Gossip can be dangerous, but it’s always delicious. And Joseph Epstein’s extended essay, Gossip, is truly delectable. It could have been a serious, and seriously dull, treatise on why we gossip and how this often vicious, destructive—though hugely entertaining—activity can also serve worthy purposes. But Epstein has peppered Gossip with so many examples of juicy dirt, and such a rich rogue’s gallery of great gossipers and gossipees, that it makes you feel like you’re in with the in crowd and getting great scuttlebutt. The desire to gossip seems to be hardwired in us. Now, it’s an industry and an ever-larger part of our everyday lives in this totally connected global village. Epstein, an unabashed connoisseur of gossip, whose preference runs to the literary, “analytical and refined” variety (many delightful examples of his chosen dirty linen are included) doesn’t expect anyone to stop “confessing other people’s sins,” he just advises that we strain the skinny and the scoop that comes our way through “skeptical intelligence.” Arthur Morey reads with such breezy ease that you forget that Epstein isn’t doing the honors himself.

Elizabeth George has outdone herself in Believing the Lie, expertly narrated by Davina Porter, by embedding a super soap opera, awash in scandal, secrets and sexual indiscretions, in her 17th D.I. Thomas Lynley novel. Still grieving for his murdered wife, but embroiled in a steamy affair with his superior officer at New Scotland Yard, Lynley is dispatched to the Lake District at the behest of his superior’s superior. He’s to investigate the “accidental” drowning of a wealthy captain of industry’s nephew and CFO that may not have been so accidental. Once there, Lynley finds a full cast of family members with motives, including the deceased’s outraged former wife and his gay Iranian lover. Added to this heady mix is a plethora of subplots from the woes of infertility to sociopaths making snuff films. Not Lynley-lite, but heavy on non-murderous melodrama.

Oslo detective Harry Hole, seeking solace in drugs after the Snowman serial killer ordeal, and dragging his Nordic melancholia and heavy emotional baggage with him, is in Hong Kong when he shows up in Jo Nesbø’s latest, relentlessly gripping thriller, The Leopard. Lured back to Norway by a beautiful colleague and a string of grisly killings, Harry falls into a maelstrom of malevolence, murder, torture, psychological manipulation and brutal brushes with death in the icy cold of an avalanche and the humid heat of the war-ravaged Congo. It’s a tough case; clues are scattered, motives hard to fathom. A nasty police turf war muddies the already murky waters, but the body count and the tension keep rising. Only when Harry sees through the layers of deception and into the timeless power of hate can he focus on the killer. Robin Sachs, who narrated The Snowman with such aplomb, does it again here.

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