Mystery Book Club Review

For our July virtual meeting of the Mystery Book Club, we will be traveling the globe with Foreign Crimes. The unique settings and cultural details add a rich layer of complexity to the familiar twists and turns of the mystery genre.

Join us on Zoom to share your favorite book about misdeeds abroad on Thursday, July 15 at 7 p.m.! Register online here.

If you aren’t sure where to get started for this month’s reading, check out a few selections gathered by our librarians. This list features books written in or translated into English by authors from the regions they write about as well as ones by authors who just have a fascination with their foreign setting.

A Beautiful Crime by Christopher Bollen – Setting: Italy

Summary: When Nicholas Brink leaves New York City to join his boyfriend, Clay Guillory, in Italy, he thinks he knows what he’s getting into. Clay has come into a small inheritance from an eccentric bohemian artist: the windfall consists of counterfeit heirlooms as well as a share in a decrepit Venetian palazzo. He hopes to use Nick’s connection to an antiques dealer to unload the fake silver on a brash, unsuspecting American. Clay’s smarts and Nick’s charm are the keys to pulling off their scheme. After succeeding in their initial con, however, Nick decides that more money can be made in Venice to set them up for life–even if their next move involves drastically greater risks. As it turns out, nothing in Venice is as it seems, and more than one life stands in the way of their happiness.


A Burning by Megha Majumdar – Setting: India

Summary: After a fiery attack on a train leaves 104 people dead, the fates of three people become inextricably entangled. Jivan, a bright, striving woman from the slums looking for a way out of poverty, is wrongly accused of planning the attack because of a careless comment on Facebook. PT Sir, a slippery gym teacher from Jivan’s former high school, has hitched his aspirations to a rising right-wing party, and his own ascent becomes increasingly linked to Jivan’s fall. Lovely, a spirited, impoverished, relentlessly optimistic Hjira, who harbors dreams of becoming a Bollywood star, can provide the alibi that would set Jivan free – but her appearance in court will have unexpected consequences that will change the course of all of their lives.


The Aosawa Murders by Riku Onda – Setting: Japan (translated)

Summary: On a stormy summer day, the Aosawas, owners of a prominent local hospital, host a large birthday party. The occasion turns into tragedy when 17 people die from cyanide in their drinks. The only surviving links to what might have happened are a cryptic verse that could be the killer’s, and the physician’s bewitching blind daughter, Hisako, the only person spared injury.

The police are convinced that Hisako had a role in the crime, as are many in the town, including the author of a bestselling book about the murders written a decade after the incident, who was herself a childhood friend of Hisako and witness to the discovery of the murders. The truth is revealed through a skillful juggling of testimony by different voices: family members, witnesses and neighbors, police investigators and, of course, the mesmerizing Hisako herself.


Conviction by Denise Mina – Setting: Scotland

Summary: Anna McDonald, an upper-class Edinburgh housewife who enjoys listening to the sordid details of true-crime podcasts, has her world turned upside down when a new podcast turns out to have connections to her own dark past. The devils of her past are awakened — and in hot pursuit. Convinced she has no other options, she goes on the run in pursuit of the truth with a washed-up musician at her side and the podcast as her guide.


The Darkness by Ragnar Jónasson – Setting: Iceland (translated)

First book in the Hulda series

Summary: The body of a young Russian woman washes up on an Icelandic shore. After a cursory investigation, the death is declared a suicide and the case is quietly closed.

Over a year later, Detective Inspector Hulda Hermannsdóttir of the Reykjavík police is forced into early retirement at 64. But before she leaves she is given two weeks to solve a single cold case of her choice. She knows which one: the Russian woman whose hope for asylum ended on the dark, cold shore of an unfamiliar country.

Soon Hulda discovers that another young woman vanished at the same time, and that no one is telling her the whole story. Even her colleagues in the police seem determined to put the brakes on her investigation. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking. Hulda will find the killer, even if it means putting her own life in danger.


The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi – Setting: Nigeria

Summary: Raised by a distant father and an understanding but overprotective mother, Vivek suffers disorienting blackouts, moments of disconnection between self and surroundings. As adolescence gives way to adulthood, Vivek finds solace in friendships with the warm, boisterous daughters of the Nigerwives, foreign-born women married to Nigerian men. But Vivek’s closest bond is with Osita, the worldly, high-spirited cousin whose teasing confidence masks a guarded private life. As their relationship deepens, an act of violence leads to a family’s struggle with loss and transcendence.


Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia – Setting: Mexico

Summary: After receiving a frantic letter from her newly-wed cousin begging for someone to save her from a mysterious doom, Noemí Taboada, a glamorous debutante, heads to High Place, a distant house in the Mexican countryside. She’s not sure what she will find—her cousin’s husband, a handsome Englishman, is a stranger, and Noemí knows little about the region. But she’s also tough and smart, with an indomitable will, and she is not afraid despite the odd behavior of the family and the house staff.

However, as Noemí’s dreams begin to turn into visions of blood and doom, her will starts to waver. There are many secrets behind the walls of High Place. The family’s once colossal wealth and faded mining empire kept them from prying eyes, but as Noemí digs deeper, she unearths stories of violence and madness. And Noemí, falling under the spell of the terrifying yet seductive world of High Place, may soon find it impossible to ever leave this enigmatic house behind.


The Missing American by Kwei Quartey – Setting: Ghana

Summary: When her dreams of rising through the Accra police ranks like her late father crash around her, 26-year-old Emma Djan is unsure what will become of her career. Through a sympathetic former colleague, Emma gets an interview with a private detective agency that takes on cases of missing persons, theft, and infidelity. It’s not the future she imagined, but it’s her best option.

Meanwhile, Gordon Tilson, a middle-aged widower in Washington, DC, has found solace in an online community after his wife’s passing. Through the support group, he’s even met a young Ghanaian widow he’s come to care about. When her sister gets into a car accident, he sends her thousands of dollars to cover the hospital bill—to the horror of his only son, Derek. Then Gordon decides to surprise his new love by paying her a visit—and disappears. Fearing for his father’s life, Derek follows him across the world to Ghana, the Internet capital of the world, where he and Emma will find themselves deep in a world of sakawa scams, fetish priests, and those willing to kill to protect their secrets.


The Opium Prince by Jasmine Aimaq – Setting: Afghanistan

Summary: Afghanistan, 1970s. Born to an American mother and a late Afghan war hero, Daniel Sajadi has spent his life navigating a complex identity. After years in Los Angeles, he is returning home to Kabul at the helm of a US foreign aid agency dedicated to eradicating the poppy fields that feed the world’s opiate addiction.

But on the drive out of Kabul for an anniversary trip with his wife, Daniel accidentally hits and kills a young Kochi girl named Telaya. He is let off with a nominal fine, in part because nomad tribes are ignored in the eyes of the law, but also because a mysterious witness named Taj Maleki intercedes on his behalf. Wracked with guilt and visions of Telaya, Daniel begins to unravel, running from his crumbling marriage and escalating threats from Taj, who turns out to be a powerful opium khan willing to go to extremes to save his poppies.


The Safe Place by Anna Downes – Setting: France

Summary: Emily Proudman’s life is in chaos. She’s just lost her acting agent and her job in one miserable day. Scott Denny has a problem and, even though he’s a successful CEO, neither his business acumen nor vast wealth can come close to fixing it. He’s at a breaking point. Until he meets Emily. Emily is friendly and agreeable and, even better, she is desperate. So Scott offers Emily what seems like the perfect summer job as a housekeeper and nanny on his remote French estate.

Emily is quickly enchanted by his lovely wife, Nina, and even his strange young daughter, and falls headlong into this apparent paradise. But before long, Emily realizes that Scott and his wife are hiding dangerous secrets. If Emily doesn’t play along, the beautiful place they call home might turn out to be a prison from which none of them will ever escape.


The Searcher by Tana French – Setting: Ireland

Summary: Cal Hooper thought a fixer-upper in a bucolic Irish village would be the perfect escape. After twenty-five years in the Chicago police force and a bruising divorce, he just wants to build a new life in a pretty spot with a good pub where nothing much happens. But when a local kid whose brother has gone missing arm-twists him into investigating, Cal uncovers layers of darkness beneath his picturesque retreat and starts to realize that even small towns shelter dangerous secrets.


The Survivors by Jane Harper – Setting: Australia

Summary: Kieran Elliott’s life changed forever on the day a reckless mistake led to devastating consequences. The guilt that still haunts him resurfaces during a visit with his young family to the small coastal community he once called home. Kieran’s parents are struggling in a town where fortunes are forged by the sea. Between them all is his absent brother, Finn. When a body is discovered on the beach, long-held secrets threaten to emerge. A sunken wreck, a missing girl, and questions that have never washed away…


Be sure to come to our next Mystery Book Club to share your favorite book about misdeeds abroad on Thursday, July 15 at 7 p.m.! Register online here.

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