It seems that for me, fiction tends to run hot and cold; I run through streaks where I can’t seem to find anything to catch my attention and then I will hit a spate of books that have me working my way through a whole pile of books all at the same time. The way this winter season is going right now, it seems I have a book I am working through in just about every room in the house!
The Dry: A Novel – Jane Harper (Flatiron Books)
Before launching her career as a fiction writer Jane Harper spent more than a decade as a print journalist in the UK and Australia and it is the land down under that is the setting for Harper’s debut novel The Dry. Set in a small, rural, farming, town, it is a story that like many of its characters comes chalk full of baggage and storylines that crisscross the present with the past.
Kiewarra finds itself in the grip of the worst dry spell in decades and for a town whose main occupations involve some form of farming, tensions are ratcheted up to new highs when three members of a local family turn up dead. Murder/suicide? Certainly has the look and feel of it, but there is so much more to the story than meets the eye.
As the drought taken its toll in the form of bodies or is it all part of an unsolved mystery from the town’s past? Harper does a masterful job of weaving together the storyline that will keep you guessing, searching for answers to the final pages.
The Girl Before – J P Delaney (Ballantine Books)
What is it about books with the word girl in the title? Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train, certainly captured the attention of a lot of readers and later movie goers. Now we can add The Girl Before, to that list and this on serves up a double dose of mystery; not only is a great read, but the author, J P Delaney is a pseudonym for “a bestselling author of fiction under other names.” Hmm, names?!
Whoever is behind this psychological thriller and the nom de plume, has done a fantastic job of weaving the “now” and “then” storylines of women seeking new digs in the face of tragic circumstances. These women are confronted by a far from standard landlord lease questionnaire. More psychological profile, than a list of references from prior landlords. And oh what a landlord! The architect/owner is a mysterious character with an equally mysterious past.
The central character in this story is One Folgate Street, a minimalist architectural masterpiece, living here is supposed to change your life and oh boy does it. This one moves at a blistering pace, so fasten your seatbelt and hang on for the ride. It’s easy to see why Ron Howard was in early on buying the rights for this one for the big screen.
The Dark Room – Jonathan Moore (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
It is somehow satisfying and fitting that the word dark is in the title of Jonathan Moore’s latest outing, The Dark Room. There is an almost noir-like quality to the storyline of blackmail and betrayal that is at the heart of this storyline.
Moore uses a craftsman’s eye to building the story that has a throwback quality interwoven with a thoroughly modern setting. I can easily see Gavin Cain, the homicide detective sporting a wide lapeled suit with a loud necktie straight out of a fifties detective novel.
Moore opens with a casket being exhumed and that quickly becomes a metaphor for someone digging around in the deepest and darkest of long buried secrets trying to get to the bottom of not only blackmail but of the mystery surrounding it.
This one will also have you working hard to avoid paper cuts as you breeze through the pages.
Dying for Christmas – Tammy Cohen (Pegasus Books)
I admit it…I have always had a soft spot for Christmas based fiction. I thought Grisham’s Skipping Christmas was fun and Mary Higgins Clark’s shelf full of Christmas based mysteries were mostly entertaining. So I was predisposed to liking Tammy Cohen’s Dying for Christmas.
But I can’t say that I got exactly what I was looking for in this stocking full of twistedness. This one has more nuts than the proverbial Christmas fruitcake! Jessica Gold is a woman who has an oversized sack full of her own issues. Out to finish up Christmas shopping, Jessica falls prey to a charming stranger while stopping for a coffee break. From there it’s off to the full blown bacchanalia of the twelve days of twisted Christmas.
Cohen slips you a steady, heady dose of discomfort and no joy. There is something about great fiction that makes the reader feel just a little bit uncomfortable and in that Dying for Christmas does its job well. It’s got enough twists and turns that you won’t see it coming until it’s too late.