Three Remarkable Reads to Cancel Out (for a Time) COVID-19 Worries

- Steve Forbes Cont.

The Boy from the Woods—by Harlan Coben (Grand Central Publishing, $29). Count on Coben to serve up a once-youstart-you-can’t-stop mystery/thriller. He introduces a new character that only he could pull off: a New Jersey version of Tarzan. The character, Wilde, was discovered 30 years earlier, living a feral existence in the woods (yes, contrary to its usual depiction, New Jersey is quite forested). Wilde has no memory of his past, and authoritie­s were unable to determine where he came from or why he was abandoned. What Wilde learned as a youngster, along with his later experience in the Army (he graduated from West Point) and a postmilita­ry stint as a private investigat­or, serve him well as he finds himself immersed in the disappeara­nce of a bullied high school girl and a popular classmate—as well as, ultimately, a long-ago murder. Another protagonis­t is familiar to Coben’s legion of fans: Hester Crimstein, a wise, smartaleck­y, high-profile criminal attorney who also hosts a TV show.

As the plot unfolds, moral dilemmas emerge. Coben’s characters are not onedimensi­onal, and Coben is a master at making everyday settings a backdrop for unsettling behavior.

A Divided Loyalty—by Charles Todd (William Morrow, $29). The motherand-son team Caroline and Charles Todd, writing under the latter’s name, have delivered the best novel yet in their Inspector Ian Rutledge series. Their writing is fluid and graceful, their scenes set up superbly.

The authors expertly evoke the sad, heavy atmosphere of immediate postWWI Britain and even more impressive­ly paint a powerfully poignant portrait of Rutledge. Our hero, who quietly yet intensely suffers from what at the time was called “shell shock,” is haunted by an incident that occurred during the Battle of the Somme. His battered unit was ordered to try yet again to take out a German machine-gun nest. All knew that the coming attack was lethally hopeless, and a corporal openly refused to obey the order. With the attack imminent, Rutledge made the decision to execute the soldier on the spot. Immediatel­y thereafter a shell hit, burying Rutledge with the dead corporal. Rutledge was rescued but afterward frequently heard the voice of the dead soldier taunting him.

Following the war Rutledge returned to Scotland Yard. However, he felt he had to keep his affliction a secret lest he get cashiered, as many in those days considered shell shock a sign of weakness. Adding to his woes, the woman to whom Rutledge had been engaged before the conflict has turned elsewhere.

It’s now early 1921. After solving the murder of an unidentifi­ed woman, Rutledge is sent to a small village built nearly in the center of a great prehistori­c stone circle to investigat­e the killing of another unidentifi­ed woman. However, Rutledge suspects that he’s being set up by a hostile boss, because the case hadn’t been solved earlier by a highly capable colleague. Rutledge’s failure to do what even a skilled detective could not will nonetheles­s be a mark against him in his superior’s desire to have grounds to be rid of him.

Rutledge dutifully begins his examinatio­n. Things unfold in disturbing ways, and the close is a stunner.

The Museum of Desire—by Jonathan

Kellerman (Ballantine Books, $29). Years ago, renowned child psychologi­st Kellerman gave up his practice to become a full-time writer. Tens of millions of books sold around the world attest to the wisdom of that choice. Kellerman’s penetratin­g perception­s of human nature—his criminals can be very evil people—give his mysteries a sharp edge, but he never descends into cynicism. His character sketches are vivid, his writing crisp and engaging. He knows how to weave a complex story in ways that keep readers captivated while providing enlighteni­ng insights into issues like homelessne­ss, as he does here, as well as into real-life facts about police procedures.

With psychologi­st Alex Delaware and Los Angeles police lieutenant Milo Sturgis, Kellerman has created the most captivatin­g whodunit duo since Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. Sturgis is especially memorable. Tall, burly, overweight (always up for junk food and sandwiches that wouldn’t please fussy nutritioni­sts) and quick to fire off piercing wisecracks, this unusually able detective—who also happens to be gay— won an arrangemen­t several books ago with a less-than-upright chief that allows him to stay in the department as a lieutenant not tied to a desk job, and thereby able to focus on what he does best: solve murders. Sturgis calls on Delaware, the narrator of this series, when he gets a tough case that can use outside-the-box psychologi­cal analysis.

Here, Sturgis needs it. Four bodies are found inside a white stretch limousine parked at a faux castle occasional­ly rented out for parties. At least three were put in the car postmortem. The victims have absolutely no relation to one another but are arranged in perversely erotic poses. During the oft-frustratin­g investigat­ion, another killing occurs.

Along the way to this case’s resolution, Kellerman turns a withering light on the pretension­s that populate parts of the art world, not to mention its dark side.

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