Thankfully, the Pacific Northwest heat wave is cooling off. To keep the temperature up (on the page) with some crime fiction, check out these two new books.
“The Hollywood Spy” by Susan Elia MacNeal (Bantam, $27). The 10th outing in the Maggie Hope series finds our heroine, an American working for British intelligence during World War II, in 1943 Hollywood, complete with a full dose of wartime Tinseltown’s glamour, grime and menace.
Maggie’s former flame, a British military pilot, has implored her to come to Los Angeles to investigate the death of his fiancée, which the cops have dismissed as accidental. Maggie’s search takes her — smart, determined and still carrying a torch for her ex — into a feverish mash of racism, homophobia, police corruption, Nazi sympathizers and a particularly poisonous form of “America First”-ism.
Along the way, Maggie passes through various real-life nightclubs, film sets, lavish homes and other colorful Hollywood settings. The author also throws in plenty of cameos by real-life characters. Calling Mr. Disney, Maestro Balanchine and Dr. Pauling!
The author’s devotion to historical research is clear, dealing with such then-current issues as the Zoot Suit Riots and the mind-boggling pro-Nazi rallies held at what was then Hindenburg Park. (Furthermore, Maggie’s ex-flame resembles the author Roald Dahl, who during the war was a heroic British pilot who, like Maggie’s pilot, represented the British government in its campaign for increased U.S. military support.)
The author doesn’t always weave historical detail lightly into the story, but nonetheless Maggie Hope and her adventures continue to be charming and absorbing.
“The Other Passenger” by Louise Candlish (Atria, $17). Those of us in the Northwest accustomed to commuting by ferry can look forward to an extra shiver from this accomplished, twisty thriller.
Double that shiver, in fact, because the book addresses the burning envy that can arise between people experiencing deep divisions in class, wealth and real estate holdings — divisions that will be nothing new to many of us.
Two men — Jamie, a marketing exec turned barista following a change in fortune, and Kit, a younger man who works in insurance — meet while sharing a morning river commute into London. They begin socializing with their respective partners, Clare and Melia.
Then Kit doesn’t show up on the commute one morning. He stays missing, and Jamie becomes a murder suspect.
Candlish’s previous books, notably “Our House,” are thrillers exploring relationships among characters living in particular neighborhoods and houses — a genre that has inspired the British slang term, “property noir.” In flashbacks, “The Other Passenger” continues this chilling look at how wealth, privilege and inequality can ignite powerful emotions.