One for the puzzle. Two for the detective. Three for the background scene:
Woman With a Secret
By Sophie Hannah
374 pages, $25.99.
A well-regarded author of psychological thrillers, Hannah was recently selected by Agatha Christie’s estate to write the “Monogram Murders” starring none other than that legendary and well-mustachioed detective Hercule Poirot. She did a competent job with that one but now she’s back to her old tricks, and Poirot himself would hardly recognize her work.
True, there’s plenty of old-style tidbits in the plot. The book opens with a murder. Controversial newspaper columnist Damon Blundy – not a nice man – is found in his study, tied to his desk chair with a newly sharpened knife taped across his mouth. The heavy knife sharpener is found elsewhere in the room; it has been carried into the scene and used to render him unconscious.
But Blundy did not die from the hit; he did not die from stabbing – he died of suffocation. And painted words have been written across the wall.
“HE IS NO LESS DEAD,” they say. Less than what?, you ask.
Well, that’s an interesting question.
What fun. And now reminiscent of the old locked-room puzzles of yore calling Sherlock Holmes; calling, well, calling Poirot himself.
But not so fast. Of course there’s a twist here. Several twists in fact. The novel’s narrator, for instance. She is whiny, guilt-ridden Nicki Clements – an average-seeming wife and mother with an interesting back story. (Hint: It all has to do with email.)
Clements is not what you call reliable. In fact, we don’t know whether to believe this irritating woman or not. And then there are those detectives on the case – a husband-and-wife team who has its own problems.
In other words, you really have to pay attention here. Don’t read this when you’re sleepy.
The English Spy
By Daniel Silva
485 pages, $27.99.
Most mystery fans will recognize the character Gabriel Allon – he’s the legendary underground Israeli spy and famous art restorer who carries a lot of baggage. Many years ago, his young son was blown up by a car bomb; his mother, who was with him, Allon’s first wife, was institutionalized.
Now, Allon is going to return to Jerusalem – he’s scheduled to become the head of his secret organization (no relation to Mossad, of course). And he’s happily anticipating the birth of another child with his second wife. But then his British associates ask for a favor.
Can the agent find out who killed the beloved princess, divorced wife of the heir to the throne (no relation to you know who) who has just been blown up in a luxury yacht?
Naturally it gets complicated.
Allon’s initial target is Eamon Quinn, a bomb maker who sells his services to the highest bidder. And he has to call on retired British commando Christopher Keller for help (Keller has become a professional assassin).
As the scene shifts from West Belfast to Lisbon to Jerusalem, a vicious plot comes to light, and Allon, a VIP who can’t get his hands too dirty now, rides around in chauffeured cars with bodyguards.
All of this is fine, but you know what?
I miss the old Allon.
The one who lived in an isolated cabin in Cornwall; the one who moodily walked the beaches and dabbed at a worn Caravaggio now and then ...
Bring him back, please. At least occasionally.
By Martin Walke
321 pages, $24.95
Benoit Courreges, is another much-beloved series character. He’s known to everyone as Bruno and is the chief of police in the small town of St. Denis, in the Dordogne area of France, full of beautiful estates, good wine, good food – not to mention a prehistoric cave or two.
Many people would gladly move there tomorrow.
But I digress. Back to the book. Bruno has been invited to a birthday celebration for a national hero, a World War II flying ace. And a darn nice party it is too. But a good friend dies suddenly there, and the chief is not happy with the verdict of accidental death. Exactly why are they trying to bury the guy so quickly?
No sweat here. In fact, I’d be disappointed in you if you didn’t have whole plot thing worked out by a hundred pages or so. But Bruno is so likable and the sense of place so lovingly written, the book is a winner.
There’s a description of a feast at Bruno’s hunt club that is so appetizing I could not put it down. (I’m not counting the trips to the refrigerator.) Author Walker’s bio tells us that he’s a senior fellow in a think tank, an editor and columnist for UPI International, but I could think of another job to fill his time.
The man could always be a food and restaurant writer.
Janice Okun is the former food editor and restaurant critic of The Buffalo News and a dedicated lifelong reader of crime fiction.