Fred Vargas: A Climate of Fear

Fred Vargas is an interesting combination of very traditional and very – untraditional. Her set-up is traditional – Parisian Commissaire Adamsberg has a homicide squad that breaks down in traditional police novel form, with each character in the squad adding something to the story. But Adamsberg himself is extremely untraditional, with deductive methods that border on magical realism. In this novel, the story opens with an elderly woman struggling to the mailbox to mail a letter. Alas, she collapses before she can mail it, but a good Samaritan who helped her until an ambulance arrives later finds the letter in her pocket and mails it. read more

Cara Black: Murder in Saint-Germain

“You’re a pest… A real nuisance in heels.”

Nancy Drew has grown up, and she wears Louboutin pumps and rides an unreliable pink scooter around town. Cara Black’s Aimée LeDuc is living her most feminist adventure ever, as she juggles maman duties with a full time (and fully dangerous) job, one that finds her jumping over rooftops, scrambling through sewers, and generally the object of the attention of many bad guys. While at home Aimée is happy with baby Chloe, she’s alienated from her baby’s father, as well as from the critically injured Morbier, her protector and stand in father who lies in the hospital, dying, asking for her. read more

Jane Harper: The Dry

The DryTwo things to keep in mind when reading The Dry:

  1. It’s an awesome book to read in the cold, cold winter, as it’s set in the burning draught of Australia as meticulously delineated by Jane Harper.
  2. If you start reading it early in the evening, forget about getting any sleep. You won’t be able to put it down.

This is a wonderful first novel, featuring Melbourne financial detective Aaron Falk, who has returned to his tiny hometown of Kiewarra for the most tragic of reasons: his boyhood friend, Luke, has apparently killed his wife and toddler son in a murder-suicide. Aaron has gotten a note from Luke’s father demanding his attendance at the funeral. As he arrives, it’s like he’s walking into a terrible steam bath. Harper wraps the suffocating heat around him like a blanket and he’s plunged into the tiny church where the funeral is being held, surrounded by his long ago neighbors and frenemies. read more

Michael Stanley: A Death in the Family

deathinthefamilyThe fifth book in the Detective Kubu series set in Botswana is by far the most heartbreaking. While Stanley doesn’t shy away from his share of heartbreaking issues, this one hits home, as Kubu’s lovely, gentle father, Wilmon, is murdered. Kubu and his wife Joy are jangled awake by a terrible middle of the night phone call, and Kubu of course rushes to his mother’s side, refusing his boss’ offer of a ride. Stanley is able to beautifully portray the intrusion of grief into this family’s life and all the confusing and awful changes that grief brings with it. While sometimes younger “hipper” writers are the more celebrated, older authors bring life experience and knowledge to their writing which illuminates and deepens what they’re writing about, and that’s the case here. read more

Fuminori Nakamura: The Thief, Evil and the Mask, and Last Winter We Parted

thethiefAlthough The Thief was not the first novel Fuminori Nakamura published, it is the first to come out here, and it’s a good place to start, though not entirely representative of his work. Of course since only three of his fourteen books have been translated (a fourth, The Gun, which was, in fact, the first issued in his native Japan, comes out in October), it’s hard to say comfortably generalize about his work (but try and stop me!). The Thief is the tight, taut crime story of an expert pickpocket who’s gotten in a little over his head. Nakamura unfolds his story expertly, working in the slow revelation of the big job that still haunts him with his daily life of boosting wallets. Eventually the past comes back to get its due and things wrap up in a suitably fatalistic fashion. With its philosophic overtones and gritty noir realism it reads like a combination of David Goodis and Albert Camus, which is a pretty interesting combination, even if I found it a bit restrained and derivative, especially with the introduction of a little neglected kid who allows the protagonist to demonstrate that even if he is a criminal, he isn’t such a bad guy. read more

Malla Nunn: Present Darkness

presentdarknessI haven’t read Malla Nunn since her first book, A Beautiful Place to Die, a beautifully written novel.  In that book she establishes her three central characters: Emmanuel Cooper, a white policeman; Shabalala, a Zulu policeman; and a Jewish doctor, Zweigman.  The books are set in 1950’s South Africa, which makes all of these relationships loaded.  In the first book the heaviness of the connections almost overwhelm the story.  In this novel, Nunn’s fourth, the characters are established and comfortable and the story being told can run on its own steam. read more

S.J. Gazan: The Dinosaur Feather

The Dinosaur FeatherThis is an original and captivating novel.  Set in Copenhagen on the campus of the University of Copenhagen, the politics swirling through academe are apparently brutal to the point of fatality.  The central character, Anna Bella Nor, would probably get along well with Lisbeth Salander in terms of both brains and anger.  Unlike Lisbeth, she’s more anchored to the world – she has parents, a toddler, an ex, friends, and she’s juggling the planned defense of her PhD thesis in biology while taking care of her daughter and, it turns out, helping to solve the murders of some colleagues. read more

Kwei Quartey: Murder at Cape Three Points

The return of Ghanaian detective Darko Dawson is a very welcome one.  I enjoyed Quartey’s first two novels in the series very much and I’m grateful to Soho Press for giving him a new home.  Quartey, born in Ghana to an American and a Ghanian, has ended up in L.A. but his heart remains in Ghana and it’s on his sleeve as he relates the adventures of Detective Darko.

Murder-at-Cape-Three-PointsDarko is happily married and has a son with a heart condition – in the first two books his condition was worsening, and the Dawsons had no way to pay for surgery.  That problem has been overcome as the book opens with little Hosiah recovering well with his anxious parents looking on.  That’s a relief for all (including this reader) but Darko is called away from his son’s bedside before his leave is up to attend to a case in another city. read more

Jo Nesbo: The Snowman

I had a bad reaction to the first Jo Nesbo title I tried, The Redbreast, and set him aside as unreadable, despite many enthusiastic customers’ responses to the contrary.  Finally a few women in my book club recommended that I give The Snowman a try.  I’m glad I did.

The SnowmanIt’s hard to mess up a serial killer book, which this one is, but there are so many variations, that it’s also hard to be original in the particular sub-genre.  Nesbo more than pulls it off, writing a complex, intelligent, twisty and emotionally penetrating thriller that’s very difficult to put down.  This is the seventh book in Nesbo’s Harry Hole series.  Harry is a Swedish police detective whose spiritual twins might be Ian Rankin’s John Rebus and Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallander.  He’s a tad cranky, he used to drink, his relationships are problematic, and he’s obsessed with the job, as well as being a very good detective.  He needs all his smarts to catch the serial killer dubbed “The Snowman.” read more

Michael Gruber: The Return

Michael Gruber is one of the more original of all mystery writers,  His wonderful brain takes the reader to all kinds of places, almost always an unexpected one.  The Return is no different, following book editor Marder after a diagnosis of fatal cancer.  Marder decides to spend his last days in Mexico, returning to the tiny birthplace of his beloved and now dead wife.

The ReturnHe doesn’t want to burden anyone with his illness, so he cashes out (he has a large stash, despite his profession as an editor), buys a house in Playa Diamente, Mexico, severs ties and heads out in a camper.  Unbidden, a (scary) old buddy of his, Paul Skelly, turns up and refuses to be shaken no matter what. read more