Hilary Davidson has become quite well known for her traditionally published novels, but she got her start in online and small press publications devoted to short crime fiction. Now Davidson has collected nine of them in The Black Widow Club: Nine Tales of Obsession and Murder. The title story is from Needle, and it asks if murder can be a family tradition. It’s hard to pick a favorite here, but I really like the idea of a dead man trying to solve his own murder in “Undying Love.” Davidson continues to publish short stories both at online sites like Beat to a Pulp and in traditional formats such as Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine.
One new anthology appropriate to the season is The Big Book of Christmas Mysteries, edited by Otto Penzler. Big is the right word for this massive volume, nearly 70 stories in ten categories (“A Pulpy Little Christmas,” “A Traditional Little Christmas,” “A Sherlockian Little Christmas,” and so on). Familiar favorites like Doyle’s “The Blue Carbuncle” mingle with lesser-known works by John D. MacDonald (“Dead on Christmas Street”), and current greats like Ed Gorman (“The Christmas Kitten”) consort with classic stars like Rex Stout (“Christmas Party”). If you’re looking for a surefire Christmas gift, here it is.
Otto Penzler is the editor of Kwik Krimes, which contains even more stories than his Big Book of Christmas Mysteries collection (over 80). These stories, however, are shorter, as the title would indicate. In fact, they’re all told in fewer than a thousand words. Penzler plucked some of them from electronic magazines and commissioned others. They’re all fast and fun. As the blurb says, they “come and go as quickly as a gunshot.” (Disclaimer: I have a story in this book.)
Early Crimes by Max Allan Collins isn’t strictly a short story collection. Instead, it’s two stories and a short novel that will be of particular interest to anyone wanting to see work from the beginning of the writer’s career. The two stories were written in the late 1960s, though not published at the time. One of them, “Public Servant,” is in the Jim Thompson vein, and very effectively so. The other is a sort of Mickey Spillane/James M. Cain mash-up that’s interesting in its own right.
The first book I ever read by Loren D. Estleman was a Sherlock Holmes novel, so I was glad to see a new story by him in Sons of Moriarty and More Stories of Sherlock Holmes, which he also edited. It’s the title story, and the coda gives hope that there will be more in this vein.
Isabella Alan, aka Amanda Flower, presents Murder, Plain and Simple, first in her Amish Quilt Shop Mystery series. Capitalizing upon familiarity with Ohio Amish country, Alan masterfully re-creates the insular nature of a small town hewing to tradition. Propelled by fond memories and love of Amish quilts, Angie Braddock welcomes the opportunity to return to Ohio when her beloved aunt dies and bequeaths her a quaint quilt shop. Unfortunately, a surly Amish neighbor contests Angie’s claim to the property and the deed has vanished. It is no surprise, then, that Angie becomes a prime suspect when she discovers the man’s corpse in her stockroom. Luckily, she has friends—old and new—who help her solve the murder in the nick of time. Alan’s rich characterizations, skillful plotting, and evocative descriptions coalesce in this surefire winner. I am already eagerly awaiting Murder, Simply Stated, slated for spring 2014 release.
Barbara Ross has concocted a wicked good series opener, Clammed Up, the first Maine Clambake Mystery. Echoing a refrain common to the cozy genre these days, Ross conveys her protagonist, Julia Snowden, back to her hometown to run a business, in this case the foundering Snowden Family Clambake Company. Julia leaves New York and her high-powered position as a venture capitalist, to employ her corporate skills to negotiate a reprieve from the bank seeking to foreclose on the family business. While Julia does succeed in creating a satisfactory business plan, the agreement permits the business only a few days of income-losing downtime. Nonetheless, Julia optimistically proceeds, beginning the season with a wedding event that she has agreed to host on the family’s island. This enterprise rapidly sours when the best man disappears, leaving the groom behind on the mainland to retrieve him. Yes, matters deteriorate further when the wedding party arrives and discovers the missing best man—hanging in the ancestral Snowden home. Immediately, Julia’s business plan is threatened because of days lost to the investigation. I won’t reveal additional plot strands—indeed, they are plentiful. Instead, I heartily recommend that you pick up this book and devour it forthwith. I ardently hope that Barbara Ross continues the momentum she has generated in this excellent series debut.
