Books

3 for the nightstand, and one might give nightmares

“Since We Fell” by Dennis Lehane. Ecco, 432 pages.

If you read one mystery from the May crop, make it this one. It’s got romance, it’s got scams within scams, and it’s got those Dennis Lehane characters who could walk right off the page and sit down and talk to you.

Rachel Childs is looking for her father. Her mother, an epic character who continually postpones the conversation where she will tell Rachel his identity, dies before revealing it. Rachel is also a pretty epic character, with anxiety issues that cause a breakdown while she’s reporting from Haiti on live television, which in the viral age is a career-killer if not worse. The search for her father leads to Rachel meeting the love of her life, Brian Delacroix, who becomes her safe harbor after the breakdown, but is not what he seems. To say more would be to commit grievous spoilers, so go enjoy the journey of discovery.

“House of Names” by Colm Toibin. Scribner, 288 pages.

If a retelling of the Greek legend of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra sounds dry, think how the storyline of “Game of Thrones” would sound if it were just the names and the essential plot points.

Colm Toibin, who also wrote the beautiful period piece “Brooklyn,” about immigrants in the 1950s, has a gift for writing from inside an era – no anachronisms here, just a fully realized world with smells and sounds and inner monologues and even ghosts.

Honestly, the opening scenes detailing the brutal, treacherous murder of Iphigenia by her own father to assure his victory in battle would normally have tripped my “mom trigger” and stopped me reading, but Clytemnestra’s intricate plot for ice-cold revenge was irresistible. Toibin tells the story alternately from her point of view and those of Iphigenia’s brother Orestes, who is abducted and imprisoned, and sister Electra who holds her mother responsible for Iphigenia’s death. It’s a bloody story and chilling even in synopsis, but this full-blown imagining held me to the bitter end.

“What My Body Remembers” by Agnete Friis. Soho Crime, 304 pages.

I enjoyed “The Boy in the Suitcase,” co-written by Agnete Friis, and her first solo novel also is a winner.

The main character is a welfare mom in Copenhagen. Ella Nygaard is about to lose custody of her 11-year-old son, so she decamps for her hometown, where the two lie low in her grandmother’s decrepit seaside house. Ella’s family is notorious in the town because her mother was shot to death and her father served time in prison for the crime.

The transition from city squalor to fresh air and country life doesn’t solve their money problems or turn Ella into an upright citizen, but she starts to piece together memories of the night her mother died. Meanwhile she unwillingly renews old acquaintances and somehow acquires a roomer, in spite of her prickly personality.

Friis’ story survives translation possibly because the gritty details of poverty are universal, and because we’re pulling for Ella.

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