Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Brief Mention: DOMINIC, sequel to Hollow Man, by Mark Pryor

Mark Pryor is British by birth and bucked the author trend by moving to Austin, Texas, to become an assistant district attorney. His Hugo Marston series, apparently now on long pause, is set in Europe and delves into human love and loyalties, with a whiff of the paranormal that evil can call forth.

I found his stand-alone crime novel Hollow Man to be interesting -- it's in the Dexter line, and also similar to Garry Disher's Wyatt series, as the protagonist is a psychopath. Unlike Disher's Wyatt, however, Pryor's charming criminal Dominic -- himself an Englishman and prosecutor -- shows no inner sense of longing for an emotional life. Love leaves him cold ... well, not physically, but he won't be making any genuine self-sacrifice for the lady who attracts him. And again unlike the Marston series, this one is set in Texas. Dark, dark Texas.

Pryor then created a sequel after all, which was released last week: DOMINIC. This time, to add to the puzzle of Dominic's criminality and manipulations, there's a lady of interest involved who is nearly as chilly-hearted as the psychopath protagonist ... a lady in a lime green dress that shows off all her physical allure. Is it her beauty, or her own manipulative psyche, that attracts Dominic?

Making the book yet more challenging is Pryor's device of alternating voices between these two dangerous personas. And each time he does so, it's up the reader to catch up, because on the page each one speaks as "I." So it pays to note the character name at the opening of each numbered chapter.

Although the manipulations and interrupted interior monologues are compelling and even haunting, they are also deeply disturbing. I do hope there aren't many people like Dominic in the real world. I came away from the book reluctant to face another in this series, and hope that it's not the career of dealing with American courtrooms that is pulling this kind of writing from the author!

If you're a Wyatt or Dexter fan, or a reader of Dave Zeltserman, you need Hollow Man and DOMINIC on your shelf, for comparison and to better grasp the choices of these noir crime-fiction creations. Do expect to get up and check that the double locks are in place on the doors, and that all your other means of self-protection are ready and close at hand. Published by Seventh Street Books, where crime fiction thrives.

PS:  Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.

Mystery of 1920s Bombay, THE WIDOWS OF MALABAR HILL, Sujata Massey

Newly released this week is a hot new historical mystery from Soho Crime -- one that's been widely anticipated for its colorful depiction of a blend of cultures becoming vitally important in global interactions today. Written by English-born and American-raised Sujata Massey, THE WIDOWS OF MALABAR HILL provides a traditional mystery format within the compelling setting of a young woman trying to find her way to a law career at a time when that was nearly unheard of in India.

Happily, THE WIDOWS OF MALABAR HILL opens with Perveen Mistry already a confident woman solicitor in her father's law firm in Bombay -- and presented with a legal puzzle that will require unraveling first a set of cultural barriers. Perveen suspects something's amiss when three women, all widows of a polygamous and prosperous Muslim client of her father's, suddenly appear to have signed over their interest in the estate of their joint husband. She wants to investigate. But the women are in purdah, that is, seclusion, and it won't be easy to reach them or to find out the truth.

From this 1921 opening, Massey takes the story back five years, to when this "modern" Parsi teen lost her half-under-the-table place at a law school in Bombay, fell in love, and abruptly married a young man from an "orthodox" Parsi family. Her excruciating struggles in this situation become the forceful background for how she develops into a problem-solving and competent adult who'll tackle an unjust situation when she discovers it.

Here's a taste of Mistry family life as Perveen argues for a chance to marry, sooner than her older brother:
Grandfather Mistry cleared his throat and said, "If a younger sister marries before her older brother, people will believe she had to marry for reasons of pregnancy. Every bead of her reputation will be sold."

"We aren't like that." Perveen struggled to keep her voice level. "And what else can I do with myself now that I am not a student, except get married?"

"The one who digs a whole falls into it," Grandfather Mistry replied dourly, and Rustom snorted.

[Perveen's mother] pressed her hands together as if she was nervous. "You were always such a dear, agreeable daughter. You appreciated what you were given, not like some others in town. How can you do this to us?"

"I didn't do anything to you! His parents have asked for a meeting. Won't you at least give them the respect they deserve by going?" she pleaded.
Count on needing the insight Perveen is gaining here, for when she attempts to unravel the mystery of the widows of Malabar Hill!