Check out series opener Murder at Hatfield House, by Amanda Carmack (aka Amanda McCabe). Set in Elizabethan England during a time of political and religious tumult and treachery, Murder at Hatfield House introduces Kate Haywood, a musician who, along with her father, attends Princess Elizabeth during her exile from court during the reign of Queen Mary. Intrigue abounds as various factions vie for power, while Elizabeth maintains a low profile, biding her time. Alas, this modicum of peace is disrupted when one of Queen Mary’s particularly nasty envoys descends upon Hatfield House, hoping to unearth evidence of Elizabeth’s heresy. He is ultimately foiled and finally felled by the arrow of a mysterious cloaked archer. Elizabeth manages to escape the violence unscathed, assisted by Kate, who becomes her spy, of sorts. Kate becomes adept at gathering intelligence from townsfolk and servants, culminating in her attempt to corner the mysterious cloaked figure. In fact, Kate is so clever and dogged in her pursuit that she comes perilously close to death, as she successfully tracks, identifies and thwarts the murderer. As the book draws to its close, Queen Mary dies, and Elizabeth ascends to the throne, ensuring that we have not seen the last of the intrepid Kate.
Shelley Freydont’s Silent Knife is a fine Christmas mystery. This new Celebration Bay Mystery finds upstate New York town events coordinator Liv Montgomery striving to orchestrate a festival devoid of murder and mayhem. Yes, the season is not all merry and bright, especially when Santa Claus is slain. Happily, Liv runs the killer to ground and saves Christmas, after all. Silent Knife is the ideal stocking stuffer for your favorite cozy mystery lover.
The Gods of Guilt is the sixth in Michael Connelly’s bestselling legal series featuring the shrewd criminal defense attorney Mickey Haller. Known as “the Lincoln Lawyer” because his law office is the backseat of a Lincoln Town Car, Haller instills both ire and admiration in his opponents for his nearly unbeatable defense strategies.
A defense attorney’s job is to give his client the best possible defense. Sometimes that means the guilty go free. As the book opens Haller is haunted by the deaths of two women who were killed by a man he defended and got off. They’ve became members of his personal jury, his constant judges, his gods of guilt.
When Haller takes on a new case, he believes he is representing another person from what his disillusioned daughter calls the dregs of society, Andre La Cosse, a digital pimp accused of killing one of his business partners. However, the evidence is circumstantial and many things trouble Haller about the murder, including the appearance of a “mystery man.”
Haller recognizes the murdered woman as a former client, one he brokered a deal for years earlier that kept her out of jail and sent a notorious drug dealer away for life. As he reviews the facts and the players in that courthouse agreement, Haller discovers a startling connection to another lawsuit involving the victim. As Haller investigates, he becomes convinced that La Cosse was set up, that he is that one-in-a-hundred client who is actually innocent. With this knowledge, he builds the perfect defense, but can he and his client survive a sequence of vicious attacks long enough for him to present it?
Suspenseful, intense, and intellectually stimulating, The Gods of Guilt draws the reader behind the scenes and into the courtroom to witness a complicated battle to redeem an innocent man’s life and to expose corruption deep in the system.
Connelly’s complex interweaving of plots and attention to the details of the law make The Gods of Guilt an exciting and satisfying legal thriller. Readers will applaud his protagonist, despite Haller’s penchant for manipulating the law to suit his own purposes. Knowing he can feel guilt goes a long way in making him likable.
