You know how back in the 30’s and 40’s there was a famous “Detection Club”, with members like Agatha Christie and Ngaio Marsh? That was the so-called “golden age” of detective fiction. I think the U.K. now needs a new club for writers – “The Creepy British Women Mystery Writers Club.” Either it’s something in the water over there or a national predilection, but it can’t be a coincidence that writers like S.J. Bolton, Sophie Hannah, Jane Casey, Denise Mina, Mo Hayder, Tana French, Val McDermid (and I’m sure there are others) are producing such genuinely disturbing books that they almost make you flinch to open them. All of these women are the direct descendants of the great Ruth Rendell, who could teach just about any of them the meaning of the words “concise, yet creepy.”
Krueger has long been one of my favorite writers – and he’s a favorite of many of our customers as well, who are often annoyed when another Cork O’Connor book doesn’t appear quickly enough. From the very beginning I’ve been captivated by this writer’s prose and the depth of character he’s is able to convey. And of course, he’s a wonderful mystery writer, good with suspense, action, and plot twists. That’s a rare enough combination that Krueger is one of the best in the contemporary mystery field.
Jenny Milchman’s atmospheric debut novel would probably make you feel a chill even in August. Set in a tiny Adirondack town, main character Nora Hamilton wakes up one morning to find her whole world blown apart. She’d been happily married to a police officer – one terrible morning she finds he’s hanged himself in the attic.
From there, it’s almost as you are with Nora on her confusing journey of grief and revelation as she tries to figure out why her apparently happy and loving husband would have done something like this. Of no help are her cold, stand-offish mother-in-law; any cop in town, most of whom tell her to stay home and get better; or her own parents, who are whisked off canvas almost immediately.
Laura Lippman keeps growing as a writer. For a reader, this is a true delight, and each novel is something of a surprise. She’s hewing more, lately, to the standalone model than to the Tess Monaghan novels that started her career, and she has plenty to say. This novel is both a good story and a nuanced look at ethical behavior and choices.
Her central character is Heloise Lewis, who, it quickly becomes apparent, is a high class madam in the Heidi Fleiss mode. Making the novel a look at the politics of prostitution from the opening scene, Heloise overhears a conversation in line at the Starbucks about the recent suicide of a “suburban madam”. As she challenges the easy assumptions of the couple behind her in line, she’s really challenging her own assumptions. The articulation of her thoughts to a strange couple merely starts her own thought process.
This was a book club selection, and it’s one of the few I can remember where I had advance e-mails from delighted club members saying how much they loved this book. One woman even came in and bought another copy to give to a friend. When I finally got to reading this book – a multiple award nominee this year in the U.S., and last year in the U.K. – I found out how intelligent my book club members really are. I loved it too, and like them, I couldn’t put it down. I was making a drive home and had to pull into a rest stop to finish reading it. The last book that required such a drastic measure was Michael Connelly’s The Poet.
I think it’s safe to say this is the book of the year, and there isn’t always a “book of the year”, a book everyone’s talking about and reading. But the premise and the voice in this book are so original and so captivating that the story will probably stay with you for a long, long time, and you’ll probably want to talk about it.
The author is definitely channeling psychological masters like Ruth Rendell and Patricia Highsmith. Putting together this lean, vicious, compelling book is a real act of writerly fortitude, because it’s an exhausting and sometimes terrible sprint. And, like a Rendell or Highsmith book, when you get to the twisty middle, you know things are only going to get far, far worse.
Sorrow is always your own, offering no temptation to fickle gods. Fucking joy, on the other hand? You might as well string your heart from the ceiling for use as a frat-party piñata.
I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that Cornelia Read’s voice is one of the most original, vivid and memorable in all of contemporary crime fiction. I think I would be happy to read anything she wrote, in novel form or no, but happily she also writes wonderful novels. While her books are technically a series, I think each of them stand well alone, and each have a different slant which sets them apart from one another.
Here’s some advice: run, don’t walk, to the stack of Julia Keller’s first crime novel, A Killing in the Hills, and stash away a first edition for yourself. I rarely make this prediction but I am predicting Keller’s career will be a long one. This is a wonderful first novel, strongly reminiscent of some of Laura Lippman’s best work – her stand-alone crime novels that, like this book, are about so much more.
A Killing in the Hills is set in the tiny, and fictional, Acker’s Gap, West Virginia, but the assured writing and sense of place make clear that while technically Acker’s Gap is not a real place, the town Keller is describing and writing about most definitely is real. The book kicks off with the kind of random and senseless shooting that we have become all too familiar with recently: three old men are gunned down in the middle of a busy lunch time at a fast food restaurant in Acker’s Gap.
In her first appearance, Generation Loss, Elizabeth Hand’s protagonist Cassandra Neary provides this memorable self-portrait:
I caught a glimpse of myself in a dark window: a gaunt Valkyrie holding a spear taller than I was, teeth bared in a drunken grimace and eyes bloodshot from some redneck teenager’s ADD medication.
Neary has many of the qualities more expected in a male noir protagonist. She’s violent, bad tempered, substance abusing, cynical, haunted, corrupt, but yet able to tell the difference between right and wrong at the crucial moment and equally able to act decisively on that knowledge.
Thomas Cook is one of my favorite authors, but when I tell people that their reaction is often who? He’s been nominated for the Edgar seven times in five different categories, won for best novel, and yet, perhaps because he doesn’t write a series, remains criminally underappreciated. To me, fine prose in an essential part of any really excellent book, and Cook is one of the greatest living stylists in any genre, but he also has mastery of the other essential elements like character, setting and a special gift for the unexpected plot twist that seems obvious only after it’s happened.