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Posts Tagged ‘cold case’

THE SHADOW DISTRICT by Arnaldur Indridason: Book Review

Iceland during World War II was changing, and the changes weren’t to everyone’s liking.  Before the war the country was a small farming community, remote from the rest of the world, ruled by Denmark.  But in 1944 Iceland became an independent republic while at the same time undergoing major social changes due to the influx of American and British troops who were stationed there before being sent to fight in Europe.

As in other countries where foreign armies were present, this created problems; in Iceland that became known as the Situation.  British and American soldiers were dating Icelandic women who were impressed by the foreigners’ sophistication, politeness, and wealth, a welcome change from the rural and unworldly Icelandic men, at least as they were perceived by the young women.

In wartime Reykjavik, Ingiborg is facing this problem.  Deciding to disregard her father’s stern prohibition about dating an American, she and her lover Frank have sneaked off to the abandoned National Theater, a favorite place for illicit romance.  Scarcely have they arrived when Ingiborg trips over some cardboard, and when she and Frank look down they see the body of a young woman.  Ingiborg wants to call the police, but Frank prevails and they flee the scene.

Fast forward to present day Reykjavik, where the body of an elderly man is found in his apartment after his neighbor calls police to say she hasn’t seen him in several days.  He’s lying peacefully on his bed, fully clothed, but obviously quite dead.  At first, given his advanced age, the police conclude that he died in his sleep, but the autopsy required by law shows that Stéfan Thórdarson was suffocated.

Konrád, a retired Reykjavik detective, has an interest in the case.  He has vague childhood memories about the murder in the Theater; it happened in his neighborhood, the Shadow District.  He seems to recall that his father had some connection to it, but he can’t remember exactly what it was.  He gets permission to search the apartment of the dead man, which is almost completely free of any personal items except for a photo of a handsome young man and three newspaper clippings about the death at the Theater.

The Shadow District goes back and forth in time between 1944 and now.  No one has ever been arrested in the young woman’s murder, even though it bore a resemblance to the disappearance and presumed death of another woman in northern Iceland a few years earlier.  The only seeming connection between the two deaths was the mention of Huldufólk in both cases. 

Huldufólk are elves or hidden people in Icelandic folklore, sometimes amusing and sometimes evil.  Shortly before the disappearance of the northern woman and the death of the woman in Reykjavik, each had spoken about being attacked by these elves.  The belief in these mythic beings runs deep in the country, even today.  And although many people say they don’t really believe in the hidden people, no one wants to totally dismiss them.

Arnaldur Indridason is one of Scandinavia’s most popular writers, winner of the Glass Key, the award for the best Nordic mystery novel, in 2002 and 2003.  The Shadow District is his first in a new series, and it’s a terrific beginning.  As always the author’s characters and plot are believable and engrossing, and the glimpses into Icelandic history are an added plus.

You can read more about Arnaldur Indridason on many websites.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her website.  In addition to book review posts, there are sections featuring Golden Oldies, Past Masters and Mistresses, and an About Marilyn column that features her opinions about everything to do with mystery novels.

 

 

AFTER I’M GONE by Laura Lippman: Book Review

After each book I read by Laura Lippman, I’m reminded why she’s one of my favorite authors.  After I’m Gone has only reinforced my feeling.

Some people have incredible charisma, and Felix Brewer was one of those.  Not especially good-looking, not college-educated, he nevertheless charmed everyone he met and was able to parlay this into life with a beautiful wife, three lovely daughters, a large house in Baltimore, and a significant presence in the city’s Jewish and philanthropic communities.  However, he always wanted more.

But somehow, in After I’m Gone, things have gone awry.  Felix is hiding in a horse van, hoping not to be stopped by the police, because he’s on his way out of the country to avoid a fifteen year prison sentence.  He’s with his mistress, Julie Saxony, but he has no intention of taking her with him, nor is he taking his wife and children.  It’s July 4, 1976.

Bambi, Felix’s wife, has known almost from the beginning of their life together that not everything Felix did was legal.  It wasn’t exactly illegal, or at least not all of it, but it was slippery.  “People will gossip.  But we’ll be so respectable–so rich–that no one will be able to afford to look down on us,”  he tells her.  Bambi deals with that, just as she deals with knowing that Felix is unfaithful, consoling herself with the thought that he loves her best. 

Sandy Sanchez is the instrument that will open up this thirty-five-year-old history.  He’s a former police detective in Baltimore, working as a consultant on cold cases for the force.  Going through some old files, he comes across a photo of Julie, Felix’s girlfriend at the time he disappeared.  Julie vanished ten years after Felix did, but her body was not discovered for another fifteen years.  Her murder has never been solved, so Sandy decides it’s worth a closer look.

In addition to following Sandy’s pursuit of Julie’s killer, over the years we are introduced to the oldest Brewer daughter, Linda, on the night of the 1980 presidential election; Rachel, the middle daughter, caught in an unhappy marriage with a cheating husband; and Michelle, the spoiled youngest child, who never knew her father and perhaps misses him the most.

And there’s the beautiful Bambi, still turning heads at forty, fifty, sixty.  Too proud to ever let friends know how dire her financial situation really is, she manages from month to month, holding her breath as the bills pile up. 

The lives of everyone in the book have been touched both by the presence of Felix Brewer and by his absence.  It’s fascinating to watch the dynamics so many years after he leaves.  It’s as if his energy and personality are still vibrating nearly four decades later.  It’s not simply that his family and friends are still missing him, although they are.  It’s also that their lives are so different than they would have been if he had not left. 

After I’m Gone joins all the other novels by Laura Lippman as a wonderful read.  The characters are real, as are their reactions to what is happening to them.  The plot is outstanding; more than simply a mystery, it is a narrative about how each person’s life impacts so many other lives.

You can read more about Laura Lippman at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE DROP by Michael Connelly: Book Review

Everybody counts or nobody counts. That’s the mantra that propels Harry Bosch.  The Los Angeles police detective is still in the Open-Unsolved Unit, better known as the Cold Cases Unit.  Any unsolved murder, even one going back fifty years, can be reopened.  There’s no statute of limitations on murder in California.

As the novel opens Harry receives a new case.  It’s one in which it looks as if someone made a serious error.  A young woman, Lily Price, was grabbed on her way home from the beach one day in 1989 and brutally raped and murdered.  Her killer left only one identifying mark, a spot of blood on her neck, apparently transferred by the belt he used to strangle her.  Now that blood spot is reexamined using today’s techniques, and it comes back identified as belonging to a convicted sexual offender.  There’s only one problem with this identification–at the time of the crime, the suspect whose blood was on the victim’s body was only eight years old.

Harry is called away from a meeting about this case by a phone call from his former partner Kiz Rider, who is now the assistant to the chief of police.  She tells Harry he’s about to be called onto a case involving Irvin Irving, a former deputy chief in the department who had been forced out and is currently a city councilman.  Irvin is now seen by the department as an enemy, getting his own back by cutting the department’s budget whenever possible.

Irvin’s only son, George, was found early that morning on the sidewalk in front of a hotel after a drop from the hotel’s seventh floor. Was it an accident, a suicide, or a murder?  In spite of the antagonistic past Harry and Irvin shared, Irvin claims he wants Harry as the chief investigator on this case.  He says he’s willing to accept whatever the truth is.  Harry is wary, but he has no choice–the case is his.

The Drop is as good as it gets. Harry Bosch is back in top form.  He’s a man who doesn’t suffer fools gladly, if at all, and he doesn’t bend.  When the Irving case takes him to places he doesn’t want to go, he’s aware of the dangers ahead but goes anyway.  It’s his job, and he’s going to do it right.

The “high jingo,” as Harry calls orders from his superiors, is that Harry should hold off on the cold case for a while and concentrate on the Irving case.  But that’s not Harry’s style, and he’s determined to handle both cases simultaneously.  When he sets out to interview Clayton Pell, whose blood was found on Lily, he also meets Dr. Hannah Stone, a psychologist who works with sexual offenders.  There’s an immediate spark between them, something Harry hasn’t felt in a long time, and in spite of their different views about sexual predators they begin a relationship.  But can it survive their opposing points of view toward Clayton Pell, plus a secret that Hannah is keeping?

Michael Connelly has again penned a fast-paced, well-written novel about Harry Bosch, a man with a many-faceted personality. He’s a loving father, an excellent policeman, but also a man who is unforgiving to his enemies.  He is certain of the right way to do his work and which path to take, and when others don’t meet his standards he writes them off.  There is my sense that in The Drop Harry Bosch is mellowing just a bit, but you’ll have to read the novel to see if you agree.

You can read more about Michael Connelly at his web site.