It’s summer. For some of us, summer means the beach, vacations, and uncomplicated reads. With that in mind, I’ve recommended 10 reads that I think will fit in with this season of lightness and fun.
1) The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, by Alan Bradley, introduces 11-year-old Flavia de Luce, aspiring chemist, young sleuth, and the put-upon younger sister among three siblings who live with their dad in the once-grand mansion of Buckshaw in the English village of Bishop’s Lacey. It’s the summer of 1950, and Flavia has found a dying man in their cucumber patch. Far from being appalled, though, she finds it the most interesting thing to have happened to her so far. There’s lots of humor in this series, but some of it is dark humor – and Bradley also expertly mixes in heart-wrenching scenes.
2) The Case of the Missing Servant, by Tarquin Hall, introduces Vish Puri, who owns Most Private Investigators, an agency in India that deals mostly with matrimonial issues. In this modern age, in which aunties no longer set up as many arranged marriages, parents seek out Most Private Investigators to screen prospective marriage partners. But Puri’s business is about to get even busier, when a public litigator is accused of murdering his maidservant. Puri is helped by his undercover operatives, who he’s nicknamed Tubelight, Flush, Hand Brake (his driver) and Facecream. This is a lighthearted book, but one with great detective work, in the tradition of Poirot. It’s the first in a series.
3) Killed at the Whim of a Hat, by Colin Cotterill, is the beginning of a new series for this author (the other being the Siri Paiboun series). Both series are equally marvelous. But of the two series, the Jimm Juree one is lighter, with true laugh out loud moments. Jimm is on her way to becoming one of Thailand’s best crime reporters when her mother, seemingly afflicted with early dementia, sells their house in the city and moves the family to a rural coastal village. Jimm feels obligated to go, along with her brother, a body builder, and her tactiturn grandfather, a former traffic cop. In the middle of nowhere, Jimm comes across two crimes: first, the remains of two hippies are found in a VW van, buried in a boggy field. Then, a visiting abbot is killed at a Buddhist temple. I love everything about Cotterill’s books: the characters, the setting, and the twisty plot.
4) The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde, is the first in a series with Thursday Next, who is a literary special operative in an alternate world where people — and book characters — can go back and forth between the real and literary worlds, and where time travel is somewhat common. In this debut book, Thursday finds herself trying to save “Jane Eyre” from Hades, the world’s third-most evil man. Very clever and a very fun read.
5) Twice a Spy, by Keith Thomson, is a quirky spy thriller, with the father-son duo of Drummond and Charlie Clark. Drummond, a retired CIA operations officer, has Alzheimer’s and his moments of lucidity come and go. Charlie, who until two weeks ago thought his father was a mild-mannered appliance salesman, finds a coping mechanism to deal with the Alzheimer’s: “If you were now, hypothetically, a fugitive, what would you do?” he asks his father, repeating the question to fit the situation. And, incredibly, the old man knows what to do each time. This was fast-paced in addition to being fun. This does follow the first book (which I never read): Once a Spy. You might want to begin there
6) August Heat, by Andrea Camilleri, is the 10th in the series, but these can be read out of order. In this one, Insp. Salvo Montalbano investigates a 6-year-old murder after a dead body is found in an illegal, hidden apartment in Vigita, Italy. Camilleri’s humor is subtle, and his books are filled with descriptions of great Italian meals. Buon appetito!
7) Learning to Swim, by Sara J. Henry, was the debut novel by this author – and what a debut! When journalist Troy Chance sees a small boy fall from a ferry into Lake Champlain, she jumps in, saving his life. But where are his parents, and why is no one claiming him? The novel won the 2012 Anthony Award and 2012 Agatha Award for best first novel and the 2012 Mary Higgins Clark Award, and was nominated for several other awards. It deserves all the praise it has gotten; it’s compulsively readable. You won’t be able to put it down, not even at the beach.
8) U is for Undertow by Sue Grafton. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t read the previous books in Grafton’s fine series; this book stands alone, and happens to be among her best. A man hires Kinsey Millhone because he believes a childhood memory may lead to a child kidnapped long ago. It doesn’t — the recalled burial site leads to a buried dog. But Kinsey can’t give it up, and continues investigating. The narrative goes back and forth between 1967, when Mary Claire Fitzhugh was kidnapped, and the present day (1988, in this case). The whodunnit is revealed fairly early, but not the why, and this is still a well-done, gripping mystery.
9) After the Armistice Ball, by Catriona McPherson, introduces Dandy Gilver, a Scottish society woman at the end of World War I who sort of stumbles into sleuthing – and stumbles through the detection until she solves it. In her first case, Dandy’s friend asks her to investigate the alleged thefts of diamonds. Soon enough, murder follows. This is a charming, witty book, but it also very much has a dark side, which makes it all the better.
10) Vanished in the Dunes, by Allan Retzky, is absolutely noir. I know I promised “light” books, but for noir fans, this is a really good thriller, set amid the summer hot spot of the Hamptons. In it, a simple jitney ride from New York City to the Hamptons and the appearance of a woman has escalating consequences for Amos Posner. To say much more would spoil the plot.
What are your favorite summer reads?