Archive for Police – Page 2

Carrie Smith: Silent City

Silent CityThe two books I’ve read so far by new publisher Crooked Lane have knocked me out, and I am really smitten with Carrie Smith, who writes in one of my favorite subgenres: the police procedural with a female central character. NYPD Detective Claire Cordella is returning to work after a vicious and nearly deadly bout with cancer, and she’s out to prove she can handle the job no matter what. Of course she’s handed a doozy of a case her first day back: the murder of a popular public school principal, Hector Sanchez. He’s been found dead in his apartment, laid out like Christ on the cross. Even a cursory look reveals there are two sides to Sanchez, and Claire is determined to get to the bottom of it.

The book takes the reader on a tour of the New York City Public School system in general and Hector’s school, PS 177, in particular. Within that school the entire panorama of human behavior plays out. None of the characters are as you expect them to be, but they do behave like actual humans, including Claire, who is indeed a kick ass, take no prisoners type, but Smith shows readers the vulnerable side of her as well. It really makes you root for her.

The central players in the drama are the dead Hector, who had swooped into the school to save it and ended up being beloved by some parents, hated by some teachers, and viewed with a healthy skepticism by the higher ups in the school system. Smith’s explication of the way a public school system works is delicate, penetrating, and realistic. I felt of two minds about Hector as a reader, and what more ringing endorsement of character development can there be?

Smith also turns her hand to the living, of course, and within the police department Cordella is paired with a new Detective, Munoz, who hasn’t found his footing yet and who is relentlessly ridiculed by his fellow detectives. There’s also Heggerty, who seems like he’ll shape up to be an excellent love interest as the series progresses but in this first outing he and Claire are tense and prickly with one another.

There are also women characters of every stripe. There’s the highly placed district officer, Margery Barton, who is aggressive and driven career-wise. She takes no prisoners herself. There’s Marva, the assistant principal at PS 777, who is trapped by her own mild nature as she’s forced to step up when her boss, Sanchez, is killed. Smith also teases out the feelings, perceptions and reactions of the people who worked with Hector to give a full picture of his life. While this is a hard to put down and suspenseful read, it’s also an excellent look at human relationships and behavior. Claire Cordella is one of those characters that stick with you, one of those you want to get to know better. Thank heavens for series mysteries: as readers, we’ll get that opportunity. This is a bravura first book.

Andrew Grant: False Positive

falsepositiveThis book is a departure for Grant, whose first three books were James Bond style thrillers, and whose most recent, Run, was a straight up, no holds barred thriller. This one is a police novel set in Birmingham, Alabama. The central character is one Devereaux Cooper, a detective and damaged soul, scarred by a terrible childhood. Throughout the novel his backstory is teased out as he’s assigned the case of a missing child.

Grant gives the reader a look inside the head of the kidnapper as well, threading the kidnapper’s actions with the actions of the police. As the detectives begin to follow wrong paths thanks to false clues laid down by this person, it’s Deveraux who has the flashes of intuition that begin to lead them in the right direction. He’s assigned a new partner who seems a bit stand offish and it’s not clear if she doesn’t trust him or if it’s the department in general that doesn’t trust him. When he urges some actions that aren’t strictly legal (but that are expedient) you begin to worry about him, and that’s a good sign that Grant has really made you care about this character.

The plot is complicated but well-handled and the whole is a look at how childhood origins might shape your life: the central question is actually nature vs. nurture. As Devereaux uncovers a string of child disappearances and begins to figure out how they are related it’s hard to put this book down.

Grant always brings a little twist to the proceedings, however, and I’m not sure if there isn’t a nascent horror writer buried within his thriller writer persona. While this seems to be a straight up procedural, with a damaged outsider at the center, pretty classic stuff – Grant still manages to supply a twist or five that makes this novel just a little bit more than that. I loved the ending; it made the rest of the book even creepier, if that’s possible.

