How to Be Safe by Tom McAllister
Anna Crawford learns she wasn’t just suspended from her teaching job at a small, Pennsylvania high school when she sees herself on the news with the headline “Former Teacher Had Motive” referring to a shooting at the school that left seventeen dead and many more injured. Though the teenager responsible for the massacre is quickly caught, Anna finds herself and her life in her small hometown under a microscope, fueling a media frenzy and a public outcry for which no one is ready. As Anna finds herself the target of scrutiny, though why she’s not sure, she finds herself reconnecting with her younger brother Calvin and former boyfriend Robbie, reassessing her family life growing up; Anna, who was considered “unpredictable” by her principal, has not yet found a new job, and spends much of her time considering the tragedy, why some people became victims while others escaped, the process of public mourning, speaking out against the planned permanent memorial, and the inevitable gun control debate that ensues. This is a searing, keenly observed, in some ways an indictment of the face of tragedy, the blame that follows, and the often tending toward hypocrisy of a post-tragedy culture as well as more general social issues such as misogyny and religious fervor taking the place of understanding and compassion. This novel could not be timelier and is sure to spark discussion among all who read it, and everyone should.
The Shadow of Death by Jane Willan
In North Wales’s Gwenafwy Abbey, Sister Agatha, the librarian and aspiring mystery writer, tries her hand at solving a local murder when Jacob, the local sexton is found dead in the abbey’s cheese barn under wheels of the abbey’s award winning Heavenly Gouda. The local constable dismisses the death as an accident, but Agatha, who has steeped herself in mystery novels from Sherlock Holmes to her namesake Dame Agatha, to Stephanie Plum, sees clues at every turn and begins to become suspicious of seemingly disparate events: the theft of a valuable Communion set from the local church, a fire in the cheese barn, and the sabotage of Heavenly Gouda’s entry in the prestigious cheese contest. With Father Selwyn as her gumshoe, Agatha begins to connect the dots while Reverend Mother and the other sisters contemplate how they can become more relevant to their local community as they receive veiled threats from the local bishop that she may close the abbey. The colorful women in this religious community make this atmosphere shimmer with energy; Sister Agatha’s enthusiasm to solve Jacob’s murder and figure out all the odd goings on provide a mystery to untangle while providing a broader view of the community in which the abbey lives. The delightful North Wales setting gives this debut an old-fashioned cozy feel with modern twists. Readers will be eager for more from Sister Agatha and Father Selwyn.
Too Close to Breath by Olivia Kiernan
Dublin-based Detective Chief Superintendent Frankie Sheehan has returned to work after almost being killed while pursuing a murderer: Her first case upon her return is the apparent hanging suicide of Professor Eleanor Costello. Frankie is happy to let it go as a suicide, but when the autopsy results come back and indicate Eleanor may not have committed suicide Frankie knows she must investigate: a fresh wound edged in Blue Prussian paint and multiple healed injuries make Frankie suspect Eleanor was abused. Eleanor’s husband Peter is nowhere to be found and his sister insists she hasn’t seen him in several weeks. The Costello’s home appears orderly, carefully controlled order even, though a laptop has been found which reveals a surprise: access to the Dark Web with recent activity on a site for people who fantasize about experiencing death without actually dying. A second death ties back to Peter, who still cannot be located, though Frankie is receiving hang up calls that can be traced to Peter’s cell phone. The more Frankie investigates, the more Eleanor’s carefully crafted life comes apart. A longtime detective, Frankie relies on her instincts and they are telling her she’s missing something, both with Eleanor’s case and her previous case that is now being tried. When Frankie finds the missing link, it proves to be more disturbing than imagined in this complex, very dark, but ultimately satisfying debut thriller.