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Posts Tagged ‘police detective’

THE ICE BENEATH HER by Camilla Grebe: Book Review

As The Ice Beneath Her opens it’s winter in Stockholm, and homicide detective Peter Lindgren gets a call that brings him to the site of a particularly gruesome murder.  The victim, a young woman, has been found beheaded in the home of Jesper Orre.  Not only is the death scene macabre, but the detective realizes that it’s eerily similar to one that took place ten years ago in the city; that murder was never solved.

The novel’s second chapter takes place two months earlier.  There we meet Emma, a young woman who works in Clothes&More, the chain that’s owned by Orre.  She arrives at work wearing a huge diamond ring, but she won’t tell her co-workers the name of her fiancé or anything about him.  The reader learns that her fiancé is Jesper and that she’s promised him she won’t give anyone any information about him because it could cause trouble for him and herself. 

Emma goes to her apartment to prepare a dinner to celebrate their engagement, but Jesper never shows up.  She calls and texts him several times that night to no avail, and she still hasn’t heard from him by morning.

As the book returns to the present, Hanne is introduced.  She’s a psychologist who worked with the police years ago on the unsolved murder case, and she’s called now by Peter’s partner to help with this death.  What the partner doesn’t know, and Hanne doesn’t have any intention of telling him, is that during the course of the previous investigation she and Peter fell in love despite the fact that she was married.

So now Hanne is dealing with two very stressful issues.  One is the extremely unhappy marriage she’s been in for twenty years, the second is the knowledge that her memory is deteriorating and that at some future time she will be completely helpless.  Disregarding her husband’s instructions not to get involved with the present case, she goes to the police station and must confront her former lover there.

The Ice Beneath Her goes back and forth between these three protagonists.  We learn about Peter’s failed marriage and his inability to connect with his teenage son, with Hanne’s controlling husband and her beginning dementia, and the dysfunctional childhood that Emma survived.  All this is portrayed realistically and with empathy, leading the reader to understand the reasons for the present-day behaviors and motivations of these characters.

Camilla Grebe’s novel will keep the reader on a roller coaster ride, with many twists and turns that are all believable.  It’s a book that’s almost impossible to put down.

You can read more about Camilla Grebe at various sites on the internet.

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

 

 

 

 

 

THE WRONG SIDE OF GOODBY by Michael Connelly: Book Review

Being a cop is in one’s DNA, according to veteran police detective Harry Bosch.  Harry was forced to retire from the Los Angeles Police Department and is now working as a private investigator.  Still missing police work, he’s taken a part-time job working on cold cases, with no pay and no benefits, at the very small San Fernando Police Department.

Now Harry’s working on two cases simultaneously, one private and one official.  The private one comes via his former supervisor at the LAPD, John Creighton, dismissively known to his former colleagues as The Cretin.  Creighton is now the head of Trident Security, a multi-national security firm, and he’s asked Harry to take a job for one of their clients.  Although at first determined not to accept the job due in great part to his dislike of Creighton, Harry reconsiders when he’s offered a $10,000 check simply to meet with the client, the billionaire Whitney Vance.

When he meets Vance the following morning, he’s intrigued by the story the client tells him and the reason he wants to hire the detective.  So Harry agrees to look into the problem, working under an agreement of total secrecy, warned to speak only to Vance himself if/when he discovers anything.

At the same time Harry is working on a series of five rapes that have happened over a period of four years in the city of San Fernando.  Dubbed by the press the Screen Cutter, the rapist slits through the screens of first floor windows or back doors and assaults and terrorizes the women.  Nothing connects the victims, but because the scenarios are identical Harry believes the assailant was the same each time, someone who had access in some way to the women’s homes.  Trying to tie these cases in with others outside the city hasn’t worked, but Harry and his colleague Bella Lourdes continue to follow every lead, hoping to succeed before the rapist finds another victim.

Readers of the Harry Bosch series will discover that age has not softened or slowed down the detective.  Still chaffing at what he regards as unnecessary rules, Harry refuses to sign in or out at the station house as required.  He’s also using the department’s computer to aid him in his search on the Vance matter, another ruler-breaker.  Harry has left a trail of angry supervisors in his wake from previous positions he’s held, in great part because of his disregard for regulations; the only thing that has saved his career over the long haul is his success in closing homicide cases, over one hundred of them.

The author of more than thirty books, both fiction and non-fiction, Michael Connelly is a master story-teller.  The characters in The Wrong Side of Goodbye are real, the plot compelling.  With his latest novel, he has written another winner.

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

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

UNDER THE MIDNIGHT SUN by Keigo Higashino: Book Review

Reading Under the Midnight Sun is like taking a twenty-year trip through Osaka and Tokyo, starting in 1971.  It’s an incredible novel, one that requires a lot of patience and concentration to read but is well worth the effort.

