A mystery within a mystery to watch for!

  • Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz (Harper, US release June 2017)
  • In 40 words or less: A London editor receives a mystery manuscript just as the author falls to his death. Despite her antipathy towards the author, Susan Ryeland is committed to finding the missing chapters and the real cause of Alan Conway’s death. Horowitz’s literary allusions and adroit wordplay make this a true joy.
  • Genre: Mystery
  • Locale: London and environs
  • Time: Contemporary
  • I’m a sucker for British whodunits. Horowitz is known to PBS viewers for his teleplays, Midsomer Murders and Foyle’s War. Magpie Murders pays homage to the great mystery writers and detectives with more than a little tongue-in-cheek. Horowitz’s literary allusions and adroit wordplay make this a true joy and a great choice to take anywhere this summer.

For some reason, British murder mysteries seemed so much more civilized than their American counterparts. Even when one victim’s head is removed by the sword from the suit of armor in the manor hall – rather hard to believe. It’s the air of gentility, found more often in those who have suffered reverses than those on the rise, and generations of community connections despite differing social strata. Villages are traversed by walking or biking, and city dwellers live in lovely row houses or quaint flats. All of these elements, plus the necessary school ties, are present in Magpie Murders. Rather than feeling trite, it is entertaining to see how Horowitz manages to bring all these elements together, stringing out the clues bit by bit.

It’s not a great surprise that Alan Conway, author and murder victim, is disliked by many who know him. He is the ticket to his small publishing house’s success as both his publisher and editor realize. Just as his latest manuscript in about to be delivered, Conway comes to London for a dinner with the publisher at a private club. Unfortunately, all does not go smoothly. So after the incomplete manuscript appears and Conway dies, his editor is highly motivated to find the missing conclusion and the answers. She soon learns that Conway’s final mystery has far too many parallels with the leads she is following.

Dan, my very supportive husband, often wonders how there can still be people in Britain given the number of poisonings, falls, stabbings and hunting accidents that occur under suspicious circumstances. Somehow the bucolic settings make crime seem oh, so different, from the flashing lights and screaming sirens of American crime stories. Crime is intensely personal and localized, motives deep-seated and clear.

For fans of classic British mysteries, there is so much to like. Horowitz is reveling in each allusion he scores and inside publishing barb he plants. If you are intrigued, this is your June read.  It is coming out next week, just in time to take along wherever you go this summer.

‘The Woman in Cabin 10’ is another summer thriller

IN A NUTSHELLUnknown - Version 2

  • Unknown-4The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware (Scout Press 2016)
  • In 40 words or less: A journalist lands the assignment to report on an ultra-luxury cruise ship. A break-in at her home before departure makes her wary and vulnerable. When she sees evidence of a crime on the ship her veracity is questioned and her safety endangered.
  • Genre: Thriller
  • Locale: London, North Sea, Norway
  • Time: Now
  • Read this if you are a fan of The Girl on the Train or Gone Girl.

There’s something about summertime. It seems wherever you turn there is another psychological thriller vying for your attention. Granted, they are often the perfect length for a long flight or some time at the pool, preferably with a dip or a nap or two thrown in.

British women writers have taken the US by storm with female protagonists who may not be completely believable.  The latest entry, The Woman in Cabin 10, starts with a heart-stopping scene. Lo Blacklock, the narrator, awakens in the middle of the night to find a masked intruder in her apartment. In confronting him she is wounded and to save herself ends up locked in a room without any way to exit and with no way to communicate. After smashing her way out, she is physically and emotionally battered. Even while trying to work with the police, secure her apartment and replace her stolen phone and credit cards, she and her boyfriend have an argument. And then there’s a magazine assignment on an ultra-luxury cruise just one day away.

Ruth Ware sets up a classic locked room mystery on the North Sea.  The 10 cabin, ultra-luxury ship is on its maiden cruise to drum up publicity and major investors. The ship is a project of a British businessman and his ailing heiress wife and, aside from Lo, the other passengers are major photographers, writers or venture capital advisors. On the first night out, Lo returns to her cabin having had little sleep since her attack and too much to drink. She wakes up to some commotion in the adjacent cabin and thinks she sees a body go overboard and blood on a glass panel. The cabin was allegedly empty and no one seems to be missing from the passengers or crew.

Lo is desperate to uncover the truth. Ruth Ware has done a masterful job of balancing Lo’s occasional self-doubt with her resolve. The novel has numerous twists and turns, all in the very confined quarters of a small ship at sea. Lo is uncertain of the trustworthiness of her fellow passengers, including a photographer, Ben, she had a relationship with several years earlier.

Interspersed in the on-ship narrative are occasional web articles, forum strings, and emails questioning Lo’s possible disappearance since her family, boyfriend, and co-workers have heard nothing from her despite the ship’s high-tech capabilities. These serve to emphasize how alone Lo is on this cruise.

The Woman in Cabin 10 is a fast-paced grabber of a book. Despite the early attack,  Lo fights off a victim mentality and pushes back at every attempt to minimize her contentions. Earlier in her life, Lo suffered panic attacks. When Ben suggests to others that an interaction of her medications and alcohol may have caused her to imagine the body, Lo loses trust in the one person she thought was on her side. The challenge of dealing with anxiety is part of Lo’s story. In its telling, it enhances the acceleration of the plot.

If you enjoyed The Girl on the Train, Gone Girl or Widow, Ruth Ware’s latest might be just the book to take away with you.