Of crime fiction’s many sub-genres, among the most cherished—and most difficult to achieve—is the dual-time plot.
Eve Chase excels at the tricky task and burnishes her bona fides in her third novel, “The Daughters of Foxcote Manor” (Putnam, $27, 368 pages).
When their London home sustains major fire damage in 1971, Walter Harrington sends wife Jeannie, 13-year-old daughter Hera, 6-year-old son Teddy and the children’s nanny, Rita Murphy, to Foxcote Manor, their country house in the Forest of Dean.
But their quiet rural life is interrupted when Hera finds an abandoned baby in the forest and a body is discovered nearby.
Flash forward to the present day, when middle-aged Londoner Sylvie Broom, prompted by her mother’s near-fatal fall, begins looking into her past. Meanwhile, Sylvie’s daughter, Annie, becomes pregnant.
In the devilishly atmospheric story that follows, Chase builds a narrative laden with twists rendered so cleverly that readers likely will not foresee them. She does so with deeply formed characters, a setting guaranteed to evoke unease and prose that amplifies the ominous events.
But Chase does not stop with an engaging tale. Her portrait of mothers and daughters—the relationships between Jeannie and Hera, Sylvie and Annie, among others—delves intensely into connections that can be as fraught as those between fathers and sons.
With profound but restrained passion typical of Britons, Chase creates a rewarding, disturbing tale of transgressions of commission and omission, with a measure of redemption born of her innate decency and empathy.
When college friends reunite for a short vacation, they can limit the group to themselves (usually ensuring an amicable time), include spouses or lovers (potentially throwing noncompatible people together), and allow children (likely annoying the childless).
That third option helps unsettle such a gathering in T.M. Logan’s “The Vacation” (St. Martin’s, $28.99, 368 pages). But worse is on tap for Britons Kate, Jennifer, Izzy and Rowan as they gather at a villa in Provence.
Kate and Sean have two kids, teenager Lucy and younger Daniel. Jennifer and Alistair’s teen sons, Jake and Ethan, are angst-ridden. Rowan and Russ’ bratty Odette is only two years past toddlerhood. Izzy is single and childless.
When Kate hears Sean’s phone ping, she can’t resist looking. To her horror, she finds a message that seems to reveal that he is having an affair—and that his paramour is one of her three friends. But which one? Jennifer? Rowan? Izzy? Meanwhile, disputes arise among the husbands, as well as among the offspring.
Logan advances this irresistible story with intelligent pacing that expertly moves among the characters’ past and current lives as he reveals the lies and secrets that make the reunion inevitably combustible—and deadly, as each twist exceeds its predecessor for shock value.
A summer page-turner, “The Vacation” suggests that the serenity of solitude might trump the tensions of togetherness.
‘DEATH AT HIGH TIDE’
On a remote island off the coast of southwestern England lies an old hotel accessible by a rough ride on an old ferry.
What could be a better setting for “Death at High Tide” (Minotaur, $25.99, 304 pages), the first in a projected series of whodunits by Hannah Dennison?
When Evie Mead’s husband, Robert, dies, his accountant’s secretary finds a letter from Robert saying his wife might be the heir to the hotel on Tregarrick Rock, a fictional site in the Isles of Scilly.
Spurred to investigate by her sister, Margot, the two siblings travel to the island, where they learn that Robert had loaned hotel owner Jago Ferris 100,000 pounds, with the inn as collateral.
Jago denies having known Robert, but Evie finds photos of the two together that prove that he’s lying. And when two murders occur, the stakes surpass a dispute over money.
“Death at High Tide” represents Dennison’s tribute to the Golden Age of British mysteries. All the hotel’s rooms are named for crime-fiction writers of the era, and its bookshelves are filled with their creations.
But Dennison stamps the novel with singular creativity. She spins an intriguing yarn filled with secrets and sins, including false identities, covert relationships, adultery, greed and theft.
With a dollop of whimsy, a cast of eccentrics and an intricate puzzle, “Death at High Tide” will sweep you away with its sly charm, its wicked wit and its artful trickery.
Jay Strafford, a retired Virginia journalist, now lives in Florida.
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