With Rutland Free Library getting ready to host a murder mystery party on May 3, a look at some off-beat crime novels.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

By Alan Bradley

Flavia de Luce is a delightful, precocious 11-year-old sleuth in 1950s England. She and her father live in a manor house that is losing its pre-war luster, which makes the setting feel both familiar and different enough to be fresh. There were just enough clues to feel like the mystery was solvable (although I only figured out the general overview, not the whole who / how / when / why). The ending felt a little overly complex. But I recommend this series to readers looking for a new cozy mystery.

Paper Ghosts

By Julia Heaberlin

A personal favorite. Heaberlin’s story involves a woman, Grace, trying to tease a confession out of Carl, a man suspected of murdering several young women — including Grace’s sister. Carl is beginning the slide into dementia, and so Grace takes him on a desperate road trip to sites associated with Carl’s past — and the dead women — in a final attempt to learn what happened to her sister.

The book is focused almost entirely on character, not action. It’s as creepy as anything but has almost no gore … like a suspense movie where the deaths happen just off-screen. It has a strong sense of place, used particularly well in isolated, rural scenes. The overall effect is claustrophobic, as Grace and Carl travel through a vast landscape, ever more closely together. For various reasons, Grace allows Carl more and more control, more physical contact, more opportunity to add her to his list of (suspected) victims. If your taste runs more toward buckets of blood, chase scenes, combat and torture instead of incremental increases in tension, this is not your book. But if you like a more cerebral thrill, I highly, highly recommend “Paper Ghosts.”

Bluff

By Michael Kardos

A wildly fresh caper novel, which is rare, set in a world of card tricks — and card cheats. The plot is what poker players call a slow play, with no hint as to the hole card until the hands go face up. The tension builds as much because readers expect a twist in the plot as anything, and Kardos ultimately delivers a short but action-filled climax. Lots of world-building detail on the craft of sleight of hand fills the time. Readers not interested in magic tricks might find it slow going.

The Talented Mr. Ripley

By Patricia Highsmith

I picked this oldie (1955) without knowing much about it beyond hearing the title when the movie came out. I was immediately entranced and read it compulsively.

Tom Ripley is my favorite new sociopath ... Hannibal Lecter with less blood; Raskolnikov with better taste in shoes (and much, much less guilt); the book is a moveable feast with murders. The setting is also a star ... it’s a noir take on a Rough Guide to 1950s Italy. I’m almost afraid to read another book by Highsmith because they can’t all be this good, can they?

Brilliant.

Randal Smathers is director of Rutland Free Library. All these titles are available through the library, which is hosting Murder by the Book, a murder mystery party, on May 3 from 7-9 p.m. Details at rutlandfree.org/event/murder.

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