Undertow by Elizabeth Heathcote

undertowZena Johnson is beautiful, charming, and driven – and beguiling enough to separate Tom, a successful lawyer, from his wife and children.  After his divorce, Tom and Zena buy a cottage on the eastern coast of England, and seemingly have a perfect setup.  Or do they?

Several months later, Zena, a determined swimmer since childhood, goes for an evening swim in the ocean and doesn’t return.  A mother with her child and dog find Zena’s body washed up on a beach a few days later.

Tom remarries, this time to Carmen, and doesn’t tell her everything about this chapter of his past life.  As such, Carmen begins to have doubts about their supposedly idyllic relationship, particularly when she notices Tom’s peculiar behavior; behind his calm lawyer demeanor is an unpleasant temper.

Carmen delves into Tom’s past with as much secrecy as she can muster, and what she finds gets increasingly unnerving.  And Zena, dead for three years, haunts Carmen’s dreams and thoughts.

Undertow brings the Rebecca motif into the modern age.  Tense and nervy, the book will have you doubting Carmen’s sanity as she skirts danger and finds help from some unlikely sources.

(William Hicks, Information Services)

The Life We Bury by Allan Eskens

the-life-we-buryJoe Talbert is a college student with more on his plate than most.  Besides working and classes, he has an autistic younger brother and an abusive alcoholic mother.  Joe lives a couple of hours from home, and periodically drives there to sort out troubles with his family.

Joe is having a hard time with an English assignment, in which he is to interview and write a biography about someone.  One of the places he considers for material is a nearby nursing home.  Most of the residents there suffer from dementia, but one recent one, a Vietnam veteran, appears to be an apt candidate.

Carl Iverson is getting older, but he isn’t in this nursing home for the age factor.  He’s been serving a lifetime prison sentence for the rape and murder of a fourteen year old girl in 1980, and has been paroled here, as he is dying of cancer.  Carl is still lucid, though, and once he warms up to Joe, there’s a long story to tell, with more to it than a convenient conviction and thirty years of jail time.

Joe gets into the case more than he should, with help from the young lady down the hall.  Lila is elusive at the beginning but makes friends with Joe’s brother Jeremy, who is staying temporarily at Joe’s apartment during an absence of their mother.  As the two delve into old court records and Joe talks to an old friend of Carl’s, they find startling truths about Carl and the reality of the case, and tread some dangerous territories.

The Life We Bury got good reviews when it came out a few years back.  I found it an enjoyable thriller, sort of written in young adult mode, but considering the main character, this seemed appropriate.  Joe is older than his years, but naive in some respects.  He does impulsive things, has anger issues (take his home life into perspective), and gets himself into very bad situations without thinking things through.  He also has a good heart and wants a future for both himself and his brother.

A cold case, family dysfunction, and a noble-meaning but flawed young hero – what more could you want to start out 2017?

The author has two newer books that have both gotten good reviews –  The Guise of Another and The Heavens May Fall.

(William Hicks, Information Services)

 

A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny

fatal-graceCC de Poitiers, eager to push her personal philosophies of mind and style, manages to antagonize everyone in her path.  The list of those slighted by CC is great, and she does nothing to ingratiate herself to her adopted town of Three Pines, an isolated bucolic place somewhere in the eastern townships of Quebec.

CC dies in a freak electrocution during a curling event on one of the coldest days of the year.  In the wake of her death, it’s up to Armand Gamache, Chief Inspector of the Sûreté du Québec homicide division, to comb through the complications of this case.  As he does, Gamache is also working on a different incident as a courtesy to another department, and the two cases become intertwined.

As the temperatures drop down to the sub zeros, the intrigue heats up, and the congenial residents of Three Pines find themselves suspecting the worse in others.  Thankfully, the body count is limited, if not the snowfall.

Louise Penny writes intelligent, chatty whodunits in which good food and camaraderie take first place before sheer gore.  To be sure, there are murders and mystery in her books, in addition to some dastardly villains, but she always maintains a strong sense of decency in her usual cast of characters, even as she plumbs their past.  Even the best have their dark secrets.

I read the first in this series (Still Life) over three years ago, and then skipped to some of the later ones.  An ardent fan of her books exhorted me to go back and read the earlier ones, of which Fatal Grace is the second.  And yes, even though I cheated and read ahead, I still plan to fill in the blanks.

And by the way, Penny’s got a new one out – A Great Reckoning.  Go ahead and read it if you’ve been good and read all the rest.

(William Hicks, Information Services)