Right from the beginning, Osaka Police Detective Sasagaki finds the murder of Yosuke Kirihara, owner of a pawnshop bearing his name, distinctly odd.  His body, found in a desolate building, is punctured with several stab wounds to the abdomen.  It appears to Sasagaki that the victim was there for a sexual interlude, but why would any man bring a woman to such a dirty, unpleasant place?

Yosuke’s wife Yaeko, eleven-year-old son Ryo, and Isamu Matsuura, the shop’s lone employee, were all in the apartment behind the shop when the murder apparently took place; given that Yosuke was missing overnight, it’s hard for forensics to give an exact time of death.  Sasagaki follows the deceased’s trail and discovers that on the day of the murder Yosuke had cashed in a CD, leaving the bank with a very large amount of cash.  The money wasn’t found on his body, and his wife and the pawnshop employee say they know of no reason why Yosuke would have had so much money with him when he was killed.

About a year later, there’s another death in the neighborhood.  Fumiyo Nishimoto is found in the tiny apartment she shared with her young daughter, Yukiho.  She was overcome by gas coming from her stove, but whether it was an accident or a suicide is impossible to tell.

These two deaths are the seeds from which the rest of the novel grow.  One of the plot lines deals with computers and hacking, and it’s very interesting to go back over forty years and read about life at the beginning of the computer age.  Personal computers are just beginning to appear in homes, cell phones are unknown.  In terms of the subtext of the plot, 1971 is another world and a distant one at that.  It must be noted that the book was published in 1999, so technology, DNA testing, and forensics were much more primitive then than they are now.

To go back to the first paragraph of this post, it’s only fair to point out a few things that make Under the Midnight Sun a dense and difficult read.  First is the length of time the novel covers and the size of the book–twenty years and 554 pages.  Second is that it takes a while to realize how much time has gone by at different points in the novel–events aren’t separated by chapters or headings with dates, so suddenly someone who was eleven on one page is five years older on the next.  Third is that there are many characters and, of course, they all have Japanese names.  Many of the names were very similar, and I had to keep referring back through the book to remember who they were in the story.

That being said, Under the Midnight Sun is a wonderful novel.  The book is beautifully translated, with a style so smooth that readers will think English is the original language.  I reviewed Higashino’s The Devotion of Suspect X several years ago and found this novel equally enjoyable.

Keigo Higashino is the winner of multiple awards for crime fiction in Japan, and several of his books have been adapted for television and films in Japan, South Korea, and France.

You can read more about Keigo Higashino at various sites on the web.

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

 

 

CITY OF THE LOST by Kelley Armstrong: Book Review

In the far north of Western Canada, there’s a refuge for those who have to flee their normal lives.  When Casey Duncan, a police detective in Ontario, first hears about this place from her close friend, Diana Berry, she’s disbelieving.  It’s another urban legend, she thinks.  But as things go from bad to worse for herself and Diana, she investigates and finds that such a town does indeed exist.

For five thousand dollars each, Casey is told, she and Diana can move to Rockton if they pass inspection.  They have to prove why they’re compelled to leave their current lives and move to the secret place, a location so totally off the grid that there’s no plane service, telephone lines, or Internet.  The people who live in Rockton must contribute their skills to the town–as cooks, medical personnel, storekeepers–or whatever the community needs at a given time.  As it turns out, at the moment it needs a detective.

Casey’s main reason for moving to Rockton is to get Diana away from her physically abusive husband Graham.  Time and again Graham has assaulted Diana, and each time she swears that she will never go back to him, but she does.  Indeed, she and Casey had moved from one city to another after a previous beating, hoping to leave him behind.  But Graham has found her again, and this time Diana says she’s made the final decision never to return to him and thus is desperate to leave no trail behind her for him to follow.  Casey, too, made a bad decision in the past that continues to haunt her and keep her in danger.  So Casey puts up the ten thousand dollars necessary for both of them to start new lives, hoping they can start over.  But can they?

For a town of two hundred people, there’s a lot going on.  The morning after Casey arrives, the body of a man who had been missing for a week is found.  The corpse was in the forest, a place Rockton people know better than to visit.  The sheriff, Eric Dalton, tells Casey that the council, a mysterious group that controls the community from outside and makes the decisions about who gets in and who doesn’t, sometimes is swayed by monetary factors.  Although people who’ve committed violent crimes aren’t supposed to gain admittance, they sometimes get through if they have enough money.  Harry Powys, the name the deceased was using in Rockton, had obviously bribed his way in.  His crimes, brutal as they were, are matched by the manner of his death.  He was dismembered, and Eric believes Harry was alive when it was done.

The people who live in this community are a varied lot, but of course they all have one thing in common–whatever they did or had done to them in the outside world didn’t allow them to stay there.  An ex-soldier who killed his commanding officer while the latter was asleep, a physician blamed for two deaths, several women fleeing abusive relationships, those are reasons for coming to Rockton.  But now it’s becoming clear that more than one person is living there under false pretenses, that the story he or she has been telling others about the reason for being in Rockton isn’t the true one.

