If you haven’t read one of her five Bailey Weggins novels, you’ve missed one of the strongest contemporary mystery series.
Bailey is a young and hip Manhattan journalist — with a career running parallel to that of her creator — and the books combine well-plotted murder puzzles with a very compelling look behind the scenes of the glossy magazine business.
Fans were probably somewhat disappointed when it was announced that the new White novel, “Hush” (Harper), is a stand-alone thriller having nothing to do with Bailey or her sometimes glamorous job.
But, the new book is only a temporary detour from the White series — we are promised another Bailey book in two years — and “Hush” happens to be a terrific paranoid thriller with the same sort of Manhattan color we have come to expect from the author.
The way that the everyday life of marketing consultant Lake Warren begins to crumble — with her own job and lifestyle the sources of the danger she faces — reminded me of vintage Ira Levin.
The thing that made Levin’s masterpiece, “Rosemary’s Baby,” so compelling was that the setting felt so real. Levin filled the Manhattan of his heroine and her actor husband with so many perfect tiny details (hubby Guy having a small role in the Albert Finney production of “Luther,” for intance) that when the story slowly drifted into devil worship we believed what we were reading.
“Hush” isn’t a tale of the supernatural, but the fertility clinic that hires Lake as a consultant figures prominently in the narrative. As the story proceeds, and it becomes clear that our heroine is being targeted by a killer, White increases the terror by suggesting that something really awful is going on at the clinic.
Lake has gone through a sudden and painful divorce as the story begins, with joint custody of her young daughter and son, but the woman’s ex has started making odd noises about wanting full custody.
Our heroine misses sex and when a new doctor at the clinic invites her back to his SoHo apartment after an office dinner, Lake decides to shed her overly cautious ways for a change, and to have a one-night fling with this very good-looking man. She gets up in the middle of the (summer) night, falls asleep on a chaise longue on the apartment’s terrace, and returns to the bedroom to find her new lover with his throat slit.
Fearing a police investigation of her presence in the apartment might give her husband all of the custody ammunition he needs, Lake decides to flee the scene, and act as if nothing has happened.
When the news breaks, and it becomes clear the doctor was killed by somebody at the clinic, Lake realizes she needs to do her own investigation before the cops zero in on her.
White puts her heroine in a terrible and believable trap and she keeps ratcheting up the suspense (and the mystery of who killed the doctor) right up until the final chapter. It’s a memorable thriller debut by one of our best contemporary crime writers.