Here’s a look at A.J. Banner’s “The Twilight Wife,” Mick Herron’s “Spook Street,” Fred Vargas’ “A Climate of Fear” and Mick Finlay’s “Arrowood.”
Over the next weeks, let’s look, in no particular order, at a dozen notable books from various subgenres of crime fiction, 2017 edition. For starters, here are four:
A.J. Banner, “The Twilight Wife” (Simon & Schuster). In this sharp, intense psychological thriller from a local writer, a marine biologist has retreated to a remote San Juan island to recover from a traumatic brain injury. She can flawlessly remember the minutiae of marine biology, but little else from before her accident.
When disturbing memories start returning, this normally trusting woman begins to doubt what she’s being told about her past. How reliable are her neighbors and her hyper-attentive husband?
Mick Herron, “Spook Street” (Soho). Thoroughly gripping espionage, favoring intelligent plotting and characters over slam-bang action — think le Carré, but with a heartier dash of dry humor.
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Slough House is where the British secret service sends its Slow Horses: spies who are incompetent, obnoxious or disgraced — but who can’t be fired, because they know too much. (Memorable examples: a young agent with delusions of studliness and Slough House’s “headmaster,” ready with a witty insult for anyone in sight.)
A Slow Horse who has been wrongfully sidelined is searching for his missing grandfather, a legendary ex-spy with signs of dementia. Meanwhile, the top spooks — eager to keep the old guy from revealing (or forgetting) his headful of secrets — also need to find him.
Fred Vargas, “A Climate of Fear” (Penguin). The methods of Vargas’ incomparable French homicide detective Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg are eccentric in the extreme: intuitive, mystical and capable of brilliantly connecting seemingly random bits of evidence.
A series of murders, beginning with an old lady drowned in her bathtub, sends Adamsberg investigating a disastrous, years-old journey to Iceland and a club devoted to re-enacting scenes from, of all things, the life of the French Revolution figure Maximilien Robespierre.
Mick Finlay, “Arrowood” (Mira). In this compelling debut, Arrowood, a seedy private detective in London, 1895, longs for showy cases like those bringing fame to his contemporary, Sherlock Holmes.
Instead, he has to settle for dull clients at the bottom of London society. But Arrowood’s fortunes look up when an enigmatic Frenchwoman comes searching for her missing brother.
Finlay has fun referencing the Holmes canon, and he gives Arrowood a skill Holmes lacks. Holmes draws conclusions by coolly observing inanimate objects. Arrowood, by contrast, excels at observing and analyzing the all-too-human emotions and intentions of those he encounters.