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Sunday, May 28, 2023
May 28, 2023

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Mystery award nominees delight


Announced earlier this winter, the Edgars — named for Edgar Allan Poe — are presented annually by the Mystery Writers of America and are now in their 77th year.

For those who love crime fiction (and nonfiction), the Edgars are a great way to discover new authors or get reacquainted with old ones. Among this year’s nominees were several books I enjoyed last year: Nita Prose’s “The Maid,” Kellye Garrett’s “Like a Sister,” Grace D. Li’s “Portrait of a Thief,” Sulari Gentill’s “The Woman in the Library,” Stephen Spotswood’s “Secrets Typed in Blood,” Lucy Worsley’s “Agatha Christie: An Elusive Woman.” Check out the list and find some new friends! Winners will be announced April 27.

A few things I’ve been reading this month: Should you be on the market for a new literary detective, you’d be hard pressed to find one more charming than Kaveri Murthy, the main character of Harini Nagendra’s mystery series set in 1920s India. “Murder Under a Red Moon,” the second installment in the series, is out Tuesday, which gives you time to read her debut, “The Bangalore Detectives Club.” Kaveri, a young newlywed in the second volume, is an amateur sleuth with a love for Sherlock Holmes and an “inability to stop interrogating people when she felt things didn’t make sense.” She gets pulled into what seems to be a minor embezzlement crime, as a favor to a cousin of her mother-in-law, but the quick appearance of a corpse changes everything. It’s a pleasure to enter Kaveri’s clever mind, and Nagendra wraps the story in a message of female empowerment. “I do not do this for money,” Kaveri tells her “client.” “I do this for justice. No one hires me, I work to uncover the truth.”

“The Writing Retreat,” by Julia Bartz, has a premise I couldn’t resist: A would-be author is invited to an exclusive monthlong writing retreat, at the remote Victorian-era home of an acclaimed feminist horror writer. Do I need to tell you that things on this retreat get very strange indeed? I loved the gothic setting, full of chandeliers and candlelight and weird décor, the cutthroat competition and games, the sense of the walls closing in. As with many thrillers, Bartz doesn’t quite sustain the suspense — things go on a bit too long — but nonetheless the pages practically turned themselves.

And I’m currently knee-deep in Rachel Hawkins’ “The Villa,” which also has a catnip literary premise: It’s a dual-timeline psychological thriller inspired by the birthplace of the novel “Frankenstein”: the crumbling villa in Italy where Mary Shelley, her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron and others spent dark nights telling ghost stories. Here, a contemporary author of cozy mysteries joins a friend at a homey yet grand villa outside Orvieto, in the hope of regaining her storytelling mojo — but we gradually learn, through a second narrative, that something terrible happened here back in the 1970s. It’s all deliciously atmospheric fun, and I suspect would be even more so if I were reading it in an Italian villa.

I was disappointed by Rian Johnson’s “Poker Face” (on Peacock), which didn’t have the wit and fun of his “Glass Onion” movies — but then again, I only watched the first installment. Maybe I should have stuck it out longer? “Stonehouse,” a three-part series on BritBox, was an entertaining diversion — the real-life tale of an amusingly corrupt British government minister (played with doleful flair by Matthew Macfadyen) who attempts to fake his own death.