Detective Inspector Joona Linna is back in The Nightmare, Lars Kepler’s latest, read by Mark Bramhall. Linna, who has the complex appeal of Stieg Larsson’s Mikael Blomkvist and the intensity of Jo Nesbø’s Harry Hole, without the excess baggage, is faced with two odd deaths: the drowning of peace activist Penelope Fernandez’s sister, found in dry clothes on an abandoned pleasure boat, and the suicide or murder of the overseer of Swedish weapons exports. As Linna begins to connect the deaths, he and his team burrow into a brutal world of political cover-ups and covert arms shipments directed by a merciless Italian weapons dealer who revels in the havoc, mental and physical, that he wreaks. The Nordic thriller gene is certainly part of the literary DNA of Lars Keplar (the nom de plume of a Swedish writing couple). This is crime fiction with real depth, multifaceted characters and a relentless, pounding pace.

A WASP’S NEST
Seating Arrangements, Maggie Shipstead’s wonderfully rendered debut novel, is a smart, witty comedy of manners unafraid of looking at some of the baser modalities of Brahmin behavior. We’re on an exclusive Island off Cape Cod, where upper-crust WASPs summer with their families, where Winn Van Meter will walk his eldest daughter down the aisle in just two days. What should be a joy-filled, if gin-soaked, idyll teeters on catastrophe when Winn’s middle-aged lust for one of his daughter’s gorgeous, flirtatious bridesmaids overrides his staid good sense and good manners. Of course, there are other lurking family frailties: The blissful bride is seven months pregnant, her younger sister has been thrown over by the son of one of Winn’s Harvard classmates and Winn just can’t get into the island’s most elite golf club—a disappointment that says volumes about his priorities and pale passions. Arthur Morey’s delivery of Shipstead’s pitch-perfect prose is pitch-perfect itself.

TOP PICK IN AUDIO
M.L. Stedman’s assured first novel, The Light Between Oceans, begins on a spit of an island miles off Australia’s western coast where Tom Sherbourne, wanting peace after his harrowing years in the trenches of WWI, becomes lighthouse keeper in 1920. He brings Isabel, the feisty, loving, local girl he’s married, to his isolated haven, and life is happy. But after four years and three devastating miscarriages, Isabel’s buoyant spirit is worn to a despondent nub. When a boat washes up holding a dead man and a crying baby, Isabel sees the child now lying in her arms as a “gift from God.” She wants the little girl; Tom wants to tell the authorities. By never passing judgment on her eloquently drawn characters, Stedman puts you in their lives and them in your heart as the consequences of their decision play out in a wrenching, beautifully wrought arc of inevitability. I cried my eyes out as Noah Taylor’s superbly nuanced reading came to an end, not wanting to leave these tragic, compelling characters.

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