Kelley Armstrong has written a taunt thriller with believable characters.  Casey Duncan is a terrific heroine, devastated by what she did years earlier but determined to be strong now for herself and her friend.  But her strength alone may not be enough to stop the carnage in their new home.

You can read more about Kelley Armstrong at this web site.

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

 

 

 

WANT YOU DEAD by Peter James: Book Review

Detective Inspector Roy Grace is getting married in ten days.  He’s hoping that his caseload will remain quiet until then and for a few days afterwards, when he and Cleo are scheduled to head to Venice for their honeymoon.  Everything looks good until he gets a phone call telling him that a burned corpse has been found on the grounds of the Haywards Heath Golf Club.

The body is that of Karl Murphy, a local physician.  At first it looks like an open-and-shut case of suicide, Karl having left a clear, concise note on the seat of his nearby car.  The note says that his life has lost its meaning since the death of his wife two years earlier and that he hopes his two young sons will someday be able to understand his action.  Roy Grace is finding it difficult to believe that a doctor would kill himself in this horrific way, with pills so easily available to him, but there doesn’t seem to be any other explanation.

At the same time that Karl’s body is being examined by the police, Red Cameron is in her apartment, waiting for him to appear for their dinner date.  At first she’s annoyed by his lateness, then she begins to worry–in the several months they’ve been dating, Karl has never disappointed her.  Phone calls and texts to him go unanswered; when she finally goes to bed, annoyance has reasserted itself, and she’s beginning to have second thoughts about their future together.

Before meeting Karl, Red was in a relationship with Bryce Laurent.  At first, Bryce had been wonderful to her.  Kind, warm, very generous with gifts, he made her feel really special.  But after a few months, a darker side to his personality came through.

As her parents and friends had told her shortly after the two met, he was controlling and violent, traits Red refused to acknowledge at the time.  By the time Bryce turned to physical and sexual violence in order, as he told her, to prove his love and convince her that they truly belonged together, Red finally admitted to herself that he was a dangerous man.

Despite a restraining order that she got against Bryce, Red is always looking over her shoulder.  And with good reason, because the reader finds out almost at once that the murder of Karl Murphy is only the first step in Bryce’s plan to revenge himself on the woman who left him.

Want You Dead is a thriller up to and including the last page.  Told from several vantage points, it allows us into the minds of the police detective, the psychopathic killer, and the fearful yet resourceful woman who is determined to correct the mistakes she’s made and now live life on her own terms.

You can read more about Peter James at this web site.

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

 

 

EENY MEENY by M. J. Arlidge: Book Review

Two young musicians are hitchhiking home from a gig in London.  It’s pouring, but cars keep passing them by until a white van stops in front of them.  The woman at the wheel beckons them to come inside, then offers the couple a thermos of coffee to ward off the chill.  The next thing Amy and Sam know, they’re in a drained swimming pool, fifteen feet below its rim, with no way of climbing out.

Then the cell phone that’s been left on the pool’s floor rings.  A woman’s voice calls Amy by name, telling her there is one way, and only one way, out of their prison.  One of them has to pick up the gun, also lying on the pool’s bottom, and use it to kill the other one.  Then the survivor will live.

Eeny Meeny is a thriller in every sense of the word.  For no apparent reason, twosomes are being picked up by a woman, drugged, and abandoned without food or water at totally inaccessible locations.  Hours after they’re left there, a call comes in on a cell phone left at the site, telling whichever one of them answers what the conditions are–one must kill the other, the survivor will be rescued.  No killing, no rescue–they’ll both die.

It’s obvious that these crimes are not spur-of-the-moment ones.  Careful planning has gone into them, from knowing the schedules of the people chosen, picking the remote and secure places to hide them, and being able to rescue the survivors from their prisons.  Why would someone go to so much trouble to target these unlikely victims?

Helen Grace is a Detective Inspector of the Southampton Police, the officer in charge of what will become the hunt for a serial predator.  The  unknown suspect is not doing the killing herself, she is arranging for someone to do the killing for her.  As the abductions continue and the death toll rises, there seems to be no reason, no motive.  Until D. I. Grace discovers one.

Although Eeny Meeny is the first in a series, a lot of background is given to acquaint the reader with Helen Grace.  We learn early on that her job is her life.  She is “…six feet of driving ambition.  Never late, never hungover, never sick.  She lived and breathed her job….”  That seems admirable, until one asks why is her life so empty otherwise?  And there’s a good, if unnerving, reason for that.

Helen’s colleagues form an interesting group.  There’s Detective Sergeant Mark Fuller, formerly her most trusted assistant, now reeling from a nasty divorce which has separated him not only from his former wife but also from his young daughter.  Detective Charlene “Charlie” Brooks is the newcomer on the team, determined to prove her worth as an officer but holding onto her own personality by wearing her not-according-to-regulation outfits on the job.  And there’s Detective Superintendent Whittaker, annoyed at Helen’s outstanding record of arrests and convictions, just waiting for a reason to take her off the case.

