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

Jussi Adler-Olsen: The Absent One

The Absent One, Jussi Adler-Olsen’s second novel in his gripping Department Q series, creates one of the more interesting female characters in recent fiction.  While Kimmie, the “absent one” of the title, is certainly not entirely sympathetic, as Adler-Olsen draws the reader deeper into her world there are sympathetic glimmers.  Explanations of her behavior.  And a portrayal of an exceptionally strong woman who ultimately chooses to do the right thing.

AbsentOneWhile that is part of this novel, this is also, like the first novel, a terrific thriller that will keep any reader glued to the page.  Adler-Olsen has set up his two main characters, Carl and Assad, as a perfect yin and yang.  They are the reliable and comfortable center of the novels, and in this one he’s added a third party, Rose, greeted by Carl as grumpily as he initially greeted Assad.  Despite Rose’s alleged assignment of assembling new desks for their workspace, she manages to prove to Carl that she has plenty to offer. read more

Marco Vichi: Death and the Olive Grove

“The story had something at once horrifying and sweet about it, something he had difficulty understanding.” – from Death and the Olive Grove

There are a few poets who are also mystery writers – Georges Simenon, Andrea Camilleri, Colin Cotterill, Matt Beynon Rees, Louise Penny, Karin Fossom – add to that short list Marco Vichi.  I mean poets in a spiritual sense (though Fossom is actually one).  Vichi’s blend of an almost delicate prose style with a gripping story, as well as a wider look at life, places him in that rarified company.  What makes this book special is that it’s thought provoking as well as hard to put down. read more

Chris Pavone: The Expats

This novel has garnered lots of praise and attention, as well as winning the Edgar for Best First Novel.  I can say it was a well-deserved award – this is a very original and quirky novel that is more than worthy of all the attention.  It’s not much like any other novel I’ve ever read – it has spy elements, international elements, and a strong domestic element that brings what is primarily a spy thriller into the more human realm.  It made me like it much more.

expats_coverI’m not big on spy thrillers and they haven’t been a big part of the genre for awhile – though it’s making a comeback, certainly, with the success of authors like Vince Flynn or the slyly imaginative Mike Lawson.  Pavone brings yet another take. read more

Jussi Adler-Olsen: The Keeper of Lost Causes

Adler-Olsen joins a long line of wildly popular (and actually wildly different from each other) Scandanavian crime writers who started with Henning Mankell and were really ramped up by the popularity of Steig Larssen.  I haven’t been a huge fan of some of the other Scandinavians (including Jo Nesbo), but I love Karin Fossum’s lovely prose and her Ruth Rendell-ish manner of telling a searing and concise story.  Adler-Olsen may prove to be a favorite for me – I couldn’t put this book down. read more

Rick Blechta: The Fallen One

Mysteries set in the world of music are few and far between, but those that are musically inclined tend to be excellent.  Perhaps it’s because a gifted musician also has some of the skills of a mathematician and so is skilled at assembling a good puzzle, but whatever the reason, the addition of music as a “setting” always adds quite a bit to a good read.

My favorites are Cynthia Harrod-Eagles series where the main character’s partner/wife plays for an orchestra, and Gerald Elias’ wonderful series that reflect his own skills as a classical violinist.  Rick Blechta’s novel, The Fallen One, features a female opera singer.  This was new territory for me, as I’ve seen an opera once or twice – but decades ago – so my knowledge of opera (other than knowing titles of famous operas) is limited.  I enjoyed what Blechta had to share about this art form. read more

Michael Stanley: Death of the Mantis

The third book in Michael Stanley’s Detective Kubu series set in Botswana is the best one so far, which is saying a lot.  Stanley’s novels are a complex and nuanced look at Botswana and Southern Africa, combined with a good mystery puzzle and one of the best detectives in contemporary crime fiction.

Let me describe Kubu, and see if he sounds at all familiar to any crime fiction fan:  he’s overweight, doesn’t care, loves food and wine,  is a connoisseur of both, and is a brilliant detective.  While “Michael Stanley”  (actually two charming fellows, Stan Trollip and Michael Sears) discount any resemblance to Nero Wolfe, for any mystery fan, it’s plain to see the kinship between the two detectives. read more

Arnaldur Indridason: Jar City

I think one of the definitions of noir is that the reader feels no sympathy even for the victim of the crime. The whole noir universe is so dark and corrupt that not even the victim can escape corruption. Iceland’s Indridason brings a humanity to the noir genre in the form of his detective, Erlandur, a man who literally has pains in his heart from dealing with the bleak world he sees every day as a policeman. When the detectives are called to the death scene of an old man, apparently randomly murdered with a strange and apparently meaningless message left on the body, one of them says, “Isn’t this your typical Icelandic murder?…Squalid, pointless and committed without any attempt to hide it…” They all agree, except for lead detective Erlandur, who is troubled by the apparently meaningless note, and later by a mysterious photograph of a grave. read more

Eric Stone: Shanghaied

“I love Chinese food. But sometimes China doesn’t do much for my appetite.” – Ray Sharp

Though this novel might at the beginning be categorized along with books by writers like Barry Eisler, Brent Ghelfi and maybe even Lee Child, half way through Stone turns his action story on its ear in an entirely unexpected way. This is the fourth book in a series featuring detective Ray Sharp, a Hong Kong based investigator who does “due diligence” investigations with his partner, the Chinese-Mexican dwarf, Wen Lei Yue. As the story opens Ray and Lei are looking into a missing monk. What they can’t decide is if the monk is just having a little illicit fun or if the monk is the money man for his well endowed monastery, in which case his disappearance is more worrisome. read more