The case for place: fall mystery reads where location is key

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Now that summer’s over, it’s a good time to catch up—courtesy of a great new mystery or thriller—on all that traveling you never got around to. BookTrib has sifted through the plethora of fall books and chosen four featuring fascinating locales, be they a broken-down Detroit, a World War II-era Los Angeles or an English seaside village. When you’re finished with these must-reads, you might be less likely to kick at a pile of autumn leaves during your travels—there could be a corpse underneath.

51Geh73moPL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes (Mulholland, Sept. 16. 2014)

Set in a contemporary, crumbling Detroit, Beukes’s fourth novel (following her breakout 2013 hit The Shining Girls) plunges readers into a terrifying mix of crime and the supernatural. Kirkus Reviews, in its starred review of Monsters, calls the South African novelist’s latest a “genuinely unsettling—in all the best ways—blend of suspense and the supernatural that makes this a serial-killer tale like you’ve never seen.” Weaving together multiple characters and storylines, Beukes unspools the grisly murder of an 11-year-old boy, whose dismembered body was found fused to the hindquarters of a deer in a bizarre display of human taxidermy. At the heart of the story is Detective Gabriella Versado, a seasoned cop who’s still shocked by the brutality of the crime. Beukes also introduces readers to Gabriella’s smart-aleck daughter, Layla, who’s trying to navigate the perils of high school (which can be just as daunting as the mean streets of Detroit). Just as she did with the time-traveling serial killer in The Shining Girls, Beukes blurs the line between believable and mythical so that the reader is never sure of what’s real and what’s imaginary. It’s a head-trip definitely worth taking, and one upon which you may want to embark with the lights turned on.

 BroadchurchBroadchurch by Erin Kelly (Minotaur, Sept. 16, 2014)

It’s hard to pull off a novelization of a television series, and especially daunting to make the novel worth reading for  fans of the show and newcomers alike. But Kelly (The Burning Air) pulls it off with her version of the hit British show of the same name (which is being remade in the States as Gracepoint, with David Tennant reprising his original role as the beleaguered Det. Insp. Alec Hardy). Set in the titular rural English seaside town of Dorset, the novel follows the investigation into the death of 11-year-old Danny Latimer, whose body was discovered on the beach early one morning (apparently fall 2014 is a dangerous time to be an 11-year-old boy). Local detective Ellie Miller, whose ties to the close-knit community make her efforts to unmask a killer increasingly difficult, is joined by outsider D.I. Hardy. It’s a known, but unspoken, secret that Hardy is still reeling from a previous case involving children, and his efforts in Broadchurch are viewed by him and the brass as a sort of redemption. In another starred review, Kirkus concludes that Kelly “folds a loving portrait of rural Dorset and a well-made whodunit into a painstaking account of the grief and unimaginable pain that follow in the wake of one child’s murder.” As the community struggles under the weight of accusations from both its members and the news-hungry press, the pressure builds for Hardy and Miller to solve the case, though the personal and professional costs could be their undoing.

 PerfidiaPerfidia by James Ellroy (Knopf, Sept. 9, 2014)

Anyone who’s read a James Ellroy novel (especially any in his L.A. Quartet that includes The Black Dahlia and L.A. Confidential) knows from the get-go that they’re in for a violent, gripping ride. In this first installment of what the author calls his “Second L.A. Quartet,” Ellroy paints a bleak picture of Los Angeles during three weeks in December 1941, including the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. This isn’t the kind of story with protagonists you’d necessarily want to befriend, but their flaws and criminal inclinations are what make them compelling subjects. The crime at the center of this sprawling novel (fair warning: Perfidia clocks in at a whopping 720 pages) is the murder of four members of the Watanabe family on the day before the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor. Investigating the potential murder-suicide are three men and a woman, several of whom will be familiar to Ellroy fans: LAPD Japanese crime scene analyst Hideo Ashida; William Parker, who will one day head the LAPD; crooked cop Dudley Smith; and the mysterious Kay Lake, who plays a key role in The Black Dahlia (which is set in 1947). Publishers Weekly praises the novel, declaring that it “is as good a sample of Ellroy as any for newcomers, and old hands will find new perspectives on old characters intriguing.” Ellroy manages to bring a forgotten Los Angeles alive again, and even if you’re constantly watching your back, you’re glad you made the trip.

Dear DaughterDear Daughter by Elizabeth Little (Viking, July 31, 2014)

Just as Erin Kelly shows us the dark underbelly of a seemingly innocuous English seaside village, Little takes readers to the tiny, dying South Dakota town of Adeline (and its mirror community of Ardelle—don’t worry, the pairing makes sense in Little’s deliciously complex plot). Recently released from jail after serving 10 years for the murder of her socialite mother Marion Elsinger, Janie Jenkins (whose guilt or innocence is a question Little teases over the course of the novel) knows she needs to disappear. The press is rabid for any story about the former party-girl-turned-killer (think Paris Hilton or Kim Kardashian but with a potentially violent streak), and in order to stay out of the spotlight, Jane must step off the stage altogether. With a new identity, Janie heads to South Dakota with only a hint of a lead into her mother’s mysterious past. As a narrator, Janie is acerbic to the extreme, tossing out barbed one-liners like “Multi-tools are like insults, girls—you should always have one on hand.” Kirkus sums up Janie’s journey and the novel itself best: “The [South Dakota] town is like one of Christie’s closed rooms—someone who lives there holds the key to all the secrets, and that person may well be [Janie’s] mother’s murderer. Unless Janie is.” This is a road trip you’ll never forget, and one that will keep you guessing until you reach the surprising destination.

Jordan is a freelance writer living in Portland, Oregon, after spending six years in NYC for college and graduate school (where she earned her MFA in Fiction Writing from Columbia) before realizing that her heart belonged in the Pacific Northwest. She (hopefully) puts that degree to good use writing for BookTrib and Publishers Weekly about the vast quantity of books she reads. While Jordan’s literary diet is largely crime fiction—as she was raised, often literally, in Portland’s only mystery bookstore—she’s perfectly content to read novels and nonfiction that lack a murder because good writing transcends labels. Follow her on Twitter @jordanfoster13.

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