Warning:  don’t start Eeny Meeny before bedtime if you want a good night’s sleep.  But definitely do start it; you won’t be able to put it down.

You can read more about M. J. Arlidge at this web site.

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

 

DIE AGAIN by Tess Gerritsen: Book Review

The powerful Boston team of Rizzoli and Isles is back, working on a murder that spans two continents.  Jane Rizzoli, police detective, and Maura Isles, medical examiner, are brought into a case that seems bizarre from the beginning, but they have no idea of just how strange it’s going to get.

Die Again opens with a safari in Botswana, consisting of a party of three men and four women plus their tracker and guide.  This section of the novel is told by Millie Jacobson, the girlfriend of Richard Renwick, a well-known British novelist.  It was Richard’s idea to go on a safari, the better to write another of his macho adventure books.

Millie has reluctantly come along, but she’s not enjoying herself; her idea of a vacation runs to hotels and spas, not flimsy tents and outdoor “bathrooms.”  But Richard and the others are enjoying themselves until the morning that the remains of their South African guide are found.  He had been killed and eaten, probably by hyenas.

Back in Boston, Jane and her partner Barry Frost are called to the home of an internationally known hunter and taxidermist, Leon Gott.  Surrounded by the many animals he shot and mounted on his walls, Leon’s body is found hanging upside down, his insides removed.  Not a view for the faint of heart.

When Dr. Maura Isles arrives, one look at the eviscerated body tells her something is seriously wrong besides the obvious fact that Leon is dead.  Searching the garage she finds remains, including two hearts (one human, one animal) and two complete sets of lungs.  Leon had received threats in the past, but those had been verbal, never physical.  His wife and only son were dead, and he wasn’t close to any of his neighbors, so no one seems to have a clue what brought about his brutal death.

In addition to working on Leon’s murder, Jane also is trying to help her mother get through a difficult time.  Several years earlier, Jane’s father left his wife for another woman.  Some time later, Jane’s mother fell in love with another man, and they got engaged.  Now her husband wants to return home and let bygones be bygones.  Jane’s brothers are in favor of this and want their parents to reconcile.  It’s obvious to Jane that her mother is very unhappy with the situation, but she’s having a hard time going against her husband and their sons.

Maura is still reeling from the end of her romance with Daniel Brophy, a Catholic priest.  Even though Maura knew that their relationship couldn’t end well, she continues to mourn the loss of the man she loves.

Tess Gerritsen has written another spellbinding novel.  Readers of previous novels in the series and viewers of the television show, now in its sixth season, will want to read Die Again to see Rizzoli and Isles together once more.

You can read more about Tess Gerritsen at this web site.

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

 

 

HALLWAYS IN THE NIGHT by R. C. O’Leary: Book Review

It’s 3:05 a.m., and Atlanta police detective Dave Mackno is anxious for his shift to end.  He’s been watching a house outside Wilson Field, home of the major league Atlanta Barons.  There have been no lights or movement in the house for hours, and Dave is just about to pop his second beer, preparing to drive home in the muggy heat, when a Porsche goes speeding by, doing at least 80 m.p.h.

Because he’s driving his wife’s car, rather than a police cruiser, Dave knows there’s no way to catch up to the Porsche.  To his surprise, however, the sports car doesn’t continue but stops suddenly at the fence outside the baseball field.  This gives Dave his opportunity, and he walks towards the car, intent on forcing the driver out.

When Dave gets close enough to see the car’s license plate, he’s stunned; it’s BIG STK 44.  The Porsche belongs to Remo Centrella, the home run star of the Barons, voted the league’s Most Valuable Player three times 

It appears that Remo’s celebrity has gone to his head, because he refuses Dave’s repeated order to leave his car.  When Remo finally gets out, he infuriates Dave by offering him bribes–first baseball tickets, then money.  It’s obvious to Dave that the ballplayer is high.  When Dave attempts to handcuff him, Remo, fueled by steroids, jumps on him.  It’s a desperate fight that ends with Remo dead and Dave hospitalized with serious injuries.

At first the shooting seems like a clear case of self-defense, but there are influential men who have other ideas.  One is Ray Manning, owner of the Barons.  Although the team was heavily insured against the loss of its home run hitter, Ray is furious to find out that a “felony clause” will invalidate the insurance.  If Remo was trying to kill Dave, his intention to commit a felony would allow the insurance company to pay nothing.  And Ray badly needs that money.

The two other influential men are Georgia’s governor, Frank Durkin, and Atlanta’s district attorney, Maurice Bass.  With a combination of alleged worry about what the killing of a biracial man by a white policeman would do to the city’s image and a huge serving of political self-interest, Frank and Maurice decide that a charge of murder should be brought against Dave.

