THE HOUSE AT SEA’S END
By Elly Griffiths
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $25

Two chapters into Elly Griffiths’ “The House at Sea’s End,”  I was reminded of an old saying that “Satan on his way to hell ruined Norfolk as he fell,” suggesting why this English county has a distinctive, dangerous, but wildly beautiful landscape. This geography and its impact on character make Griffith’s novel, the third in her noteworthy series with archaeologist Ruth Galloway, such a wonderful atmospheric mystery.

The story begins at the end of Galloway’s maternity leave with the discovery of six skeletons, World War I soldiers “buried under a remote drift” on the Norfolk coast. This situation is complicated by the fact that the father of Galloway’s child, married detective Harry Nelson, is in charge of the investigation. Galloway lives in a tiny cottage in an isolated village, her lifestyle reflecting her fierce independence and her passion for preserving the past. When the identities of the soldiers reveal a connection to Operation Lucifer, a covert op during the war, I wondered if the old saying was also suggesting that evil can map a territory across time and place.

Galloway’s belief that it’s a “human right to know our dead” motivates her story.

THE INVISIBLE ONES
By Stef Penney
Putnam, $25.95

Finding the dead is the impetus behind Stef Penney’s “The Invisible Ones,” a superb novel with two richly drawn narrators. The first is Ray Lovell, a “half-gypsy private investigator” hired to find Rose Janko, who’s been presumed dead for seven years. Ray’s story starts from a hospital bed where he’s remembering his search for Rose. Ray is blunt in his manner and in his descriptions (“tea bags floating like drowned mice”), but he can be as witty and noble as his fictional hero, Philip Marlowe. The second narrator is 11-year-old JJ, the nephew of Rose’s gypsy husband, Ivo Janko. JJ is articulate, self-aware and smart. He reveals the inside world of travelers to us, one I don’t think I’ve ever encountered through such a unique voice before. We learn quickly that it’s a culture of “harsh rules” for women and children, rules making it difficult even for Ray to breach the Janko family’s wall of superstitions and secrets. Slowly and skillfully, Penney builds suspense around the pings — the ah-ha moments — she reveals to us in JJ’s narration that have relevance to Ray’s investigation until her ending twists in a way I didn’t see coming.

BELIEVING THE LIE
By Elizabeth George
Dutton, $28.95

Thanks to my semester break, what I did see coming was extra reading time, and thanks to Elizabeth George’s “Believing the Lie,” I spent it with some of my favorite series characters, Inspector Thomas Lynley and his partner, Barbara Havers. For longtime fans, this is the book we’ve been waiting for as it includes the return of Deborah and Simon St. James as significant players in Lynley’s covert investigation. Reluctantly going undercover to investigate the drowning of a wealthy man’s nephew, Lynley finds himself investigating the entire family, revealing multiple suspects, multiple motives and far too many secrets for Lynley’s own good. In this her 17th novel, George has written another weighty complex psychological mystery.

CUT AND RUN
By Matt Hilton
Harper, $9.99

Finally, while I was reading Matt Hilton’s thriller “Cut and Run,” the twitchy passenger sitting behind me on a recent plane trip suddenly was no longer annoying. Special Ops problem-solver and pretty cool dude, Joe Hunter finds his violent past catches up to him disguised in the violence of a spree killer who wreaks havoc in Florida and in Hunter’s life.

Carole E. Barrowman is a professor of English at Alverno College.


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