Gossip, revenge, sex parties, murder—and that’s just the biology department at the University of Copenhagen in this Scandinavian noir by Danish author S.J. Gazan. With her dissertation only two weeks away, doctoral candidate Anna Bella Nor is horrified by the gruesome death of her supervisor, Dr. Lars Helland, found dead with two items in his bloody lap: his severed tongue and her thesis. Her thesis contends that birds are descended from dinosaurs, a fiercely debated hypothesis. In fact, two camps of researchers are fighting about it like a couple of Tyrannosaurus Rex. Careers and fellowships hang in the balance.
As Police Superintendent Søren Marhauge investigates the murder, he uncovers bizarrely tangled relationships between staff members and the victim. When another corpse, that of Anna Bella’s fellow grad student and friend, is found, she comes to believe the murderer is someone she knows.
Anna Bella is a single mother who has sacrificed plenty for her career and is not about to let a little thing like murder stand in the way of getting her doctorate. Anna is a smart and engaging character. You can’t help but root for her, and hope she finds a way out of this academic nightmare.
Although the plot is complicated, the motivations in the end are clear. Author S.J. Gazan, a graduate of the University of Copenhagen with a degree in biology, mixes real science with finely drawn, eccentric characters.
When the action begins in Catriona McPherson’s latest 1920s novel, the witty and wealthy Dandy Gilver, leading partner in the Gilver and Osborne Detective Agency, responds to an urgent telephone call from a childhood friend: find out what is wrong with the caller’s suddenly reclusive and morose sister, Fleur Lipscott.
So, leaving her understanding husband behind at the family estate in Edinburgh, the adventurous Dandy immediately heads off with her sleuthing assistant, Alec Osborne, to the southwestern coastal village of Portpatrick, Scotland. It is there that Fleur has been a teacher at the pleasantly situated St. Columba’s College for Young Ladies, but as Dandy is soon warned by one of Fleur’s colleagues, the school has become “a place of great wickedness.” Then the distraught Fleur makes a startling announcement when she says, “I have killed four people.” She continues by warning that there is no telling “when it might happen again.”
Of course, Dandy doubts the truth of such shocking statements, and she is understandably concerned about Fleur’s state of mind, but—as Dandy soon discovers when an unidentified woman’s body washes up on the nearby beach—"there is a seething tangle of dark passions here in Portpatrick.” And with that as the starting point, the fascinating investigation continues onward to a surprising conclusion.
It must be further noted here that the author, Catriona McPherson, is an entertaining writer with first-rate abilities. Especially noteworthy are her cleverly-crafted plots and her memorable renderings of picturesque settings and characters’ personalities. In reviewers’ past praise of the series books Dandy Gilver and the Proper Treatment of Bloodstains and Dandy Gilver and an Unsuitable Day for Murder, McPherson has been compared with Agatha Christie and Jacqueline Winspear. However, the author’s consistently entertaining Dandy Gilver novels may also remind readers of works by Dorothy Sayers, especially because of the titular sleuth’s aristocratic pedigree and fierce loyalty to friends; moreover, even Dandy’s husband, Hugh, like everyone else, is often surprised by his wife’s unflappable independence, determination, and ingenuity.
The bottom line is this: If for an evening’s entertainment you are looking for a novel that is reminiscent of the very best cozy Golden Age mysteries, you will not want to miss Dandy Gilver’s latest adventure.
After splashing into the mystery universe in 2005 and winning an Edgar for her first novel, Officer Down, it’s now been a long four years since Theresa Schwegel’s last book, the brilliant Last Known Address. It’s been worth the wait.
One of Schwegel’s distinctions as a writer is that she can create a universe of believable characters of all ages and ethnicities. A thirtysomething mother of a toddler in real life, she manages to somehow inhabit their heads. Such empathy is nothing less than a gift, one shared by writers of only the very highest caliber. In this new novel, she manages to get inside the head of an 11-year-old boy.
