Detective Elizabeth Harris has left her job with the NYPD after her husband is murdered and returns to her home county, Lancaster, PA, hoping the quieter pace, peace loving Amish peoples who live there will restore her mind, spirt and soul. Elizabeth’s hopes are dashed when “an English” (non-Amish) young woman is found dead, barely clothed, in the barn of an Amish farmer. The young woman is identified as Jessica Travis who Elizabeth learns, lives with her single mother in near poverty conditions. When she learns that an Amish girl, Katie Yoder, has been missing since October and that Jessica, with whom she was very close, reported her missing, Elizabeth fears the worse, fears that are realized when the body of a girl washes up on the shore in Maryland. Quickly the Amish community closes ranks and insists that God’s will has been and will be done and it is not up to them to judge, but Elizabeth and her colleagues feel differently and begin to suspect the girls were involved with sex for money and that Katie may have even been abused as a young child, perhaps by someone in their community. Complicating matters, and the case, for Elizabeth is Ezra Beiler for whom she feels an instant, intent and mutual attraction, something impossible to act upon were it not for the fact that Ezra has been planning on leaving his community for several years. Elizabeth’s boss’s continue to look for an outsider, though Elizabeth’s gut tells her to look within the community, a trail she follows even as she is afraid of what she’ll find at the end and whose lives may be altered, even ruined if she uncovers what she fears is true. A well-written, well-paced mystery that accurately portrays life in the Pennsylvania Dutch country with a damaged heroine who has come home to heal and may find more than she bargained for in the process. This is the first in a series that will have readers eager for the next installment.
The Crooked House by Christobel Kent
As a teenager, Alison was known as Esme and lived with her slightly eccentric family in a dismal house in a dismal town. After the events of an horrific evening, Esme is the only true survivor and goes to live with an aunt becoming Alison and living a quiet life, trying to overcome her memories and her past. When her boyfriend invites her to accompany him to a wedding in the her old town, she comes face to face with not only her personal recollections but those of a village who hasn’t quite forgotten and somewhere in the retelling of the tragedy, Alison begins to feel that the conclusions about that evening which were originally arrived at may be too pat and that someone in the village still holds the key to what really happened that night. Deeply disturbing, full of twists and turns, this suspense thriller offers many layers of each character as what they know of the events of that fateful night are slowly revealed.
Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin
This delightfully dishy novel perfectly captures the glamour and glitz of mid-20th century New York, breathing life into such characters as Truman Capote and William and Babe Paley making them and their friends seem alive. The novel starts with Capote’s “swans” as Babe Paley and her crowd where known as, gathering to skewer the now estranged Capote for revealing all their secrets in his writings, blaming him for the death of one of their own. The novel goes back and forth between this meeting during the mid-70’s to the mid-century as the story of Babe and how she came to be the wife of the president of CBS unfolds, and how she, and others in her circle became the close confidant of Truman Capote. While most of the story is told through the eyes of the swans, there are rare glimpses into how Capote views the events and relationships and his slow downward spiral from literary darling to being despised by his dearest friends. Details of the rich and famous, glamourous parties, gorgeous clothes and likable, real to life characters make this novel and enjoyable read. Melanie Benjamin has written another novel full of historical and marvelous, larger than life characters.
The Guest Room by Chris Bohjalian
As his brother’s best man, Richard Chapman thinks hosting Philip’s bachelor party in his suburban Westchester home is safer than a night on the town of drunken debauchery. With Richard’s wife Kristin and their daughter are spending the weekend with Kristin’s mother in Manhattan there will be plenty of time for the party and to clean-up any mess left over. What Richard doesn’t expect is that the two strippers his brother’s friend hired are more than strippers and come with Russian bodyguards, bodyguards that one of the women kills before the pair run off into the night with the money and the bodyguards’ car. At once, Richard is thrust into the public eye in a not so good way: his home is a crime scene, precious items he and Kristin have collected together over their lifetime have been ruined beyond repair, Richard’s investment banking firm has put him on leave, he has lost the trust of his wife and daughter and he is being blackmailed by the man who hired the entertainment for the party. Far worse than Richard’s situation is one of the girl’s, Alexandra, who is on the run from the police as well as the men who brought her to America and, if it is possible, from this life she is leading through none of her own choices. The story alternates between Richard’s story in the here and now, and Alexandra’s as she relates the events that led her to this place and time and the despair they each feel of ever having a chance at redemption for Richard and survival for Alexandra. These two stories deftly juxtaposed against each other reveal some of the same emotions, shame, fear and guilt, expressed and felt in much different ways but revealing nonetheless how tightly wound and held our lives can be. This heart-pounding thriller is woven into a reflection of how quickly all that we hold dear, no matter how insignificant it may seem to others, can be lost and the costs we face in order to regain ourselves.
