Sunday, April 09, 2017
On the Book Beat
I have been reading a lot this winter, so my latest Book Beat column (for the Pomp and Circumstantial Evidence magazine, from the Magna Cum Murder Mystery Conference) has plenty to chose from.
Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith
Somebody sent London P.I. Cormoran Strike a severed leg, and he has several suspects to choose from in the latest thriller from J.K. Rowling (writing under the Robert Galbraith pseudonym) Career of Evil.
Rowling was outed as Galbraith some time ago, but it's a good thing that she is still using the name, so an unsuspecting young muggle doesn't inadvertently wander into this story. It is chock full of adult elements, including gruesome murders and dismemberment, spousal and child abuse, and plenty of fighting and gunplay.
But it is Rowling's characters and situations that go beyond the genre trappings; Strike's troubled childhood with a rock star father, his loyal assistant Robin on the verge of making a bad-luck marriage, and various family members and friends are well drawn and interesting.
This is the third in the series, and all are recommended to mystery fans.
The Girls by Emma Cline
At the end of the 60s, at the end of her parents' marriage, a teenage girl gradually disconnects from suburbia and falls in with a growingly dangerous cult in Emma Cline's debut The Girls.
The Girls has elements of literary fiction and elements of thriller, with the obvious parallel being to the Manson murders. But at its center Cline's novel is really about a young girl's awakening sexuality, and her attraction to a magnetic young woman in the cult.
How this relationship slowly, and then quickly, destroys lives around them is the spine of the story.
This is a solid read for those with any type of fiction interests and is recommended.
The House Husband by James Patterson and Duane Swierczynski
A cop just a day back from maternity leave stalks a serial killer who targets families in The House Husband, from James Patterson's Bookshots line.
Bookshots are thrillers and romances in the beach read style, but at about one-fifth the size. All are overseen by Patterson with a co-author, in this instance Duane Swierczynski, whose books and comics I have been interested in on their own merits.
This story, told in alternating chapters by the cop and the killer (who seems to lead the mild life of the house husband of the title) hits all the expected beats, but a twisty ending and a Philadelphia setting add value.
I enjoyed reading this quickly, as intended.
The Widow by Fiona Barton
A woman gradually begins to suspect that her husband is responsible for a child's disappearance in The Widow by Fiona Barton.
Barton's novel is at both times a portrait of a marriage and a psychological thriller, and the story ratchets up the tension by peeling back the onion through one revelation after the next. Although I saw the ending coming, it was sufficiently suspenseful throughout.
The Widow benefits from having various chapters told from alternating points of view, mostly from an ambitious reporter and a dogged police detective, but also including the mother and the husband.
The Widow tries to land in the same range as The Girl on the Train and Gone Girl, with pretty good results. For fans of thrillers.
Desperado: A Mile High Noir by Manuel Ramos
A down-on-his-luck guy reluctantly helps an old high school friend who is getting blackmailed--but when the old friend turns up dead, things quickly go from bad to worse in Desperado: A Mile High Noir by Manuel Ramos.
Ramos hits all of the right genre beats, including a can't-win-for-losing protagonist, but adds interest by setting the story in the center of Latino culture in a gentrifying Denver.
I would recommend this novel to any noir fans, especially readers who want to hear from a different voice in the genre.
The Bastards of Pizzofalcone by Maurizio de Giovanni
A group of unwanted cops are sent to staff a precinct on the verge of closing; but when an affluent woman is murdered, they have a chance to redeem themselves both personally and professionally in The Bastards of Pizzofalcone.
This is the first novel in a new Italian crime series from Maurizio de Giovanni, bringing the lead cop over from his solid thriller The Crocodile. Lojacono, called "The Chinaman," teams up with a handful of tarnished heroes on this and several other cases that thread throughout, as they try to hold various aspects of their personal lives together.
de Giovanni acknowledges Ed McBain and his "87th Precinct" books in the writing of this novel, and his nods to the source material show throughout. Fans of McBain will enjoy this outing, a story that would fit right into that series but seen through a different cultural lens.
I thought the mystery was somewhat slight, but the characters and situations highly interesting, making it a fast read.
Silenced by Kristina Ohlsson
An immigrant killed in a hit and run, a vicar and his wife in a murder-suicide, and a young woman being terrorized in Bangkok are all tied together, and it's up to a special squad of Stockholm detectives to figure out how in Kristina Ohlsson's Silenced.
Ohlsson weaves a tangled plot, even more knotty with the complex backstories of the team of detectives trying to solve the various cases. One is pregnant by a married lover, another senses trouble at home, a third is going through a volcanic divorce which is impacting his work.
Characters you can invest in, and sharp storytelling, make Silenced a satisfying read, especially for fans of Scandinavian crime stories.
The Believer by Joakim Zander
A woman in New York is a trendspotter for hip companies; back in Sweden, her younger brother Fadi becomes radicalized and heads to Syria; and in London, another woman has a laptop stolen after a night of drinking.
How these three storylines connect, and are connected to shadowy government agencies, is at the center of Swedish thriller The Believer by Joakim Zander.
This is a big, globe-trotting book ready-made for a movie adaptation starring Emily Blunt. In the writing world, I would most closely equate Zander with late-era John LeCarre.
Slices of immigrant life in Sweden adds value to one of those big conspiracy storylines it never pays to think too hard about.
The Oslo Conspiracy by Asle Skredderberget
A young woman is murdered in Rome, and her younger brother killed in a schoolyard in Oslo; it is up to an Oslo cop with a Norwegian father and an Italian mother to stitch the two cases together in The Oslo Conspiracy from Asle Skredderberget.
I enjoy a lot of Scandinavian mysteries, but I'm not sure I've ever read one with a protagonist quite like this; typically the main characters are quite morose with myriad emotional problems, but Milo Cavalli--from a moneyed family, with plenty of girlfriends and a penchant for globe-trotting and other fine things--is positively breezy by comparison.
The plotting is a breezier as well, reading a bit more like a beach thriller with action scenes with backdrops in various cities and a storyline featuring international business,, crime gangs, and the mysterious sinking of an Italian ship years ago.
Much lighter than the average Scandinavian thriller, for better or worse depending on one's tastes; either way quite readable.