LISTEN: The Runaway Princesses hosted by Madeleine Baran
Read: The Midnight Feast by Lucy Foley
Watch: Blue Lights on Britbox

Fairy tales don’t always come true. With no rescuer in sight, sometimes a princess has to find her own way out of the tower. No one knew this better than Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, daughter of the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, prime minister of the United Arab Emirates and one of the richest men in the world.

As a baby, she was taken from her mother and given to her childless aunt, who tucked Latifa away in her palace and seldom saw her. The girl she knew as her cousin, Shamsa, was actually her elder sister. At 10, Latifa was returned to her mother and the two girls became close, which is when the real trouble started.

The harrowing, cinematic story of their attempts to escape their gilded cage, where their freedom was crushed and Latifa said they were beaten by their father and his employees, is the subject of The Runaway Princesses, a podcast hosted by Madeleine Baran and reported by New Yorker writer Heidi Blake. It also recounts the struggles of Haya and Bouchra, wives of Sheikh Mohammed and his brother, who chafed under their husbands’ control.

In 2000, Shamsa was the first to attempt an escape, from her father’s estate in Surrey, England. She stole a Range Rover from the grounds, though she didn’t know how to drive, climbed over a wall, and somehow managed to contact a lawyer. A phone message from Shamsa got to the police, but according to the detective assigned to the case, his investigation was stymied at every turn and eventually shut down.

At the time, Queen Elizabeth was friendly with the sheikh because of their shared obsession with horses. He even sat in her box at Ascot. So Shamsa never stood a chance. She was caught and returned to Dubai, where she was sedated and guarded around the clock. (When revelations about Shamsa and Latifa were later made public, the Queen cut ties with the sheikh.)

Latifa was distraught about what happened to Shamsa, and, over time, plotted her own escape in order to help her sister, even after being imprisoned for a previous attempt. Her plan, abetted by a few colorful characters in 2018, involved months of grueling physical training, gadgets that James Bond would envy, and a slightly scuzzy yacht. Blake pieces together the daring adventure story from interviews with Latifa’s accomplices. If you listen to this on the treadmill, it will make your efforts seem deeply insignificant.

The Latifa who emerges from her text messages, e-mails, and letters is a lionhearted young woman fighting against impossible odds. It’s amazing she gets as far as she does. As for Shamsa, she hasn’t been heard from in years.

With no rescuer in sight, sometimes a princess has to find her own way out of the tower.

Though English writer Lucy Foley has a magic touch that often landed her perfectly fine books on the best-seller list, I never quite got it. Until now.

Her latest, The Midnight Feast, is a deliciously juicy, smartly paced blend of folk horror, psychological thriller, and social satire. The book has five narrators, but let’s focus on its entitled, self-regarding anti-heroine, Francesca Meadows. As the owner of a wellness resort about to open in the Dorset village of Tome (pronounced like “tomb”), Francesca has reached the apex of her ambition. She inherited the property and, with the help of her architect husband, reimagined her family’s estate as a pagan-chic luxury getaway called the Manor.

“Oh, we are totally going to make the Condé Nast Hot List,” muses Francesca, sounding like the Lady Macbeth of lifestyle influencers as she prepares for a gala opening timed to the summer solstice. “No: we are going to destroy it, grind the competition to dust beneath us.”

Not the tone you’d associate with the glowy blonde goddess who floats through social media burbling about manifesting, self-affirmation, and self-care. Francesca has mostly tamped down the violent impulses of her youth, but she got away with something wicked in Tome 15 years ago and she now faces a reckoning.

Unwisely, she ignores the negative vibes from the villagers and brushes off the local legend of the Birds, shadowy forest creatures who deal with injustice their own way.

Lucy Foley’s The Midnight Feast is a deliciously juicy, smartly paced blend of folk horror, psychological thriller, and social satire.

Foley expertly orchestrates the gradual buildup of the enmity between the locals and the Manor, conjuring storm clouds and hordes of crows as the Midnight Feast is about to begin, while simultaneously relating the events of that long-ago summer through the journal of an eyewitness.

The Feast flames out, as already we know it will. But not before some surprising identities are revealed—almost no one is who they say they are—and the social order is turned on its head in a thoroughly satisfying way.

The BBC series Blue Lights was a big hit when it premiered in England last year, and its second season has just dropped in the U.S. What sets it apart from the acres of cop shows laid out before the overwhelmed viewer? Most crucially, it’s set in Belfast, a city divided between Protestant loyalists and Catholic republicans and infested with drug gangs. The situation demands hyper-vigilance: the cops have to check underneath their personal cars for bombs every morning, and whenever they venture into certain areas, they can count on being barraged by taunts and bottles.

Martin McCann and Siân Brooke as Belfast police officers Stevie Neil and Grace Ellis in Blue Lights.

Season One followed three probationary officers (Siân Brooke, Katherine Devlin, and Nathan Braniff) and their mentors through a dangerous training period, and fans became invested in their survival, thanks to the terrific ensemble of actors.

At the start of Season Two, crime has risen to a crisis level after the downfall of the powerful McIntyre gang, which provided the arc for the first season. Rival factions are now fighting openly, escalating the challenges for the response officers. When the feuding turns lethal, the under-manned station staffs up and braces for the worst.

The quality of the writing lifts Blue Lights far above the general run of procedurals. It approaches the complexity of The Wire with its urgent mix of social, political, criminal, and personal issues and its general tone of incipient chaos. This can be hard to sustain, but Season Two is every bit as strong as the first. Three and Four have already been ordered.

The Runaway Princesses is available to listen to on Apple Podcasts. Blue Lights is available to stream on Britbox

Lisa Henricksson reviews mysteries at AIR MAIL. She lives in New York City