Perhaps today's best known crime fiction series set in India (in some titles; others simply deal with India as background) is Barbara Cleverly's Commander Joe Sandilands series (post World War I). But that set of titles works from the point of view of an English military man who's sympathetic but not of the culture. Massey's series, framed in a young woman's perspective and playing various cultures within India's melting pot against each other, is eye-opening and intriguing.

Well written, highly detailed, and engaging, THE WIDOWS OF MALABAR HILL shows Massey's extensive writing experience, as well as an acute eye for human frailty and conflict. I'm glad to note from her material that there's a sequel on the way. The series is published by Soho Crime, which also publishes the Cleverly series -- I recommend both.

PS:  Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.

Friday, January 05, 2018

New England Mystery Delight in Barbara Ross's New STOWED AWAY

Love a good traditional mystery with a smart amateur sleuth, hot clues, red herrings, an intriguing setting, and characters you can bond with? Good! Barbara Ross is once again writing exactly for you, in her newest Maine Clambake Mystery, STOWED AWAY.

Series fans have been waiting eagerly for this new title, and know the backstory to what Julia Snowden is facing: the fire-cored disaster of her family's historic house on the Maine coast island where she and her relatives are scrambling to re-open their profitable clam-bake operation for the new summer season; a loving but at times highly uncertain relationship with her boyfriend Chris, steady but without specific commitments; her mother, widowed and still not quite back in the groove of the family business; and an awkward relationship (to say the least!) with the local police investigators, who have worked with her far too often since she returned to Maine from her high-pressure urban finance career, in order to help her family.

Barbara Ross skillfully sketches in the frame as she establishes Julia's "new normal" of ocean-based entrepreneurship and local networking (so if you're new to the series, you'll be fine jumping in here). As Julia greets a preservation architect climbing off a boat to view the burned-out mansion to appraise whether it can be saved, seasoned mystery readers will suspect a that the plot's about to leap forward via the "stranger coming to town" move. But to Julia's horror, the "stranger" turns out to be someone she knew in high school -- one of a group of mean girls who'd tormented and humiliated her. How can she possibly trust this architect to determine her family's future investment on the island?

On the other hand, the new arrival, known as Susan in the old days but now by her middle name, Wyatt, comes with a boyfriend of her own -- a reclusive billionaire whose mega yacht is about to be rehabbed in Julia's town of Busman's Harbor. The stresses and strains of the cast of characters ramp up sharply when the billionaire, the real stranger of the moment, is murdered.

I savored this scene Ross provided in a local club, where Julia sank into a seat for a bite to eat and could listen to speculation around her:
The theories abounded, everything from suicide to the Russian mafia. "He was a billionaire who made money on the banking collapse," someone said.

"It was the girlfriend," the husband of the chef declared.

"Why do you say that?" I kept my tone conversational, not challenging.

"It's always the girlfriend," he answered.

"I don't see how it benefits her," I countered.

"Maybe he was terrible in bed," someone offered.

"If that were a reason for murder, half the men at this table would be dead," the bartender's wife joked.

"What do mean, half?" a girlfriend of one of the band members deadpanned. Everybody laughed.
Soon, though, popular opinion circles around to blaming the yacht's chef, an old friend of Julia's. And she finds herself sticking up for both this friend, and the architect, in spite of the bad feeling from high school.

Meanwhile, multiple twists are unfolding around her. In a familiar angle of this series, Julia suddenly has reason to wonder about one of her boyfriend's past relationships -- and with time, will realize she's never asked enough questions to really understand his family background as well. In fact, there's a lot Julia hasn't questioned among her friends, and some of the revelations will bear on the murder -- and some will be false leads.

Ross's expertise in complicating the plot in highly believable ways shines in STOWED AWAY. When the solution to what's on board finally arrives, there are surprises right and left -- but every one of them makes perfect sense, if the right clues have been considered. STOWED AWAY is a prime traditional mystery, highly satisfying, and a lively and enjoyable addition to this quintessential New England series. (And yes, there are more great recipes at the back!)

PS:  Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.

Art Heist Thriller from Neil Olson, THE BLACK PAINTING

People still obsess about America's most well-known art heist: The one that took place at Boston's Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in 1990 has not been solved and is often described as "must be connected to the Mob." Or some other massive underworld structure.

