As I leave for my own 4th of July vacation on Monday, the question I'm often asked during the summer is "What's a good beach read?" Everyone's vision of a good escapist read is different, of course, and I try to only recommend mass markets - they fit so easily in a beach bag or even a purse - so here are a few recent reads I've enjoyed and would send along with any self respecting beach reader. They'd be good for a rainy day's read, too, so never fear.
PRETTY GIRL GONE by David Housewright. For some reason I haven't read David Housewright's books till now and I'm certainly wondering why the heck not. These PI novels set in Minnesota go down very easily - Housewright has some of the same gifts with dialogue and humor shared by fellow PI masters Parker and Crais - and the plot in this outing is a dandy. Main character "Mac" must delve into the past of Minnesota's first lady to see if there's any truth to the rumor that her husband, the governor, commited a long ago murder. I'm not sure what's in the water in Minnesota, but if you're an aspiring writer you might want to move there and drink some - what else could explain the varied talents of William Kent Krueger, Ellen Hart, Margaret Frazer, John Sandford, Steve Thayer, PJ Tracy and KJ Erickson all hailing from the same state? (Erickson's dandy THE LAST WITNESS would go well on the beach too).
A THOUSAND BONES by PJ Parrish. PJ PArrish is one of my favorite "undiscovered" authors - people very often haven't heard of these books, but once they've read one, they're on the hook for the rest, and happily there are 8 books altogether. They feature (usually) PI Louis Kincaid, a half black, half white detetctive from Michigan who has moved to Florida. This latest installment, however, features Louis' girlfriend, cop Joe Frye, as she recounts her very first murder case, which is a doozy. There's a point in every Parrish novel where the book just won't be put down and this one is no exception. Great story, well drawn characters and setting - what's not to like? Inhale at your own risk - you might need to take two.
MURDER IN LITTLE ITALY by Victoria Thompson. There may be historical novelists who address history and it's many issues more seriously than Victoria Thompson, but there really aren't any who do so as entertainingly as she does. Sure, there are some issues here, but Thompson is a born storyteller and thank heaven for it. There's a reason these sell like crazy, and this recent title is a good illustration of why - a large Italian family who own a restaurant cross paths with Thompson's main character, midwife Sarah Brandt, and of course murder ensues. She's been attracted to policeman Frank Malloy since the start of the series but Thompson has cleverly kept them apart and the agony (and clulessness on the part of Sarah and Frank) is delicious.
THE TYPHOON LOVER by Sujata Massey. THis one breaks my mass market rule - it's a trade - but still worth it. Last fall I had read only Massey's first novel, THE SALARYMAN'S WIFE which I hadn't really loved, but then I read her latest novel, GIRL IN A BOX and I was completely hooked. She has improved tremendously since her first outing, and Japanese American antique dealer turned spy, Rei Shimura, couldn't be more delicious than in this novel, when she's on the track of an old lover, lying to her present boyfriend about it, and yes, caught in a Japanese typhoon. Enjoy this lush prose while you're on the beach, thrilled not to be in a typhoon yourself. Rei Shimura is a treat as is the portrait of modern day Japan.
FULL DARK HOUSE by Christopher Fowler. Maybe "beach read" doesn't come instantly to mind when you think of Christopher Fowler, but there's no better, or more unusual, storyteller around. This first case involving the London Peculiar Crimes unit goes back in time to the blitz - a wonderful recreation of that time period is one of this book's many delights - as is the pastiche on "The Phantom of the Opera" that makes the story, set in a London theatre, resonate especially creepily. I love the two main characters - polar opposites who somehow work well together - and you'll probably want to follow them in subsequent adventures,
Other favorite beach reads include Michael Palmer, Leslie Glass (LOVE that April Woo), Elaine Viets, Diane Mott Davidson, and at the present moment, Donna Andrews, who I see a fellow blogger also recommends. She'll have you snickering the whole way through and what's better than that? Have a great vacation!