Strap in, mystery fans. May brings a barrage of good books. Here are six to add to your reading list.
“The 100 Year Miracle,” by Ashley Ream. Flatiron, 320 pages.
A scientist who lives with unimaginable pain is tempted by the Holy Grail: a powerful analgesic she suspects is in a rare oceanic species that “blooms” glowing green in its once-a-century breeding cycle (the 100-year miracle of the title). In highly illegal tests on herself, she is proved right, but the hallucinogenic side effects keep us wondering through most of the story whether the opening cliffhanger was a real attack or a paranoid delusion. Ashley Ream beautifully renders the minute-by-minute agonies of living with chronic pain, and even more beautifully the exquisite relief of being able to move again, pain-free. She also jumps from voice to voice with deep understanding – a scientist who is “on the spectrum,” a dying composer, the composer’s ex-wife who chants “positivity” mantras to try to stave off despair. Every page holds little treasures of observation. Baristas “brought peppermint tea and warm cherry pie to Tilda’s table, which was the sort of thing Tilda liked in a person.” The composer’s degenerative neurological disease “was as though he were always having that awkward moment of thinking there was one more stair and discovering too late and with a jolt up his shin that there was not.”
“City of the Lost,” by Kelley Armstrong. Minotaur, 416 pages.
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What if there were a whole town that’s not on any map, where people go to disappear when being tracked by an abusive spouse or otherwise needing to become invisible? Would it only attract victims or would some predators also eventually find their way there? If that happened, you might eventually need a good homicide detective, which is how policewoman Casey Duncan finds herself in the Yukon Territory. It’s an offbeat premise with a disturbing playout as Casey discovers the odd ways people adapt to a life so far off the grid.
“The Last Good Girl,” by Allison Leotta. Touchstone, 304 pages
Sex-crimes prosecutor Anna Curtis, barely finished writing up the reports from her previous adventure (“A Good Killing”), is asked to help investigate the disappearance of a college rape victim, last seen on surveillance video being chased by her rapist. Allison Leotta gives us a guided tour through campus rape culture – maybe not a tour you would jump at taking, unless it’s led by an outraged prosecutor.
“The Assistants,” by Camille Perri. Putnam, 288 pages.
This is pure fun. The underpaid assistant to a media mogul gets an accidental expense check big enough to pay off her crippling student loan. So, after an agonized inner debate, she does. The only person who notices is another assistant, who won’t say a word as long as they use the same financial fiddle to pay off her loan ... and from there, the pool of insiders grows. Camille Perri uses a bright, savvy style (“we were in fact an Oxygen network original series waiting to happen.”) to deliver a serious message about income inequality and student debt.
“Wilde Lake,” by Laura Lippman. William Morrow, 368 pages.
Lu Brant has reached her goal: She holds the job her father once did, state’s attorney for Howard County, Md. In flashbacks, she relives a life-changing episode from her teen years as we watch the long-delayed end of the story play out in current day. Like a depth charge exploded in 1980 whose impact bubbles to the surface decades later, the actions of Lu’s brother AJ and his friends bring death to her doorstep and reveal terrible family deceptions. Laura Lippman apparently lived during her teen years in Columbia, Md., the odd planned community where the drama unfolds, so we get a bit of a history lesson and a time capsule of the 1980s.
“Boar Island,” by Nevada Barr. Minotaur, 384 pages.
Ranger Anna Pigeon and her posse from Destroyer Angel reunite in the face of a new threat. Teen Elizabeth is being cyberbullied and needs to get out of town. Anna is due to substitute for a ranger in a remote area of Maine, so the fierce ladies who bested brutal thugs in the Iron Range of Minnesota now find themselves on a remote island. The threat follows them, and a new one is already there waiting in the form of an unhinged ranger who is planning a murderous abduction. Anna’s crew doesn’t look like much – a pediatrician in her 70s, a paraplegic and a teenage girl – but once again they prove formidable in combination. A great read, as always, from Nevada Barr.