Whodunit: Jack Batten
A Risky Undertaking For Loretta SingletaryBy Terry ShamesSeventh Street, 283 pages, $15.95
As fans of the good-natured series featuring Samuel Craddock are aware, Loretta Singletary is Samuel’s neighbour, a sixtyish widow who is generous about sharing her scrumptious baked goods. Both characters reside in the modestly sized mid-Texas community of Jason Creek where Samuel, also 60-something, serves as chief of police.
It’s when Loretta mysteriously vanishes that Samuel needs to put his sleuthing skills to work. Very quickly he discovers that his neighbour has been checking out an online dating service for older singles. Is this, for Loretta, “a risky undertaking”? Samuel thinks so, and when a couple of other women of Loretta’s age similarly disappear, Samuel has a major investigation on his hands.
The enjoyable sleuthing story brings with it a curious twist after the Baptist Church gets involved. A benign addition to the narrative, one would expect? Not so in a book like this one, which shapes the Baptists as perhaps the ultimate bad guys of the piece.
Hunting GameBy Helene TurstenSoho, 288 pages, $26.95
After 10 books in her highly satisfying Inspector Irene Huss series, the Swedish writer Helene Tursten gives us a new lead character, a cop named Embla Nystrom, who differs in every major category from Huss. Where Irene is fortyish, married to a chef, mother of two daughters, goes at sleuthing in a thoughtful style, Embla is 28, unmarried, a boxing champion, impetuous and physical.
In her first appearance, Embla is on vacation, spending it in an annual weeklong moose hunt in the deep Swedish wilderness. The other hunters include some of the country’s wealthiest businesspeople. When one of them turns up dead, possibly murdered, and another goes missing, Embla takes a lead in the investigation. By the time she’s done, she has established herself as a highly attractive character, maybe offending in her overly spontaneous style, but still a bright light among young Swedish cop characters.
Last NightBy Karen EllisMulholland, 352 pages, $35
Except that he’s growing up in Brooklyn, not Hawaii, the 18-year-old known as Crisp comes across as a Barack Obama clone. Crisp, a sweet kid, is incredibly bright (class valedictorian, headed for Princeton), has a white mother and an absentee Black father.
Crisp may also be a trifle naïve, and somehow, mostly through happenstance and one lousy decision, he falls into the clutches of a drug dealer/killer. The plot appears open to movement in many directions, but most of all what we readers fret about is the damage that might be done to Crisp’s Obamalike future. Will it survive all the threatening nastiness? That depends on what the cops, who include a couple of highly original characters, make of the case.
A Version of the TruthBy B.P. WalterAvon, 350 pages, $23.99
This first novel presents a perverse and daring chronicle of sexual excesses among men and women of the contemporary English ruling classes.
The increasingly creepy story evolves in two alternating locations and time frames. One is Oxford University in 1990, and the other is the well-to-do Knightsbridge area of London in 2019. Two women take turns narrating the tale, which features the same characters in each era. The men are splendid students and tireless seekers after sex of all sorts in the first period; then in the second period, while they become powerful in politics and business, they appear to be up to something sexually unspeakable. The women meanwhile serve mainly in facilitating capacities in the areas of both sex and career.
It’s easy to identify the immediate victim of all these shenanigans. It’s what happens when one of the men falters that the sinister story explodes in ways that are calculated to shake readers unexpectedly and definitively.
Jack Batten’s Whodunit column appears monthly.