Off the Shelf: The mysteries of winter

“When they found my sister’s body, the flyers we’d hung around town were still crisp against the telephone poles” begins “The Winter Sister” by Megan Collins. Sylvie is 14 when her sister Persephone crawls out their window to secretly meet her boyfriend, Ben, and never returns. Well, she actually does, and what happens then is one of the secrets that will haunt Sylvie for years. Between Sylvie’s own guilt and her hatred for Ben, who she is certain killed her sister, returning home to take care of her ailing, isolated mother is extremely difficult for her. But home turns out to be where she accidentally runs into Ben again and hears his story, and where she also begins to uncover her own mother’s secrets. While this is a murder mystery, it isn’t a police procedural, it is more a study of relationships and secrets, and how even if you live with someone, you might not really know them.

Talk about not really knowing someone; that’s the whole setup of “The Hunting Party” by Lucy Foley. A group of longtime friends, who traditionally celebrate New Year’s together, reserve spots in an isolated Scottish Highland estate right before a historic blizzard socks them in. Four couples and their single friend share the estate with a creepy, hiking Icelandic couple, a gamesman, and the estate’s manager. Right from the beginning you know someone has gone missing and is dead, which makes one of them a murderer. Everyone has a few secrets and more than one of them holds a grudge. What makes this book different from other country house murder mysteries is that while you get the backstories of all of the people, the big reveal of who is missing doesn’t come until the end. Since not every character is likeable I kept inserting various ones onto the murdered person, trying different configurations to figure it out. The only thing I did know was who I didn’t want to be the murderer.

If you read “Crimson Lake” last year then you will have already met Ted and Amanda and won’t need any introduction. But if you’d like one, here’s a refresher: Ted is the likable ex-cop, wrongly accused sexual predator who fled Sydney, friends, family, and job, to start over in a remote place where his closest neighbors are crocs. There he met Amanda; whimsical, wonky, wounded Amanda, a known killer, who upon being released from prison started her own private investigation company. Eventually Amanda and Ted, odd ones out and outsiders, pair up to solve crimes. Candice Fox’s newest, “Redemption Point,” picks up with Ted as repercussions from his past return to haunt him and Amanda as a new murder case grabs her attention. And I know what you’re thinking: are Ted’s geese still safe and well? Yes and yes. Newbies to the series won’t understand but it was the geese who first alerted me to Ted’s innate goodness, when he rescues them from a croc and spends almost his last dime at the vet making sure they are okay. In this book the geese remain part of his closest confidants, his peace, his family, when the rest of the world closes in on him. And close in it does, as Ted continues to fight to clear his name, he and Amanda are called in to help the police solve a double murder in a rundown roadside bar called the Barking Frog Inn. I love returning to Australia to follow Fox’s unusual, unique characters and the trouble they get into.  

Opening with a quote from the movie” The War of the Roses” “How do you hold on to someone who won’t stay? And how do you get rid of someone who won’t go?” is a good set up for “As Long As We Both Shall Live” by Joann Chaney.  Twenty plus years of marriage, everyone has problems. But some couples take “til death do we part” too seriously. Matt and Marie go hiking in the mountains, Matt walks down, Marie takes a quicker route. While witnesses heard her screams for help, Matt swears he was nowhere near her when she fell. With little to no proof of murder, the police are stymied until they find out that Matt was married before. And his wife died mysteriously. The reader gathers bits and threads to put the story together; this one goes places you don’t expect. It is surprisingly fun in a very dark, bitter way. 

These snowy, cold days can keep us inside, but curling up with a good mystery can take you all sorts of places while we wait for spring. Come in and check something out.

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