March’s sampling of new crime fiction bounces us from Boston to rural England and on to small-town Georgia. Follow along with these cases — and be careful not to miss any clues.
“Eight Perfect Murders” (out March 3 via William Morrow, $27.99) by Peter Swanson is fiendishly clever catnip for any lover of classic crime fiction. Malcolm Kershaw, who narrates, is a Boston bookseller. He once posted a list online of eight (actual) novels he thought came closest to describing an undetectable crime. Among them: “Double Indemnity,” “Strangers on a Train,” “The A.B.C. Murders” and “The Secret History.” (You don’t have to know the list’s specific books, but familiarity will make this complex puzzle even bigger fun.) Years later, he’s forgotten the list — until the FBI comes knocking. Someone is murdering people by copying the methods used in those books. Kershaw says he doesn’t have a clue, or any secrets to hide, but talk about an unreliable narrator!
Rennie Airth’s leisurely but absorbing “The Decent Inn of Death” (Penguin, $15.99) is the sixth outing for his smart, perceptive character John Madden. (No, not the American football legend; this one’s a Scotland Yard detective in the years after World War II.) This time out, Madden plays a strong supporting role, ceding the main spotlight to his recently retired colleague, former chief inspector Angus Sinclair. Visiting a friend in the country, Sinclair delves into the death of the local church’s organist, a German refugee whose late husband had been a brave anti-Nazi pastor. There are signs she may have been murdered by a fugitive war criminal. When Sinclair becomes isolated and incommunicado following a powerful storm, Madden goes out in search of his friend. As always, Airth’s characters are richly nuanced, notably Sinclair’s country hostess, a feisty former championship skier who uses a wheelchair.
“The Evil Men Do” (out March 3 via G.P. Putnam’s Sons, $27) is John McMahon’s sequel to his well-received debut, “The Good Detective.” This solid story is narrated by P.T. Marsh, a homicide detective in tiny Mason Falls, Georgia. He and his partner, Remy Morgan, probe the murder of an ailing real-estate zillionaire; someone tampered with the old guy’s bedside oxygen tank. The dead man, Ennis Fultz — only one of the many characters here with a unique name — had plenty of enemies, so Marsh and Morgan have plenty to chew on. McMahon’s basic plot and his characters’ traits are well-worn, but his writing is evocative and sure-footed, he raises some serious issues in this good read.