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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
As everyone knows, there are a very famous series of books set in Botswana—by Alexander McCall Smith. McCall Smith’s delicate prose is matched by the charm of his main character, Precious Ramotswe. Now there is a new series set in Botswana, with a slightly darker take, though the main character, Detective Kubu, would surely be friendly with Precious were they to meet. Detective Kubu (the Botswana word for “Hippo”) is hugely fat and hugely smart. If Precious is the African Miss Marple, then Kubu is the African Nero Wolfe. Kubu and Wolfe both share a deep appreciation for the pleasures of the table, and both of them have brains that work best with their eyes closed.
“It was a mistake to think that detection was a matter of figuring out what had happened in the past and then taking revenge for it. He understood now that it was about protecting the future from the people that committed evil and who would do so again.”
When enough customers ask you about a certain author in a short period of time, it makes you take notice. When several of my more discerning “guy” readers mentioned Matt Rees as a wonderful writer, I was intrigued enough to pick up the first book. Rees was a longtime bureau chief for Time in Jerusalem, and his familiarity with the area certainly shows. The book is set in Bethlehem, with characters that are a mix of all the peoples that crowd into this tiny area—Jews, Christians, Muslims, Palestinians. The central character, Omar Yussef, teaches at a UN Refugee school. He is a Muslim originally from Palestine, and his view of the world is out of sync with many of those around him.
There has been a huge outpouring of international mystery fiction lately, much of it excellent. There are several series set in Africa, which a large enough continent that it can ensure a great deal of variety, depending on the country where the book is set. This one is set in Ghana, which is in Northern Africa, kind of the on the heel (between Ivory Coast and Togo). This novel, joining work by Alexander McCall Smith, Michael Stanley, and Deon Meyer, is outstanding. Quartey has some of the same qualities of both McCall-Smith and Michael Stanley: like both men, his reverence for the African countryside is apparent. Like Stanley’s Detective Kubu, his Detective Darko is a well rounded family man whose family life, especially in this novel, plays a key part in the story. His book is much more concisely told than Stanley’s, however, and more narrative driven than McCall-Smith’s. And Detective Darko is an instant classic.
This is a wonderful first novel, fitting in well with work by other newer writers like Tana French and Sophie Hannah. Like the work by those two ladies, it’s layered, complex, and beautifully written. Set in South Africa in the 50’s as the strict rules of apartheid were being enforced by draconian measures, the similarities between the Nazis and the Afrikaners can’t be overlooked. Nunn even supplies a Jewish refugee in the tiny village of Jacob’s Rest to make her point. Detective Emmanuel Cooper is called in from Johannesburg to take over the case of a murdered white police officer, but before he makes much headway the Security Branch is called in, and he’s put on a tangential investigation.
I’m not sure what all goes on in the mind of Michael Gruber, but I’m delighted he’s decided to share some of his thoughts with us. Any book of his I’ve ever read has been totally thought provoking and sometimes an almost mystical experience. That sounds corny, but it’s true—he’s a profound thinker disguised as a mystery writer. This outing deals with the differences between the cultures of the United States and the cultures of various Muslim nations, but most notably Pakistan. There’s hardly a topic more timely, of course, and Gruber will make you examine any preconceived ideas you might possibly have about Muslims, and maybe even get you to question some of your own about our own culture. That sounds tedious, though, doesn’t it? Gruber is far from a tedious writer, however, and this book is no exception.