Some writers (and no doubt their editors) feel the need to begin a book with an ostentatious bang, something along the lines of a graphic torture killing or a dramatic explosion. True masters like Loren D. Estleman know how to ease into a narrative, gradually turning up the heat until things are at an irresistible boiling point.
S.J. Bolton is a strikingly original writer, and this book, while being something of a change up from her previous three, is no different in its originality. The change up involves moving the story to the big city of London – the other books were in remote areas of Britain – and making it pretty much a straight up police procedural. She carries over a character, Dana Tulloch, from Blood Harvest, but this novel is in no way a sequel. What does remain the same is a very interesting, flawed, central female character, in this case one Lacey Flint, a member of the police force who has the bad luck to have a woman die in her arms in the opening scene. Lacey, it develops, has many secrets, and they are only slowly teased out throughout the book.
Thomas Cook is one of my favorite authors, but when I tell people that their reaction is often who? He’s been nominated for the Edgar seven times in five different categories, won for best novel, and yet, perhaps because he doesn’t write a series, remains criminally underappreciated. To me, fine prose in an essential part of any really excellent book, and Cook is one of the greatest living stylists in any genre, but he also has mastery of the other essential elements like character, setting and a special gift for the unexpected plot twist that seems obvious only after it’s happened.
While this isn’t in P.J. Parrish’s fine Louis Kincaid series, they (the sisters who make up P.J, Parrish) are pretty expert at whatever they turn their hands to, and this novel is no exception. It’s a serial killer novel with their own special twist. Their main character is a reporter, Matt Owens, who loses his sister to the killer early on in the book. The scenes of Matt’s search for his sister, and of his and his parent’s grief, is so movingly done that I was crying so hard (at the laundromat, no less) I had to put the book down for a bit. It’s this grief that sets this novel apart from any other serial killer novel. I guess what I really mean is that by having Matt’s sister be one of the victims, as a reader, you are fully invested in what happens, and totally behind Matt as he spares nothing in his search for his sister’s killer.
This will be the most entertaining 24 bucks you spend all year. I’ve enjoyed all of Julie Kramer’s Riley Spartz books but I think this is my absolute favorite. It’s a serial killer book but by instead focusing on only one victim, Kate, the little sister of Riley’s estranged college roommate, Kramer makes this a more original reading experience. It also makes the murder more heartbreaking and, as a reader, you are far more emotionally invested than you would be with a long string of victims. Kramer has a few things she sticks to through the series – all are set in the world of television news, as main character Riley is an on-air reporter for a Minneapolis TV station. There’s often a sidebar story involving a dog – though this one is pretty heartbreaking, it gives the whole book more depth. And there’s lots of off hand humor. Riley looks at the world in a commonsensical, humorous manner that’s especially compelling.
The femme fatale is a stock figure in our culture, enough of a cliche that a culture luminary like Britney Spears pasted the phrase on her latest piece of product. Some feminist scholars maintain that the concept itself is nothing but a social construct, the result of fin de siecle anxieties about the emancipation of women. I invite any savant who thinks that femme fatales are imaginary bogeywomen to make the acquaintance of Sarah Pender, the central figure of Steve Miller’s riveting new true crime book Girl, Wanted: The Chase For Sarah Pender – it’s a lot easier than learning the truth at the wrong end of a shot gun.
I was knocked out by Quartey’s debut, Wife of the Gods, and I’m happy to report that this second novel is just as excellent. Quartey’s series character, Darko Dawson, is really a classic who seems as though he’s been solving mysteries “between the covers” for decades, not just two novels. He’s such a completely realized and compelling character that he’s a wonderful lynchpin for the books, though there is more to them even than Darko himself. Darko works for the CID in Ghana in the capitol city of Accra, where he lives with his wife and his son Hosiah, who suffers from a heart defect. There is surgery to cure it, but the Dawsons cannot afford it. Darko’s worry for his son is an underlying thread of anxiety that Quartey skillfully pulls through the novel.
Sarah Zettel, a prolific writer of science fiction under various pseudonyms, is obviously comfortable creating an entire alternate world for her story and characters. A Taste of the Nightlife is subtitled “A Vampire Chef Mystery”, and no, the chef is not a vampire, but she’s surrounded by them. The chef in question, Charlotte Caine, owns a restaurant called “A Taste of the Nightlife”, that caters to all kinds of folk, vampires, werewolves, witches, etc. Vampires are the main focus, though there’s also a werewolf involved, and a werewolf works as Charlotte’s sous chef – she tells him on the way home “hello to the cubs”.
Stefanie Pintoff has very quickly established her series about Simon Ziele, set in 1906 New York City, as one of the most enjoyable and compelling historical mystery series around. This third book in the series is as complex and enjoyable as the first two, though it’s slightly different as it uses politics rather than a more personal intertwining of relationships (family in the first one, theater in the second). But it’s all personal, as things turn out, and while the story begins with anarchists, it ends in a completely different place.
Maureen Jennings, well known and respected for her wonderful Inspector Murdoch novels set in Victorian Toronto, has changed things up and moved ahead in time to WWII. Her new novel is set not in Canada, but in Jennings’ native Britain. The setting is a tiny town in Shropshire, the time is just after the “Phoney War”, as Britain teeters on the edge of an apocalypse. Within the town is an interment camp for Germans living in Britain, who have been rounded up as a “precaution.”