January Mysteries

A combination of police detective and amateur sleuth is common in crime fiction. But the one that Guy Fraser-Sampson selects with ingenuity and courage elevates “What Would Wimsey Do?” (Felony & Mayhem, $26, 312 pages) above the ordinary.

The title telegraphs Fraser-Sampson’s tribute to one aspect of the Golden Age of British mysteries: The legacy of Dorothy L. Sayers’ beloved Lord Peter Wimsey will figure prominently in this novel, the first of the author’s five “Hampstead Murders” books to be published in the United States.

When a serial killer claims a fifth victim in London’s Hampstead area, Scotland Yard removes Detective Chief Inspector Tom Allen from the case and assigns Detective Superintendent Simon Collison to oversee the investigation. And when Detective Constable Karen Willis suggests calling in a profiler — her lover, psychologist Peter Collins — Collison agrees.

Collins, who speaks and dresses like Wimsey, provides help that leads Collison and his team to an arrest and a conviction. But things fall apart in the worst way, and the case must be reopened.

A whodunit that Golden Age aficionados will find irresistible, it’s one in which Sayers’ characters make several appearances, evidence proves deceiving and a final twist reveals the stunning truth.

Imaginatively conceived and intelligently executed, “What Would Wimsey Do?” melds wit with wisdom as it honors the splendors of the traditional mystery.

***

“You can run but you cannot hide, this is widely known,” James Taylor sings in “Shower the People.”

It’s something that Beth Rivers learns quickly in “Thin Ice” (Minotaur, $26.99, 288 pages), the opener in a projected series by Paige Shelton.

Beth, who writes bestselling thrillers under the pseudonym Elizabeth Fairchild, has fled Missouri for a remote village in Alaska after escaping from a sociopathic kidnapper. With a brain-surgery scar on her head and memory blanks within it, she hopes isolation will protect her.

But village Sheriff Grilson “Gril” Samuels knows her story and persuades her to revive, without pay, the local free newspaper.

Beth is not content to run community calendars and Girl Scout notes; she wants to examine the gunshot death of resident Linda Rafferty.

As Beth, Gril and park ranger–deputy sheriff Donner Montgomery investigate the Rafferty case, Beth begins to experience memory flashes that might help the Missouri cops find and capture her abductor.

Shelton, the author of four other series — all cozies — constructs a tougher, edgier plot in “Thin Ice,” one that contains three separate storylines.

In Beth, she creates a fully realized, complex character; the supporting cast is equally well-drawn.

Replete with vivid Alaska color, this chilling thriller — perfect for a cold winter’s night — will leave readers impatient for a sequel.

***

The holiday decorations have come down, the fruitcake has been consumed or chucked, and no one is still wishing “Peace on Earth” to strangers.

So let’s visit our darker natures and revel in L.C. Shaw’s thriller, “The Network” (Harper, $16.99, 400 pages).

When investigative reporter Jack Logan answers a knock on the door of his New York City apartment, he’s surprised to see a frantic U.S. senator from Virginia, Malcolm Phillips. And he’s stunned by Phillips’ request: If he dies, Jack must protect his widow, Taylor, Jack’s former lover.

When an apparent allergic reaction kills the senator, Jack speeds to Taylor’s McLean home to deliver a final letter from her husband, which implores her to join Jack in an effort to locate a mysterious man named Jeremy.

And the chase is on in this on-the-run story, which leads to the Institute, a shadowy organization that uses cruelty to cultivate leadership among the elite of potent institutions, including government, entertainment, science and communications.

Among the players are Brody Hamilton, another senator; Crosby Wheeler, a producer of sordid reality shows; Warwick Parks, a Washington newspaper executive; and Maya Papakalos, a physician who wins a fellowship to the Institute.

What follows is a web of treachery and duplicity as Jack and Taylor survive multiple attempts on their lives — efforts orchestrated by the Institute’s founder and leader, Damon Crosse, whose agenda represents the dark side of an eternal struggle for power.

Part Dan Brown, part Ira Levin, part Ian Fleming, part Steve Berry — and wholly terrifying — “The Network” displays Shaw’s talents, skills that enable her to produce nearly unbearable tension and multiple shocks as she seizes the reader and never lets go, not even on the final page.

Jay Strafford, a retired Richmond Times-Dispatch editor and writer, now lives in Florida.

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