Joel Murphy lives in a somewhat sketchy neighborhood of Chicago, with a police officer father and a mother who drinks a bit. Joel’s dad, Pete, is assigned to the department’s K-9 team as he’s somewhat in disgrace, and his love for his dog, Butchie, is more than shared by Joel. Pete’s disgrace is never fully described until toward the end of the novel, but the salient point is that it’s forced the family to move to an unfamiliar neighborhood where none of them feel comfortable.
Though it’s never stated explicitly, it’s clear Joel has some form of Asperger’s. His sister, Mike, is in full-fledged teenaged angst and acting-out mode, and she and Joel might as well be from different planets. But when Joel witnesses a horrifying act of cruelty by some older boys in his new neighborhood, and realizes one of them is friends with his sister, he’s fully protective of her.
One night, as his mother drinks and watches television on the sofa, Joel discovers that Mike has gone out to a party to meet this boy, and so he sneaks out of the house with Butchie. Butchie is an exquisitely trained animal, but even Butchie can’t overlook certain signals (he’s trained to find drugs). When things go horribly wrong at the party, Joel takes Butchie and runs away. To Joel it makes perfect sense; to his family, it’s an implosion.
The choices made by everyone, but especially the ones made by Joel and his father Pete, are poor, and driven by emotion. It makes the heartbreaking and lonely journey Joel takes through Chicago, traveling through increasingly dangerous neighborhoods, more tense and suspenseful.
The most sensible character in all the proceedings is Butchie, who breaks your heart just because he’s a dog and can’t make his recalcitrant humans behave as they should.
While this story has a technically happy ending, it’s tempered with the same things that temper real life. The compromises and accommodations that loom after the story end are implicit.
Gleefully profane and joyfully blasphemous, the prose in Ken Bruen’s Jack Taylor books is so unapologetically lyrical and right that it fooking hurts. The ex-Garda is back, once more clean and relatively sober, the possibility of a new love in the air, and relatively at peace with himself. It’s a peace, of course, that will not last.
The Galway Bay that Jack loves (and sometimes hates) with such intensity is slipping further away each day; the echoes of past glories lost under the roar of a Celtic Tiger that now lies spayed and neutered. But even more pressing is the appearance of a selfstyled vigilante, known only as C-33, who’s taken to bumping off various alleged wrongdoers, and sending letters to Jack, urging him to join in on the purge. It’s an invitation that Jack at first declines, but soon enough his two best friends, ex-con turned Zen master Stewart and up-and-coming cop Ridge are drawn into the killer’s web.
But fear not—even as the novels have increasingly slipped into a sort of Celtic magical realism; a bleak phantasmagoria of staggering coincidences, half-glimpsed impossibilities and possibly supernatural events (was that really Satan buying Jack a drink in an airport bar in The Devil?), they are rooted in reality. No matter how fantastic the events, the sand and grit of real life, in all its hellish pain and loneliness and violence and brutal beauty, crunches wonderfully underfoot.
And through it all, Jack somehow (almost) perseveres; a rough, battered Sisyphus, falling on and off the wagon, his head awhirl in a Jameson and Guinness-fuelled swirl of poetry and half-remembered Springsteen lyrics, doomed to an endless cycle of rolling the heavy stone of existence uphill, only to watch it invariably come crashing down again, destroying everything in its path. Jack may ruefully admit he’s “never been all right,” but somehow that makes these books all the more inspiring. Because it’s not that Jack so often fails—it’s that he tries. Despite himself. No matter how black Bruen paints it, there is also an unabashed celebration of life here. To read these books is to fly.
Claire Malloy, the main character here, is like Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, only younger and with an attitude, a stronger libido, and a sometimes biting sense of humor. Okay, maybe she isn’t very much like Miss Marple, except that she frequently gets involved with small-town murders and solves them.
