Our strange summer is clearly gone, so let’s meet the cool weather with two new crime novels set in chilly locales.
Ruth Ware’s wickedly good “One by One” (Scout, $27.99) is a loving homage to Agatha Christie, in particular her classic “And Then There Were None,” but with its own distinctive flavor. Like several of Ware’s previous books (notably “The Death of Mrs. Westaway”), it postulates a group of people in isolation — and in grave danger.
An achingly hip team from a London software company is high in the French Alps, staying at a luxury chalet for a ski vacation/work retreat. (The company, Snoop, makes a creepily invasive but wildly successful app.)
On everyone’s agenda: a battle between those who want to sell the company for a fortune and those who want to stay independent, hoping for an even bigger reward later. As tension mounts, an avalanche cuts the chalet off completely — no phone or internet, and the established ski routes down the mountain are gone.
As the trapped residents wait anxiously for a rescue team and tempers fray, the killings begin. The first one was, just maybe, a tragic skiing accident; not so for the others.
The story is told through two narrators: Erin, one of the chalet’s caretakers and someone with her own tragic past, and Liz, a mousy ex-Snoop employee who is intimidated by the others’ stylishness but holds the deciding vote.
Ware plays fair, bamboozling us with red herrings while expertly pacing her plot. The characters are not richly drawn, but oh — that twisted plot!
“Snow” (Hanover Square, $27.99) is by John Banville, the Booker Prize-winning novelist who sometimes writes detective fiction under the name Benjamin Black. (He’s using his own name here.)
In this thoughtful and nuanced police procedural, it’s wintertime and County Wexford, usually lush, is muffled beneath a thick blanket of white. Detective Inspector St. John Strafford (an astute, if melancholy, figure who has to keep correcting people about pronouncing his name) is down from Dublin, investigating the grisly murder of a priest who was staying at a posh country house.
It’s 1957, and religion wields tremendous influence in Ireland, setting up a thinly veiled antagonism between Strafford, an aristocratic Protestant, and the largely Catholic cast of witnesses and suspects. This becomes especially acute as Strafford’s investigation widens to take in past tragedies and current secrets. Banville’s plot and themes are hardly original, but his assured prose and rich characters more than compensate.
Sad news for the local crime-fiction community: Author Gary Alexander has died “at the ripe young age of 79, after a mercifully short battle with brain cancer,” as his online obituary reads. A Kent resident for many years, Alexander was startlingly prolific: His 24 novels and hundreds of short stories ranged widely from comic to serious, from historical to contemporary, from locally set stories to ones evoking faraway lands. He and his writing will be missed.