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Mayhem of the Month, July 2020

Calgon, take me away! I’m just barely old enough to remember the TV ads, but I never really bought them. Among other things, who wears full makeup to take a bath? So I am not banking on the bubbles to get me out of here.

However, to quote Miss Emily Dickinson, there is no frigate like a book. And with our Great Escapes sample chapters, you can test out each port of call before completely disembarking. So climb aboard, me hearties, and let’s set a course for…

India, to start? Why not? We've loved Elizabeth Ironside for years, and her Death in the Garden put F&M on the map back in the day, with NPR calling it a “minor masterpiece,” and the Washington Post comparing it, favorably, to the work of Dorothy L. Sayers. But Ms. Ironside’s other work deserves some love as well. Her very first book, A Very Private Enterprise won England's prestigious Creasy award for Best Debut Crime Novel of the Year, and the Times Literary Supplement called it “really excellent…with original and interesting characters, great atmosphere…and a genuine surprise.” As you’ll see in the opening chapter, it’s set in India’s British diplomatic community, a milieu that Ironside knows very well, and this insider’s view, combined with gorgeously rendered local color, make for an absorbing read.

But perhaps, as the summer hits home, you’ve had enough of heat and dust? No worries. Karin Alvtegen's Missing, set on the chilly streets of Stockholm, was shortlisted for an Edgar award for Best Mystery of the Year, and won the Glass Key award for Best Scandinavian Mystery. It features one of the genre’s most intriguing protagonists, and has an irresistible opening chapter. Try the sample here; we bet you’ll decide to set your course due north.

Maybe you’d prefer some giggles on your journey? We love the Feng Shui Detective series, set in Singapore. The eponymous protagonist, a Mr. C. F. Wong, has enough troubles on his plate. His secretary is lazy, the restaurant downstairs keeps messing up his dumpling order, and nobody wants to publish his brilliant “Pearls of Oriental Wisdom.” Truly, truly, he did not need another problem, but that’s exactly what he’s got, in the form of a teenage intern with a rich daddy and a yen to be a private detective. Author Nury Vittachi is a major literary star in Asia; one chapter will show you why. 

Anna Blundy's The Bad News Bible is set in Israel, but really, it’s set in the ever-delightful land of Schadenfreude. Because no matter how crummy your Covid-ified life may feel right now, Faith Zanetti’s life is worse. True, her work as a war correspondent means she travels the world staying in swanky hotels on somebody else’s dime, but she’s in constant danger of being blown up. And the kicker is...that’s the way she likes it: given enough explosions, nobody bothers to count your drinks. And with a deadline always looming, there's never time to think about the lies you’ve told and the promises you’ve broken. Yes, Faith is happy as an expat clam…until her best friend is found hanging dead in her hotel room, and Faith discovers there isn’t enough vodka in the world to blot out that nifty memory. The Guardian called Bible “sharp and hilarious.” Don’t believe it? Give the first chapter a try. 

Finally, for my money, great espionage makes for the most transporting reads, because the genre demands layers upon layers of illusion. The two spy yarns we’re offering this month—Carolyn Hougan's Shooting In the Dark, set in Amsterdam during the Iran Hostage Crisis, and Robert Cullen's Soviet Sources, set in 1980s Moscow—appear at first to be very different. Colin Burke, the journalist hero of Sources, is the insider’s insider, the man who knows where all the bodies are buried, while Claire Brooks, of Shooting, is the classic innocent-who-took-a-wrong-turn, a betrayed American wife who came to Holland to regroup among the tulips only to find herself knee-deep in Cold War soup. And yet the books have this in common: Both are deliriously well written and laced with irony so thick you could spread it on toast. But don’t take my word for it; visit the samples (the Netherlands! Russia!) for yourself.

Even the most fascinating journey has to end. Few escapes are forever. But we hope that by providing a bit of an...international paperback vacation, we can make it easier to cope with the Corona Crazies, and that after a trip to India, Istanbul, Moscow, or Singapore, you’ll feel more able to embrace whatever you’ve got going at home. 

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