Other noted thefts involved the "Mona Lisa" (lost for two years) and two thefts of Edvard Munch's "The Scream." Two Renoirs and a Rembrandt left a Swedish museum and were recovered. And then of course there's the noted and extensive art plundering done by Nazi forces in Europe.

So when Neil Olson's new thriller THE BLACK PAINTING (Jan. 9 release) begins with a death in a coastal New England family, and coalesces around a missing painting by Francisco Goya, the tension increased with each twist of plot -- and we readers know something of what's at stake. Not only is there a dead grandfather (manipulative even after his lifetime) and an art heist ... there's obsession, with all its dark shadows and complicities.

Goya's art at its most intense depicted the "Disasters of War" -- dark, disturbing paintings that remind viewers of the horrors of the battlefields, which for him focused on the 1802 Peninsular War. But consensus is that the painter struggled with intense mental illness as well, and his final noted 14-image series, the "Black Paintings" (for both their appearance and topics), gives us a phenomenal view of terror within the soul.

Olson, whose first blockbuster novel The Icon also involved art theft (his early education was as an art historian), seizes the despair and fear involved in the Black Paintings to become the center of this new novel -- and invents a fifteenth painting that has found its way, perhaps illegally, to the home of the Morse family. Now the painting is gone, and the family patriarch's death creates further chaos among especially his grown grandchildren, each fragile in a separate way, and each still under the older man's thumb.

The thriller -- which is an intense page-turner -- comes to us through the eyes of the apparently most broken and frail of the cousins, Teresa, whose Spanish father, long gone, once connected deeply with the painting and its fierce owner. As the art historian in the family, she's also the one who understands the painting itself. She explains to her cousins:
"There's a painting in a private collection in New York which a few historians think is that lost one."

"But we know it's not," James insisted, "because Grandpa had it."

"Maybe they're both real," Teresa replied, not liking his agitation. "Maybe neither. I never saw the portrait. The point is ..." ...

"You haven't answered his question," Audrey pressed. "How did this demon get from Goya into the painting."
Fear not, this is far from a paranormal thread. As Teresa quickly answers, "You're being too literal. The demon is a metaphor for the trouble in his life."

And for their grandfather himself, no doubt. As the cousins struggle to escape the old man's domination, their own demons become increasingly evident. Can Teresa push past her physical ailments, her uncertain memories, and her confused understandings of her cousins, to find the answers she needs? Will she risk her life in doing so?

Acutely probing the damage of generations of manipulation and domination, Olson's mystery/thriller resonates more deeply than many in a similar genre, including such line-crossers as The Da Vinci Code -- at heart, this is a book about the demons within a family ... and whether they can be faced, or ever exorcised.

Quick comment about the cover art: Ignore it. It's got nothing to do with the story, and it's silly. The publisher, by the way, is Hanover Square Press -- yet another focused imprint of Harlequin and HarperCollins.

PS:  Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.


Friday, December 29, 2017

Backstory #3: When Your Husband Keeps a Secret, in PROTECTED BY THE SHADOWS, Swedish Crime Fiction by Helene Tursten

Helene Tursten's investigating protagonist in Göteborg, Sweden, Investigator Irene Huss, is one of the most likeable officers in today's crime fiction. Married with now-grown twin daughters, Huss depends on her husband's cooking skills -- her own are negligible -- and lives with an endless guilt about the time demands of her career that will feel familiar to many. Moreover, she works in a Violent Crimes unit where gender bias is a daily factor, as much so as personnel shortages.

So as Irene's unit teams up with the Organized Crimes Unit to intervene in a series of motorcycle gang killings (and readers of the series already know that means extra flashbacks for Huss), the last thing she needs is to have to worry about her husband's safety. Or that of her daughters. And she can't step in to do much for them -- they will have to be, as the title suggests, PROTECTED BY THE SHADOWS.

In addition to the skillful interweaving of personal and professional tension, Swedish author Helene Tursten provides memorable descriptions of the gritty reality of crime investigation, like this:
The gangster reeked of sweat and stale booze. He was wearing a T-shirt with Gothia MC's emblem on the chest; the same emblem was tattooed on his right forearm, and more or less every inch that Irene could see of his massive body was covered in tattoos. A colorful snake wound its way around his neck, ending up by his left ear. It showed up clearly on his shaven head. The snake was a skillful piece of work, but the rest of the tattoos were of varying quality.

