“God, I was awful at choosing friends.” You said it, Anna. Or Sophie. Or whatever your name is. The fiery heroine of Denise Mina’s endlessly surprising new mystery, CONVICTION (Mulholland, $27), has left her home and family in Glasgow and is on the run, trying to outrace the secrets that keep bubbling up from her past.
Some things we know for sure: Anna McDonald, as she’s calling herself these days, has adopted the identity of an ordinary housewife living a routine existence in a nondescript suburb. But when her husband discards her for her best friend, she tells the children goodbye and bolts, ignoring her own troubles to clear the name of an old friend. Leon Parker is dead, but when she met him, he was a guest at a castle in the Highlands where she was passing herself off as a chambermaid. Leon has been vilified for supposedly killing himself and his children on the Dana, a yacht that sank with their bodies inside. At least, that’s the story told on a true-crime podcast series called “Death and the Dana” that makes Anna positively livid.
The damage done on social networks in the name of truth and transparency is a major theme in this incredible novel, which seems to have been written in a white-hot rage. Mina also takes on big issues like gang rapes by sports teams (“They said I did it myself, for attention and sympathy,” says one battered victim), the toll that hard drugs take on nice people like Adam Ross (“the sickest alive person I’d ever seen”) and the received wisdom of certain males about certain women (“The eternal companions of all clever women are mistrust and scorn”).
[ What books got Mina hooked on crime fiction? ]
And at the center of it all is Anna, not quite a free spirit — not in a world that doesn’t respect freedom or honor spirit — but more like an indomitable life force committed to saving the damned, even when she’s unable to do more than fix a few things as best she can. Mina has always written with a head full of ideas and a mouth full of tough talk. Here, she’s finally got a story big enough to hold it all together.
At age 70, the protagonist of Susan Richards Shreve’s sweetly melancholy new novel, MORE NEWS TOMORROW (Norton, $25.95), still feels like an orphan. Georgianna Grove was 4 years old when her father went to prison for strangling her mother, and although she never believed in his guilt, she also never felt compelled to seek out the true killer — until now. Gathering up her family, she steers them on a canoe trip up the Bone River to Missing Lake, Wis., where the 1941 murder was done. No one can deny Georgie, who collects lost souls at a boardinghouse she calls the Home for the Incurables. But as someone smartly observes, “You have to admit this is a very strange trip.”
Actually, the expedition is more like some mythic journey of self-discovery, held aloft by Shreve’s silken prose. Sharing the narrative are two principal storytellers: Georgie herself, who is finally ready to face the family heritage, and her 13-year-old grandson, Thomas, who is beginning to understand the value his grandmother places on each trip she takes, “believing that I will find something but knowing that I may not.”
There are certain things that Scandinavian writers do very, very well, like describing harsh weather and desolate places. In THE ISLAND (Minotaur, $27.99), Ragnar Jonasson presents Iceland’s gloomy West Fjords peninsula as a “treeless landscape stretching out bleak and ominously empty in the gathering dusk,” in Victoria Cribb’s translation. Nevertheless, love-smitten Benedikt accompanies his new girlfriend there in the autumn of 1987 to swim in a natural hot springs pool and to canoodle in the hut her family owns. The swim goes well, the canoodling not so much, because after his girl tells Benedikt about the ghost that haunts the valley, this idyll takes a bad turn.
Ten years on, Benedikt is still staggering under “the strain of keeping up the deception, of carrying the weight of this unbearable secret.” Then Inspector Hulda Hermannsdottir, the detective in this flinty series, begins looking into the old case because it seems relevant to a current investigation. Consider this one of the author’s best plots, layered with that dour Scandinavian atmosphere we love.
Who conned me into reading Deborah Goodrich Royce’s FINDING MRS. FORD (Post Hill, $27), anyway? Oh, right — I chose this first novel myself. Something about the flashbacks — from staid, starchy Watch Hill, R.I., in 2014 to big, bad Detroit in 1979 — made it feel sexy and a little dangerous. That’s the feeling that thrills goody-good-girl Susan Bentley when she meets wild-child Annie Nelson and “dazzling” Sammy Fakhouri on her summer job as a cocktail waitress at a mob-run disco.
The position turns out to be more exciting than Susan bargained for, and at the end of the summer, someone is dead and someone else wishes she’d decided to work at a less exciting place, like the Dairy Queen. And now, all these years later, posh Susan finds the F.B.I. on her doorstep. The prosaic level of the writing doesn’t improve, but the story is a fun one, with a nifty twist midway. It’s also a resounding object lesson on why cocktail waitressing at a mob joint does not necessarily make a great summer job.
Marilyn Stasio has covered crime fiction for the Book Review since 1988. Her column appears twice a month.
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