The girls, both outcasts, meet in the school cafeteria in September 1948 after a classmate points out Judy to Philippa, telling her, “Judy Peabody. The one with the bangs. She drops bricks on cats. Kills them for fun.” Their fascination — or is it obsession? — with each other, and with crime, begins after the death of a fellow student and the disappearance of a beloved pulp-fiction-loving teacher.
To expose the darkness and rot beneath his tale, Copenhaver peppers it with literary allusions — Greek tragedy abounds, as do allusions to “Wuthering Heights,” classic poetry and contemporary detective fiction. But this 1940s noir homage would not succeed if it weren’t for Judy and Philippa’s chemistry, which promises to deepen — and perhaps combust — over two more books.
After years in the fantasy and horror genre trenches, Cherie Priest decided she needed to immerse herself in lighter fare. The result is the delightful GRAVE RESERVATIONS (Atria, 289 pp., $26), the first in what I hope is a new series featuring Leda Foley, a travel agent at Foley’s Far-Fetched Flights of Fancy, whose spotty psychic powers help her to solve crimes.
That Leda ventures into amateur sleuth territory is the result of serendipity, specifically her impulsive last-minute decision to rebook a client on a different flight. When the original plane goes down in flames on the tarmac, that client, the Seattle police detective Grady Merritt, demands some answers.
“I changed your flight because I did know something was wrong — but I swear to you, I didn’t know what it was,” she tells him. “I might’ve been vibing off the cosmic certainty of the plane crashing.” Merritt is savvy enough to realize Leda’s abilities could be useful (off the books, natch) for a double-murder investigation that is proving nettlesome, especially when it links to a tragedy in Leda’s past.
The key pleasure in “Grave Reservations” is Leda’s company, whether she’s hanging out with her best friend Niki or giving “klairvoyant karaoke” performances at a local bar. Priest layers the humor and camaraderie with unexpectedly moving scenes of Leda haunted by old grief. As she discovers, the line between what’s lost and what can’t be sensed by others turns out to be gossamer-thin.