The tread for inking is one of the best things that's happened as far as police are concerned, Irene thought. ... Per Lindström would need to wear a burka if he didn't want anyone to see his artwork.
PROTECTED BY THE SHADOWS is the ninth in this series that Soho Crime has brought to the United States. I like Marlaine Delargy's translation work -- smooth reading with just a hint of the awkwardness that sliding from one language and culture to another can insert, and in this case it adds to the sense of being transported to Scandinavia. Swedish and Finnish cultural insight add up in Tursten's books, and it's worth reading her entire series. But jumping into this ninth title "cold" is very workable -- Tursten carries the story forward skillfully. It's soon clear why Huss's husband refuses to share his dangerous secret with his police officer wife (although as a reader of all of the series, I think Huss's own backstory could have come into this one more vividly and raised the tension).

Watch for some insight into Sweden's experience of Muslim immigration, too. Ah, the benefits of reading well-written crime fiction! (Thanks again, Soho Crime, for keeping so many "foreign" investigations coming steadily across the Atlantic. Global crimesolving, for sure.) I look forward to more in the series from Tursten, whose entry into the field came after a career in medicine. Good move.

PS:  Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.

Backstory #2: Criminal Masterminds Cut Loose in SIGNAL LOSS, by Australian Author Garry Disher

Garry Disher lives on Australia's Mornington Peninsula, southeast of Melbourne, and his Challis and Destry police procedural series often takes place right there. The seventh book in the series, SIGNAL LOSS, came out in late 2016 in Australia, reaching American readers via Soho Crime in late November. Now that the holiday season is wrapping up, it's a great time to treat yourself to a copy of this well-written and lively traditional crime investigation -- with the wry, dark twists of humor that are particularly Disher's own.

The book opens with an intro that could have come from that classic wisecracking mystery master, Donald E. Westlake himself:
Lovelock and Pym. They sounded like some kind of show-business duo -- magicians, maybe; folk singers.

In fact they worked for Hector Kaye, who used to run the Finks out of Kings Cross. That was before he set up as a legitimate businessman and started importing crystal meth from China. They didn't come cheap, Lovelock and Pym. Kaye paid them well and he'd bought them each a house and a car in the past year.
When the pair tackle a murder-for-hire and get overly ambitious, though, their fumbles turn deadly for more than just the intended victim. Add to this chaos the more dangerous threat of an Australian bush fire, and "mistakes are made." The kinds of mistakes that, for investigating Inspector Hal Challis, crack open the past conflicts of a crime ring and turn a small case into major impact.

Meanwhile, Challis's lover Sergeant Ellen Destry -- recently made the head of her department's sex crime unit -- realizes her own investigations are revealing a serial rapist with more skills than most. She and her team tug at each loose thread, working the details until they develop into solid leads. But Destry's distracted at times by another ambitious woman in the force, Sergeant Coolidge (Destry names her Sergeant Cleavage at one point!), who's trying to lure Hal out of Ellen's circuit.
They looked at each other, faintly challenging, bringing back old academy memories to Ellen but probably nothing at all to Coolidge.

"Haven't seen you for ages. You're sex crimes now," Coolidge said, as if that were a side path to nowhere in policing terms.

"And you're drugs," Ellen said.

Coolidge gave her a slow-burning smile and Ellen wondered at the intent: to tease me, unsettle me. She returned the smile, a quick hard nastiness in it, and opened the door of the car. "Good luck," she said and got in and drove out of there. Not much of a victory -- not much of anything -- but why get bogged down fighting the woman? 
As it turns out, Hal is the one who'll get bogged down by Coolidge's interference, but that's jumping a ahead some. Pick up this fast-paced investigation and you'll get the details quickly, because even though it would be great to have a Disher crime novel last a long time, the tension pushed the page turning. In fact, clear the schedule if you can -- here's your winter vacation between the covers in a 345-page "Down Under" romp through twinned cases that are hard to control, and incredibly satisfying to solve.