This is both a hard book to put down and a hard book to forget, and it’s nice to see Grant letting his freak flag fly proudly. It made the book truly his own.

Margaret Mizushima: Killing Trail

killingtrailThis is the first title I’ve read by new publishing house Crooked Lane and I have to say it was a knock-out.   If you’re a fan of Dana Stabenow or Nevada Barr, you’ll gobble this one up with a spoon. Set in rugged Timber Creek, Colorado, the main characters are deputy Mattie Cobb and her K-9 partner, Robo. Newly paired up with Robo, Mattie is dealing with a bit of sexism and a bit of resentment on the part of her fellow deputies, and she’s also learning to trust Robo as a partner. That trust issue plays into the storyline in a major way.

I don’t always like animals being a part of a mystery but a K-9 dog is actually doing the work of a police officer and the feel for the dog on the part of the author makes this book a standout. Whether or not you like dogs, I defy you to not be interested in Mizushima’s descriptions of Robo uncovering various things throughout the novel starting, of course, with a dead body. He and Mattie are called out in the opening scene for a “blood spill” and a bravura scene later, they’ve uncovered a body.

In no way does Mattie have the hard edge of a Kate Shugak or an Anna Pigeon, but she has a rich backstory and there are many signs through the book that it will be explored further. For this novel it’s enough to know that she’s been raised in foster care and that it colors her view of different events in the book.

There are some great supporting characters as well, most importantly a vet who is asked to help out when an injured dog is found at the scene of the blood spill. The scenes with the vet at his clinic and at his home, where he’s adjusting to a new divorce and juggling his busy practice with the care of two children, are especially well done.

Mizushima seems like a comfortable, natural born storyteller as seemingly random plot threads not only eventually knit together in an effective denouement, but also serve to illustrate the realities of police work in a small town. The setting and character array are rich and well developed, and the pace of this novel is excellent. I read it through in a day and already am hoping for another installment.

Louise Penny: The Nature of the Beast

natureofthebeastLouise Penny’s gift is to take bits of reality and weave it into her setting and characters and make the reader really feel what she is feeling. In this novel, her eleventh in her remarkable Inspector Gamache series, the action starts, as it always does, in tiny Three Pines. The villagers are frequently disturbed or annoyed or even amused by the tall tales of young Laurent Lepage, who is always emerging from the woods with a fantastical story.

When Laurent claims he’s seen a giant gun in the woods and that it has a monster inscribed on it, no one believes him but when he goes missing and he’s later found dead of an apparent accident things turn more serious. On a hunch, Gamache calls his son in law Jean Guy, who is still with the Surete and tells him he thinks little Laurent’s death was no accident. This is a mystery novel—of course it wasn’t.

The eventual discovery of the real thing—the real giant gun that Laurent had seen in the woods—literally blows everyone’s mind and no one is quite sure what to do about it. It’s a metaphor for the entire novel: when presented with life’s largest problems, how is one to respond?

Penny seems to be saying the response might be confused or meandering but it’s above all imperfectly human. There is a solution; it may be messy. She refers again and again to Yeats’ poem, “The Second Coming”, especially:

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

For Laurent’s parents, the rough beast is grief; for the Surete it’s finding his killer; and on a wider, even global scale, it’s discovering why there was a giant gun in the woods in the first place and above all what should be done about it. The gun is the bit that’s reality-based, surprisingly; the emotional truths, as always, are all Penny’s own.

It’s remarkable, eleven novels in to her beloved series, that Penny can still find a fresh slant for her books. She’s examining life from every angle, and letting the reader in on her examination. While some things are certainly disturbing, her essential optimism is always present, and it keeps her readers wanting more.

Barbara Fradkin: Do or Die

do-or-dieBarbara Fradkin is well known in Canada, and deservedly so. Her Inspector Green series, of which this novel is the first entry, are solid police procedurals with the charming Inspector Green using that favorite device of mystery readers everywhere: deductive reasoning. And as most mystery readers prefer to read a series in order, I’m reviewing the first in Fradkin’s series though she has now written ten novels in the series, the most recent being None So Blind.