R. C. O’Leary’s thriller goes back and forth through the years, following Dave’s career.  Combining baseball, racial tensions, backroom politics, and greed, the novel portrays a less-than-ideal picture of people in power and their desire to hang onto that power by any means necessary.  The compelling courtroom scenes and those that follow don’t show the characters in black and white but in shades of gray, similar to real life.  Mr. O’Leary has written about a culture where even the heroes are less than heroic.

You can read more about R. C. O’Leary at this web site.

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

 

 

 

THE ABSENT ONE by Jussi Adler-Olsen: Book Review

These Scandinavian authors certainly know how to freeze their readers’ blood.

Carl Morck has been exiled to Department Q, Copenhagen’s cold case office.  And exiled is the right word, because Department Q is in the police department’s basement, far from the bustle of others doing their work.   However, it’s also far from the higher-ups who might be tempted to oversee Carl’s work, and Carl, ever the loner, likes that just fine.

Due to Carl’s outstanding work in a previous cold case, he’s greeted as a returning hero by his colleagues after his three-week vacation.  His Iraqui assistant, Assad, is delighted to see him, but Carl still isn’t sure how he feels about Assad.  He is sure, however, how he feels about his new secretary, Rose, a police recruit who failed her driver’s test and thus must make do with being a secretary rather than a detective; he’s sure he’s going to take the first opportunity to get her transferred out of his department.

Immediately after Carl’s return to work, a file appears on his desk that contains reports of a double murder that took place in 1987, twenty-five years ago.   A brother and sister were brutally killed in their parents’ vacation home.  There are two strange features about the case:  a man confessed nine years afterward to the killings and has been in prison ever since, and no one will admit to putting the folder in Department Q’s files.

Although there was no discernible motive, a group of students at a local boarding school were suspected of the murders and with involvement in other incidents as well.  There were five males and one female in the group, all of whom except one came from extremely wealthy homes.  The man who confessed to the crimes is Bjarne Thogersen, the only one of the group who came from modest means.

When it came time for the trial, the other students’ fathers were very visible in court, with their high-paid attorneys, and no charges were ever filed against their sons.  Now grown men themselves, the former students have surpassed their own fathers in the accumulation of wealth:  Ditlev Fram, now owner of, among other things, a string of medical facilities specializing in plastic surgery to the rich and famous; Torsten Florin, clothing designer; Ulrik Dyboll, financial wizard; and the late Kristian Wolf, killed by an accidental self-inflicted wound while hunting.  The lone woman, Kirsten-Marie Lassen, has disappeared and hasn’t been seen in years.

Intrigued by the fact that the file on this double killing seems to have come out of nowhere, Carl begins an investigation, spurred on by the fact that the father of the brother and sister killed was a policeman, Henning Jorgensen.  Immediately after seeing his children’s mutilated bodies, Henning went home and turned his gun on himself.  Now there is only the mother left, and her mind and body have been unhinged by this triple tragedy.

The characters in The Absent One are wonderfully drawn.  Carl Morck is a man who wants to be left alone to pursue his cases, but naturally departmental politics interfere.  Assad is learning the ropes as an “assistant assistant detective,” but I’m sure I’m not the only reader who thinks there’s more to this recent immigrant than meets the eye.  And when Rose is introduced, she of the dyed jet-black hair and braying laugh, we know there will be fireworks between her and Carl.

You can read more about Jussi Adler-Olsen at his web site.

A DEATH IN SUMMER by Benjamin Black: Book Review

In Dublin, newspaper magnate Richard Jewell is sitting on a chair in his sumptuous study.  Well, his body is sitting on the chair; much of his head is elsewhere.  There’s a shotgun in his hands, but the police aren’t sure it’s really a suicide.

A Death in Summer brings readers back in time more than half a century.  Diamond Dick, as Jewell was known to friends and foes alike, was a tough businessman; like a diamond, he had more than one facet to his persona.  He was ruthless, but he also gave generously to various charities, although no one could say for certain if that was because he truly believed in their aims or if he wanted to better solidify his place in Dublin society.

Inspector Hackett is called in to investigate the death.  Francoise d’Aubigny, Jewell’s widow, professes to be “baffled” by her husband’s death, but she certainly doesn’t appear saddened or distraught.  She explains to Hackett that she and her husband had lived separate lives and she doesn’t understand, or says she doesn’t, why her husband’s death by suicide should interest anyone except herself, their eight-year-old daughter, and Jewell’s sister Dannie.  But then Hackett tells Francoise that he thinks her husband did not kill himself.

Hackett calls in the state pathologist, but because that doctor is ill Hackett’s friend Dr. Quirke comes instead.  The two have worked together before, and it’s not long before Quirke is doing some investigating on his own, with special attention paid to the beautiful and seductive Francoise.

Hackett learns that the deceased’s estate manager, Maguire, had served a prison term for manslaughter; that Jewell’s business competitor, Carlton Sumner, was trying to take over Jewell’s newspaper empire; that Teddy Sumner, Carlton’s son, who had been sent to Canada to avoid prison time has now returned to Dublin; and that the marriage between the Jewells was a marriage in name only.  Plus there are millions of euros at stake from various Jewell enterprises.  Plenty of motives for murder.