In this, the 19th mystery in the Malloy series, Claire is living with her new husband, the local deputy police chief, Peter Rosen, and her 16-year-old daughter, Caron. While unsuccessfully trying to master the art of French cooking and occasionally looking in on her bookstore, the Book Depot, she decides to volunteer at the local Literary Council as an ESL (English as a Second Language) instructor, along with her daughter. When one of the adult students is found dead and the body hidden in the council offices, Claire moves into detective mode.
Who among her newly minted associates at the school could have done such a thing, and why? As she talks to the various suspects, a number of potential motives appear, including lust, money, and revenge. But could her investigations lead to danger for herself? You bet it could.
I have to confess here that I had never previously read any of Hess’ books, including the 16 mysteries in her Malice in Maggody series, but I now plan to remedy that. In addition to a really good mystery (I was surprised by the ending), I thoroughly enjoyed the humorous dialogue, especially between Claire and her daughter, Caron, who goes toe-to- toe with her mother in the biting humor department.
Kansas born and bred, Charlotte Hinger admits to being fiercely loyal to her home state. This comes through clearly in her Lottie Albright series, which is set in Carlton County on the wind-blown plains of Western Kansas. In Hidden Heritage, the third in the series after Lethal Lineage, Victor Díaz is killed at the local feed yard where he is foreman. Not only was he garroted and shot, but he ended up in the yard’s manure pit, the pool created from washing out livestock trucks.
Undersheriff Lottie and her deputy husband, Keith, are already stretched thin time-wise. Besides their law enforcement duties, Lottie serves as the director of the Carlton County Historical Society, while Keith is a semi-retired vet and rancher, a job made even more stressful by a drought that is devastating crops. There’s stress on the home front as well. Lottie’s twin sister and her stepchildren do not get along (Lottie calls her stepdaughters the Three Furies).
Lacking suspects or a motive for Victor’s murder, Lottie and Keith’s boss, Sheriff Sam Abbott, has no choice but to ask for help from dour Kansas Bureau of Investigation (KBI) agent Frank Dimon. Unfortunately, this gives Dimon one more reason to push for a regional crime center, which would force out local law enforcement, including Sam, Lottie, and Keith. Then Doña Francisca Bianco Loisel Montoya Díaz, a curandera (healer), great-grandmother of the victim, and head of a family that helped colonize Kansas, tells Lottie she knows why Victor was killed: land she believes the government has cheated her family out of. Lottie uses her research skills to check out Doña Francisca’s allegations, learning a lot about the old woman’s mysterious world of traditional healing along the way.
Hinger is an award-winning novelist and Kansas historian. She skillfully interweaves fact and fiction while painlessly educating readers on Kansas history—the Ku Klux Klan, which was anti-Catholic as well as racist; the prevalence of Sears Roebuck houses, with building materials, down to the last nail, sold in mail-order kits; and land grants that generated many lawsuits, some of which are still ongoing. Hinger also knows the livestock trucking business, which she makes surprisingly interesting. She’s created a sympathetic protagonist in Lottie, and her other characters are no less well drawn, especially Lottie’s twin, Josie. All in all, a satisfying installment to a series that deserves to be around for a long time to come.
As a big Hercule Poirot fan and an inveterate punster, I was immediately drawn to the title of this mystery about a coffeehouse owner and her husband attending a mystery writers’s conference aboard a night train to nowhere in the Florida Everglades.
Maggy Thorsen’s beau, Sheriff Jake Pavlik, is scheduled to be one of the guest speakers at this faux re-enactment of Christie’s classic when, you guessed it: a real murder occurs. To make matters worse, a sudden rainstorm washes out the tracks, leaving the attendees stranded on a train with a murderer in the middle of the crocodile- and python-infested Everglades, and no way to communicate with the outside world.
A first person narrative such as this depends to a large extent on how well you like the narrator...and I liked Maggy. In addition to having a strong sense of curiosity and intuitiveness, which most amateur detectives need, she’s also mostly kind and funny, but she can become a bitch on wheels (pardon the pun) when called for.
