The Plot Thickens

Perhaps you thought that The Plot Thickens had been kidnapped and held for ransom, with a note made up of words cut out from a Sunday edition of The Seattle Times as the only clue to its whereabouts. Or perhaps you thought that this monthly column died a mysterious death in a locked-door room, or vanished after spending the night in a house known to be haunted, or became the latest in a string of puzzling disappearances among the students and faculty at a strangely Gothic prep school. No, the real answer won’t require a detective to solve it: I’ve been on leave, and now I’m back and so is The Plot Thickens — a monthly look at mystery and crime fiction, in which I often ask readers to share recommendations of their favorites in the genre.

So, while I was gone, what were you reading? Here are a few recent books that I enjoyed over the last few months: Former Seattleite Jennifer Hillier’s sneakily effective psychological thriller “Things We Do In the Dark,” about a celebrity murder and a secret past. Chris Pavone’s breathless disappearing-husband adventure thriller “Two Nights in Lisbon.” Kirstin Chen’s sly con-artist tale “Counterfeit,” taking place in the world of fake designer handbags. “The Appeal” by Janice Hallett, a murder mystery cleverly told entirely through emails and texts. Isabel Cañas’ “The Hacienda,” a shivery haunted-house tale set in the aftermath of the Mexican War. “The Locked Room,” the latest in the Ruth Galloway series from Elly Griffiths — one in which pandemic-era isolation plays a key role. (Shout-out to Seattle Public Library, where I found all of these and more; when you’re on leave, nobody sends advance copies.)

And this past week, I’ve been enjoying dipping into “Marple: Twelve New Mysteries,” a brand-new collection of a dozen stories featuring Agatha Christie’s heroine Jane Marple, written by a murderers’ row of terrific contemporary female mystery authors: Griffiths, Alyssa Cole, Lucy Foley, Jean Kwok, Ruth Ware, Val McDermid and more. Some of the tales take place in Miss Marple’s usual home, the sweetly murder-plagued hamlet of St. Mary Mead; others take her far afield, on a cruise ship to Hong Kong (Kwok’s “The Jade Empress”), a visit to New York City (Cole’s “Miss Marple Takes Manhattan”), or a picture-perfect Italian villa where a novelist finds strange goings-on afoot (Griffiths’ “Murder at the Villa Rosa”). While, as with all anthologies, some stories are more compelling than others, it’s a treat to spend more time with Christie’s redoubtable heroine, who has “a mind like a bacon slicer” and a knack for “when she wants something … making it seem inevitable.”

Speaking of Miss Marple, if you like cozy British mysteries with a twist, you probably enjoyed Anthony Horowitz’s “Magpie Murders” a few years back. A six-episode television version of the book, adapted by Horowitz and starring the great Lesley Manville (“Mrs. Harris Goes to Paris,” “Phantom Thread”) is now playing on Sundays on PBS. And Horowitz himself will be doing a virtual event with Third Place Books on Nov. 15, interviewed by mystery author Shari Lapena, talking about “The Twist of a Knife,” the latest in his Detective Daniel Hawthorne series — which feature, as their other central character, an author named Anthony Horowitz. Should be good fun, as all his books are. The event is at 9 a.m. (presumably because Horowitz lives in the U.K.; watch him with your morning cup of tea); virtual tickets include a copy of the book and are $40.94 (includes shipping) or $35.70 (in-store pickup). Information: thirdplacebooks.com.

And, as Halloween approaches and dry leaves start blowing down the sidewalks, it’s prime mystery-reading season. As I get myself back into the rhythms of work after six months off, I imagine that some great books came out this year that I’ve likely missed. What’s the best new — i.e., published in 2022, or close to it — mystery/crime fiction (or nonfiction) that you’ve read this year? Tell me, via email, or in the comments below, and I’ll report the results next month. Nice to be back and sharing shivers with all of you again. Happy Halloween!

Illustration by Jenny Kwon