Hello and welcome back to the Friday Fiction Feature. Research Assistant Tabatha here, returning after a very relaxing Spring Break. Too relaxing it seems, since I can’t seem to register that I have to do work again… so I thought that for this week’s edition, I would bring you some excitement. Perhaps these thrilling tales will be just what you need to jerk you out of the laziness of a pre-spring lull. I know we here Minnesota like to call it “Spring” a little earlier than everyone else (include mother nature, it seems), so for everyone who has not yet gotten that little break, maybe these mysteries will be a good thrill before you settle in for the real thing.
First on the docket to take us away from the snow-covered “Spring” outside, is a story about a man who can choose to skip over all of his unpleasantly cold seasons in Man in the Empty Suit by Sean Ferrell.
Say you’re a time traveler and you’ve already toured the entirety of human history. After a while, the outside world might lose a little of its luster. That’s why this time traveler celebrates his birthday partying with himself. Every year, he travels to an abandoned hotel in New York City in 2071, the hundredth anniversary of his birth, and drinks twelve-year-old Scotch (lots of it) with all the other versions of who he has been and who he will be. Sure, the party is the same year after year, but at least it’s one party where he can really, well, be himself.
The year he turns 39, though, the party takes a stressful turn for the worse. Before he even makes it into the grand ballroom for a drink he encounters the body of his forty-year-old self, dead of a gunshot wound to the head. As the older versions of himself at the party point out, the onus is on him to figure out what went wrong–he has one year to stop himself from being murdered, or they’re all goners.
As he follows clues that he may or may not have willingly left for himself, he discovers rampant paranoia and suspicion among his younger selves, and a frightening conspiracy among the Elders. Most complicated of all is a haunting woman possibly named Lily who turns up at the party this year, the first person besides himself he’s ever seen at the party. For the first time, he has something to lose. Here’s hoping he can save some version of his own life.
For those of us who can’t time-travel away from the cold, here’s a book to make us fondly remember those steamy Minnesota summers, that is, until they get here and we switch to longing for the chill of winter, as Hannah Swenson does in Joanne Fluke’s mystery Red Velvet Cupcake Murder.
This summer has been warmer than usual in Lake Eden, Minnesota, and Hannah Swensen is trying to beat the heat both in and out of her bakery kitchen. But she’s about to find out the hard way that nothing cools off a hot summer day like cold-blooded murder. . .
It’s a hot, muggy evening, and the last thing Hannah wants to do is squeeze into a pair of pantyhose for the Grand Opening of the refurbished Albion Hotel. But with Hannah’s famous Red Velvet cupcakes being served in the hotel’s new Red Velvet lounge, she can’t bring herself to back out. The party starts off with a bang with the unexpected arrival of Doctor Bev, a Lake Eden legend who left town in shame after she two-timed her fiancé one too many times. Bev’s splashy appearance on the arm of a wealthy investor is the talk of the night. But the gossip comes to a screeching halt when a partygoer takes a mysterious dive off the hotel’s rooftop garden.
The victim is the sheriff’s secretary, Barbara Donnelly, and she is barely clinging to life. The question is, did she fall–or was she pushed? As the police investigate, the only one who isn’t preoccupied with the case is Doctor Bev. She’s too busy trying to stir things up with her old flame Norman, who’s reunited with Hannah. Just as Hannah’s patience with Bev runs dangerously thin, her rival is found dead at the bottom of Miller’s Pond. The only clue the police have is the Red Velvet cupcake Bev ate right before she died–and the tranquilizers someone seems to have baked into it. To everyone’s shock, Hannah is now the unlikely target of a murder investigation–and she’s feeling the heat in a way she never has before. . .
Featuring another female entrepreneur (in a business many of our readers may have a passing interest in), our next selection is Lady of Ashes by Christine Trent.
In 1861 London, Violet Morgan is struggling to establish a good reputation for the undertaking business that her husband has largely abandoned. She provides comfort for the grieving, advises them on funeral fashion and etiquette, and arranges funerals.
Unbeknownst to his wife, Graham, who has nursed a hatred of America since his grandfather soldiered for Great Britain in the War of 1812, becomes involved in a scheme to sell arms to the South. Meanwhile, Violet receives the commission of a lifetime: undertaking the funeral for a friend of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. But her position remains precarious, especially when Graham disappears and she begins investigating a series of deaths among the poor. And the closer she gets to the truth, the greater the danger for them both…
For a more modern approach to the business of undertaking (non-professional this time), I bring you lovely readers Three Graves Full by Jamie Mason.
For fans of the Coen brothers’ films or for those who just love their thrillers with a dash of sharp humor—an engaging and offbeat story about a man driven to murder, who then buries the body in his backyard only to discover that there are two other shallow graves on his property.
“There is very little peace for a man with a body buried in his backyard.”
But it could always be worse. . . .
More than a year ago, mild-mannered Jason Getty killed a man he wished he’d never met. Then he planted the problem a little too close to home. But just as he’s learning to live with the undeniable reality of what he’s done, police unearth two bodies on his property—neither of which is the one Jason buried. Jason races to stay ahead of the consequences of his crime and while chaos reigns on his lawn, his sanity unravels, snagged on the agendas of a colorful cast of strangers. A jilted woman searches for her lost fiancé, a fringe-dweller runs from a past that’s quickly gaining on him, and a couple of earnest local detectives piece it together with the help of a volunteer police dog — all of them in the wake and shadow of a dead man who had it coming. As the action unfolds, each discovers that knowing more than one side of the story doesn’t necessarily rule out a deadly margin of error.
How to Lead a Life of Crime, by Kristen Miller is just the kind of how-to the preceding protagonist could have used. A meth dealer. A prostitute. A serial killer.
Anywhere else, they’d be vermin. At the Mandel Academy, they’re called prodigies. The most exclusive school in New York City has been training young criminals for over a century. Only the most ruthless students are allowed to graduate. The rest disappear.
Flick, a teenage pickpocket, has risen to the top of his class. But then Mandel recruits a fierce new competitor who also happens to be Flick’s old flame. They’ve been told only one of them will make it out of the Mandel Academy. Will they find a way to save each other—or will the school destroy them both?
Last but not least, is Hysteria (unfortunately not about the psychosis…or is that fortunately?) by Megan Miranda.
Mallory killed her boyfriend, Brian. She can’t remember the details of that night but everyone knows it was self-defense, so she isn’t charged. But Mallory still feels Brian’s presence in her life. Is it all in her head? Or is it something more? In desperate need of a fresh start, Mallory is sent to Monroe, a fancy prep school where no one knows her . . . or anything about her past.But the feeling follows her, as do her secrets. Then, one of her new classmates turns up dead. As suspicion falls on Mallory, she must find a way to remember the details of both deadly nights so she can prove her innocence-to herself and others.
In another riveting tale of life and death, Megan Miranda’s masterful storytelling brings readers along for a ride to the edge of sanity and back again.
Hopefully these selections will be riveting enough to wake up the spring-breakers after the week of leisure or accompany those of you just heading into spring break as you sit indoors hoping for signs of (real) Spring to appear.