Three new crime fiction novels, three different settings: This month we go from 1887 England to World War II-era Berlin and on to contemporary Australia.
“The Three Locks” by Bonnie MacBird (Collins, $26.99). The creation of new Sherlock Holmes stories is a longstanding and thriving cottage industry, with no signs of sluggishness either in print or on-screen. MacBird, an American who splits time between the U.S. and the United Kingdom, is one of its top-notch practitioners.
In her fourth Holmes adventure, the Great Detective and his loyal associate John Watson track three possibly related cases while enduring a suffocating London heat wave. Dr. Watson receives a disturbing, anonymous letter and a locked, seemingly impregnable box that may hold a secret from his youth. At the same time, the two investigate an ominous threat to the Great Borelli, a renowned, Houdini-like escape artist. A third case involves the disappearance of a young woman whose family seems bizarrely unconcerned about her whereabouts.
MacBird has a gift for moving smoothly among the multiple plots, and her prose style is always evocative and respectful of the Victorian-era milieu. Her historical research sits lightly, and the characters of both major and minor players are never less than convincing.
“Wedding Station” by David Downing (Soho, $27.95). This stunning literary thriller is a prequel to Downing’s superb other books about John Russell, collectively known as the Station Series. Here, the Englishman is in Berlin in 1933, separated from his German wife. Fluent in German, he also has a new job as a crime reporter for a Berlin daily. Russell is desperate to remain in Germany, partly for the job but mainly so he can stay close to his young son.
Easier said than done — in the novel’s opening scene, Russell witnesses the infamous Reichstag fire, which Hitler falsely blames on Communist agitators. In many other ways, the Nazis are brutally cementing their power and terrorizing anyone standing in the way. To say the least, it’s a perilous time for foreigners.
(At one point, Russell’s editor says about the Nazis, “It’s the end of any judicial oversight. Now they can do whatever they want.” It’s easy to connect the dots between Berlin in 1933 and certain aspects of modern politics; Downing doesn’t need to make any overt references.)
Against this volatile backdrop, the resourceful Russell looks into several crimes, including the murder of a young male prostitute, a hit-and-run accident, and the Reichstag fire itself (which naturally puts him in the Nazi’s crosshairs). As a personal favor, Russell also reluctantly searches for a war hero’s missing daughter, who may have been imprisoned by the Nazis for her radical politics.
“The Good Sister” by Sally Hepworth (St. Martin’s, $27.95). This compelling, assured psychological twister toggles between a narrator, Fern Castle, and journal entries by her twin sister Rose. Fern is a librarian who registers somewhere on the autism scale; Rose is a married interior designer. They live in an unnamed city in Victoria, Australia. (The author lives in Melbourne.)
Rose has always shielded her smart but vulnerable sister from dangers that range from sensory overload and baffling social cues to the lingering horrors of their abusive, manipulative mother. They are also tightly bound by a fatal long-ago incident that is hinted at early in the book.
Rose longs to become a mother but cannot conceive. As a form of repayment for her sister’s protection, Rose seduces a likable but slightly comic library patron, becomes pregnant, and arranges to let Rose adopt the baby.
The book has a wicked sting of an ending, giving its title a dark second meaning. But where “The Good Sister” really shines is in its convincing, fascinating portrait of Fern’s sensory-processing disorder — both its blessings and its curses.