Wilde Lake by Laura Lippman

In memory of Pat Gorman,

who loved a good mystery.

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Laura Lippman weaves a complicated murder mystery in her latest suspenseful crime tale Wilde Lake. Set in Columbia, Maryland, one of the first planned communities of the seventies, with communal mailboxes, open space schools, and an all-inclusive philosophy, intended to eliminate racial, religious, and class segregation, the story flips through the community’s regression, going back and forth from it inception to the present day.  Not all goes as planned.

Having lived in the area for many years, the references to familiar landmarks were fun to revisit:  Hausner’s restaurant, the Merriweather Post Pavilion, Columbia Mall, and the scandal-driven Governor Marvin Mandel.  Wilde Lake is still there as is Lake Kittamaqundi.

Although crime is the focus of the book with two murders across thirty years intersecting across the lives of the characters, memory has a major influence on the outcome.  We remember what we think happened and see what we want to see.  Noone is immune, from Lu Brant, the first woman State’s Attorney to her father, the beloved retired State’s Attorney.  Lipman reminds us of the stories and myths created in each family, some to cover pain, others to compensate, but most just to pass on a better life to another generation.  The truth usually emerges, as it does in Lippman’s story.

Life goes on and those who die become beloved.

9780062083456_p0_v3_s192x300    A Short Summary of the Plot from Harper Collins:

“Luisa “Lu” Brant, the newly elected state’s attorney, is prosecuting a controversial case involving a disturbed drifter accused of beating a woman to death. Her intensive preparation for trial unexpectedly dredges up painful recollections of another crime—the night when her brother, AJ, saved his best friend at the cost of another man’s life. Only eighteen, AJ was cleared by a grand jury. Justice was done. Or was it? Did the events of 1980 happen as she remembers them? She was only a child then. What details didn’t she know?
As she plunges deeper into the past, Lu is forced to face a troubling reality. The legal system, the bedrock of her entire life, does not have all the answers. But what happens when she realizes that, for the first time, she doesn’t want to know the whole truth?”

The Monogram Murders

9780062297211_p0_v5_s260x420If you are missing Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, Sophie Hannah’s reincarnation of the famous Belgian sleuth  in The Monogram Murders will not disappoint.  In an interview, Hannah, famous for police procedural crime thrillers, noted:

“Try as I might, Agatha Christie is unique. The actual writing style can’t be exactly the same, so instead of trying to replicate it exactly, the way I got around it was by inventing a new narrator… a Scotland Yard detective called Edward Catchpool. He’s a bit unsure of himself, and worries people are going to see through him all the time. He’s the sidekick who’s quite good but he’s nowhere near as good as Poirot. I think readers will like him and identify with him. I did.”

“Nobody has ever written as many enjoyable, fun-to-read crime novels as Agatha Christie. It’s all about the storytelling and the pleasure of the reader. She doesn’t want to be deep or highbrow. So many writers want you to know their world view. Christie doesn’t, she just wants you to enjoy her books. You can be exhausted, have flu, a hangover, you always want to read Agatha Christie.”

I was easily ensconced in the solving of these three murders – dead bodies discovered in different rooms of the same London hotel, each with a monogrammed cufflink placed in their mouths.  The murders take place in 1929, although the motive proceeds from events 16 years earlier. Poirot is in good form – and a comforting element –  as he slowly unravels each clue, commenting in French phrases.  The plot is as intricate and as puzzling as a Christie mystery, and Hannah manages to replicate the old-fashioned style and Poirot’s egotistical manner.  And yet, the story seems to go longer than I remember Christie doing, and the aha element seems a little lacking at the end. Christie always managed to tie up all the loose ends in a final chapter, succinctly and quickly, but Hannah’s resolution meanders until you are wondering if Poirot will ever explain.    Still a good detective story, The Monogram Murders may be more Hannah than Christie, with a visiting Poirot as a bonus.

 

The Racketeer

Clever and suspenseful, with surprising twists mimicking Redford and Newman in “The Sting,” John Grisham targets the federal law enforcement system in his latest legal crime thriller – The Racketeer.  

After serving five years of a ten-year sentence, Malcolm Bannister, a lawyer convicted for a crime he did not commit, creates a convoluted scheme to be released from prison.  By revealing the identity of the murderer of a federal judge, Bannister trades information to the FBI for a new face, a stash of new funds, and a new life.  But Grisham has not maintained his place on the bestseller list by creating simple stories, and all is not as it seems.  As the action unfolds, you will not be sure who the real criminals are – until the very end when Grisham reveals all.  A fast-paced thriller not requiring much serious thought, The Racketeer is another fun Grisham ride.

Defending Jacob

What if an assistant district attorney had to defend his fourteen year old son in a murder case? Sound like a television Father’s Day drama? That’s just what William Landay delivers in his courtroom crime story – Defending Jacob. Although the characters follow a formulaic stereotype and some of the dialogue is reminiscent of Mickey Spillane, the plot is fast-paced, easy reading, with enough change-ups to keep you reading.

Jacob’s middle schooler life is a mystery to his parents until one of his classmates is found stabbed in the park adjacent to the school. Suddenly, the bullying, the hidden knife, a fingerprint, and Jake’s loner personality implicate him as the murderer. Landay effectively uses two catalysts in the mix: the internet – citing Facebook, Twitter, and iPads as adding to public suspicion; and the “murder gene” – a genetic tendency to violence.

I’ve had this book on my shelf and decided to give it away to make room, but, first had to read it. A quick read – less gruesome than other crime novels – Defending Jacob has some father/son relationship angst and family-in-crisis warts, but, for the most part – just another good legal thriller – scheduled to come out in a movie theater soon with talk of Michael Shannon playing the father.

The ending came as a surprise; don’t stop reading after court adjourns.

Headhunters

I’m reading Jo Nesbø’s Headhunters – a crime thriller about a suave Norwegian headhunter, Roger Brown, who moonlights as an art thief to supplement his income and fund his expensive life style.  Using information he accesses through interviews of prospective clients, Brown breaks into their houses to steal their art.  He’s successful until he meets Clas Greve, who owns a priceless Rubens.   The steady civilized plot suddenly explodes when Brown finds something (no spoiler here) under Greve’s bed, and his life changes into a series of shock waves.

Although the book was first published in Norway in 2008, it was not available in the United States until 2011.  Dubbed the new Stieg Larsson (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), Nesbø offers suspense and surprising plot twists.

So far, I’m happily reading into the night – skipping over the disgusting outhouse scene.  Having just read his children’s book, Doctor Proctor’s Fart Powder, I wonder if Nesbø  has thought of any escapes other than through feces – yuck.

Read reviews of other books by Nesbø: