Michael Connelly has seamlessly launched a new character and series, introducing Detective Renee Ballard. Ballard works “The Late Show,” or the overnight shift, and she’s in a bit of purgatory as she’s accused her former boss of sexual harassment. When the charges went nowhere (her old partner didn’t back her up), she was booted to the Late Show, where she catches cases but isn’t able to follow them through to a conclusion. She instead turns them over to the pertinent department – homicide, robbery, etc. She’s feeling the lack of follow-through – she’s not as engaged in her job and her partner, who works the late shift to get home and care for a wife with cancer, doesn’t have the same focus she does.
Forget retirement. Gamache is now head of the ENTIRE Surete. After the events of the last novel, Gamache has taken on corruption on a larger scale – he’s literally moved on from the academy to the world at large. Penny, as always, skillfully layers her story. In this outing, she jumps between Gamache’s testimony at a trial, a murder in Three Pines, and the Surete’s – and Gamache’s – fear of the drug crisis, specifically the opioid epidemic and how best to fight it. While Julia Keller’s new book (Fast Falls the Night) also focuses on the opioid epidemic, she goes for the personal; Penny goes for the epic. Keller’s view is far more pessimistic than Penny’s ultimately optimistic one.
Theresa Schwegel is a brilliant and underappreciated writer (despite an Edgar win for her first novel, Officer Down). She is a difficult writer, though, and refuses to sugarcoat anything. She also writes her novels in first person, present tense, which some people find off-putting. That said, she’s one of the more original and vivid writers in mystery fiction. Everything she writes is memorable and worth a look, and this novel, her sixth, is no exception.
Most of her novels concern female police officers, and so does this one, though with the twist that the officer in question, Gina Simonetti, is dealing with the beginnings of MS and hiding it from her employer. Schwegel tackles health care as a central theme and it’s deftly woven through her plot, touching on Gina’s health, the case Gina becomes invested in, and the thread of easy access to and misuse of prescription drugs.
I like starting a new year with a new discovery. I read an advance reading copy of this novel, which I plucked from the giant slush pile we have of such books. Sometimes one will call to me, and this one did. It feels very much like a series book though it apparently is not (that would be my one objection). Set in San Francisco, we meet homicide cop Gavin Cain, who is called in by the mayor after the mayor receives some compromising photographs with a request from the anonymous sender that the mayor do the world a favor and kill himself. When Gavin has his initial meeting with him, the mayor denies knowing anything about the photographs, which show a woman handcuffed, then undressed and obviously drugged.
Carrie shared the manuscript of this novel with me – I inhaled it and loved it and then didn’t (or forgot to) write my review. I had to come back to it and re-read it thoughtfully. I still love this book and this author. Carrie is part of a long line of beloved authors (for me at least) that include Lillian O’Donnell, Barbara D’Amato, Leslie Glass, Lynn Hightower, and Lee Martin/Anne Wingate, women who wrote about female police officers or detectives who are juggling family and personal issues along with the day to day sexism they encounter on the job. O’Donnell’s first novel was published in 1972 and the sexism doesn’t seem to have changed much.
It’s been awhile since I’ve enjoyed a Michael Connelly book as much as I enjoyed this one. I always enjoy them, don’t get me wrong, but some of the fizz was gone for a couple books there. It seems to be back in a big way in this new Harry Bosch novel, where Bosch takes on not one, but two, cases and arrives at a meaningful and satisfying solution for each one.
As the book opens, Bosch is requested to meet with reclusive billionaire Whitney Vance. Vance has made his fortune in steel. As Bosch heads over to meet him in an uncharacteristic jacket and tie, he thinks “he was calling on six billion dollars,” a nice nod to Raymond Chandler, and the plot, as it always does in a Connelly novel, takes off in a rocket powered fashion from there.
Mr. Keyse-Walker is the winner of the Mystery Writers of America/Minotaur Books First Crime Novel award (the award being publication), so I turned to it with some interest. Past winners of Minotaur/St. Martin’s contests include Steve Hamilton, Michael Koryta and Julia Spencer-Fleming, so the bar is somewhat high. I was at first jarred as I opened a novel set on tiny Anegada, a remote member of the British Virgin Islands. The main character is special constable Teddy Creque, who is a native islander. The author, a lawyer from Ohio, couldn’t seem more removed from his character, but then I decided the guy who wrote Memoirs of a Geisha wasn’t very much like his character either, so I settled in.
I love Louise Penny, and that’s no secret. There are many, many readers out there who share my adoration. But I was starting to wonder how she could move forward with Gamache being essentially retired in Three Pines… it’s too much like paradise and it’s too settled. There are few reasons to bring him into a case, other than his new son-in-law.
But Ms. Penny has found a way to get Gamache out of the house, so to speak, by making him the new head of the Surete Academy, where new cadets are trained. Of course Gamache being Gamache, he also has an ulterior motive, though it’s clear to no one how he is implementing his plan to clear the academy of rampant corruption. He’s demoted the most recent head of the academy and not fired him, but kept him on staff. He also hires his old frenemy, Michel Brebeuf.
Anne Hillerman may be a unicorn—that very rare writer whose relative was a bestselling author, and who is able to continue that series and make it her own. In fact, I can’t think of another example. Tony Hillerman’s classic and beloved Leaphorn and Chee novels put me off of his daughter’s work but they shouldn’t have—this is a terrific novel and I can’t wait to read more. The younger Hillerman has made the series her own by having Leaphorn retire, and Chee married to the lovely Bernadette “Bernie” Manuelito, also a police officer. Shifting the storytelling focus (or at least 50% of it) to a woman’s perspective changes things up enough to make these books Anne Hillerman’s very own.
The two books I’ve read so far by new publisher Crooked Lane have knocked me out, and I am really smitten with Carrie Smith, who writes in one of my favorite subgenres: the police procedural with a female central character. NYPD Detective Claire Cordella is returning to work after a vicious and nearly deadly bout with cancer, and she’s out to prove she can handle the job no matter what. Of course she’s handed a doozy of a case her first day back: the murder of a popular public school principal, Hector Sanchez. He’s been found dead in his apartment, laid out like Christ on the cross. Even a cursory look reveals there are two sides to Sanchez, and Claire is determined to get to the bottom of it.