Reviews of the Week with Fred Vargas, Malla Nunn, Tim Mason, and More!

Every weekday we feature a different review on Booklist Online. These reviews are notable for different reasons—they may be starred, or in high demand, or especially relevant to the current issue’s spotlight.

A spine-tingling mystery set in France with deadly, weaponized spiders; an unlikely friendship that forms in a boarding school in Swaziland; a Dickensian murder mystery made grittier by the gory evidence; a fresh graphic novel take on much-beloved sleuth Nancy Drew. Four engrossing titles have been the Reviews of the Day from this last week of Mystery Month, posted between May 28 and May 31, below.

Tuesday, May 28

This Poison Will Remain, by
Fred Vargas, translated by Siân Reynolds

Vargas and her translator, Siân Reynolds, have won the CWA International Dagger for four previous collaborations; this ninth Commissaire Adamsberg mystery (after A Climate of Fear, 2017) is another fine entry in a consistently strong series. As in the previous installments, Adamsberg pays polite but nominal attention to the rules of his Paris police job but quietly takes the cases that please him, even if, as in this tale, the work isn’t clearly a police matter. This time the problem is recluse spiders—several men have died after being bitten by the spiders, though the bites aren’t normally fatal. Adamsberg and his delightfully Gallic, languorous colleagues are stumped, and the clever investigation takes readers through spider-related science, ancient history that may have come back to haunt the victims, and various promising but wrong paths, culminating in a satisfying and surprising ending.

Wednesday, May 29

When the Ground Is Hard, by Malla Nunn

In Swaziland, wealth and privilege are tightly bound to race. As a mixed-race girl, Adele considers herself above the native Zulus, but her relatively privileged status is compromised by the fact that her white father lives with his “real” family in Johannesburg. Nevertheless, Adele has managed to find a place with the popular girls at her boarding school, until the arrival of a new girl slams her down the social hierarchy. Now Adele is stuck sharing an undesirable room with a decidedly unpopular girl, Lottie, best known for her fighting skills. The girls do share a love of reading, however, and bond over Jane Eyre. After weathering large and small traumas, they form a true friendship.

Thursday, May 30

The Darwin Affair, by Matilda Woods

Detective Inspector Charles Field (widely believed by fellow Londoners to be the inspiration for Charles Dickens’ popular Inspector Bucket) hunts the Chorister, a Faginesque killer determined to prevent Charles Darwin’s controversial theory from destroying Britain’s social order. While coordinating security for Victoria and Albert’s latest public appearance, Field intercepts an assassination attempt stinking of conspiracy. His suspicions are confirmed when the would-be assassin and the pickpocket he hired to distract police are both found with their throats slashed and a single ear removed. Their killer’s trademark mutilation leads Field and his partner to the murder of a student who claimed to overhear his Oxford dons plotting against Darwin, and, when they track the Chorister to a scholarly debate on evolution, Field’s partner is killed.

Friday, May 31

Nancy Drew: The Palace of Wisdom, by Kelly Thompson, illustrated by Jenn St. Onge

As soon as supersleuth and fashionista Nancy Drew cracks a case about a missing school mascot, another mystery arrives in her mail. Someone has pieced together newspaper headlines in a threatening letter that references Nancy’s late mother. Nancy returns to her childhood hometown, reuniting with Bess, George, and the Hardy boys, and their clue-hunting leads them to a dead body, an unsolved case, and a dangerous rave. Quippy banter and steadfast friendships propel this amusing, action-packed adventure, in which teens rely on their instincts and adults cannot be trusted. The writers excel at capturing what made Nancy Drew such a plucky protagonist in the first place while updating her story for today’s teens.

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About the Author:

Michael Ruzicka, Office Manager, was raised in suburban Los Angeles, received a BA in Creative Writing/Poetry at UC Santa Cruz, then moved to Birmingham, AL, where he spent five years owning an independent bookstore and earned an MLIS. He has brought his librarian skills to Vanderbilt’s Television News Archive, Battle Ground Academy, The Museum of Contemporary Art-Chicago, and the Chicago School of Professional Psychology. Michael is very excited to be a part of Booklist and call Chicago his home.

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