I loved the set up of this first novel and I really loved the way the book and the characters who inhabit it hit the ground running. They obviously had a life going before we hit the scene, and it’s a sure sign of a writer able to create fully dimensional, realized characters. As I was reading I was sometimes curious about events in Inspector Green’s past but Fradkin presents him as he exists in his present reality. As it is with getting to know an actual human being, meeting Green is like getting to know someone you may become friends with later.

The story is a dandy: a grad student’s body is found dead in the stacks of a University Library. Fradkin’s books are set in the cosmopolitan city of Ottawa and this one is set on the campus of the University of Ottawa. As the identity of the student is discovered – he’s from a prominent, wealthy family who are using their connections to demand answers of the police – the pressure falls on the head of Inspector Green who, while running the investigation, also chooses to go out in the field and interview suspects.

Meanwhile Green’s family life is suffering – he and his wife work opposite shifts, they have an infant (who neither of them ever seem to be able to see) and they are like passing ships in the night. His marriage seems to be imperiled (and here is where is almost like a friend: you want to reach into the pages and give him some much needed practical advice), but he’s totally immersed in his case, to the exclusion of practically everything else.

As the investigative net tightens to focus on the backbiting world of academic politics (the dead student was a scientist studying different aspects of the brain), with a few girls and other red herrings thrown into the mix of what is a well plotted, well written mystery. The ending is clever and satisfying and leaves the reader with some hope for the marriage of the hapless Green.

As the series progresses there’s also an emphasis on Green’s father, a holocaust survivor (he only briefly appears in this novel), as well as a teenage daughter from Green’s first marriage. This is a series well worth delving into; and one not to be missed if you enjoy the traditional “Inspector” type of police novel.

Tana French: The Secret Place & Josephine Tey: Miss Pym Disposes

thesecretplaceBoth Tana French and Josephine Tey have books that are among my favorites as well as books I can’t slog my way through (confession: I can’t read Tey’s The Singing Sands).  I love Tana French’s Broken Harbor so much it’s one of my favorite contemporary mysteries; but there are other times when her books are a tad too long and a tad too over determined.  This is one of those times.

French’s prose skills are among the most beautiful of all contemporary mystery writers.  She catches an atmosphere, she has an ability to make you feel a place in your bones, like no other writer.  That’s no small skill, and in her new book the place she is out to capture is a Catholic girl’s school in Ireland.  French has always been interested in the otherworldly nature of the woods, or the forest, the ones that you might encounter in a fairy tale.  The woods in fairy tales may hold enchantment or danger; in this novel, the woods surround the school and supply both elements.

As Detective Stephen Moran arrives on the campus of St. Kilda’s all he can say is “it’s beautiful.”  But as with all beautiful places there’s another side, and Moran is there to see if he can catch a ride on the murder squad after he hands over a clue to the lead detective, Antoinette Conway, on a year old case, the murder of a boarding school boy on St. Kilda’s campus.  The detectives, working class, are the outsiders among the privileged girls who board there.  One of them, the one who has brought Moran his clue, is a boarder whose father is a detective, higher ranked than both Moran and Conway.  Treading lightly is on their minds; to them the school is a beautiful minefield.

What French is very, very good at is explicating relationships.  She’s like a writing microscope, examining her subjects delicately and completely,  So her portrayal of two sets of friends – Julia, Holly, Selena and Becca – and their counterpart, “mean girl” set headed by the dastardly Joanna, is the best thing about this novel.  Holly is the detective’s daughter and it’s she who has brought Stephen the clue, a photo of the dead boy with cut out letters saying “I know who killed him.”  Thus, Holly is also the one who brings intruders into their particular Eden.