This is Disher's more accessible, easy-to-enjoy series (read chapter 1 here if you like); his other is the Wyatt series, darkly reminiscent of the Dexter mysteries yet somehow likeable (but, please note, very very dark). He also offers occasional stand-alones and "young adult" (YA) books, which Soho Crime doesn't yet bring across. Check the Soho website for the American releases of Disher's books. So far, I've appreciated all of them (Disher reviews here).

PS:  Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.


Thursday, December 28, 2017

Backstory #1: How Caitlin Strong Grew Into Texas Ranger Overkill, in STRONG TO THE BONE, Jon Land

It's not a spoiler to look at the Author's Note in the back of the newest Caitlin Strong Texas Ranger thriller from Jon Land. Setting STRONG TO THE BONE into context, Land wrote, "Strong to the Bone started with me wanting to challenge Caitlin as I'd never challenged her before. Provide a deep look into a part of her psyche I'd never previously explored."

With that decision, Land provided fresh depth to his series character, a Texas Ranger who's a lone female in her field much of the time in modern-day Texas -- and whose "nature and nurture" both come from her father, grandfather, and more, riding for justice and crime control in the Lone Star state.

Land's unusual format for his Caitlin Strong books involves flashing alternate glances into the past stories of the other Texas Rangers in the family. This time it's Earl Strong, who missed out on the armed forces in World War II only to find himself confronting the very dangerous J. Edgar Hoover, head of the FBI, over a murder case at a prisoner-of-war camp ... a murder involving Germans who have complex backgrounds and motives.
Darkness fell without any of the first responders emerging from the complex.

"What did the Rangers do for excitement back in the day before we had terrorists?" Caitlin asked D. W. Tepper.

"You mean besides hunting dinosaurs? Well, we did have the likes of Bonnie and Clyde and John Wesley Hardin to deal with. And your grandpa, he even went up against the Nazis."

"Earl Strong spent time in Europe?" Caitlin asked, trying to reconcoile the apparent discrepancy with what she know of her grandfather's history.

"Nope, he went up against them right here in Texas ..."
At the same time, Caitlin's life partner Cort Wesley Masters is tangling with a case that looks independent of Caitlin's -- one that jeopardizes the safety of his risk-taking younger son. The couple's powerful and spirit-swept ally Guillermo Paz sweeps into action to protect both generations. And suddenly bullets are flying (no surprise to series readers!).

What makes STRONG TO THE BONE different from earlier titles in this series is that Caitlin's past, as probed here, is more personal than the preceding backstories of her Texas Ranger forebears have revealed: She's been overly violent for a long time, causing her superior officer, D. W. Tepper, to tear out his hair repeatedly, as Caitlin spirals from one round of violence into another. What's her trigger? Land must have written the book long before the hashtag #MeToo took over American news -- but it could have been Caitlin Strong's own battle cry.

STRONG TO THE BONE is a lively page-turner, crammed with action, suspense, and interlocked tales of courage and skilled investigation. Take the associated paranormal strands with some humor and enjoy the way they give bite to the conflict. I'm a fan of Guillermo Paz and his crazed spirit journeys here -- but every Caitlin Strong book also lures the reader to make a declaration on behalf of the historic and modern Texas Rangers, even to say (in another recent meme): I'm with Her.

[NB: Land's author website is usually out of date, but still fun to explore: http://www.jonlandbooks.com]

PS:  Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.

Friday, December 01, 2017

Brief Mention: Nordic Noir from Kjell Ola Dahl, FAITHLESS

The Oslo, Norway, sleuthing mysteries by Kjell Ola Dahl are well known in Scandinavia -- there are 11 so far -- but had to wait for translation, and for Orenda Books to start bringing them across the Atlantic. FAITHLESS arrived in the U.S. in September, and provides a rewarding new direction in dark Scandinavian mysteries: a police procedural with depth of character and a wickedly dry sense of humor.

Inspector Frank Frølich, attending an engagement party for an old friend, discovers the new fiancée is a woman Frank had just arrested, then released, under a Norwegian legal function that allows someone to pay a fine for possession of illicit drugs at a personal use level. But that complication, which after all can be managed within careful polite manners, pales beside the next twist: the women, Veronika, soon becomes a murder victim. Is it a result of the arrest or the party or something else entirely?

