By Karin Slaughter, Delacorte, 438 pages, $30
Ten books in, some series start to falter. Not the Sara Linton saga. First, Karin Slaughter killed off Linton's husband. Then she introduced a pair of new detectives with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation. Now she has moved Sara to Atlanta and brought her into a whole new scene.
No longer a pediatrician, Sara is working in the emergency room of Atlanta's biggest, poorest hospital, and that brings her into contact with the GBI team of Will Trent and Faith Mitchell, in a case as complicated and sophisticated as crime fiction gets.
Judith and Henry Coldfield are driving home from a family celebration of their 40th wedding anniversary. Judith is musing over their family history when a naked woman runs into the road in front of their car. She is incoherent and terribly injured; she has been systematically and viciously tortured for days. The ambulance takes her to Sara Linton's emergency room.
Trent and Mitchell are called to assist the local police, and Will uncovers a cave where the tortured woman was held. Worse, she wasn't alone there. There is someone abroad who is not just bad or mad, but purely and simply evil. The search for the torturer makes for a great if grim story with a twist ending.
Slaughter always has great plots and characters, but Undone is one of her best. She also manages to leave us with a little cliffhanger for the next Linton episode. Perfect midsummer mystery reading.
By Stephen L. Carter, Knopf, 355 pages, $32
Stephen L. Carter's first three novels have explored the inner byways of the United States' insular black aristocracy, but in Jericho's Fall, he departs from that carefully constructed world. We still have his trademark mannered prose, and complex, rich characters engaging in convoluted plots, but at its heart, this is an ordinary suspense novel with a dash of espionage.
Jericho Ainsley is a former secretary of defence, former national security adviser and former director of the CIA. He served several presidents for many years, and made a fortune on Wall Street to boot.
Then, 20 years ago, he threw it all away, becoming the "former everything." The reason was his affair with Princeton undergraduate Rebecca De Forde. The relationship lasted less than two years, after which Ainsley retired to Colorado. Rebecca left Princeton, drifted into marriage, had a child, and is now working at a dead-end job in Washington, D.C.
Then a call comes that Jericho is dying. If Beck wants to see him before he goes, she must journey to Colorado. But Beck's farewell trip to her ex-lover's bedside becomes a mad thriller. There are lots of unexpected (and somewhat unbelievable) side trips, and some dodgy characters in the best melodramatic style.
Someone is out to get the old man, but they want something from him first. And is Jericho's illness a fake? At least one of his old friends thinks he's crazy, and that the first manifestation of that madness was his affair with Beck.
Carter can be wordy, and he never met a subplot he couldn't incorporate. Still, I skimmed along and, despite the irritation at the had-I-but-known references and cliffhanger chapter endings, I didn't put this one down once. It's not Carter's best, but it's still pretty good.
WIFE OF THE GODS
By Kwei Quartey, Random House, 312 pages, $28
Wife of the Gods, an ambitious and auspicious debut by California physician Kwei Quartey, is the perfect foil for the cuteness of Precious Ramotswe and the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency. It introduces Detective Inspector Darko Dawson of the homicide division of the Criminal Investigation Department of the Ghana Police Service. Dawson is a real copper, in a Third World country where computers are unavailable, telephones unreliable and "charm" more likely means a curse than a pleasant personality trait.
When Dawson is sent to the village of Ketanu to investigate the death of a local woman, it's a chance for him to reconnect with his mother's family. A visit to Ketanu years earlier remains one of his last good memories of childhood.
After a visit there from his home in Accra, Darko's brother was hit by a car and paralyzed. Then his mother disappeared, leaving her sons with his depressed and despotic father. In fact, Ketanu is where Dawson's mother was last seen.
The dead woman is the prized daughter of a wealthy local family. She was active in the local AIDS education program and planning to study medicine. She was last seen with the ne'er-do-well Samuel Boateng, whom the local police chief seems happy to railroad for murder.
But Dawson believes there's more to the crime than unrequited love. There are strange forces at work in Ketanu, including a local fetish priest who has far more reason to commit murder than Boateng.
Quartey has a solid character in Dawson and, raised in Ghana, he knows the customs and landscapes well. There are a couple of plot glitches, but they're forgivable. This is a great beginning to what should be a terrific series.
WHISPERS OF THE DEAD
By Simon Beckett, Delacorte, 307 pages, $30
The only thing better than discovering a terrific new author is discovering a terrific new series. Fans of Kathy Reichs and the early Patricia Cornwell novels, take note. Simon Beckett's three novels featuring British forensic anthropologist David Hunter are terrific. Whispers of the Dead is even set in Tennessee, at the "Body Farm" made famous by Cornwell, and it's the best Beckett novel yet.
Devotees of the series (start with book one, Written in Bone) know that violence and terror ended Hunter's last case. It makes sense that he would leave London to recoup, but only an FA would see a trip to the mouldering corpses of the Body Farm as a nice change of scene. Then Hunter is called to a crime scene in the Smokey Mountains, and bizarre doesn't begin to describe it. It appears that a serial killer is around and active.
Beckett is a very different writer from Reichs or Cornwell and his take on the United States is very British. Get all three Hunter books. You won't be satisfied with just one.
THE FATE OF KATHERINE CARR
By Thomas H. Cook, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 276 pages, $33.95
I'm a big fan of Cook's delicately nuanced characters and complex plots. The Fate of Katherine Carr has it all, and a whiff of the supernatural as well.
Fifteen years ago, travel writer George Gates became a husband and a father, but his wife died young and his son was murdered. Now, George gets through life writing happy features for the local newspaper.
Then a retired cop tells him about a woman who disappeared, a woman who had been victimized and savaged. Gates finds himself seduced by the story and, like all good storytellers, he recasts it in his own style.
This is a mystery, yes, but it's also a tale about death and hope and the amazing ability of some people to remain standing long after they've received too many body blows for ordinary humans to contemplate.
Edited by Hirsh Sawhney, Akashic Books, 289 pages, $17.50
Hirsh Sawnhey's intelligent introductory essay is more than enough reason to buy this fine collection of short fiction.
But in addition to that, this book is a chance to get a fix on some of India's best crime writers, most of whom are totally unknown in North America.
Like the rest of this superb series ( Brooklyn Noir, L.A. Noir, Toronto Noir, etc.), we are introduced to the city by stories set in locations iconic to the city. In the case of Delhi, that means we go to come very dark spots indeed.
If your reading of mysteries set in India has been limited to H. R. F. Keating, you may find these writers unnerving. Those who like to live a little dangerously, for instance, will love Siddharth Chowdhury's crazed and profane trip into life in a Delhi university dorm.