Like many True Crime books, Murder by the Book starts with a bloody crime, a man with his throat cut in his own bed. London in 1840 was a pretty grim place, but the reason this crime became a veritable national sensation didn’t have much to do with the gore of the thing or the apparent brazenness of it, but the simple fact that it happened to a member of the uppermost crust, Lord William Russell. Forget the miserable and dangerous lives of the poor, when an aristocrat got murdered, the new consort, Prince Albert, and the old general, the Duke of Wellington, wanted to see the matter cleared up as soon as possible.
Sophie Hannah’s books are police procedurals, and technically a series, but she seems always more interested in plot than in the coppers making the deductions. That’s not a bad thing, but there’s no Inspector Dalgleish or Rebus or Banks to love. Instead, the reader gets the messier – and no doubt far more realistic – interchange of police at all different levels and abilities. In the case in this novel, the group have a very puzzling crime to solve.
Hannah diffuses her narrative with different narrators, newspaper columns, emails, and a host of other devices that keep the reader guessing along with the detectives. There’s the straight up procedural story where the police are trying to solve a string of four murders that look to be paired murders of best friends, though carried out at different times and in different locations, and then there’s the story of the various characters in the novel.
This title is available Feb. 12. You can pre-order and we’ll ship when it arrives.
Peter Robinson’s Inspector Banks books are classics of the rare sort – British police procedurals that aren’t too dark, with a sympathetic main character at the center of things. Banks is a decent guy, obsessed with music and wine (reading the books is a crash course in jazz) and respectful of his co-workers. That said, I was thinking recently about what makes a book great, rather than just good. And I think it’s theme.
I was a totally geeked out fan of Sujata Massey’s Rei Shimura series about a Japanese American antiques dealer living in Japan. The books became progressively better and better as the series went forward, and Massey has apparently brought all the knowledge and expertise gained in writing those eleven books to good use in delivering this bravura work of historical fiction.
Set in 1920’s India, young Perveen Mistry is a lawyer – extremely unusual for the time and place – working for her father’s law firm, and though she’s not allowed to argue cases in court she can do all the research and contract work needed by the firm. Coming across her somewhat sparsely populated desk is the case of a will for three widows who were married to the same man. Their male agent has submitted documents stating that the women want to give up their inheritance and donate it to a charity instead, and the document is signed by all three.
This book is the winner of the Tony Hillerman prize and thus has some serious shoes to fill, and it fills them fairly well. Set on the Pueblo, Potenza has created a fictional but believable tribe, the Fire-Sky tribe. She then gives each of her four major characters varying degrees of connection to the tribe. At the center of the story is Sgt. Nicky Matthews, a Pueblo police officer, not native herself.
Her best friend, Savannah Analia, the public safety director’s assistant, is full blood. Then there’s Ryan, who makes jewelery and who grew up with Savannah, but isn’t native. He does however have extensive knowledge and respect for native traditions. And then there’s conservation agent, outsider Frank, who is the uneven piece of this four person puzzle.
There are some mystery novels that are as much novels as they are mysteries. Admirers of authors like Elizabeth George, Ruth Rendell and P.D. James who favor complex plots, multiple characters and a subtle, slow accumulation of suspense found another skilled writer to savor when Susan Hill published her first Simon Serrailler mystery, The Various Haunts of Men, in 2004.
Branding the book as a “Simon Serrailler mystery” is a bit disingenuous, as Chief Inspector Serrailler is not the central focus, but a rather distant presence, reflecting the elusive nature of his character, particularly to DS Freya Graffam, a newcomer to the small English town of Lafferton, and the central agent of law enforcement in the narrative. Like the traditional English novel there are many other fully realized characters including the killer, his multiple victims, tangentially involved townsfolk and the town itself.
While this series started to come out in Jonasson’s native Iceland in 2015, the books have only now started to make their way stateside, via the UK. Rupture, which Jonasson wrote in 2016, will be published here in January. It’s the third in his “Dark Iceland” series which began with the sensational Snowblind. Let me tell you, whatever publishing path this author took to get here is definitely worth the wait, as he is a phenomenal writer.
While I would classify this series as a “traditional detective” series, mostly because of the plot structure, it also has the feel of a contemporary noir. Jonasson embraces both of these strong threads in mysteries equally, and with equal aplomb. His main character is Ari Thor, who began the series as a new detective in tiny Siglufjorour.
Clea Simon’s cozies have a bit of extra edge and sparkle to them, and have ranged from a pet psychic to a rescue cat narrator in a long career spanning several series. In this latest outing, the cats are again front and center, and this time they are witch cats. They’ve confused their owner, Becca, who is a fledgling member of a coven – one of them made a pillow appear out of thin air and Becca thinks she’s done it herself, as does the rest of her coven.
The cats are a little disgusted by this but the three of them – adopted by Becca – have a mission to protect and care for her and their powers are many and varied. They range from the very real cat talent of comforting their owners to the talents of making things appear, controlling thoughts, and walking through walls, the better to track Becca undetected.
Three books into her series about Detective Gemma Monroe, I am already so smitten that this series belongs alongside favorite series of mine by Sarah Stewart Taylor, Elly Griffiths, Ellen Hart and Julia Spencer-Fleming. All of these writers – including Littlejohn – create a rich setting, and populate their unique settings or occupations with even richer characters and stories. All of them feature extremely strong women as their core characters.
Gemma lives in a smallish Colorado Mountain town – but still big enough to have some skiing and some cultural life – and her life is complicated. Like a real person’s life is complicated. She has beloved grandparents who raised her, but her grandmother suffers from dementia; she has a baby she loves and is engaged to the baby’s father, but she’s conflicted about him because of a past affair; and her relationship with her partner, Finn, can be prickly. Oh, and the police department is dealing with a leaker.
This first novel can almost be slotted into a new subgenre – “dog lit.” It joins excellent books by Margaret Mizushima and Robert Crais in featuring working dogs (this one ex-military) who have a damaged human partner. (There’s another one in the works from well known dog lover Owen Laukkanen.) Like Mizushima’s novels, this one has a wonderful feel for setting, in this case, the Vermont woods.
The main character, Mercy Carr, is back from Afghanistan with her partner’s dog, Elvis. Both are mourning the loss of Mercy’s partner, Martinez, and woman and dog are walking the woods together, trying to move past PTSD and become more of a unit. As the book opens they are out in the woods and Elvis finds a baby in a carrier with no mother in sight.