Frølich's own past turns out to have some of the clues, a decidedly uncomfortable situation for the Oslo detective and his partner, Inspector Gunnarstranda. But the twists of plot get even more intense when their fellow detective Lena manipulates one of their colleagues, as well as stepping over the line toward baiting a dangerous criminal.

The translation by Don Bartlett (British) is smooth and well carried out; the scenes are short and sharp; and although the crimes involved are dark ones, and the settings more than a little spooky ("atmospheric" is another descriptor), the characters carry a force of will that makes it a pleasure to follow their investigations. I'm glad Orenda's brought this award-winning Norwegian author to our attention; I'll be watching for more of Dahl's work.

PS:  Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Entertaining British Crime Fiction from Peter Lovesey, BEAU DEATH

American Thanksgiving is becoming a very long sort of holiday -- schools close early in the week or don't open at all, and turkey consumption only occupies one day of the break. On the other days, a good mystery is a worthwhile diversion. In the case of BEAU DEATH, now is the time to order for the December 5 release via Soho Crime; local stores and online ones can handle your order and make sure you get a first-day-of-release copy of this charming British mystery.

Fans of Peter Lovesey's "Peter Diamond Investigations" know they'll get more than plot, and more than the performance of Diamond and his police team in Bath -- they find a rich and satisfying feast of eccentric and sometimes sweet, sometimes dangerous, quintessential British figures. In BEAU DEATH, the discovery of a skeleton in a building being demolished leads Diamond into the small city's elegant past, when the flashy Beau Nash ruled the stylish crowd.

In fact, if Diamond's difficult supervisor Georgina Dallymore gets her highly political way, Diamond may need to don the traditional garb that members of the Beau Nash Society wear, in order to investigate possible victims as well as murderers. (And he won't exactly be armed.) As in so many others in this series, Diamond also faces all-in-the-arts pressure from his lover Paloma, and urgency from his rising investigator Ingeborg, each pushing him in another direction.

The first 75 pages is admittedly a bit slow and tame, as Diamond is "schooled" by the three women. But when Ingeborg lands the best blow, it brings both Diamond and the book back to traditional fast-paced and risky crimesolving. Diamond tunes in as Ingeborg points him back toward the scene of the murder they've uncovered:
"Under the rubble. Who knows what may be buried there? Is is still cordoned off?"

A chill of guilt went through him. He couldn't answer. He hadn't been back. He stood still, lost for words.

Ingeborg wasn't sparing him. "We don't have any idea who the killer of the man in the loft was except he used the place to hide the body. Chances are he lived there as a tenant. You can't live in a place without leaving traces of yourself. Who knows what might turn up if we do a dig? ... Aren't you listening, guv? I'm talking about the stuff he might have discarded. An empty cigarette packet, a lottery ticket, a teaspoon, a glove, a hairclip, a foreign coin. It helps build a picture of who was living there. I don't need to tell you this."

She was right. His mindset was all wrong. He'd given so much mental energy to learning about Beau bloody Nash that basic procedures had been neglected.
Murders multiply, but for potent reasons of his own, Diamond doesn't dare allow his boss to call in other officers. He'll have to push his team to new roles and new results.

Once the crimesolving got active, I had lots of fun with BEAU DEATH, chuckling at Peter Lovesey's dry humor and guessing ahead on what might be revealed in the next few pages. No nightmares from this one, no gruesome scenes, just a cheerful level of suspense and discovery. Some of it. of course, about Diamond himself.

Insulate your holiday season with books like this one, and things can stay in proportion. Some joy, some humor, and some long evenings visiting a classic British location in the hands of a master storyteller with more than 30 mysteries under his belt. Too many awards to Lovesey to even list them, but one of the more recent was a Lifetime Achievement award at Malice Domestic. BEAU DEATH arrives across the Atlantic thanks to Soho Crime, the international and exhilarating imprint of Soho Press.

PS:  Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.


Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Vibrant New Poke Rafferty Bangkok Thriller from Timothy Hallinan, FOOLS' RIVER

There are a lot of great reasons to grab the new Bangkok-set thriller by Tim Hallinan. Readers of his Poke Rafferty series actually "need" this book ASAP, because the little family that Poke Rafferty loves and protects in corrupt and dangerous Bangkok has bonded to readers' hearts. How is Poke's pregnant wife doing? And the couple's brilliant bu wounded adopted-street-child daughter Miaow? What about Miaow's friends, whom we've also become attached to, seeing them through the half-incredulous amazement that Poke feels as he comes to appreciate, love, and yes, try to rescue them?

