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Posts Tagged ‘police detective’

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.


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.

NEMESIS by Jo Nesbo: Book Review

Translators are some of my favorite people. Since reading Jo Nesbo’s books in the original Norwegian would be difficult (okay, impossible) for me, Don Bartlett has come to the rescue and translated Nemesis.

This is the third book I’ve read in Nesbo’s series featuring Harry Hole (I wish I knew how to pronounce his last name properly; I doubt it rhymes with mole).   He’s your typical Scandinavian detective–a slightly depressed, former alcoholic, renegade police officer who’s usually on the outs with his department chief but who manages to keep his job because he gets the crime solved. His reasoning and methods are unorthodox, but he refuses to accept pat answers and digs deeply into each mystery with the hope not only of solving it but finding out the criminal’s motive.

There are three distinct threads in this story, although they all tie together at the end.  In Nemesis Harry is waiting to hear from his girlfriend about whether she will be able to retain custody of her young son whose Russian father now wants the boy to live with him in Russia.  While the trial is going on in Moscow, Harry hears from an old girlfriend, a woman he hasn’t seen or been in contact with in some time, who insists they get together to say a proper goodbye.  And then there’s a series of bank robberies in Oslo, the robber’s M.I. looking like that of a famous bank robber who is believed to have died some time ago.  So what’s going on?

In addition, Hole has to contend with two adversaries on the force. One is Rune Ivarsson, the head of the Robbery Division that is heading the investigation into the bank robberies even though a murder occurred during the first one.  He’s an officious power-seeker who dislikes Harry and his nonconformist ways.  The other is Tom Waaler, a homicide detective and a much more dangerous enemy.  He’s the man who killed Harry’s partner in a previous novel, a man with neo-Nazi and drug-related ties, a very dangerous adversary indeed.  And he seems to have blindsided Harry’s new partner, a naive young detective who literally never forgets a face.

This novel is close to 500 pages, and there’s enough action in it for another hundred.  For a small capital city in a small, law-abiding country, Oslo seems to be filled with unsavory police officers and murderous criminals.  There’s also a lot of “doubling” going on–with brothers being mistaken for and taking the blame for crimes committed by their siblings.

Harry Hole is a protagonist who grows on you. At points in the novel I wanted to shake him and say, “What do you think you’re doing?”  But he’s real, sometimes painfully so, and the mistakes he makes come from his heart.  His feelings for his girlfriend and her son, both of whom are painfully aware that their future happiness resides with a judge in a foreign country, are strong and realistic, even as he sometimes acts in a way he wouldn’t like his girlfriend to see.  That’s human, and Harry certainly is that.

Jo Nesbo’s books are part of a strong series, and I look forward to the next one.  I’m hoping another translation of his novels is in the works and will appear on our shores very soon.

You can read more about Jo Nesbo at his web site.

NEPTUNE AVENUE by Gabriel Cohen: Book Review

Disclaimer: I’m from Crown Heights, Brooklyn, and my late father was a police captain, for a time working out of the 71st precinct in Brooklyn; his father was a Russian immigrant.   Jack Leightner, the protagonist of Neptune Avenue, works out of the 71st precinct in Crown Heights, Brooklyn; his late father was a Russian immigrant.  Could I pass up this novel?  No way!

Leightner is an unhappy man, recovering from a two-year-old gunshot wound and the resultant stay in a hospital and a very recent betrayal by the woman he wanted to marry.  In the hospital he shared a room with a Russian immigrant, Daniel Lelo, and now, two years later, Lelo was shot again and this time it was fatal.

The case draws Leightner into a neighborhood that is both familiar and strange to him. Familiar because although Brooklyn has a population of 2.72 million people, it’s made up of neighborhoods.  People, especially immigrants, tend to stay in comfortable environs, surrounded by those who speak their native language and share their Old World customs; as a child Leightner spent a lot of time in this part of the borough.  Strange because the detective has been living outside of his old neighborhood for years, and his only contact with it has been his late father’s brother, with whom he has a somewhat strained relationship.

Lelo’s death brings Leightner into contact with his friend’s wife, a beautiful Russian woman to whom Leightner is immediately attracted. He is irresistibly drawn into a sexual relationship with Zhenya, but he feels she is hiding something.  Is it guilt over their affair so soon after the death of her husband?  Is it fear of a Russian mob boss who may have had ties to her husband?