As a graduate of a girl’s boarding school myself I can attest that the friendships I made there were the most intense of my life, friendships that have now become lifelong. It’s an intense time and that may be what makes the bonds so strong.  Even today, more than 30 years on (almost 40 now) at class reunions we all feel as though we met up five minutes ago.  The relationships still hold, though now changed by time and the events of long lives.  French has that part of her story absolutely right.

French’s concern is the moment when the girls realize that their friendships are about to change, even end, as they prepare to graduate from school and enter the big, real world.  Delicately, she goes back in time to when the murder victim, Chris Harper, was still alive and traces his connections to the girls in the story forward, interspersing her backward look with the questioning of the Detectives, who are eager to solve a high profile case but are often flummoxed by the girls who are misleading, who lie, and whose loyalty is mostly to one another.

That’s all well and good.  Her portrait is absolutely complete, to the point where she made me wonder why I kept reading and why the book was so, so long.  As with many of her novels I felt it could have benefitted by trimming a hundred or more pages.  And while she’s writing a novel that involves police and let’s face it, a brutal and baffling murder, she often lets go of her actual plot to meander through the girls’ psyches.  And their psyches are the point but I felt the balance was off, and I didn’t completely buy her resolution.

Miss-Pym-DisposesTey’s examination, in Miss Pym, of a girl’s school is also intense and memorable but told in a much briefer space.  Perhaps it’s the difference between the efficient Scot – Tey – and the romantic Irish woman – French.  In any case, while the reasons for the behavior of the girls are similar, Tey gets to it much faster.  She says a lot in a sentence as brief and to the point as “The only difference was that Desterro saw the insult, and Beau the injury.”  And Tey, with her conciseness, actually makes the crime, when it occurs, very shocking.  I’m even shocked on a re-read, and I’ve read Miss Pym five or six times.  French belabors her crime in a way, making it almost a part of the landscape and therefore without as much impact to the reader.

Can a mystery be “literary”?  Absolutely, and French has worn this appellation since the publication of her first novel, because of her spectacular prose and characterization.  In that way they are literary.  But she is also writing a mystery; in this novel, the plot goes a bit by the wayside, but more importantly, the emotional “truth” at the heart of her crime isn’t quite right.  In Tey’s novel, maybe it’s not authentic, but it feels right in relation to the story, and moreover, the ending of Pym still makes me think.  Tey leaves space between her words for the reader to consider, to figure things out; French leaves no such space, and it’s a little exhausting.

Louise Penny: The Long Way Home

The Long Way HomeSome writers write with their smarts on their sleeves (Jeffrey Deaver and Thomas Perry come to mind) and some with their hearts on their sleeves. Louise Penny belongs firmly in this second category, and in none of her novels has her heart been more front and center than in this one, a deeply moving examination of the relinquishment of power, love, and attachment as well as an examination of the painful but necessary process of change and growth.

It almost seemed at times as though Penny couldn’t stop the words from rushing over the page, and as a reader, I couldn’t stop myself from rushing to inhale them as fast as she was throwing them down. Gamache has retired and settled in Three Pines with Reine Marie, with frequent visits from his new son in law, Jean Guy Beauvoir.

It seems like Gamache has always belonged to Three Pines, of course, but his peaceful consideration of his long life and career is interrupted by the pressing needs of artist Clara Morrow. In the last novel, she and her husband Peter separated and agreed to meet a year from the date they parted. A year has passed and Clara waits with no word and no Peter. She is terrified and asks Gamache for help.

Jean Guy is given the go ahead from his new boss to help his father in law in their hunt, as it becomes quickly apparent that while Peter seems to have moved all over the globe, the trail ends abruptly back in Canada. And while Gamache would have been in charge in the past, it’s Clara who takes the lead and Gamache who follows.

This novel is also a deep look at creativity and where it comes from as well as how it’s encouraged and inspired. Like one of my favorite of Agatha Christie’s books, The Hollow, this seems like inside information as far as Gamache’s own creator is concerned. While Christie addresses creativity obliquely, Penny embraces it head on. If you have ever had a creative thought or bone in your body this proves to be fascinating reading.

