possible ties to Gracie Mansion in O’Connell’s 12th installment in her long-running series. Though Mallory is deservedly the star of the show, much of the action centers on a blind 12-year-old kidnap victim, Jonah Quill, whose survival hangs in the balance. While Mallory and her partner, Riker, investigates the slayings—the victims’ hearts have been surgically removed and left at City Hall, leading the cops to believe that the killings are politically motivated—Jonah and his fellow kidnap victims fight for their lives against a sadistic man who’s prone to start quoting Catholic scripture and quizzing Jonah on the nature of blindness. Mallory continues to entertain and intrigue readers with her blazing intensity that hasn’t waned in a dozen books, making O’Connell the rare writer who can maintain a compelling series, with a quirky but believable main character, for the long haul. This is another hit in a long string of them.