What She Left by T. R. Richmond
One snowy night in London, twenty-five-year-old journalist Alice Salmon falls into the river and drowns. Everyone who knew Alice is shocked, and those closest to her try to make sense of what happened as she becomes a media darling, the world trying to decide her death was a tragic accident, a suicide or even murder. Alice’s former professor, anthropologist Jeremy Cooke has taken an unhealthy interest, bordering on obsessive, interest in Alice’s death and decides that, being at the end of his academic career, he will chronicle Alice’s life through the digital footprint, diaries, blogs, articles she wrote, tweets, Facebook posts and e-mails, perhaps finding meaning in her death. Alice’s friends and family are appalled at the temerity of this almost stranger delving into the young woman’s private life with such bravado, but little by little, Alice is revealed, as are her friends and family, and even Cooke himself, forming a different picture of the young woman everyone loved so dearly, a picture that might shed a different light on her death. A modern take on the epistolary novel, What She Left Behind also inserts the observations and opinions of an academic mind as Cooke draws conclusions from what he finds in Alice’s own words, the words of others and news stories about her. As more about Cooke is revealed, his project also becomes something of an apology, a way to mend past wrongs he may have committed. The intriguing structure of this novel will draw readers in quickly though quietly and will make them look beyond the Alice she carefully cultivated to show the world and find the secrets that led to this young woman’s death.
The Things We Keep by Sally Hepworth
Anna isn’t even forty and she is already seeing the signs of early onset Alzheimer’s and voluntarily agrees to go into an assisted living facility where she meets Jack, a man also not yet forty who has a disorder that will cause him to lose his language skills over time. The two are naturally drawn to each other and eventually, to the horror of Anna’s family, fall in love with each other. Eva has lost almost everything in her carefully constructed life and takes a job as the cook at the care facility to try and keep together what is left. While she is cautious with her own life and heart, Eva recognizes the love Anna and Jack share and finds an opportunity to help the couple be together, almost as if this is a way to help reconstruct the life she can no longer have, but at great cost to her and her daughter. There is a startling authenticity to Anna’s story as she struggles through the stages of dementia; though an imagined one for both Hepworth and reader, it feels right. Eva becomes almost a mirror for Anna as Eva chooses the things that she will keep and deem important as Anna struggles to find importance in the things that remain. A tragic event is seen in retrospect given more depth and layers to all the characters. A story to be held onto long after the final page is turned.
My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout
In the mid-80’s, Lucy Barton is healing in a Manhattan hospital after an appendectomy turns into an infection and fever that threatens her life and brings her estranged mother from Illinois to sit at her bedside while Lucy’s husband spends most of his time at work and home with their two young daughters. Lucy is a stranger to her mother, haunted by the poverty of her childhood, unable to connect with her mother, missing her daughters, reflecting on her life in New York, feeling isolated much of the time, watching the AIDS epidemic as it affects someone close to her without her realizing it until it’s too late. So much of Lucy’s life feels just out of her grasp, her story an achingly beautiful one as she learns to love, at the same time seeking forgiveness and finding it within herself to let go and forgive. Much of the time Lucy’s story feels familiar and yet we recoil from it as we see ourselves in her or her mother. A short, densely packed story with nary a wasted word, this reflection on a woman’s life will resonate with many readers.