An interesting sidelight is the fact that Richard Jewell was Jewish, although he didn’t practice his religion, and that he gave huge amounts to St. Christopher’s, a Catholic boarding school.  Maguire, the estate manager, spent part of his childhood at St. Christopher’s;  Marie Bergin, the Jewells’ former maid, had worked there.  And Quirke had spent a year in the orphanage before being sent elsewhere.   Is there some sinister connection?

Benjamin Black has assembled a fascinating cast of characters in A Death in Summer Since this is the fourth novel featuring Quirke but the first one I’ve read, there’s a lot of back story that I’m not familiar with.  Dr. Quirke is a protagonist I’d like to get to know better, a man whose name certainly describes his unusual and often difficult personality.

Thanks go to my friend Kate, who recommended this series.  I look forward to doing some catch-up reading about Hackett, Quirke, and the Dublin of the 1950s.

You can read more about Benjamin Black, also known as the prize-winning novelist John Banville, at his web site.

SPIES OF THE BALKANS by Alan Furst: Book Review

Salonika, Greece, in October 1940. World War II has been going on for a year, and Greece is not yet involved.  But the population knows that the invasion by the Nazi or Fascist troops cannot be far behind.  By 1941, Germany has overrun Slovakia, Hungary, Roumania (the old spelling), and Bulgaria.  Greece, with its huge coastline and its proximity to the Balkans, cannot be allowed to remain neutral.

Constantine Zannis, known as Costa, is a police detective in the port city of Salonika. He is involved with a British woman who is ostensibly in Salonika to run a ballet school, but that is merely her cover.  In fact, she is an espionage agent, a spy, and she is given orders to return to England as soon as it becomes obvious that Greece will soon by invaded by the Nazis.

Her replacement, Francis Escovil, has heard how Costa was able to help a German-Jewish woman slip two young children out of Germany and into Turkey.  Now Escovil wants Costa to give him the names of people in Germany who are working against the Nazis.  He doesn’t want to apply pressure on Costa, doesn’t think that will work, but he wants those names.  And Costa doesn’t want to give them to him, he just wants to go on helping Jews escape in his own way.

The characters in Spies of the Balkans are international. In addition to Costa (Greek) and his lover Roxanne (British), the reader is introduced to Celebi, the Turkish consul; Emilia Krebs, a Jewish woman helping others out of Germany; Salmi Pal, a Hungarian criminal living in Salonika; Ivan Lazareff, a friend in Bulgaria.  All these disparate people are working willingly or not to stop the Nazis.

Spies of the Balkans is a look back to the beginning of the Second World War in Greece. It was a poor country, very much unprepared to face the enormous armies of Germany and Italy.  But its people were fearless fighters, and the overwhelming odds against them did not stop them from trying to protect their homeland from invasion.

The novel traces the steps taken by the various individuals to get Jews and other resisters out of Germany and the occupied countries.  Money was needed, of course, to obtain forged papers–birth certificates, visas–and to be used for bribes, when necessary.  What is fascinating is those who helped people escape without asking for, or accepting, money.

When Emilia Krebs comes to Costa to ask for his help in getting two children out of Germany and into neutral Turkey, she says, “I can never thank you enough.  For helping me.”  “You don’t have to thank me,” he said.  “Who could say no?”  The goodness and naivete in his statement still resonate more than seventy years later.

Alan Furst has written a book that is difficult to put down. Each clandestine operation that Costa takes part in is different from those before it, and each one depends not only on him but others.   One misreading by Costa of someone he has asked for help and his life and those of the refugees would be forfeit.

Calling Spies of the Balkans a thriller is calling it by its true name. It’s a great read from first page to last, and that’s no hyperbole.  The last page will bring you to tears.

You can read more about Alan Furst at his web site.

KIND OF BLUE by Miles Corwin: Book Review

California native, son of a Holocaust survivor, member of the Israeli armed forces, L.A. detective, surfer–that’s Asher Levine’s c.v.  In Miles Corwin’s debut novel, his protagonist is a man of many parts, tormented by most of them.

Ash was a highly respected member of the Los Angeles police department until a year before this book opens.  At that time he had promised protection to a very reluctant witness to a murder, but despite his best effort the woman was killed.  Torn by guilt and feeling unsupported by his superiors, Ash resigned from the force.

But as Kind of Blue opens, his former lieutenant Frank Duffy comes to Ash’s mother’s house where Ash is having shabbat dinner.  Duffy asks his former protegee to return to the force to investigate the murder of an ex-cop.

Ash is reluctant but he agrees, with the silent proviso that when he solves this case he’ll be able to return to the one where his witness was killed.  He had been hurt by the official reprimand Duffy had placed in his file after that murder, but he sees his reinstatement as a chance to go over once again all the parts of the crime that led to his resignation–the killing of a Korean shopkeeper and the subsequent elimination of the witness who saw the shooter.

