The Dollhouse: A Novel

By Fiona Davis — Dutton, 2017

Aspiring career women of the 1950s often left home to attend secretarial school or to seek jobs in New York City. The times called for young, unmarried women to live in supervised boarding houses to preserve their reputations, and the glamorous Barbizon Hotel was one such residence. The women experienced unfathomable sexism, yet they played as hard as they worked, with forbidden escorts and visits to jazz clubs in “bad” parts of town. This novel centers around the Barbizon, which was renovated to upscale condominiums in 1981. A few original tenants, now in their 80s, like Darby McLaughlin, were grandmothered in and still live on the fourth floor. New renter Rose Lewin, a journalist, is intrigued by an unsolved mystery from the ’50s and is determined to solve it with Darby’s help. Readers will enjoy this look at vintage Manhattan as the duo’s reconnaissance takes us back to the hotel’s heyday, illuminating the lives of residents and staff at that time in the city’s history.

State of Wonder

By Ann Patchett – Harper, 2011

A medical mystery set in an exotic locale, intriguing characters, family drama, life and death—it’s all here in this ambitious novel. Scientist Marina Singh is dispatched to the rain forest by her Midwestern pharmaceutical company to investigate the mysterious death of a coworker. The deceased had been documenting the research of a 70-something rogue doctor who claimed that the native women of the forest could bear children throughout their full lives. Though impeded by insects, cannibals and sickness, Marina is determined to get to the bottom of the story. Your skin will crawl and your heart race as the story unfolds, and in the end of this intense and intriguing work of fiction, you may wonder, should what happens in the jungle, stay in the jungle?

Intelligence: A Novel of the CIA

Who doesn’t enjoy a good spy story? Susan Hasler is a veteran of the counter-intelligence system and captures with chilling realism a terrorist plot as it unfolds at the local ballpark. The daily politics of working for the government are spelled out as only an insider might know them. We meet the team that tries to save the day—and their jobs—while walking the political line. An affair between two 60-somethings is discovered by this group and the angst of the colleagues-turned-lovers is portrayed refreshingly, with both tenderness and realism. The book is a nice change from others in this genre usually written from the male point of view. Read Intelligence for the edge-of-your-seat thrills and applaud Hasler for making her midlife characters dignified and authentic.

Turn of Mind

Did she or didn’t she? This story of a 64-year-old woman with dementia is a page turner, so deftly written that you are drawn in from the start. Jennifer White is a retired surgeon suspected of killing her best friend, with whom she had a lifelong love-hate relationship. When we meet Jennifer, she is living at home with a full-time caregiver, and her memory is deteriorating quickly. While all clues point to Jennifer as the killer, the complex personalities of her son and daughter make the verdict anything but a slam dunk. Despite the fact that the fingers of the victim were severed with Jennifer’s scalpel—and Jennifer was seen leaving her friend’s home on the day of the murder—reasonable doubt remains. LaPlante allows us to slip into the abyss of dementia with Jennifer, who can no longer say with any certainty if she is, in fact, innocent. Achingly realistic, tragic and haunting, this book will stay with you for a very long time.

Moving Day: A Thriller

By Jonathan Stone – Thomas and Mercer, 2014

It’s a brilliant scam: uniformed thieves show up with a van, ahead of schedule, and pack up the house. When the actual movers arrive the next day, all possessions are long gone. But this time, the crooks messed with the wrong man. Stanley Peke is a 72-year-old Holocaust survivor who as a child was forced to find his way alone in the woods when the Nazis left him orphaned and homeless. Peke has successfully buried his past: he works hard, lives well and invests wisely. Incensed and refusing to be victimized again, Peke channels that resilient boy to cross the country, humiliate the thief and reclaim a lifetime’s worth of possessions. Moving Day is a psychological thriller with intelligent characters in a harrowing plot that shows just how far a man will go to keep his treasures and his pride.

Rage Against the Dying

By Becky Masterman – Minotaur, 2013

Retired agent returns to action to seek the one that got away. Don’t be turned off by the familiar theme of this fast-paced thriller—there is plenty of originality and suspense to make it worthwhile. For starters, at 59, tiny, white-haired, former FBI agent Brigid Quinn defies ageist stereotyping, and her chutzpah alone makes this an entertaining read. When Quinn thinks evidence from a string of murders isn’t what it’s cracked up to be, she goes rogue to find the killer of her one-time protégé. As she also struggles to honor her commitment to her new husband and the life they’ve created, demons from her glory days keep interfering. Suspects abound, but Quinn’s obsession could cost her her marriage—or her life. You may find yourself hoping Quinn stays out of retirement for plenty of sequels. (Silver Century readers may be intrigued to know that the author met with a harsh rejection at first: an agent told her that “Nobody is interested in a woman older than 30.”)

The Girl Next Door

If you haven’t read anything by award-winning British mystery writer Ruth Rendell, wait no longer. You have plenty to choose from. When she died at 85, Rendell’s titles numbered about 70. In The Girl Next Door, there’s no mystery about whodunnit. We know from the beginning that in the 1930s a man got away with killing his wife while the neighborhood children, playing in an underground tunnel, seemed unaware of any crime being committed. Decades later and now in their 70s, the friends, who long ago had gone their separate ways, reunite at the news that a cookie tin containing bones from the hands of a man and woman has been unearthed in their secret tunnel by construction workers. Whose bones are they? Rendell deftly brings us into the life of each character. Together again, the childhood friends revisit alliances, disagree, fall in love and, yes, evolve. No one here is defined by their age. Brilliant, rich and anything but a traditional crime novel.

The Woman Upstairs

By Claire Messud – Knopf, 2013

Nora is a schoolteacher in her early 40s; she has never married, and she feels invisible, discarded. And boy, is she angry. Is that because her life’s dream of becoming an artist took a backseat to her role as a devoted daughter? Called upon to advocate for a student, she falls in love with the boy’s family collectively and individually, each member awakening a part of Nora that had been dormant. Now she can see possibility where there was none. Nora imagines the boy as her own, the husband as her lover. Enamored with the boy’s mother, Nora shares a studio with her and creates art again. Her passion is unbridled until an unexpected event shatters Nora. A rich, psychological thriller about second chances gone awry.

Telling the Bees

By Peggy Hesketh – Putnam, 2013

At one time the Bee Ladies next door were his only friends. Now, apiarist Albert Honig has been estranged from the beekeepers for two decades until the day he finds them dead in their home, a suspected burglary gone wrong. Told in the voice of octogenarian Albert, this mystery unfolds at a gentle, hypnotic pace. Having lived his entire life among the bees, he has only his knowledge of apiculture to try to make sense of this tragedy. Alone with regrets for the friendship’s demise, he continues to wonder and reflect long after the police move on. Why would anyone rob these 80-year-old Bee Ladies? Beekeeping for the collection of honey has been a pastime for centuries and is still popular for city dwellers and country folk alike. Embedded in this mystery is a plethora of bee lore. If you are (or know) a beekeeper or ever wondered about the fascinating life of the honeybee, Telling the Bees will “bee” right up your alley.