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.
This book is a departure for Grant, whose first three books were James Bond style thrillers, and whose most recent, Run, was a straight up, no holds barred thriller. This one is a police novel set in Birmingham, Alabama. The central character is one Devereaux Cooper, a detective and damaged soul, scarred by a terrible childhood. Throughout the novel his backstory is teased out as he’s assigned the case of a missing child.
Grant gives the reader a look inside the head of the kidnapper as well, threading the kidnapper’s actions with the actions of the police. As the detectives begin to follow wrong paths thanks to false clues laid down by this person, it’s Deveraux who has the flashes of intuition that begin to lead them in the right direction. He’s assigned a new partner who seems a bit stand offish and it’s not clear if she doesn’t trust him or if it’s the department in general that doesn’t trust him. When he urges some actions that aren’t strictly legal (but that are expedient) you begin to worry about him, and that’s a good sign that Grant has really made you care about this character.
This is the first title I’ve read by new publishing house Crooked Lane and I have to say it was a knock-out. If you’re a fan of Dana Stabenow or Nevada Barr, you’ll gobble this one up with a spoon. Set in rugged Timber Creek, Colorado, the main characters are deputy Mattie Cobb and her K-9 partner, Robo. Newly paired up with Robo, Mattie is dealing with a bit of sexism and a bit of resentment on the part of her fellow deputies, and she’s also learning to trust Robo as a partner. That trust issue plays into the storyline in a major way.
Louise Penny’s gift is to take bits of reality and weave it into her setting and characters and make the reader really feel what she is feeling. In this novel, her eleventh in her remarkable Inspector Gamache series, the action starts, as it always does, in tiny Three Pines. The villagers are frequently disturbed or annoyed or even amused by the tall tales of young Laurent Lepage, who is always emerging from the woods with a fantastical story.
When Laurent claims he’s seen a giant gun in the woods and that it has a monster inscribed on it, no one believes him but when he goes missing and he’s later found dead of an apparent accident things turn more serious. On a hunch, Gamache calls his son in law Jean Guy, who is still with the Surete and tells him he thinks little Laurent’s death was no accident. This is a mystery novel—of course it wasn’t.
Barbara Fradkin is well known in Canada, and deservedly so. Her Inspector Green series, of which this novel is the first entry, are solid police procedurals with the charming Inspector Green using that favorite device of mystery readers everywhere: deductive reasoning. And as most mystery readers prefer to read a series in order, I’m reviewing the first in Fradkin’s series though she has now written ten novels in the series, the most recent being None So Blind.
I loved the set up of this first novel and I really loved the way the book and the characters who inhabit it hit the ground running. They obviously had a life going before we hit the scene, and it’s a sure sign of a writer able to create fully dimensional, realized characters. As I was reading I was sometimes curious about events in Inspector Green’s past but Fradkin presents him as he exists in his present reality. As it is with getting to know an actual human being, meeting Green is like getting to know someone you may become friends with later.
Both Tana French and Josephine Tey have books that are among my favorites as well as books I can’t slog my way through (confession: I can’t read Tey’s The Singing Sands). I love Tana French’s Broken Harbor so much it’s one of my favorite contemporary mysteries; but there are other times when her books are a tad too long and a tad too over determined. This is one of those times.
French’s prose skills are among the most beautiful of all contemporary mystery writers. She catches an atmosphere, she has an ability to make you feel a place in your bones, like no other writer. That’s no small skill, and in her new book the place she is out to capture is a Catholic girl’s school in Ireland. French has always been interested in the otherworldly nature of the woods, or the forest, the ones that you might encounter in a fairy tale. The woods in fairy tales may hold enchantment or danger; in this novel, the woods surround the school and supply both elements.
Some writers write with their smarts on their sleeves (Jeffrey Deaver and Thomas Perry come to mind) and some with their hearts on their sleeves. Louise Penny belongs firmly in this second category, and in none of her novels has her heart been more front and center than in this one, a deeply moving examination of the relinquishment of power, love, and attachment as well as an examination of the painful but necessary process of change and growth.
It almost seemed at times as though Penny couldn’t stop the words from rushing over the page, and as a reader, I couldn’t stop myself from rushing to inhale them as fast as she was throwing them down. Gamache has retired and settled in Three Pines with Reine Marie, with frequent visits from his new son in law, Jean Guy Beauvoir.
Karen Dionne joins us to launch what is not really an adaptation of the AMC show “The Killing,” but a prequel using the characters and setting familiar to any fan of the show. Reading the cover, it’s interesting to see the progression: “The Killing” began as a Danish show, “Forbrydelsen,” was developed by Veena Sud for U.S. television, and is now a novel by Karen Dionne. At that point of removal I think the work becomes so far from the source that it’s now Dionne’s own.
For those of you not fans of the show, it’s a police show set in Seattle, featuring the uncompromising, workaholic, single mother Detective Sarah Linden; and the slightly less tightly wound Detective Steven Holder, back from working undercover. Dionne goes backward in time from the show.
Mary Logue has long been one of my favorite authors and after waiting an increasingly long time between installments, I’m more than eager to pick up one of these tightly written, exciting and emotionally resonant novels. Unfortunately I inhale them far too quickly and am forced to settle in for another long wait for the next book. Logue’s main character is deputy Claire Watkins, who works in tiny Fort St. Antoine, Wisconsin. She lives with her husband, the laconic pheasant farmer Rick, and her now almost adult daughter, Meg.