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Posts Tagged ‘female police detective’

THE DARKNESS by Ragnar Jónasson: Book Review

Ragnar Jónasson has started a new series, and like his previous “Dark Iceland” series it’s a winner.  While the first series features a male protagonist who is a detective in a small town in a remote part of the country, The Darkness introduces a female detective inspector in the capital.

Hulda Hermannsdóttir is a few months away from her much-dreaded mandatory retirement.  Being a police detective has been her entire life, and she can’t imagine what she will do when she’s no longer working.  Then she’s called into her boss’ office and given the worst possible news–her replacement has arrived and she must clear out her desk immediately.

Hulda is able to bargain for two more weeks, which is reluctantly granted, but since all her cases have already been allocated to other officers, she can only look into “cold cases,” those that were never solved at the time the crime was committed.

Determined to stay until the last possible day, Hulda begins looking into one from a year earlier, a case that she believes was never properly investigated.  Maybe, she thinks, that’s because Elena was a young asylum-seeking woman, with no command of either Icelandic or English, who apparently had no one interested enough to make a fuss over the lack of police diligence.

In Hulda’s opinion, the investigating officer had gone out of his way to portray the death as accidental.  Given the low number of murders annually in Iceland, one or two on average, and the much higher incidence of accidents, it was easy for the police to conclude that the death had been simply an unfortunate event.

When Hulda starts investigating, she meets with Elena’s solicitor and discovers that the woman was almost certainly going to be granted political asylum.  The detective gets the name of the translator whom the solicitor employed to get the facts for the asylum application; since the lawyer spoke no Russian, Elena’s only language, the lawyer needed a Russian speaker.

The translator, Bjartur, tells Hulda that he never spoke to any other member of the police and only met with Elena once or twice.  However, he tells her that Elena had confided to him that she was a prostitute, and he thinks she may have been brought to Iceland specifically for that reason.  When Hulda asks him why he never mentioned this before, he says, apologetically, “Nobody asked.”

Now certain that the initial investigation was poorly handled, Hulda is more determined than ever to find out the truth behind Elena’s untimely death.

Ragnar Jónasson is one of a group of Icelandic writers who have made that small country an important part of the current international mystery scene.  In addition to his writing, he is also the co-founder of Iceland Noir, an annual conference held in Reykjavik featuring authors in the mystery genre.

You can read more about Ragnar Jónasson at this website.

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.

THE DARK LAKE by Sarah Bailey: Book Review

A few weeks ago Jane Harper, the author of The Dry, gave an interview to The Boston Globe in which she listed books by several of her favorite fellow Aussie authors.  One writer she mentioned was Sarah Bailey, whose debut mystery Ms. Harper praised highly.  Since I enjoyed The Dry so much and blogged about it last December, I decided to read her recommendation.

The Dark Lake is an absolutely spellbinding story about how the past never lets go.  Gemma Woodstock is a detective sergeant in Smithson, the small town where she grew up.  As the novel opens she receives a phone call from her supervisor, telling her to go immediately to Sonny Lake; a body has been found there.  The victim is Rosalind Ryan, one of the teachers at the town’s high school.  Gemma is assigned to lead the investigation, and thus she must keep secret the story of her past relationship with Rosalind and its consequences.

Gemma’s past and present are fraught with tragedy and secrets.  Her mother died when Gemma was a teenager, her high school boyfriend died shortly after that, and she is having an affair with her colleague, Felix McKinnon, a married father of three.

Gemma is living with Scott, who wants to marry her, but although Scott is the father of their toddler son Ben, Gemma can’t get past her love (or lust) for Felix.

For reasons the reader isn’t aware of until nearly the end of the book, Gemma won’t reveal her past relationship with Rosalind, who was the most beautiful girl in Smithson.  But strange stories have followed Rosalind’s career:  there was an issue at the university she attended, then at the high school where she taught before coming home to teach, and innuendoes at Smithson High as well.  There are rumors, not facts, swirling around her professional life and, as Gemma is finding out, in her family life as well.

The novel is told in two time periods, Gemma’s high school years and the present.  We learn how unhappy she was as a teenager, certainly explained by the tragic deaths of her mother and her boyfriend.  But somewhere in there as well is her relationship with Rosalind and her fear of its becoming public, something she wants to avoid at all costs.

Sarah Bailey has written a spellbinding mystery, one that delves into the emotions not only of Gemma but of Scott, the father of her baby; Donna Mason, the mother of Gemma’s high school love; John Nicholson, the high school principal with a secret he’s held for more than twenty years; and Rosalind’s family, the Ryans, with issues of their own.

The Dark Lake is a fabulous debut for Sarah Bailey; the second Gemma Woodstock mystery will be published in December.  You can read more about Sarah Bailey at this website.

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.

THE DIME by Kathleen Kent: Book Review

What happens when you transplant a tough, lesbian, third-generation detective from Brooklyn to Dallas?  You get a woman who knows how to handle sexual harassment, violent drug dealers, and uppity real estate brokers, that’s what happens.

