by Lesley-Anne Longo
Published at 2016-08-10
In my most recent Kobo shopping spree, I was on the hunt for some great titles to carry me through the summer. I often find that I read certain genres in phases, and this summer has been no different – I seem to be going through mysteries of various kinds at a fast pace! So if you're looking for something a little creepier than your average beach read, I've got my top three picks for you.
Before We Met, a novel by Lucie Whitehouse, made my hour-long commutes to and from Toronto fly by! Set in London in present day (well, 2014), the story follows Hannah, a marriage-shy woman determined not to follow in the footsteps of her bitterly divorced mother. However, one summer she meets Mark Reilly, and comes to realize that her ideas of what marriage is may be ill-conceived. Now, she’s living in an expensive London house, is well-loved by her extremely successful new husband, and so glad she decided to let down her guard.
Uncharacteristically, when Mark doesn’t return from a New York business trip, hours, then days pass with no word about where he is. Hannah panics and begins calling around, asking if anyone has heard from Mark, and as small details trickle in, her trust in the foundation of their marriage begins to slip. Why doesn’t his personal assistant know about his business trip? Who is the woman that’s been calling his office? Why has he suddenly hidden his banking files? The more questions Hannah asks, the more questions seem to be raised. When Mark does return home, he seems to have an explanation for everything, but something in the back of Hannah’s mind tells her that there’s still something that doesn’t feel right.
From the description, this book sounds like your typical novel about a secret love affair, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Disconcerting throughout and disturbing at points, Before We Met was a book I just couldn’t seem to put down. Some mysteries are written and set up in such a way that you can pretty much guess what the end of the story holds, but one of the reasons I liked this book was that I felt just as confused and unsettled as Hannah did — I was never sure what was truth and what was not. I’m definitely going to be reading more of Whitehouse’s books — a good mystery is hard to find!
I chose a lighter non-fiction book for my week at the cottage — I like taking in a few non-fiction titles over the summer, but I also don’t want a book that requires deep thinking and meticulously keeping track of various details and backstories. I bought Donnie Eichar’s Dead Mountain: The True Story of the Dyatlov Pass Incident on a whim, and thought it would make for some fun sensationalist reading.
If you haven’t heard of the Dyatlov Pass Incident, it’s one of the eeriest mysteries in Russia’s history. In February 1959, a group of nine experienced hikers in the Russian Ural Mountains died mysteriously on an elevation known as Dead Mountain. Unsettling aspects of the incident — unexplained injuries, signs that the hikers had cut open and fled the tent without proper clothing or shoes, a strange final photograph taken by one of the hikers, and elevated levels of radiation found on some of their clothes — have led to decades of speculation over what really happened.
I was expecting conspiracy theories and talk of Bigfoot. However, the book ended up being a really great piece of literary non-fiction, combining a mixture of well-documented research and two interesting narratives (descriptions from one of the hikers’ personal journals, and Eicher’s reflections written in the present day). It was also a good level of creepy — at one point I had to stop reading it at night. I won’t spoil the ending, but the author does come to a plausible-sounding (to non-scientist me, anyway) scientific explanation as to what happened to the hikers.
I just finished The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective by Kate Summerscale, and it was a great read, through a little different from my other two picks. It’s definitely a book that requires more effort to follow, but the effort is worth it — the book explains how this one murder case changed literature as a whole, and how it affected the mid-Victorian society. Summerscale has fastidiously researched and reconstructed one of England’s most infamous murders, the Road Hill murder case of 1860, which occurred in Wiltshire. The book follows the murder of a three-year-old boy, a member of a well-to-to family, which, as Summerscale says, was “perhaps the most disturbing murder of its time.”
Scotland Yard sent its best man, Detective Jonathan Whicher, to solve the case, which had horrified the country. Detectives were a fairly new invention, and this case would prove to lead to a national obsession with detection — everyone had their own theories about who the culprit was. What is more interesting, though, is how the case tied into the broader culture of the time: Whicher faced severe backlash and difficulty in trying to do his job because of how deeply entrenched the notion of privacy was in Victorian England. He had to work against the press, the family, and even against other police officers, and both his investigations and the secrets he unearthed made followers of the case profoundly uncomfortable, as the very idea of what a detective was (a lower-class worker meddling in the family affairs of a middle-class family) threatened the ideals of English society. The case also changed literature, as writers of the day, such as Wilkie Collins and Charles Dickens, were influenced by the murder, giving rise to the detective novel and the “sensation” novel.
*I discovered through research for this post that The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher was made into a television series!
So there you have it: three great mystery options that will keep you guessing to the very end! If you’ve read any great mysteries this summer, let us know! Tweet us @EditingCo!