The winding path into Peter’s psyche taken by the motley crew looking for him – Clara, Myrna, Jean Guy and Gamache, with a little help from Reine Marie – takes in his art school past, his trajectory as an artist, and eventually, how that trajectory may have changed. It’s a story Penny has been building toward since book one.

Their journey takes the travelers deep into Quebec into some of the most beautiful and remote parts of it bordering the St. Lawrence River. I was moved by the elegiac and yet ultimately healing nature of the story, which is not without its horrible twists. To say much more about the plot would be entering spoiler territory. This is quite simply a gorgeous novel.

Editor’s note: to non-Canadians, the names of painters Tom Thomson and Clarence Gagnon may not be familiar. This is a crime, and you are the victim! Years ago when I was at the Toronto Bouchercon I spent a museum afternoon and discovered the gorgeous paintings of Tom Thomson. Gagnon’s are equally incredible, and well worth looking up.

Karen Dionne: The Killing: Uncommon Denominator

thekillingKaren Dionne joins us to launch what is not really an adaptation of the AMC show “The Killing,” but a prequel using the characters and setting familiar to any fan of the show. Reading the cover, it’s interesting to see the progression: “The Killing” began as a Danish show, “Forbrydelsen,” was developed by Veena Sud for U.S. television, and is now a novel by Karen Dionne.  At that point of removal I think the work becomes so far from the source that it’s now Dionne’s own.

For those of you not fans of the show, it’s a police show set in Seattle, featuring the uncompromising, workaholic, single mother Detective Sarah Linden; and the slightly less tightly wound Detective Steven Holder, back from working undercover.  Dionne goes backward in time from the show.

While the book reads and is very similar in feel to the TV show with the characters established as leads also the leads in the book, there’s a bit more lightness in Dionne’s take on things.  I found that very welcome.  The sun even shines in rainy, dreary Seattle in one scene, something that never happened on the show.  In this iteration Detective Sarah Linden and Detective Steven Holder haven’t actually met.  Holder is still undercover and Linden is still in a relationship with Rick (fans of the show know this is doomed).

The TV series is very noir in that few of the actors in the unfolding drama can be trusted, except for the two cops at the center.  And it’s noir in feel – dark and damp with the central characters pretty unhappy, driven folks who are overcoming a great deal of childhood and emotional baggage.

Dionne’s smooth and meticulous storytelling style fit in beautifully within her parameters, and as I read, it took on a life of its own.  Dionne’s novel is a well put together police procedural and she fills in some of the backstory of both Linden and Holder.  By the end of the book, you really can’t wait for them to start working together.

The story concerns a meth cooker whose trailer blows up and two brothers whose bodies are discovered miles apart, but killed within hours of one another.  Linden puts the pieces together on her end, and Holder, undercover in a trailer park, close to every tweaker, cooker and dealer in Seattle, has an inside track on the dead cooker.  Some of this is familiar to any fan of “Breaking Bad,” of course, but meth isn’t a theme specific to that show.  It’s a national plague.

As Linden and Holden delve into the pasts of the dead men they begin to discover unlikely connections.  This brisk novel is a terrific read that sped right along; I was captivated by it and quickly stopped thinking about the TV show.  I just focused on the story Dionne was telling.  She supplies some good plot twists, red herrings and heartbreaking details essential to any good noir. This is a well done read.

