Ever want to disappear, escape from your life? When I find a good book that’s exactly what happens. I lean towards the genres of Historical Fiction, Mystery, and occasional a combination of both.
The list of subjects found under the mystery genre is long: there’s paranormal and knitting and everything in-between. Super sleuth I’m not but I have discovered my own pattern of favorites:
- Missing Persons
Below is a list of mysteries I read over the last year that reflect these topics. Each story is similar in that the reader is lead down his or her detective path exploring and imagining possible outcomes. What’s different is the style, tone, circumstances, and scenarios ranging from atmospheric/contemplative to thriller/page turner.
The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
I read The Vanishing Half when it first came out last spring. Set in a fictional small town, the story begins in the 1950’s spanning to the 90’s. A pair of twin sisters take two different life paths when they conspire to escape to New Orleans for a better life. Stella finds work in an office and is wooed by the ‘good life’ and the attraction of her boss. She accepts his proposal leaving all others behind. Her light brown skin tone grants her access into a new world, one she is determined to keep hidden and separate from her past. Desiree’s dreams, however, don’t materialize as she imagined. More historical fiction than mystery, The Vanishing Half addresses emotional issues of family and race. Bennett’s characterizations make this a compelling read.
Lost Boy Found by Kirsten Alexander
In 1913, long before television and radio were a source of communication, four-year-old Sonny Davenport wanders off the family’s vacation property. A huge search party ensues without a lead. Shock and fear turn into a depression and desolation that unravels a once happy family. Desperate to appease his wife Mary, John resorts to taking matters in his own hands. Using his wealth and the power of persuasion, blame is pinned on the poor and innocent which even by today’s standards seems unconscionable.
The Red Lotus by Chris Bohjalian
Red Lotus captured my attention immediately. Austin and his new girlfriend, an ER doctor, are on a bicycling tour in Vietnam. Near the end of their trip, Austin insists on taking a solo bike ride against their tour guide’s safety warnings. The reader learns right away of his demise. A complex plot involving an illegal international web follows. “The Red Lotus is a fascinating story of those who dedicate their lives to saving people, and those who instead peddle death to the highest bidder“… provided by the publisher.
Before She Was Helen by Caroline Cooney
Over the course of working from home, I listened to a podcast featuring authors discussing their latest novels. Beloved children’s author Cooney announced she had written her first adult novel. Before She Was Helen interested me because the story depicts a complex older woman as the main character. Helen goes ‘missing’ intentionally, creating two separate lives: the one her family knows about and the other she portrays living in her retirement community. Helen gets tangled unwittingly in a murder when she sends an incriminating text to her nephew with an attached photo. Humorous and heartbreaking, Before She Was Helen is a murder mystery and more.
When the Stars go Dark by Paula McLain
Pivoting from historical fiction (The Paris Wife) to a missing person’s investigation, McLain’s latest book did not disappoint. Several young women turn up missing in a northwest coastal region of California. Kidnapped? Runaways? Are the events related? Suffering from her own trauma, San Francisco detective Anna Hart returns to her hometown of Mendocino, California to re-evaluate and take a needed break. Anna can’t rest when she learns of one local young girl who has disappeared without explanation.
“As past and present collide, Anna realizes that she has been led to this moment… As Anna becomes obsessed with these missing girls, she must learn that true courage means getting out of her own way and learning to let others in.”–provided by the publisher.
The Sanatorium by Sarah Pearse
My grandmother used to say: “Location, Location, Location!” Of course she was referring to real estate, but I can say that the same rings true in classic murder mystery. Think Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express or Lifeboat directed by Alfred Hitchcock … the setting can create suspense.
Perched on a cliff in the Swiss Alps, a renovated sanatorium turned upscale hotel, Le Sommet, is the setting for this thriller. A murder is followed by an avalanche that blocks the local police out, isolating guests, staff, and the killer setting the tone for this fast-paced novel. Weary and unsettled Elin Warner is on a leave of absence as a detective in the UK. Invited to join the celebration of her estranged brother and former girlfriend Laure. When Laure disappears old suspicions and tensions mount. Suspense ratchets up as the storm intensifies. The Sanatorium is more of a whodunit than a missing person; a debut novel sure to climb the best seller lists. So, here’s my take on a good mystery: it needs to be engaging, provide multifaceted characters, and be a story that sweeps you away to a different era or intriguing location. In my early days reading mysteries I was pacified with the predictable, but I quickly tired of reading the same author who invariably employed a similar plot and characters for each novel.
Finishing a good mystery is a bit like putting the last piece in a jigsaw puzzle.