Thrillers Spiked With Malice and Dread

Here at the possibly haunted Greybrooke Manor in Nilgiris, a dozen guests have gathered at the invitation of Bhaskar Fernandez, an eccent...


Here at the possibly haunted Greybrooke Manor in Nilgiris, a dozen guests have gathered at the invitation of Bhaskar Fernandez, an eccentric patriarch whose squabbling extended family is tediously dependent on his largesse. Bhaskar is convinced that someone is trying to kill him and has included on his guest list Harith Athreya, a canny private detective charged with looking into a series of suspicious incidents. To disincentivize any would-be killer, Bhaskar has drawn up two wills allowing for two different possibilities: one if he dies of natural causes, the other in the case of his murder. (Bhaskar is a lover of mysteries and enjoys his little games.)

The roads are rendered impassable by a landslide. The lights go out. Greedy relatives and hangers-on circle like so many piranhas. And before we know it, there is indeed a murder — but instead of Bhaskar, the victim is a guest, an artist with a murky past whose body is found, improbably, slumped in his host’s motorized wheelchair. Who did it? And who killed the second victim, not long after?

There seem to be several crimes going on at once, and a lot to pay attention to: an art scam, a drug ring, the falsification of identities, not to mention a spot of adultery. But Athreya is a fine detective with a curious mind, a cool eye for the chance detail, a skill in synthesizing disparate threads and a talent for resisting the insults of the requisite police officer assigned to the case.

The opening scene of Una Mannion’s A CROOKED TREE (HarperCollins, 320 pp., $27.99) will strike fear into the hearts of any former children hose had-it-up-to-here parents ever threatened to kick them and their squabbling siblings out of the car. Driving at twilight one day, Faye Gallagher, a widowed mother of five, actually does it: She stops the car five miles from home and leaves her 12-year-old daughter, Ellen, by the side of the road. Darkness sets in; the hours pass. Why hasn’t Ellen come home?

That single shocking moment reverberates through the book, bringing unexpected consequences for the family and their neighbors. The menace in this moody, meticulously plotted debut lies not in preposterous plot twists, but within the mysteries of dysfunctional families, close-knit neighborhoods harboring dark secrets and adolescents’ imperfect, and sometimes disastrous, understanding of the world of adults.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Thrillers Spiked With Malice and Dread
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