When authors mention another author as someone they enjoyed discovering, I take notice. Libby Hellmann asked me on a recent visit who I had enjoyed reading recently and I mentioned S.J. Bolton, and she countered with Elly Griffiths (Libby is also a fan of Bolton’s). Recently Griffiths won the Mary Higgins Clark award and this spurred my curiosity even more, and I could put off reading The Crossing Places no longer. I read it through in a day, with the kind of growing enjoyment that made me wonder “Are there more?” (Yes, one more, and another due in January.) One reason the book is so wonderful – though only one of them – is the heroine, archeologist Ruth Galloway.
Marcus Sakey’s strengths as a writer are many, and all are on display here. This may be the strongest entry yet from this gifted suspense writer (though I still have a real soft spot for At the City’s Edge). His ability to set a hook is first up. In this book, the main character finds himself almost drowned on a Maine beach, freezing, alone, and without his memory. Luckily he climbs into a nearby BMW, cranks it up to get warm, finds some clothes that seem to fit, and he takes it from there.
Ken Mercer wrote one of my favorite debut novels of last year, Slow Fire, about damaged cop Will Magowan who had taken on the job of sheriff in a tiny California town. It felt very new and original to me. In this outing, Mercer returns Will to LA, which simply by default is a less original proposition, already being seriously occupied by Michael Connelly and Robert Crais, among many others. Mercer has the chops of these better known folks, though, and his narrative skills are the equal to the big boys. The book has a type of creepy Marcus Sakey type premise (another writer Mercer has some kinship with). Will has returned to his wife as they continue to heal their damaged relationship after the death of their son, Will’s drug addiction and recovery, and his dismissal from the LAPD, something that continues to have a long tail in his life. The Sakey-esque part is taking the somewhat “normal” couple of Will and Laurie and introducing a stone psycho into their relationship and family life.
Lackberg is getting the big push in the wake of hugely popular fellow Swedes like Henning Mankell and Steig Larsson, and apparently she’s wildly popular in her native Sweden. Like Mankell, her work owes a debt to some of the great British writers of contemporary crime fiction – Ruth Rendell and P.D. James spring to mind – but she doesn’t quite have their tight pacing skills. While I enjoyed this novel very much I was conscious as I read it that I was reading it in translation, and I was often wanting her to hurry things up a bit, though I wouldn’t really call her story telling style languid. She’s capable of some stunning bits of psychological insight, however, thus the comparison to James and Rendell.
Winner of the prestigious St. Martin’s Private Eye Award contest, Kaufman joins other winners like Steve Hamilton and Michael Koryta with this novel. He’s a worthy addition to the roster. St. Martin’s has a definite niche in the marketplace – not as easy to define as the one occupied by Berkley’s dominance of the cozy sub genre – but an editorial bias is apparent in that they tend to publish books that embrace the quirky and original side of life, and their editors seem very fond of a well defined and unusual main character. Some of their heavy hitters – S.J. Rozan, Steve Hamilton, Julia Spencer-Fleming – all share this quality, but it percolates through to every Minotaur author in one way or another. And the defining quality of this debut novel is certainly the fascinating, troubled, and yes, quirky main character, Willis Gidney.
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.