There’s certainly enough danger and more than enough suspects to keep the reader entertained throughout this eighth Maggy Thorsen mystery. I particularly enjoyed the list of characters—and the characters they portrayed in the re-enactment—listed in the front of the book, along with a drawing of the train showing where the various cars were situated. As in the classic, the murder victim here was not well liked, and each of the suspects interviewed had a good motive for killing him...which made identifying the murderer a challenge. And, oh yes, there really is an espresso bar on the train. All aboard!
The Game is Tom Wood’s third book to feature his assassin-for-hire, the man known in professional circles only as “Victor.” The book begins with a compelling set piece as Victor stalks his latest target, another freelance assassin named Felix Kooi, through the streets of Algiers, succeeding in eliminating him. Normally, this would be the end of the matter, but Victor is subsequently asked by the CIA to impersonate Kooi, whose services are being sought to augment the cumulative skill set of a group of ruthless mercenaries. Victor agrees, and finds himself in the midst of a nest of human vipers, a place where the slightest mistake will cost him his life.
Wood exploits the situation for all it’s worth, as Victor’s skills are tested to their limits by the tensions within the group, which manifest both psychologically and physically, with some of the group literally at each other’s throats. The tension builds to a gorgeous crescendo, as Victor, who is not privy to the group’s plans until the very last moment, finds himself in the middle of what is about to become an international incident. Because they’ve been seeing the action through Victor’s eyes throughout, the audience is pulled directly into the harrowing scenario as the point-of-view character must figure out how to sidestep the seemingly inevitable, deadly fate his teammates have had in mind for him all along.
Terrorism is the threat faced by former CIA Agent Dan Morgan killer in Leo J. Maloney’s second novel, Silent Assassin, a threat embodied by Morgan’s human adversary, the international arms dealer Nikolai Novokoff, and by the frightening bioweapon the ex-KGB operative wants to unleash on an unsuspecting populace. Over the course of the novel, Morgan and his colorful colleagues pursue the terrorist from Budapest to Boston, with several hair-raising side trips along the way.
Although he’s working with a familiar character type, and an even more familiar plot, Maloney keeps things interesting with vivid, pulse-pounding prose, and through judicious use of a couple of intriguing subplots. These involve the true nature of Morgan’s new employers and some work-life balance issues for Morgan, which, as you might imagine, are heightened due to the nature of his profession. Maloney’s resolution of both his main and secondary story lines ultimately proves satisfying.
Sleep Tight by Jeff Jacobson features a biologically oriented menace. Here, however, the threat arises primarily from the environment, needing only a few unwitting human accomplices to trigger what could quickly become a global disaster, if not the extinction of human life. The trouble begins when an airline passenger tries to smuggle some exotic species of bats into the United States. Unfortunately, the bats also carry some unsavory passengers of their own, in the form of disease-bearing insects similar to bed bugs, which make their way into the Chicago ecosystem, setting the stage for a new plague that turns human victims into rampaging monsters shortly before it kills them.
Jacobson sets the stage masterfully, taking his time to introduce his colorful and varied main cast, which consists of a couple of grizzled cops, a pair of sanitation workers, a handful of crooked pols, a street-savvy homeless woman, and a demented doctor who enjoys great power bestowed on him by the Center for Disease Control. By constantly shifting perspectives amongst members of this group, and eventually having them interact, Jacobson provides a wide and varied view of the action, slowly increasing the tension until things explode in spectacular fashion. He then lets these characters, whom we have come to care a great deal about, wander the rapidly shifting terrain of Chicago to confront a dangerous and surreal landscape in their own, unique ways. He thus makes their personal apocalypses relatable, making for arresting reading.
