“The Marriage Pact,” by Michelle Richmond. Bantam. 432 pages
This is a standout summer read. Think Stephen King’s story “Quitters Inc.,” but for marriage instead of smoking.
Alice and Jake are invited to join a secret society dedicated to keeping marriages healthy, and in the rush of activity after their wedding, they sign The Marriage Pact thinking it’s some new-age gimmick.
They gradually realize that the fun little rules (buy your spouse at least one gift per month, plan a getaway once a quarter) come with consequences more suited to a Russian gulag than to a self-help group. The organization seems to have unlimited funds for elaborate punishments.
Michelle Richmond expertly keeps the suspense at a can’t-stop-reading edge, and the couple are interesting and sympathetic so you can’t help rooting for them. There’s a twist that might make you go back and reread – if not from page 1, at least a few specific scenes to see how the trick was done.
“The Lost Ones,” by Sheena Kamal. William Morrow. 352 pages.
This debut novel features my favorite kind of protagonist: a really broken, cynical one. “A woman with so many demons she can hardly keep track of them.” Nora Watts is an alcoholic rape survivor, a mixed-race woman in Vancouver where mixed-race women and girls go missing with barely a ripple. She keeps a low profile, living in the basement of the private investigators who employ her mainly because of her innate skill as a human lie detector.
When the daughter Nora gave up for adoption goes missing, she uses and abuses every connection she has to try and find her.
As dark as she sounds, Nora’s voice is an appealing one, self-loathing but smart and funny. And I enjoyed watching her take-no-prisoners approach to the corporate interests that seem inexplicably mixed up in her daughter’s disappearance.
“Persons Unknown,” by Susie Steiner. Random House. 320 pages.
Police detective Manon Bradshaw is struggling with the double whammy of pregnancy and parenting an adolescent, and on the professional front she’s trying not to be jealous of her team as she molders away working cold cases (for the family-friendly hours).
Then somehow her beloved Fly is in jail, suspected of the murder of Manon’s sister’s ex. Luckily not everyone on the force is convinced, especially since they also know and love Manon’s adopted 12-year-old and know some of the pieces that didn’t add up are being discarded by higher-ups in favor of the easy arrest.
Susie Steiner blends the police procedural and the human drama perfectly.
“Let the Dead Speak,” by Jane Casey. Minotaur. 352 pages.
Detective Maeve Kerrigan and her squad investigate a crime scene in a home that’s awash in blood but lacking an actual body. But before long the dysfunctional little London street presents the team with a couple of bodies and a sufficiency of suspects.
I love the personal and work dynamics of the team, and Jane Casey keeps the twists coming literally until the last page.