Three recent crime-fiction novels explore curious environments. What to know about “Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore,” “Arrowood” and “Bad Housekeeping.”
An indie bookstore, Victorian London and an old house figure in three recent crime-fiction standouts.
Matthew Sullivan’s “Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore” (Scribner, 336 pp., $26) is a strong debut set in a funky Denver establishment not dissimilar to, say, Elliott Bay Books. (Speaking of bookstores, Sullivan will speak at 7 p.m. June 21 at Third Place Books at Lake Forest Park, and at 7 p.m. June 22 at University Book Store.)
Bookseller Lydia Smith is fond of the eccentric souls who frequent the place. Not surprisingly, she is devastated to find the corpse of one of her favorites, Joseph Molina, swinging from a beam in the store one night.
That’s tragic enough, but things get really dramatic when a childhood photo of Lydia is found in Joseph’s pocket — not to mention the cryptic notebooks she discovers in his apartment.
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The affair brings up memories of a terrifying incident in Lydia’s childhood, and her investigation results in a powerful, intricate tale of broken friendship and family loyalties.
Another compelling debut is Mick Finlay’s “Arrowood” (Mira, 352 pp., $15.99 paperback original).
It’s a terrific premise: the adventures of Arrowood, a down-at-the-heels private detective in London, 1895. Arrowood jealously follows the exploits of his nemesis, Sherlock Holmes, and longs to take on showy cases like those Holmes solves. Instead, he has to settle for dull clients at the bottom end of London’s financial and social circles.
Arrowood’s fortunes look up, however, when a Frenchwoman hires him to find her missing brother — although it soon becomes clear that she is lying about her reasons. In any event, the case leads Arrowood on journeys through London’s seediest neighborhoods and encounters with some very nasty criminals.
Finlay has fun referencing the Holmes canon, and he gives his hero a skill that the more famous detective lacks. Holmes is a genius at observing inanimate objects, making giant leaps of deduction from tiny clues. Arrowood, by contrast, excels at observing people, not things, relying on his psychological skills to reveal hidden emotions and intentions.
On the local front: “Bad Housekeeping” (Crooked Lane, 304 pp., $25.99) is the latest delightful cozy from Bainbridge Island writer Maia Chance. It debuts a new series starring a young academic, Agnes Blythe, and her sharp-tongued great-aunt Euphemia (Effie) Winters.
On the rebound from a lousy romantic entanglement, Agnes accepts Effie’s request for help in restoring a falling-down inn in Agnes’ upstate New York hometown. Things get complicated (don’t they always?) when, in the midst of renovating, they stumble on the body of the town’s thoroughly unpleasant librarian. Bonus: an excellent title.