Books in the time of coronavirus
There aren’t many upsides to living in the time of coronavirus but catching up on good crime books (by women, of course) is one of them. Sisters in Crime asked its author members what they could recommend. And don’t forget, if you don’t want to buy any of these books from your local bookstore (whilst they’re still open) or online, you can get a lot of books these days online (or as audio books) from your library.
If you have a book you would like to recommend, please send details through to firstname.lastname@example.org and follow the format below.
Leila Slimani, Lullaby (Faber & Faber, 2018). The cover lines read: “The baby is dead. It only took a few seconds.” And while I’m not one for spoilers, I applaud the publisher for making it clear that’s what this book is about – the murder of a baby. It’s so much more than that tragedy though. This novel, based on a true case, tells the story of the nanny (a complicated woman who has struggled all her life) and, in a lesser way, the baby’s parents, and explores some very fraught issues about mothering, poverty and inequality. It’s a short, fascinating book that, as the clich goes, will really make you think…
Catherine O’Flynn, What Was Lost (Tindal Street Press, 2007). I love the earnest 10-year-old detective character we begin with in this debut novel. Also the setting, a shopping mall in Birmingham UK, is memorably bleak. Although the story becomes a tad confused, on my watch anyway, I liked the way the odd assortment of characters and setting are foregrounded and the mystery hazy, somewhere in the background.
Dervla McTiernan, The Good Turn (Harper Collins, 2020). You sink into her books and know you are in good hands. Good writing, interesting characters and a great story with woven threads that get expertly pulled together.
Anna Downes, The Safe Place (Affirm Press, 2020). Anna Downes is a debut Aussie author, and her novel is a tension-filled psychological thriller set in Europe. A young woman with a failed acting career is invited to become the caretaker for a fabulous estate on the coast of France. But the circumstances of her employment are suspicious, as is everyone she meets at the property, and a sense of dread starts to fill her.
Belinda Castles, Bluebottle (Allen and Unwin, 2018). A beautifully written and gripping psychological drama set on Sydney’s north shore, triggered by the abduction of a local teenager.
Donna Leon, My Venice and Other Essays (Grove Press, 2013). Although this book is not crime fiction as such, My Venice by Donna Leon gave me a wonderful insight into her life in Venice as well as a number of observations and opinions. My favourite essay was the description of a conversation with another talented writer, Ruth Rendell, during dinner. As I sat, eating my spaghetti outside a little restaurant on via Giuseppe Garibaldi last year, I could not help but remember this essay and smile in memory of that wonderful discussion.
Kate Mascarenhas, The Psychology of Time Travel (Crooked Lane Books, 2019). The invention of time-travel is the historical event many of us hoped to live through, so why not enjoy this alternate reality? Fifty years after four women scientists invent time travel, one of them turns up dead. A really entertaining, clever book that combines a locked-room mystery with an unusual time-travel universe.
Dame Fiona Kidman, This Mortal Boy (RHNZ Vintage, 2018). A fictionalised account of the events that resulted in one of the last executions in New Zealand, this gripping novel won three awards including the Ngaio Marsh Award for Best Crime Novel. The story has nothing to do with viruses, lock-downs, or toilet paper riots – thankfully! It’ll keep you distracted for hours.
Kassandra Montag, After the Flood (HarperCollins, 2019). I chose this thriller/speculative fiction because it is set at a time of global catastrophe in 2030, when the Earth has long since been swallowed up by formidable flooding. It’s a mother-daughter story about loneliness and survival and a desperate search for the missing daughter at a time when human contact is fraught with danger.
Emily Maguire, An Isolated Incident (Pan MacMillan, 2017). The isolation in the title of this short(ish), sharp novel is, like Covid-19 isolation, not as singular or simple as it might sound. Bella’s murder is unsolved, her older sister Chris is in shut-down, alternately besieged and discarded by police, press, the population of her small town: this is a mystery that makes the reader really think about the ripple effects of crime/crisis.
Patricia Highsmith, The Talented Mr Ripley (Cresset Press, 1955). You’ll know this one but what better to do while you’re stuck at home than to take a trip to Italy? Pretty much anyone’s life seems better that ours right now so it’s fun to read along with Tom Ripley pretending to be someone far more glamorous and secure. The seaside AND Venice, in one elegant, thrilling read. And in the end you get to go to Greece, too. (Note: there are numerous current editions of this book.)
Candice Fox, Gathering Dark (Penguin Books Australia, 31 March 2020). Stand-alone crime thriller from one of Australia’s finest crime writers. Candice Fox never fails to disappoint, her writing is expert, her characters quirky and she’s an author who actively helps emerging authors coming up the ladder. With a new bub just arrived, it’s a great time to support this Aussie talent.
Lynne Vincent McCarthy’s The Lonely Girl (Pan Macmillan, 2018). I was going to recommend something light and funny but hey, I skew dark… Ana is a reclusive young woman on the verge of ending her life. But when a local woman is murdered, Ana thinks she knows who the killer is. And decides to keep him for herself… Set in Tasmania, The Lonely Girl is dark, gothic and utterly engrossing. And OK, something light and funny too – if you haven’t read Sue William’s Rusty Bore series (Text Publishing) featuring fish and chip shop owner and amateur sleuth, Cass Tuplin, get stuck into it.
Kerry Greenwood, Earthly Delights (Allen and Unwin, 2004). They say that laughter is the best way to relieve stress, so this body-positive romp with baker-turned-detective Corinna Chapman might just help with that. Corinna meets a handsome stranger, gets tangled up with vampires, goths, and bondage, and solves the mystery of who is threatening her life with great panache.