By all reports Pete Relovich was a good detective who found too much solace in the bottle.   His marriage ended, and he was having trouble making child support payments for his beloved daughter, so he took a job as a driver for an escort service.  Did he see something/someone there that led to his murder?  Because there’s an unexpected treasure that Ash finds hidden under a tile in Relovich’s kitchen–two Japanese ivory carvings and $6,000 in cash.  Where did they come from?

And is a just a coincidence that when Ash is trying to locate Relovich’s former partner he discovers that he too is dead?  The official report says suicide, but Ash isn’t convinced.

Ash’s personal life is kind of a mess too.  Separated from his wife, he meets a beautiful art gallery owner who is an expert on Japanese art.  There’s romantic tension there, but will the fact that Nicole Haddad is of Lebanese descent be a stumbling block in their relationship?  Or is that a minor problem compared to the fact that Nicole already has a boyfriend and only wants Ash when her boyfriend isn’t around?

There are so many threads to follow in this novel that I almost needed paper and pencil to keep them straight.  There’s anti-Semitism in the detectives’ bureau, the various parts of the dead cop’s life, the demons that plague Ash’s sleep, and his determination to find the killer of his witness.

The picture Corwin paints of the Los Angeles police department isn’t a pretty one. There are inept detectives, crooked detectives, cover-ups at all levels.  No wonder Ash wants to go it alone; he doesn’t know whom he can trust.

Miles Corwin has written a taut, exciting first novel, and I’m sure there will be more to come in this series.

You can read more about Miles Corwin at his web site.

INSPECTOR SINGH INVESTIGATES by Shamini Flint: Book Review

Malaysia, here we come!  Inspector Singh Investigates:  A Most Peculiar Malaysian Murder is the debut novel featuring Singaporean police detective Inspector Singh.

So here’s my confession–I needed to look up Google Maps to find Singapore and Malaysia. And when I did, I was even more confused, so I needed to read the attached text to figure out the story of the Malay Peninsula.   The Dutch established trading posts there in the 17th century, the British later colonized it, the Japanese invaded it during World War II.   In 1948, the British-ruled territories on the Malay Peninsula formed the Federation of Malaya, and in 1957, after a decade of intense negotiations, it gained independence from Britain and renamed itself Malaysia.   In 1963 Singapore and two other states joined the Peninsular Malaysia Federation, but Singapore left in 1965 (or was expelled, depending on which source you believe) to become a separate nation, a city-state.

Be honest, did you know all that?  If so, you must have been paying more attention in Geography class than I was.  Well, maybe all that background isn’t strictly necessary to enjoy Inspector Singh Investigates, but it does help one understand some important aspects of the story.

The maverick inspector has been sent from Singapore to protect the rights of Chelsea Liew, a Singapore citizen who marred a Malaysian man twenty years ago and now is about to be tried for his murder.  The picture-perfect marriage of the beautiful model and the wealthy tycoon spiraled into an abusive relationship with adultery on the side. The birth of three sons did nothing to help Chelsea’s marriage to Alan Lee, and she now stands before the court accused of his death.

Before the murder came the divorce with its custody issues.  Popular opinion favored Chelsea, as Alan’s extra-marital affairs were well known.  It looked as if Chelsea had a good chance to gain custody of their children, even though she was not Muslim; although Malaysia is a strongly male-dominated culture and officially a Muslim state, there is freedom of religion.  However, when things begin to go badly for Alan Lee during the trial, his lawyer requests and is given a two-week recess.  When the trial resumes it is announced that Lee has converted to Islam and has unilaterally converted his three sons as well.  According to Islamic law, this conversion automatically gives him custody of the boys to raise them as Muslims.  Was the threat of losing custody of their sons enough of a motive for murder?

This is a very strong first novel.  The characters are well-defined, easy to remember.  And the insights into the Malaysian culture and the city of Kuala Lumpur are well done.  It’s a “foreign” country, even to neighboring Singaporeans.  Singapore is a tightly run country, famous for outlawing chewing gum in public and for caning people as punishment.  Malaysia, on the other hand, is looser, overcrowded, and ecologically unaware, or so it seems from the picture of its capital city.  The description of Kuala Lumpur is a fascinating one.   And Inspector Singh is a wonderful addition to the world of police detectives.

You can read more about Shamini Flint on her web site.

THE RUNNER by Peter May: Book Review

East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet. Rudyard Kipling certainly knew what he was writing about.  Almost.

The Runner by Peter May is what the author calls The Fifth China Thriller.   It was written in 2003 but published in the United States only this year.  I had read one book in the series previously, but it would be better to read the books in order to follow the story line.

Li Yan is a Deputy Section Chief in the Beijing Police Department, a high-ranking position.  He is more modern and innovative than most of his colleagues, having spent time in America and picked up some of its investigative techniques.  This, of course, does not always make him popular, especially with his deputy, the more traditional and very jealous Tao Heng.  When Li went to Washington as a liaison at the Chinese embassy, Tao succeeded him in Beijing and hoped to be appointed permanently to the Deputy Section Chief position.  But when Li returned he received the appointment, and this has colored the relationship between the two ever since.

