Mysteries: 3 new books worth a look

A String of Beads, by Thomas Perry. Mysterious Press, 388 pages.

A new Jane Whitefield book is one of my top pleasures, and this is a fine one.

Jane’s initial challenge this time is not to help someone disappear. The Clan Mothers (think tribal elders) request her help finding a childhood playmate who is on the run after being falsely accused of murder.

When she realizes Jimmy Sanders’ life is in danger if he returns to face trial, she switches from “seek” into her default “hide” mode. The technology of identity has changed immensely since Thomas Perry started writing this series, and he keeps Jane current on the latest tricks, but the underlying theory of blending in and avoiding notice has not changed and is still fascinating to see in action.

Before it’s over Jane has three fugitives in her care and organized crime on the hunt for them all. She also has the distraction of a husband at home who’s getting a bit fed up with these detours back into her old, dangerous life. Too bad! This reader hopes for many more.

A Pleasure and a Calling, by Phil Hogan. Picador, 288 pages.

How mesmerizing is this book? I started it at lunch one day and finished it after dinner the same night.

Real estate agent William Heming tells us his horrific story in a chillingly mild-mannered style. A childhood compulsion to spy on family members becomes an adult compulsion to collect keys as houses are bought and sold in his English village, so he can let himself in and spy on the inhabitants. In his wake is a litter of the walking wounded and worse, although his only regrets come from the few times when he actually makes normal human connections.

The story is good, but it’s the storytelling that makes this book so hard to put down. It’s reminiscent of Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley books, with a criminal who sees himself as the hero of his story. But if anything, Phil Hogan is even better at painting a picture that draws us in. We don’t exactly root for Heming, but we are fascinated to see whether anyone will finally put two and two together and reveal his creepy key collection and all that it implies.

A Fine Summer’s Day, by Charles Todd. William Morrow, 368 pages.

If you follow this fine series and you’ve ever wondered what Ian Rutledge was like before World War I derailed his life, or for that matter what his ghost-in-residence Hamish MacLeod was like, here’s your answer. Charles Todd takes us back to the last case Rutledge worked before enlisting, a case that involves several seemingly unrelated deaths whose common thread the detective untangles while we look around his life interestedly. Oh, look! Here he is proposing to the woman who will jilt him after he’s injured. And here’s Hamish doing the same at a picnic in the countryside. Pure fun for fans.