Mary Logue: Lake of Tears

Mary Logue has long been one of my favorite authors and after waiting an increasingly long time between installments, I’m more than eager to pick up one of these tightly written, exciting and emotionally resonant novels.  Unfortunately I inhale them far too quickly and am forced to settle in for another long wait for the next book.  Logue’s main character is deputy Claire Watkins, who works in tiny Fort St. Antoine, Wisconsin.  She lives with her husband, the laconic pheasant farmer Rick, and her now almost adult daughter, Meg.

lakeoftearsLogue’s books seem to almost exist in real time as I feel I’ve watched Meg grow up from the little girl she was in the first novels to the now young woman about to leave for college.  This story is somewhat Meg-centric, as it opens with Meg meeting a strange man at the “Burning Boat” – a town celebration where a boat is burned on the beach.  The mystery deepens when a skeleton is found the next day in the remains of the boat by a curious child.  Claire has thought the summer had gone too easily, and she’s given the double whammy of a homicide and the departure of her boss, the sheriff, for heart surgery.  She’s now acting sheriff, and uncomfortable with it, though to this reader it certainly feels like a natural progression in her career and life.

Some of the story threads appear to reach back to Afghanistan and to connect somehow to two returning vets, one of whom works for Claire and who turns out to be dating Meg, who has recently broken up with her boyfriend.  The body in the boat seems to be a missing local party girl who has a connection to both war vets.  There’s almost a surplus of clues and suspects as this energetic story surges forward.  Meg’s growth into a young woman and Claire’s growth into her job as sheriff are only part of the story; with characteristic delicacy and resonance, Logue also deftly portrays the emotional lives of the two war veterans.

Logue is as capable of breaking your heart as she is of lifting it up, and her books combine both aspects, much like life itself.  The fact that she’s able to combine this with a fast paced, well told and at times unexpected story, rattling with suspense and tension, make her books all the more worthwhile.  I think she’s a much underrated writer, and opening one of her books is always a joy.  I more than recommend giving one a try.

Louise Penny: How the Light Gets In

Louise Penny has always possessed a “voice”, a recognizable prose style and way of telling a story, but as her career has progressed you can feel the originality and power of her voice increasing.  She’s exploring deeply personal themes and rigorously examining her characters from the inside out,  giving them a little (or big) shake. While Gamache has some mystery left (and hence some of his own mythic power) there’s lots we’ve learned about him as readers since the publication of Still Life.

howthelightgetsinWe haven’t seen him as we see him in this book, though.  His department has been dismembered and redistributed by his nemesis, Francoeur.  Being Gamache, he sails through circumstances others would find intolerable with a good attitude, but it’s still disturbing as a reader to find him not surrounded by his hand-picked crew of stalwart individuals, and underneath, he is struggling.

This is really a conspiracy novel at its heart, with many threads that Penny very deftly weaves together as she goes.  She kicks off her narrative with an evocatively creepy passage involving a terrified woman driving through one of Montreal’s underground tunnels.  After giving your heart a quick jump start, she moves the action back to Three Pines.  Like Hitchcock, Penny is expert at setting episodes of terror down among the ordinary day to day lives of the people she is writing about.

The main threads involve the death of Myrna’s mysterious friend, Constance, who turns out to have a remarkable secret; Gamache’s quest to discover who has leaked the video of his men being shot which first came to light in Bury Your Dead; and the tragedy of the drug addiction of Gamache’s former right hand man, Beauvoir (also the now former boyfriend of his daughter, Annie).

There’s a lot of anger and misunderstanding and miscommunication for the characters to work through in this book.  The title refers to the darkness that many of the characters, including Gamache, are struggling through before they are able to see a tiny glimpse of light at the end of their particular tunnel.   That takes you back to the image of the tunnel which opens the book.

Penny is able to adroitly draw her many threads together in a suspenseful denouement that will perhaps leave you with your heart in your throat for a scary moment or two.  As always, the ending of the book brought me to tears – I would be disappointed, at this point, if it didn’t.  Penny’s true strength lies in her remarkable ability to portray human beings and to make them understandable, if not always likeable. Even if you don’t like them you can relate to them on some level. You can give almost anyone in her books the benefit of the doubt, which is a nice attitude for life in general.

She leaves a thread hanging at the end of the story for her to follow up with in the next book.  I’m wondering how she’ll handle it, but I’ve wondered that with some of her other books, and have never yet been disappointed.  This is another bravura effort from one of my favorite writers.