Arts & Culture

Mysteries: Lutz leaves Spellman Files for satisfying one-off

“The Passenger,” by Lisa Lutz. Simon & Schuster, 320 pages.

There’s a short list of authors whose books I drop everything for. Lisa Lutz is high on that list. If you haven’t yet, go read her smart, funny Spellman Files series about a family of private eyes who spend most of their time investigating each other.

This standalone is more serious. We first meet the narrator as she finds her husband dead from a fall down the stairs. Her reaction tells us right away that she’s not just a regular housewife. First she thinks how to cover it up, and then she gives up on that and blows town, making sure to leave no trail.

As she moves through a series of identities and towns, I’m reminded of one of my other favorite chameleons, Thomas Perry’s Jane Whitefield, although unlike Jane she is a self-professed amateur: “I’m an almost-average civilian with no special surveillance skills to speak of. I don’t know how you evade a pursuer. I only had basic logic and a strong survival instinct ...” She also has a strong phobia about riding in the passenger seat of a car, which of course ties into the reason she has to stay on the run.

Lutz stays solidly on my “must-read” list.

“Dark Debts,” by Karen Hall. Simon & Schuster, 416 pages.

Karen Hall is a successful screenwriter who wrote one spooky book and then never wrote another. (No, that’s not the plot of a book; that’s the actual fact.) For the 20th-anniversary reissue, Hall took the opportunity to revise and take a new run at the ending. “Dark Debts” is a beautiful slice of supernatural gothic with characters you’d like to know and a well-drawn Southern backdrop. Also, Hall and her husband own Black Bear Books in Boone, so if you’re up that way after the book goes on sale this Tuesday, stop in for a signed copy.

“The Madwoman Upstairs,” by Catherine Lowell. Touchstone, 352 pages.

If you immediately thought of “The Madwoman in the Attic,” you’ll be delighted with this breezy Bronte-centric tale. Oxford student Samantha Whipple is the sole surviving descendant of the famous writing family, but she is clueless about the location of the “Vast Bronte Estate” that the literary community suspects her family has concealed for generations.

But someone may be leaving clues in her eccentric tower room at Oxford – books from her father’s library, which she thought were lost in a fire.

“Fool Me Once,” by Harlan Coben. Dutton, 400 pages.

War veteran Maya Burkett suffers from PTSD and is being targeted by a whistleblower site over civilian deaths in a rescue operation. She has lost her sister and then her husband in shootings that seem unrelated. When she sees her dead husband reappear in a nanny cam video that then goes missing, she goes on the offensive with help from her platoon members and, surprisingly, the online whistleblower, to try to find the truth. Lots of twists in this one.