The plot of The Runner involves the mysterious deaths of several outstanding Chinese athletes–runners, a weight lifter, and a swimmer–all of whom were destined to be medal winners in the Chinese-American Games taking place as the novel opens and that are a prequel to the upcoming Olympics.  Remember, this book was published in 2003.   There seems to be no common denominator among the deaths–a heart attack, a car accident, a suicide.  But there are too many deaths in too short a time not to arouse Li’s suspicions.

Alongside the athletes’ deaths is the upcoming marriage of Li and Margaret Campbell, the American pathologist who met Li years ago when she visited Beijing to give a series of lectures.  Theirs has been a difficult on-and-off-again romance, given the cultural differences and geographical distances between them.  By the time this novel opens much of that has been resolved, and the two are planning their wedding for the upcoming week, shortly before Margaret is due to deliver their baby.

What Margaret does not know is that once married, Li will automatically be fired from his job, as no one in his high position is allowed to marry a foreign national.

In addition to this unknown, there is the known–the fact that both Margaret’s mother, who is coming from Connecticut to Beijing for the wedding, and Li’s father, who is coming to Beijing from the countryside for the wedding, are against the marriage for the same reason.  Neither thinks their child’s upcoming marriage partner is appropriate.  Racism and xenophobia abound here, but there also is a very interesting dynamic that shows the long-standing tensions between parent and child in both families.

Both Li and Margaret are headstrong, not easy people to get along with in their relationships with their parents.  It’s a sidelight that makes both of them, and their parents, more interesting, more human.  And Peter May does an excellent job showing these tensions and the long-standing issues that separate generations in the same family.

While I strongly recommend starting this series with the first novel, The Firemaker, each book may be read independently.  But May makes his characters so fascinating and the culture of China’s capital city so intriguing that it’s worth going back to the beginning to follow Li and Margaret, in both their public and private lives.

You can read more about Peter May at his web site.

IN THE SHADOW OF GOTHAM by Stefanie Pintoff: Book Review

Stefanie Pintoff’s debut novel, In the Shadow of Gotham, takes the reader back in time more than 100 years.  It’s 1905 in New York in a small town just north of Manhattan.  Simon Ziele, a former detective in New York City, has moved to Dobson to find a less violent life and to get away from the memory of the death of his fiancee who drowned when the ferry she was on sank and burned.  But his search for the quiet life is disturbed when the brutalized body of a young female graduate student, visiting her aunt, is found in his town.  And at the same time, the aunt’s housemaid disappeared, leaving all her belongings behind.

The following day, Professor Alistair Sinclair, noted criminologist at Columbia University, enters Ziele’s office stating that he may know who committed the murder.  He has a patient with violent fantasies, some of which he has already acted upon, but Sinclair is torn between believing Michael Fromley is guilty and needs to be arrested and his belief that he has been helping the young man to channel his violent tendencies via talking to the criminologist about them.  It’s the early days of profiling and psychology, and Sinclair desperately wants to continue his research, so he is at war with himself over the correct path to follow.

Ziele is less interested in Sinclair’s research than in finding the killer, whether or not that proves to be the psychologist’s patient.  Clues both point to Fromley and away from him, with Ziele believing more and more than the doctor is being less than candid.  Is Sinclair’s research more important to him than human life?  If he had gone to the police with his suspicions about Fromley’s involvement in an earlier attempted murder, would Sarah Wingate still be alive?

Ms. Pintoff has obviously done a great deal of research into the early 20th-century New York City scene. Horse-drawn carriages still ride over the cobblestones as Ziele takes his first ride in an automobile.  Grand Central Depot is in the process of becoming Grand Central Station, spewing dirt and soot all around the construction site.  The only Chinese restaurants in the city are in lower Manhattan, ostensibly because other neighborhoods fear the gambling and drug use that exist in Chinatown would spread if those ethnic eateries were allowed to go uptown.  “Silent” Charlie Murphy’s Tammany Hall has just stolen the election from reform mayor Seth Low.  The subway is only one year old.  And fingerprints are not yet accepted as evidence in the courtroom.

It’s a time of great changes, but human motivation hasn’t changed all that much since then.  There’s still rivalry among colleagues, corruption in the city, payoffs to keep prominent people out of the news, and violence against innocents.  But there also is a more scientific model of detection as evidenced by Ziele’s new position in Dobson.  He is open to new ideas, if not completely convinced by them, and in his search for Michael Fromley he has to balance the new scientific methods against the tried-and-true investigative techniques he knows.  Should he follow his experience down one investigative road or take the other road and listen to the psychology professor, firm in his belief in his ability to change the mind of a criminal? This Edgar-award winner for Best First Novel is a fascinating look back in time.

You can read more about Stefanie Pintoff at her web site.