The novel starts off with an unrelated case of two young black women who are found hanging, one in an apartment and the other in a garden.  Although this crime is solved, the author seems to have been glad to leave it behind and concentrate on the Russian connection.  I’m not quite sure why he began the book with that crime, perhaps only to show the different groups living within a relatively small neighborhood, sometimes getting along and sometimes at war.

Cohen makes Leightner a complicated man with an interesting back story. His father was a longshoreman in Red Hook, a notoriously tough neighborhood in Brooklyn, a man who was fine when sober but vicious when drunk.  Leightner’s mother was passive, afraid of her husband.  He had a much loved brother who died young.  And he’s divorced, with a grown son with whom he has a very tentative relationship.  He’s a man with a lot of baggage, and he knows it.  But so too has Zhenya, and perhaps that’s what brings them together.

Neptune Avenue pulls the reader right into Brooklyn, its streets, criminals, and ethnicities.  Leightner’s uncle asks him at one point, “How is it that you work so close to here but know so little about (your own people)?”  Leightner’s response is, “Your own people-it sounded like such a burden.”  Coming back to Little Odessa, as Brighton Beach is called, has brought back memories he would just as soon have kept buried.

You can find out more about the author at

SNOW ANGELS by James Thompson: Book Review

Snow Angels is the first in a new series by James Thompson, an American author who has been living in Finland for many years.  I must confess to having a strong desire to visit Lapland, the northernmost part of Finland, where this mystery is set.  This is despite the fact that during kaamos, the polar night, it’s totally dark for months at a time and the temperature can fall to -50 degrees Celsius, and my favorite season is summer.  The only reason I can give to explain my fascination with the country is that I did a report on Lapland during my elementary school days.  Somehow the foreignness of the place has always stayed with me.

So of course I thoroughly enjoyed reading Snow Angels.   The story takes place during the above-mentioned kaamos, right before Christmas.  Police detective Kari Vaara is called to the scene of the murder of a Somali movie actress who has been living in Lapland. A racial epithet is carved into the stomach of the actress, leaving little doubt of the racial hatred that was at least part of the motive for her death.  When Somali immigrants first came to Finland in the 1990’s, there was a lot of good feeling among the Finns; they saw themselves as welcoming a band of people fleeing a murderous country.  But, as Vaara notes, racial intolerance soon reared its ugly head, as the hard-drinking Finns began to distrust the alcohol-abstaining Muslims and resent the government aid they received.

Looking into the private life of the actress, the police learn that she has been intimate with more than one man, including the lover of Vaara’s first wife.  Is it her adultery that got Sufia killed or is it a racially motivated murder?

Vaara is also dealing with the emotional upheavals of his second wife, an American who fell in love with Lapland during the summer but now is having problems living in a land where the sun doesn’t rise for weeks at a time and the language and customs are so different from what she is used to in America.  Plus there’s the not-so-subtle political pressure of the police commissioner who can’t decide which will be more detrimental to the country’s image now that the crime is receiving international attention–leaving Vaara on the case or removing him.

There’s a lot of Lapland lore in this novel, probably written to explain a culture quite unfamiliar to many readers.   Did you know that ninety-five percent of murders in Lapland are solved?  That the sami (the preferred name for natives of Lapland, as Lapps is somewhat derogatory) rarely call each other by name?  That the usual gift for a child confirmed in the Lutheran Church (to which nearly all Finns belong) a generation ago was a set of dentures because by the time of their confirmations, most teenagers had lost their adult teeth due to nonexistent dental care?

There’s a lot going on in this novel–past and present wives, sexual encounters, political pressures, racial bigotry, rampant alcoholism, and more.   Sometimes it’s a bit overwhelming and a bit over the top.   Could so much be going on in such a small community?  But Thompson pulls it off.  His writing style is enjoyable, and he keeps you turning the pages.  All in all, you’ll want to read the novel to get a glimpse of this land touching the Arctic Circle.  And, like me, you’ll be waiting for another visit to northern Finland.

You can learn more about James Thompson at the Penguin web site.