Call this a coffee-table book for a very small table, full of colorful illustrations (maps, production stills, Post-it notes, notebook pages) with a substantial amount of text about the British television updating with Benedict Cumberbatch as Holmes and Martin Freeman as Watson. Creators Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss explain how they developed the idea of a 21st-century Holmes. The main feature is a scrapbook of the six cases in the first two series, somewhat reminiscent of Dennis Wheatley’s 1930s dossier mysteries. Interspersed are pieces on the principal performers, a biography of Arthur Conan Doyle, identification of the various in-jokes and events adapted from the original stories, and a history of earlier screen Holmeses. The creators have a preference for Basil Rathbone, calling The Spider Woman (1944) “the quintessential Holmes movie.” They also like Billy Wilder’s underappreciated The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes (1970) with Robert Stephens, who once warned Jeremy Brett not to take the TV role of Holmes because it would drive him mad. Cumberbatch comments, “Brett was a very troubled man, and I think that advice was probably personally tailored.”
My resistance to the whole idea of an updating made me a tough audience for this book. But with their enthusiasm, humor, and obvious knowledge of and reverence for the canon, Moffat and Gatiss almost won me over.
Michael Castleman’s latest Ed Rosenberg mystery flashes back from present-day to 1960s San Francisco. But readers hoping for a kaleidoscopic ride through a Summer of Love montage will likely be disappointed: There aren't a lot of blissed-out moments in Killer Weed. Rosenberg, who has just recently lost his gig writing for the San Francisco Foghorn, is struggling to make ends meet. A dot-com impresario named Gene Simons at least offers him a lifeline: a freelance opportunity to hash over the history of the Haight-Ashbury and interview aging scenesters for a San Francisco Museum exhibit that Simons is underwriting. The billionaire is also looking for information about his mother, a small-time dealer who died when he was just a child. Simons has never known his birth name, and he’s offered Ed a sizable bonus to discover it.
Ed’s wife, Julie, also recently laid off by the newspaper, lands a job with the mayoral campaign of local legend Dave Kirsch, a onetime dealer and now libertarian politician and marijuana advocate. When Kirsch is killed, Ed’s research turns up evidence that implicates Kirsch’s old pot-business partners. Using the museum exhibit as a cover, Ed seeks them out and starts asking some dangerous questions. Turns out, not everybody wants to reminisce about the ’60s.
Adding to the downer of a trip, Castleman's domestic scenes at the Rosenberg house seem stilted and preachy. Ed, a daily sativa smoker himself, is getting paranoid about his wife’s wine consumption and seemingly not a chapter goes by when he’s not, ahem, whining about it. Meanwhile, he's helping his daughter write a report on why her school's drug policy is "wrong about marijuana." But Castleman’s novel is much more enjoyable when it focuses on stories of the Haight-Ashbury and Ed’s research trips around the Bay Area. And the economic results of Ed's research for Simons should make the Rosenberg family situation a little happier the next time around.
Thank you, Nancy. And thank you, MWA for this astonishing honor. Thank you, Joe, for all the years of encouragement and support, and to my publishers through all their many incarnations. Thank you, Vicky Bijur, my agent and very dear friend. I only wish Sara Ann Freed were here to thank, too.
A few months ago, when I was told that I would receive this award, my thoughts instantly flew back to a spring morning in 1977. At that time I had only published short stories and had no plans to ever write a novel. I had never met another writer and, although I had joined MWA, I lived too far away to feel a part of it.
That morning, as Joe and I walked outside with our coffee, he asked me why I seemed a little sad, and I said, “I just feel as if I’ve met almost everybody I’m ever going to know.”
I liked my North Carolina friends; I liked my family; but I couldn’t get over the feeling that I had a tribe out there somewhere, a tribe of like-minded people that I might never find.
Tonight, I look around this room. As much as this award means to me, it means even more that I can call so many of you my friends. . . members of my tribe. Thank you.
