Books

Death in a bookstore, a detectives meetup and an unreliable narrator stands out

“Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore,” by Matthew Sullivan. Scribner, 336 pages.

One of Agatha Christie’s tropes was making sure the deceased was someone we liked better as a corpse. Someone mean, or sneaky, someone who deserved it.

Not, like Matthew Sullivan’s victim, a beautiful, vulnerable young man we just want to bring back to life and hug. Joey is one of Lydia Smith’s BookFrogs, homeless men who spend the day in the Bright Ideas bookshop where she works. He hangs himself in the bookstore in the very first pages, and Lydia spends the rest of the book working out the clues he left. Joey’s clues lead oddly close to Lydia’s own secret past.

Tragically lovable victim aside, I think readers will enjoy this book because of its magic ingredient – books. Oddly, not that many books celebrate reading as a pastime, with characters who love books and are immersed in them either as a career or an escape. Sullivan’s characters almost all share that love, without feeling the need to declare it. Perhaps that’s not surprising since Sullivan is a former bookseller whose career includes a stint at the Tattered Cover in Denver.

“MatchUp,” edited by Lee Child. Simon & Schuster, 464 pages.

If it never occurred to you to wonder how Jack Reacher and Tempe Brennan would be if they teamed up, or what would happen if Cotton Malone traveled back in time and met Jamie Fraser, then you’re in luck because it did occur to the International Thriller Writers to start a series of Faceoff short story collections where writers explore what happens when their characters meet. In “MatchUp,” Lee Child takes it a step further – male and female series characters pair off here, and the result is a Whitman’s sampler of mystery favorites in unexpected combinations.

Just the list of pairings – Lisa Scottoline and Nelson Demille, Karin Slaughter and Michael Koryta, Val McDermid and Peter James, to name a few – should be enough to send you running to get this book. This collection has what garden catalogs call “hybrid vigor.” The authors clearly had fun working together, which makes the stories fun to read.

“he said/she said”by Erin Kelly. Minotaur, 400 pages.

Here is your “unreliable narrator” selection for June. There are multiples every month now, so you know it’s good if it makes the cut.

A couple relive in flashbacks an episode in their past that led to them to change their names and go incognito. During an eclipse festival in 1999, Laura stumbled across a sexual assault. We see her overreach in court and perjure herself to counter the defense claim that the sex was consensual.

After that the woman she was testifying to help befriends Laura and her husband Kit and then things get crazy. Flash forward to 2015, when Kit is going to another eclipse festival even though it’s possible the woman they’re hiding from will go there to try and find him.

Erin Kelly has a pleasantly crisp style and expertly hides the “unreliable” twist, which is getting harder to do as we read so many of these trendy plots.

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