It’s been awhile since I checked in with Inspector Banks, but he’s still the mellow, food, wine and music loving guy he’s always been, if a bit more consumed by melancholy and examining the past. As the book opens he’s just attended the funeral of a long-ago girlfriend, and he’s called in when a sniper shoots up a wedding party, killing the bridal couple and several others. The shooting is realistic enough and ripped from the headlines enough to be disturbing, though the British cops in this book mention that shootings of this type are practically an American epidemic.
One of the things that make England such a haunted place is its sheer antiquity. The great ghost story writers of that country are often possessed by the fear that the spirits of the old, pre-Christian ways will manifest themselves darkly in our bright modern world. Such is the slowly dawning terror of Andrew Michael Hurley’s magnificent new chiller The Loney:
I often thought there was too much time there. That the place was sick with it. Haunted by it. Time didn’t leak away as it should. There was nowhere for it to go and no modernity to hurry it along. It collected as the black water did on the marshes and remained and stagnated in the same way.
This is a wonderful outing from Elly Griffiths. I enjoyed the last one, The Woman in Blue, very much, but my daughter pointed out after she read it that it was “transitional.” I asked her exactly what did that mean, and she explained the characters were all in transition, neither here nor there for that particular installment. Thinking about it, I agreed with her completely, and this one – where the characters seem to have found landing spots for the moment – feels like a stronger book.
I can’t say how delighted I am that G.M. Malliet is continuing to write her Max Tudor mysteries. With actual British writers turning to the really dark and really scary, it’s American Malliet who has assumed the Golden Age mantel with this series. It’s pure joy to read one of these novels, start to finish. The structure and format won’t be a surprise to any devotee of Agatha Christie or Dorothy L. Sayers, but the way the characters are turned into fully human beings makes them utterly contemporary.
I look forward to few novels more than I do those of Deborah Crombie, whose Gemma James/Duncan Kincaid books have become one of my favorite series. As the series has progressed and the working partners became marital ones, I also have become a fan of these characters who are good, decent human beings dealing with life as it comes at them. They are a family of five with all the chaos that entails and juggling family and work is not always easy. In this novel, Gemma and Duncan seem a bit estranged.
It’s always puzzling to me why a particular book takes off for the stratosphere, and another, equally good, does not, but there’s no denying the popularity of Paula Hawkins’ debut, The Girl on the Train. While I’ve heard Hawkins say in an interview that no one ever thought of a character seeing a crime from a train before (see The 4:50 from Paddington, Agatha Christie, 1957), I have also seen an interview in the New York Times Book Review where she mentions a reverence for Ruth Rendell. There are also articles talking about this novel being responsible for the “re-birth”of domestic suspense, a trend that has always been with us, going back, again, to Agatha herself. All that made me unwilling and uninterested in reading it, but I put it on our book club ballot and the book club picked it, so here I am, having read the most popular novel published in the last few years.
Jane Casey has developed into one of the more reliable police procedural writers around. This is a bravura effort from her, seven books into her series about Detective Maeve Kerrigan, the vagaries of her love life, and her fellow detective, the irascible Josh Derwent. Tackling a fire that breaks out in a housing project (or as the Brits call them, Housing Estates, a fancier term for the same thing), Casey highlights various people who live on the estate, couched mostly in heartbreaking terms. Things only get worse after the fire.
I loved Judith Flanders’ first Sam Clair novel, A Murder of Magpies, and I may have liked this one even more, as some of her plotting was clearer than it was in the first novel. In truth, though, that part didn’t matter so much to me. What I really love is the setting – Sam is a 40-something book editor in London – and in this novel she’s caught up by the apparent suicide of the business partner of one of her dear friends. The friend and his partner own(ed) a London art gallery specializing in a well known pop artist (Flanders creates an artist who would have been a contemporary of Lichtenstein and Warhol) and then she plunges the action full bore into the world of publishing and art and where the two sometimes collide.
The fifth novel in G.M. Malliet’s charming and intelligent Max Tudor series is a delight. The book finds Max happily married to the lovely Awena, and they are the now doting parents of Owen. They seem to share child care almost effortlessly, with the exception of Max falling asleep in church during a sermon given by his new curate, Destiny. While Destiny is not in the novel for large chunks, she still plays a large part, as before heading to Nether Monkslip to report for duty, she overhears a seemingly incriminating conversation in the steam bath at her women’s club. Problem: every woman looks the same wrapped in a towel, and she has no idea who they are.
Another take on the British police novel comes from Jane Casey, whose love-life-clueless-work-life-competent Maeve Kerrigan is a fresh, memorable character. She’s young, she’s fighting tooth and nail to be taken seriously and treated equally, and she’s one of the few who gets along with her higher up, the prickly Josh Derwent.
Casey’s feminist take on the police novel is welcome and realistic – Maeve is mostly taken seriously by her boss but she’s treated in a very sexist way by Derwent, who nevertheless values her opinion and likes working with her. Higher up the chain female officers are threatened by her and Maeve handles her work life with aplomb. She’s made a pact with herself never to cry at work, no matter what happens: Josh tells her towards the end of the novel, “Don’t be that girl who cries at work.” It’s a perfect encapsulation of Maeve’s daily struggle to keep it together on the job, and reminded me of Holly Hunter’s solitary morning crying jag in the film “Broadcast News.”