But if you're a stranger to this series, here are some other reasons: A chance to "see" Bangkok in its heartbreaking complexity (instead o of laughing at the pain the way John Burdett's books do). A willingness to meet and care about complex characters in the midst of very human and very dangerous stresses. Eagerness to see how a skilled author who can blend suspense and attachment on a single palette will craft the necessary (and terrifying) twists of a page-turner.

Poke's attention is mostly on his pregnant wife right now -- the couple hadn't expected to add a child to the already complicated and tender household they've formed. So it takes sserious persuasion from Miaow to have him look into the disappearance of the dad of Miaow's almost-boyfriend Edward. Once Poke tunes in to the crisis, he's quick to see a pattern -- one that means Edward's dad has a very short life ahead of him, if indeed he's still alive somewhere in the crowded city.

Don't worry about the title, FOOLS' RIVER. It's almost irrelevant, part of a different layer of suspense. Attention belongs most of all with Poke in his urgent search for the totally immoral scam artists and killers who have Edward's dad. And with the power of a 48-hour deadline, Hallinan packs the action and danger, page after page.

Don't try to do anything else. This is what a truly fine thriller is for: to let you, force you, to ignore the rest of your life and accept that all the love that needs saving, all the life that matters, is in the next chapter. Yes, the book really just covers 48 hours -- so hang in there for the next in the series. [Too bad the author and publisher, Soho, can only produce one per year ... but this year at least, there's an extra helping of Hallinan's Bangkok adventures in a compact and haunting tale included in Soho's holiday special, The Usual Santas, about two Bangkok street kids with a significant set of discoveries at the holiday season. I can't get it out of my thoughts ... or do I men, heart?]

PS:  Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.

Top-Notch British Thriller from L V Hay, THE OTHER TWIN

THE OTHER TWIN is a true breakthrough book: a thriller so intricate and compelling that it leaps away from previous books by the same author, into new and dangerous terrain. Presented as a "debut thriller" by Orenda Books, it hit the shelves a week ago. The author was previously known as Lucy V Hay -- but it makes good sense to see her writing drastically shifted in this new book. And the androgynous "L V" name also fits, in an entirely different way.

The book opens with an ominous scene of emotional abuse, quickly flashing instead to Poppy, a young woman way over her head in drinking and casual sex, trying to pull herself together after an all-night binge and the "mother of all hangovers," so to speak. Hers in the voice that gives us most of the story in THE OTHER TWIN. She has a past crammed with love and loss at the seacoast city of Brighton that she walked away from a year earlier, and her party life (not really balanced by her other-city job) is this cover for confused regrets and pain. Chapter by chapter, she faces the complicated mess of her past, propelled by what takes her "home again" at the start of the action: the supposed suicide-by-jumping of her younger sister India.

But there's a second voice that whispers to us periodically -- perhaps a killer's words and contorted emotions, as he enacts the twisted reality of "She Who Must Be Obeyed." Hay's mastery of suspense is echoed in the eerie sense of evil and manipulation that oozes from these scenes. Can Poppy, searching for the truths behind her sister's death, escape the seeping and vicious mind that's calling the plays around her?

The book walks an interesting knife edge of noir and violence: Much of the cruelty exerted by the shadowy perpetrators is so indirect, so disguised, that it never quite crosses into being graphic -- but the horror is even more haunting in this form.

Expect twists all the way through, and a final one that's as painful as being knocked over on a cement surface -- everybody bleeds from the heart, and as the powerful resolution arrives, it's clear there will be no escape from hurt. But maybe, maybe, there can be some escape from being hopelessly lost in a net of deceit.

Well worth reading. Yes, the title points to some meaning in the story -- but not what you might expect. And it's a stand-alone, at least so far, so there's no need to dig into Hay's earlier work -- which you can scan if you like at her (somewhat difficult to navigate) website. This title comes via Orenda Books, where the list of really fine mysteries is becoming impressive.

PS:  Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.