3 series deliver chills, thrills

The Nature of the Beast by Louise Penny. Minotaur, 384 pages.

Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, after surviving some deadly adventures in office politics, has retired to the safe haven of Three Pines, a hidden village on the Canadian border “only ever found by people lost.” Although his longtime fans would happily read about his daily round of bistro, patisserie and fireside reading, the former homicide inspector is finding no shortage of cases to consult on in his idyllic new home.

A 9-year-old village boy known for telling tall tales is found dead, and Gamache and his former team discover that one of the unbelievable tales was true and could literally lead to Armageddon when the secret leaks out to the wider world.

Louise Penny is unsurpassed at building a sense of heart-stopping urgency. Sometimes the stakes are personal: a marriage, a character’s sanity. Sometimes the threat is to the village, a culture or even to the province of Quebec. This time Penny manages to create a threat that could truly be worldwide, and to place its future in the hands of our friends in Three Pines.

Attention, fans who have been waiting for poet Ruth Zardo’s backstory: Here’s at least part of your wish granted.

In the Dark Places by Peter Robinson. William Morrow, 336 pages.

Inspector Alan Banks returns from vacation to find his team looking into a bloodstain in an abandoned building and a tractor theft. In a sleepy rural community it seems possible the two are related, especially when two people wanted for questioning about the tractor are missing.

As the investigation progresses, Banks’ team finds a pattern of rural crime from stolen farm equipment to trafficking in animal parts to murder, with evidence pointing to an organized gang with a shadowy boss at its head. So much for the peace of country life.

Along the way romances fade and new ones grow, and Inspector Banks as always carefully curates his playlist and his wine list.

Dragon Day by Lisa Brackmann. Soho Crime, 368 pages.

Ellie McEnroe, a veteran of Iraq with a limp to remember it by, is one of the liveliest new characters I have run across lately. (New to me, that is. This is the third Ellie McEnroe book, so there’s a backlist to explore.)

Ellie represents emerging artists in China, and in a culture of conformity, that can be a risky job. Her most famous client is currently in hiding from the government and interacts with Ellie and other followers through a virtual reality game called the Great Community.

Now Ellie has attracted the attention of a Beijing billionaire who asks her to check out an American associate of his son’s. While trying to casually infiltrate the young, hip party scene, she is implicated in a murder and finds herself running from a murderer as well as the police and government security agents.

Ellie’s rapid-fire, profanity-laced narration is like a bullet-train tour of daily life in China, one vignette after another, sometimes verging on poetry.