by Olive Mullet
Before the Fall by Noah Hawley—This thriller touches on some contemporary substantive issues. The beginning is thrilling with a private jet’s crash into the Atlantic off the east coast, 18 minutes into a flight from Martha’s Vineyard to NYC. Since the crash itself is not the focus, plane travelers shouldn’t fear to read it. However, the dramatic details of the swim by the only adult survivor with a 4-year-old on his back stay with you. Afterwards, the focus Is on the dead passengers, two of whom were rich powerful men with either a shady or kidnap victim’s past. Even the crew members are highlighted individually for potential terrorist motives. The two survivors’ stories and that of the sensationalist newscaster who takes over from his deceased boss make up the rest of the novel, vividly offering examples of contemporary concerns.
Spill Simmer Falter Wither by Sara Baume—This unusual (for its subject matter) novel has a beautiful style. Right at the opening it has the perspective of a dog which has lost one eye and is running from the horror that caused that loss. From then on, the man who picked up this dog at a shelter tells the story, so that this is a story of bonding albeit unsentimentally. This could’ve been an unremittingly sad story except for the narrator’s joy of life, learning about and seeing birds and wildlife. The man is poor, lives in his father’s house, and because “One Eye” gets into fights, has to leave that house to keep the dog with him. The man’s
past is sad but revealing and the ending appropriate and moving. The Irish do write poetically.
A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness – soon to be a movie – is a lyrically written novella for young and older adults, inspired by Siobhan Dowd and illustrated dramatically by Jim Kay. It is about eleven-year-old Conor who because of a repeated horrific nightmare finds a huge graveyard yew tree calling for him outside his window less frightening. What we learn about his situation is heartrending. But more impressive is this story’s realistic rendering of a child’s coping with an impending tragedy.
The Highwayman is Craig Johnson’s only ghost story, inspired by his favorite ghost story, Charles Dickens’ Christmas short story “The Signalman.” Those familiar with Johnson’s Sheriff Walt Longmire Wyoming mystery series will not be disappointed for Walt’s Indian partner Henry Standing Bear plays a major role, but it is a newbie female office colleague who gets the ghostly call. There’s a transmitted coded request for her specific assistance from a patrolman at exactly the same time of night as the death of that patrolman thirty years before. Johnson does a wonderful job resolving most of the mystery.
The Crooked House by Christobel Kent—Kent, one of my favorite mystery writers, sets most of her mysteries in Florence, Italy. However, this English setting, like P.D. James’, is like a character itself, so richly envisioned as to put the reader right there. This one is a tiny closed society living in marshland, far from London. Through twists and turns in the story, Alison
(original Esme Grace), the only survivor of a family’s murder in that community, is forced back there after 13 years by a lover both loving and domineering, and confronts not only social clashes but different possible killers of her family. This thriller does not reveal its secrets until the very end.
Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Bachman—If you loved A Man Called Ove, Britt Marie Was Here is Bachman’s most recent and delightful, though if you haven’t read Ove, you should read that one first because it’s even better. Britt-Marie is not Ove except that she is eccentric and old-fashioned as he was and about his same age. However, her situation is different: Her husband abandoned her for a younger woman, Britt Marie, looking for a job, lands one, (though for only three weeks) in a desolate town called Borg. Like Ove, she is surrounded by characters who first find her insufferable and later support and love her. And she finds self-esteem in Borg helping the children as well as adults. Even though there’s a lot about soccer, those unfamiliar with the sport will enjoy this heartfelt novel.