The Next Chapter

9 books to read over the holidays from The Next Chapter's mystery book panel

The Next Chapter columnists J.D. Singh, P.K. Rangachari and Margaret Cannon reveal their mystery and thriller fiction picks for the holiday season.
This photo was taken in 2019. The Next Chapter mystery panel consists of Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Cannon (left), McMaster University professor P.K. Rangachari (second from left), and bookstore owner J.D. Singh (second from right), seen here with Shelagh Rogers. (CBC)

As is The Next Chapter holiday tradition, our mystery panel joins Shelagh Rogers to deliver a brand new list of whodunits for 2020.

Bookstore owner J.D. Singh, McMaster University professor P.K. Rangachari and Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Cannon have nine books that mystery fans should read over the holidays. 

Dark August by Katie Tallo

Katie Tallo is an Ontario-based screenwriter, director and author. (Harper Paperbacks, Karl Roeder)

Margaret says: "This is Tallo's fiction debut. It's about a ne'er-do-well young woman whose grandmother dies. She goes back to the family home and she starts digging into her long deceased mother's papers. As the young woman does this, she takes herself on a voyage of discovery.

"The book is absolutely breathtaking. I couldn't put this book down."

Wife of the Gods by Kwei Quartey

Kwei Jones Quartey is a Ghanaian-American detective fiction novelist and a retired surgeon. (Steve Monez, Random House Trade Paperbacks)

J.D. says: "The novel is set in rural Ghana. While Ghana is predominantly a Christian country, witchcraft and belief in magical powers are still important in the everyday lives of many, especially out in the hinterlands. This story takes place at the intersection of the modern and the ancient. 

"Our hero is Detective Inspector Darko Dawson. He's based out of Ankara, the capital city. He's sent to a small town to investigate the death of a bright young woman. It looks like a murder — and amongst various suspects is the head priest.

"This was really, really good. It's clever. It's sophisticated. It's a gem."

Bitter Paradise by Ross Pennie

Ross Pennie is an Ontario surgeon, pediatrician, professor and novelist. (ECW Press)

P.K. says: "This book starts out with a scene that's very reminiscent of the David Cronenberg film Eastern Promises. If you remember that movie, it starts with a client having his throat cut in a barber shop. This book also begins in a barber shop. But this time it's the barber who gets slashed — and there's a lot of blood on the floor.

"It's a very grim book. The whole book is set in Hamilton and part of the scenes are actually a five-minute walk from where I'm sitting right now. It's an excellent book."

Snow by John Banville

John Banville is an Irish novelist, short story writer and screenwriter. (Douglas Banville, Hanover Square Press)

Margaret says: "It's 1957 in Ireland. The new detective is St. John  "Sinjun" Strafford, who arrives at a country house that is very reminiscent of Agatha Christie. He finds an absolutely savage murder of a local priest, who has been murdered and mutilated. The clues are all around, but they don't mean anything.

"There are plots within plots and Sinjun is forced to deal with the all-powerful Catholic clergy in Ireland as well. It's an interesting book, not only as a mystery, but also because the characters are riveting. We also get a glimpse into the power struggles of a country that is in the process of becoming one."

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

Richard Osman is an English television presenter, producer, comedian and writer. (Penguin Books UK 2020, Viking)

J.D. says: "This is a debut novel. The fact that the author, Richard Osman, is a British TV personality, probably hasn't hurt the sales of the book all that much. There are enough hints, enough holes left unfilled that you know there will be sequels. It's about group of senior citizens who investigate cases that the local police have bungled — and they tend to bungle regularly. So there's a lot of grist for this particular club's mill — and they find themselves in the middle of a murder investigation.

"The developer of the former convent where these old dears live is looking for a loophole. In the original contract, he had agreed to preserve the chapel and the graveyard, but he is now eyeing that little piece of property for eight more units. There's also an inconvenient partner who might as well be underground, as Gilbert and Sullivan would say. So someone's going to get it in the neck. The police will be stuck, but our gang are on hand to gently nudge them in the right direction."

The Dogs of Winter by Ann Lambert 

Ann Lambert is a Montreal-based playwright and author. (Pierre Arsenault, Second Story Press)

P.K. says: "This it's really a very grim novel, set in downtown Montreal. The two main characters are a biology teacher and a police officer. 

"It discusses a whole lot of issues, including police brutality and attitudes. It's a very Canadian book. It's really well worth reading just for that. It's very well written."

White Ivy by Susie Yang 

Susie Yang is an American author. (Onur Pinar Photography, Simon & Schuster)

Margaret says: "This is an absolutely terrific psychological suspense novel. Ivy is a very accomplished liar. She looks so sweet and charming. The book starts out when she's an adolescent, desperate to be noticed by the rich and powerful kids in her school. She's attracted to the golden boy of the school who is the son of a wealthy, politically connected family.

"Of course, they don't pay any attention to her, but she finds she's able to move up socially and become a very successful young woman.  A decade later in Boston, she once again encounters the golden boy and her obsession with him has not stopped. 

"From there, we go into a really creepy novel." 

Obsidian by Thomas King

Obsidian is a novel by Thomas King. (HarperCollins Canada)

P.K. says: "It's really funny. This book is supposed to deal with a cold case, it's supposed to be dealing with murders and grim stories, but you actually don't realize it because it's one extended lark. 

"The people move in and out with little one-liners. There's lot of social commentary and it's far from grim."

The Law of Innocence by Michael Connelly 

Michael Joseph Connelly is an American author of detective novels and crime fiction. (Mark DeLong, Grand Central Publishing)

J.D. says: "This the sixth in the Lincoln Lawyer series. I, of course, wasted little time in getting to it. As a defence attorney, Mickey Haller is always at odds with the police. On his way home from a bar, where he and some fellow defence attorneys had gathered to celebrate, he's stopped by the police, who conveniently find a dead body in the trunk of his Lincoln. Mickey understands he's been set up, but the question is who?

"It's reasonably lengthy but tt moves along at a great pace. And once you get started, you won't want to put that down."

The panellists' comments have been edited for clarity and length. 

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