Upon meeting the fictional character Anthony Horowitz, the husband of a blind woman helpfully describes the writer out loud to his wife: “Dark hair, untidy, going grey. Jewish. Didn’t shave this morning.” Horowitz, who bears an uncanny resemblance to the author of A Line to Kill, tries hard not to be offended.
This is the third book of a series in which the fictional Horowitz—let’s call him Tony for clarity—teams up with former police detective Daniel Hawthorne to investigate and subsequently write about a murder. Hawthorne is the uncontested star of the partnership, with Tony resigned to his Watsonian role as chronicler of the idiosyncratic detective’s exploits.
The two men have agreed to travel to the Channel Island of Alderney to participate in a literary festival, a vanity project for the island’s wealthiest inhabitant, featuring a motley collection of authors—a cholesterol-mad TV chef, a French performance poet, the blind psychic mentioned above, and so on.
The question of the subject of Horowitz and Hawthorne’s next collaboration is answered when someone is murdered during a festival-related cocktail party and Hawthorne is asked to conduct a parallel investigation by the incompetent local police. In classic Agatha Christie fashion—and this book is solidly in that tradition, except for that meta thing—most of the characters have a motive for the murder of the victim, a truly odious person who managed to antagonize nearly everyone he ever met.
The conceit of Tony being Horowitz’s double continues to hold up, partly because he wryly undercuts his alter ego’s ego and also digs deeper into Hawthorne’s background, prying out some intriguing new nuggets about his personal life. Ultimately, the thorny byplay between writer and detective is what makes A Line to Kill so captivating as the odd couple try to solve the confounding locked-room crime. And this time, Hawthorne, uncharacteristically distracted by a personal bias, proves that he, too, is human.
Maybe the new James Bond should be a woman, but do we even need another iteration of James Bond when there are plenty of camera-ready action heroines out there already? One to focus on is Alice Henderson’s Dr. Alex Carter, who’s not a spy in a leather catsuit but a parka-clad wildlife scientist who specializes in endangered species. She’s also a seasoned outdoors person trained in martial arts and an expert at survival, thanks to the guidance of her fighter-pilot mother. Who better to fight the forces of environmental destruction and wildlife extinction than this badass biologist?
As Alex is wrapping up a study featured in this series’s first book, A Solitude of Wolverines, she lands a dream gig gathering data on polar bears in Manitoba. But things begin to go wrong fast when her lab is broken into, equipment disappears, and her helicopter pilot quits. Once she finds a new one, their chopper goes down, not by accident, and she and her crew struggle against enemies both human and climatological to survive on frozen Hudson Bay.
A qualified wilderness monitor herself, Henderson has an agenda as clear as the Arctic air. She’s very much for the continued existence of endangered species, and against those who would destroy their habitat by putting profits first. Her bad guys—poachers, billionaire developers and their henchmen—may be a bit one-dimensional, but they nonetheless function as appropriately ruthless opponents for Alex.
Henderson is first and foremost an inexhaustible inventor of exciting wilderness fight-and-chase scenes that keep the momentum going. But during breaks in the action, we learn many cool things about the scientific study of polar bears in situ and catch a hint of romance in Alex’s attraction to a righteous but unstable activist, which makes her ever so slightly vulnerable without demeaning her.
As a corporate lawyer in Atlanta, a city with a large Black population that’s had a Black mayor since 1974, Elice Littlejohn had hoped for a more stellar career. Though she’s a 40-ish Yale Law grad with impeccable credentials, she’s been slogging away in the legal department at Houghton Transportation, where she is one of the few Black faces, discouraging for a company in an outwardly progressive city. She’s also been having an affair with the company’s married general counsel, whom she visits in his office early one morning only to find him shot dead. In a decision that will later haunt her, she slips out the door without a word.
Baffling everyone, the higher-ups at Houghton offer Ellice her murdered lover’s job. She will be the “brown gravy on the biscuit,” as her boss so eloquently puts it. This would seem an easy offer to refuse, but ambition overtakes Ellice’s “God sense” and she accepts, only to find herself stepping into a world of trouble.
One of the many things Wanda M. Morris, who is an attorney, does so convincingly in All Her Little Secrets is to show how much of Ellice’s life is a performance—she armors herself for work with straightened hair and a closetful of power dresses, keeps her feelings to herself, and smiles through gritted teeth at company parties.
But underneath that bulletproof exterior, there’s a lot going on. Ellice has lived her entire life on the defensive, guarding a secret from her difficult childhood that could ruin her. Ironically, that mental toughness has set her up well to be the “only one” in the executive suite, with its attendant, unrelenting pressure. Something has to give, but she can’t be truly unburdened until she discovers that some secrets—especially those kept by the good ol’ boys at Houghton—are much worse than others.
Lisa Henricksson reviews mystery books for Air Mail. She lives in New York City