Elizabeth Rhyzyk, known to all as Betty, comes from a family with deep roots in the New York City Police Department.  Her grandfathers, father, uncle, and brother were all members of the Department, but she is the first woman in the family to join.  She’s compiled an outstanding record of arrests, but when the last member of her family dies she moves to Dallas, the home of her lover Jackie’s family.

Not that Jackie’s mother, grandmother, aunts, and uncles welcome this Northern transplant.  They blame her for corrupting Jackie into this “alternative” lifestyle, and Betty is finding it as difficult to be with them as it is to deal with the influx of drugs that is creating a war between the homegrown gangsters and the Mexican cartels, with bodies littering the Texas landscape.

A carefully planned surveillance by Betty’s narcotics team is interrupted by a well-meaning woman, and it ends with three people dead–the woman, the drug dealer the detectives are trying to arrest, and a local cop who has nothing to do with the anticipated arrest.  It leaves Betty and the other members of the team struggling to deal with the violent ending to what should have been a peaceful major drug bust.

The tentacles of the drug trade are nothing new in the city, but the violence is beyond what the Dallas police have been used to.  Betty is familiar with hazards at work, but now it’s becoming personal.  While she’s out jogging in the early morning, someone comes into the double-locked apartment that she and Jackie share and leaves a bizarre souvenir on Betty’s side of the bed, all without waking her sleeping partner.  And things escalate from there.

Kathleen Kent has written a spectacular first novel.  I’m a little late in coming to The Dime, since it’s already been nominated for an Edgar® for the Best Novel by the Mystery Writers of America, but I totally agree with the nomination.  The writing is excellent, the plot original, and the characters are great creations.  Betty’s Dallas narcotics team is totally believable, as is her relationship with Jackie.  The reality of creating a loving homosexual relationship in a not-very-accepting community is made clear, when even something as mundane as trying to place an order in a restaurant can prove to be a difficult experience.

You can read more about Kathleen Kent at this website.

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.



THE ODDS by Kathleen George: Book Review

Odds are, you’ll really enjoy The Odds.  Oh, that was bad, wasn’t it?  But truly, Kathleen George’s Edgar-nominated mystery is excellent.

I haven’t read any of her other books and chose The Odds because of its nomination.  It’s the third in a series of police procedurals that take place in Pittsburgh’s North Side, an area totally unfamiliar to me as I’ve never been to the Steel City.  It seems like a gritty place, with plenty to keep the city’s police busy.

Colleen Greer is the heroine, a police detective in the Homicide Bureau.  She’s got an unrequited crush, if one can use that word to describe the feelings of an adult, on her captain, a married man and father of two who is beginning a treatment of chemo for cancer.  This has upset the balance of power in the department and Colleen and fellow detective John Potocki are taken from Homicide and added to the Narcotics roster to help with a big drug bust, much against Colleen’s will.

At the same time, four children in the neighborhood, the oldest being fourteen, are left to their own devices after their stepmother leaves them virtually penniless to find an old flame in New York.  The children’s mother abandoned them several years ago and later died, and their late father made a hasty, unwise marriage so his children would have a mother.  But this stepmother is less mature than any of her stepchildren, and after the father’s death in an auto accident she decides the responsibility is too much for her.  The children, fearful of being sent to foster care and thus separated, decide not to tell the authorities they’re on their own and do their best to keep themselves a family.  And their best is outstanding.  But can they beat the odds?

The children and the police intersect when the only boy, twelve-year-old Joel, goes into an abandoned house and finds two men–one badly wounded and one dead.  When fourteen-year-old Meg goes back to the house with her brother, she recognizes the wounded man as the one in the corner pizza place who gave her a free pizza the day before. Given these kids’ sense of fairness and goodness, they decide to help him, even if that means not telling the cops about the dead man.

Although I felt that the children’s abilities and resourcefulness were a bit too much, the author does make all of them, especially Meg, believable.  Perhaps because the alternative to success is a failure that would break up the family, the children rise to incredible heights to keep their family unit intact.  All gifted in school, they prove their resourcefulness by car-washing, babysitting, clerking in a market, anything to keep bodies and souls together.  And that resourcefulness helps them with Nick, the wounded man.

There’s a lot of tension in this novel, and a lot of tenderness too.  Any reader must be on the children’s side as they work hard to keep teachers and neighbors from knowing that they’re living without adult supervision.  Dad and mom are always “working” when people ask for a parent-teacher conference, and it’s sad and probably true that the adults in this world never follow up.  But one only has to read the papers to find that children’s welfare has slipped through the cracks of bureaucracy too many times.  So perhaps the Philips children are better off on their own.  Kathleen George has certainly succeeded in bringing both the children and the police to life and in making the reader care about them all.

You can read more about Kathleen George at her web site.