Bruno Courrèges, chief of police in the lovely town of Saint-Denis in the Périgord region of France, has a life that would baste Martha Stewart with a rich demi-glace of envy. He’s a chef and menu planner extraordinaire, the besotted owner of a pedigreed basset hound plus assorted ducks and chickens, connoisseur of local wines, and careful steward of the land, yet somehow he finds time to solves crimes, even those which take a second or third look to reveal themselves.
When he’s called to the scene of a local septuagenarian farmer’s death by heart attack, the situation appears straightforward. But when old Monsieur Driant’s son points out that all his father’s money has gone to an insurance plan that would channel his savings into payment for an ultra-luxe retirement home, Bruno agrees that something’s fishy—the rough-edged sheep farmer was an unlikely adopter of the extravagant spa-and-golf-course lifestyle offered by the place, so how did he get hooked into such a scheme? As Bruno begins to look into the insurance company and the fetching young agent who dealt with the old man, he attends a gathering at the château of an aging rock star whose son’s new Russian girlfriend is the daughter of an oligarch. Bruno has a hunch that the wealthy businessman’s multi-national empire is connected to the shifty insurance company.
Author Martin Walker effortlessly accelerates the action from casual information-gathering at haute-rustic lunches (with time out for the heart-pounding first attempt at breeding his basset hound) to a dramatic confrontation at the Bergerac Airport. Those familiar with this series would never underestimate Bruno, whose grasp of international politics and special operations is every bit as sophisticated as his spectacular-sounding gazpacho recipe.
This propulsive journalistic procedural is Michael Connelly’s third book featuring investigative reporter Jack McEvoy, who’s slipped a bit professionally from best-selling true-crime author to feature writer for a Los Angeles–based consumer-protection site called FairWarning. When a woman McEvoy once hooked up with has her neck snapped by a freakish technique (in layman’s terms, internal decapitation), he becomes a suspect, giving him strong motivation to look into the unusual circumstances of her murder.
Luckily, McEvoy’s reportorial skills and instincts haven’t deserted him. A little research turns up other women who have suffered similar suspicious deaths, and with help from a fellow FairWarning reporter and a former F.B.I. agent, both women, he starts digging into GT23, a bargain-basement DNA-analytics firm which, once it has sent results to the client, sells the supposedly anonymous and untraceable DNA to labs and research facilities. It turns out that someone with an irrational hatred of sexually forward women has identified those with a genetic predisposition for reckless behavior and addiction from GT23’s DNA, and started racking up a series of murders disguised as accidents. For McEvoy and his team, the race is on to publish their story and identify the killer before he ticks the next woman off his list.
McEvoy invokes Woodward and Bernstein as his inspiration, but his methods are strictly 21st century. Connelly manages to make computer searches, subject interviews, lab results, and poking around the dark Web intensely suspenseful. Each new bit of information drives the story forward at—apologies!—breakneck speed, and the use of an online community of incels (men who consider themselves involuntarily celibate) as serial-killer cheerleaders is creepily believable. Connelly has always written about women with respect and depth, and that tradition continues here, giving a human face to victims who did not, as the incel messagers sneer, deserve what they got.
It’s 1997, and Isla Green’s father, Joe, never much of a communicator, calls out of the blue from Sydney to tell her he’s become a person of interest in the 30-year-old disappearance of their neighbor Mandy Mallory, who was assumed to have moved away but whose family has recently tried and failed to locate her. Since his wife and son and most of his neighbors now share the suspicions of the police, Joe needs his daughter’s support. Going home would be emotionally dangerous for Isla, a recovering alcoholic now working in London, but she sets aside her misgivings and returns to the little suburban neighborhood by the bay where she grew up.
She is soon immersed in the fug of mistrust that hangs over her parents, but feels compelled to defend her secretive, alcoholic father by finding out what happened to Mandy, who cared for her as a child. Discussing that time with her dad, Isla is struck by the fact that Mandy’s husband was a policeman whose awful job it was to forcibly remove Aboriginal children from homes deemed unsuitable, which tormented his conscience.
As Mandy’s story unfolds in flashbacks to 1967, English writer Susan Allott conjures a steamy, slow-burning atmosphere of foreboding that never lets up. From the Green women’s inability to confront the severity of Joe’s drinking to Australia’s long-standing erasure of its treatment of Aboriginal people from the national narrative, the destructive power of things left unsaid and pushed down is the animating force of The Silence. In the end, whether Isla will be able to break the cycle that has crippled her family is almost as important as the fate of capable, down-to-earth Mandy, whose absence was treated with casual indifference by a community whose drawn blinds kept out more than the heat.
Lisa Henricksson reviews mystery books for AIR MAIL. She lives in New York City