A quiet English village is shaken to its roots when a young girl is found badly injured and in a coma after being the victim of a hit-and-run driver on a lonely back road. What was she doing so far from the party she was supposed to be at, and who could be so callous as to leave her on the road to suffer and die? Thus begins a convoluted mystery with more twists and turns than a carnival roller coaster.
The primary characters here are Ellie Saunders and her younger sister, Leo, who is visiting Ellie and her husband while trying to come to grips with a horrendous childhood, and Tom Douglas, a former police detective who is drawn to Leo and finds himself in the middle of a puzzling case. The complications are exacerbated because Little Melham has much more in common with Peyton Place than it does with Agatha Christie’s St. Mary Mead. Seemingly, every character is either having an affair or suspects that his or her nearest and dearest is having one and, as a result, is less than forthcoming about where they were on that fateful night.
Although I enjoyed the mystery and its surprising conclusion, I do have a few quibbles. I believe, at nearly 500 pages, the novel could have been considerably shorter and somewhat less complex—without losing its essence—by having fewer characters and a bit less emotional turmoil. I also feel that most of the men here are portrayed either as unfeeling idiots or simply clueless. Thankfully, Tom falls into neither of these categories.
This is the author’s third novel. Her first book, Only the Innocent, became an international bestseller, reached number one on the Amazon charts and stayed there for more than four weeks.
Ever since The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo made its impact on American readers, there has been a near-inexhaustible stream of international crime fiction with quirky, odd characters, but Alex, by French author Pierre Lemaitre, has the potential to be the true successor to that tattooed girl. As Stieg Larsson did in his trilogy, Lemaitre delivers unique characters who have not been explored in crime fiction before. The original plot and the international background—in this case Paris—adds a sense of the exotic for American readers. Even frequent travelers to Paris probably haven’t seen the City of Lights that’s explored in Alex.
Commandant Camille Verhoeven isn’t the typical larger than life cop. Physically, everyone towers over the 4-foot-11 detective whose insight and intelligence have earned him respect. The complicated Camille uses his size to disarm suspects and colleagues. No one expects this little man to have the intelligence or wit that are his secret weapons. But his tenacious, sometimes arrogant personality hasn’t endeared him to most of his colleagues or his superior officers. The diminutive Camille also refuses most difficult cases, especially those involving kidnapping. He still grieves for his wife, Irène, who died several years ago after being abducted.
But the kidnapping of a young woman motivates Camille in ways he never expected. At first, there is only a rumor that a woman may have been snatched off the street during the night. But gradually, Camille and his team discover the woman’s identity—Alex Prévost—and that she is being held by Pascal Trarieux, who is the father of Alex’s former boyfriend.
The tense plot alternates between Camille and his team trying to track down clues to the kidnapping and harrowing scenes of Alex squeezed into a small wooden crate in an abandoned warehouse. With little food or water for several days, Alex grows weaker. She is nearly delirious and is all too aware that she is being surrounded by rats. Very hungry rats who smell blood.
Pascal has told Alex he wants to watch her die and his hatred of her borders on the psychotic. When he’s trapped by the police, Pascal commits suicide in front of them, before they can learn where Alex is. Lemaitre ratchets up the suspense as the police work to find the warehouse while Alex fends for herself, slowly starving to death. In one of those Hollywood-type scenes, she is able to free herself mere minutes before the police race into the warehouse to rescue her. She then disappears. Alex’s escape turns the story 180 degrees as a different side of her tale emerges as the search for the “missing” girl continues. Inspector Camille’s hobby is sketching, and he compulsively draws Alex, as he contemplates who she is and where she might be.
Lemaitre delivers equal attention to a gripping police procedural, a psychological view of a troubled young woman, and a serial killer novel. Each twist surprises and shocks. And as Camille and the reader learns more about her, the author also forces the reader to both sympathize with Alex and be repulsed by her.
Alex won the CWA International Dagger for best crime novel of 2013 and is the bestselling French author’s first novel to be translated into English. A sequel to Alex already is out in France and surely on its way to us.