Sunday, February 18, 2018

South African Noir, MY NAME IS NATHAN LUCIUS, by Mark Winkler

Nothing is simple in Mark Winkler's crime fiction -- least of all the motivation of the protagonist. In MY NAME IS NATHAN LUCIUS (his "fourth" title but actually his second novel, originally titled Wasted), Winkler provides a setup that should be transparent: Nathan Lucius is telling his own story, in detail, including his emotions and his, umm, peculiar forms of unclean mind. We should know whether he committed any crimes, and why -- right?

Well, no. Not the way Winkler spins this very usual and gritty work of noir. Nathan Lucius, age 31, an ad salesman for a newspaper, has unusual filters for what's important to comment on, and what's not. Running, drinking, jerking off ("wanking" in British slang) -- those are his primary concerns. Almost accidentally, in his preferred life of days-all-the-same, he's made a friend, the owner of a secondhand shop. This owner, Madge, is dying of cancer, and soon we realize Madge and Nathan are considering how he might help her to end her life.

But just how twisted is Nathan's version of his possibly crime-leavened life going to get? It's tempting to say, "not twisted," because Nathan appears to narrate everything just as it happens. But check out this interlude, when he first is questioned about Madge's death, by Inspector Morris:
I'm expecting a tough Cockney from a BBC cop show. I suppose it's the name. Morris has a heavy Afrikans accent. It would be a mistake to associate the accent with stupidity. People have done that before. I'm not going to. The room is so small that he has to squeeze himself against the wall to get around the table. He sits opposite me. He thanks me for coming. I put my sad face one. I tell him the facts as I'd told them to Mrs du Toit.

"So you've known the deceased for ...?"

"Four or five years," I tell him. [...]

"Forgive me, I have to ask. Was there anything, ah, inappropriate about your relationship?"

"Goodness, no." I sound just like Madge.
Blurbs for the book in advance talked about its exploration of violence, trauma, social responsibility, memory, morality ... I would rather say it's a daring adventure with an unreliable and unlikable narrator who nevertheless turns us into his witnesses, for court and elsewhere, with a related crazy mix of horror, appalled laughter, and insistence on knowing what comes next. Don't read this unless you're ready for very, very dark (think Dave Zeltserman even more than Thomas Harris). But if you do pick it up, clear the schedule, because you'll need to finish it before you'll be able to do anything else.

And then, you'll want to wash your hands. Twice.

From Soho Crime (Soho Press) comes this unforgettable transplant from a distant continent, straight into our most unsettling postmodern unease.

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

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Third Thriller from Douglas Schofield, KILLING PACE

Sometimes books arrive here for review after they've already been released -- and KILLING PACE is one of those. I wasn't wild about the title, and the (misleading) cover suggested a sort of Celtic time lapse ... but I finally opened the book and then quickly lost track of time, absorbed in this powerfully told and complicated page-turning thriller set in Florida and in Sicily. It's Douglas Schofield's third, but not part of a series; he tends to write female protagonists (and explains something about that here -- in ways that interest me a great deal). And his extensive background in criminal prosecution, as well as globe-trotting, makes him an ideal source for his own plots.

In KILLING PACE, a woman's been held near-prisoner by her presumed fiancé, but it only takes a small breath of freedom for her memories of another life to flood back. Soon we're chasing major criminals in Italy with a woman of another name who works for the U.S. Customs investigation team -- same person? Some answers flash quickly; others, like who's behind the crimes around her (parts smuggling; baby kidnapping) are slower to mesh. But the twists keep coming, and so does the action.

Let's say, for the sake of not throwing any spoilers, that at least one strong woman in KILLING PACE has an Italian grandmother, which gives her definite advantages when sleuthing in Italy, of course. Here's a sample from later in the book:
She could live with being the roughly assembled product of Silvana Pace's obsessions.

Law and justice ...

Today, Laura Pace was a fugitive from the law, hunted for crimes she didn't commit.

Law and justice ...

Today, a police officer had broken the law to prevent her from being arrested.

Law and justice ...

Tonight, she was lying in a bed in a safe house run by a secret United Nations intelligence until whose activities probably violated a score of U.S. federal statutes.

Nonna would completely understand.
Intrigued? It's quite a ride, really well written, and convinced me that I want to read more from this author! The publisher is Minotaur, and I'm sure there are more titles on the way.

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

Saturday, February 10, 2018

New from Randall Silvis, WALKING THE BONES, Murder and Love

Last year's mystery from Randall Silvis was Two Days Gone, a superb work of compelling suspense that tested the impact of once-in-a-lifetime friendships, while also inquiring into how writers do that mysterious "slice open a vein" action and live to tell about it ... or not. Police Sergeant Ryan DeMarco's investigation led him into immense pain over the loss of his writer friend, and also across the line into killing a killer.

In this year's new Silvis offering, WALKING THE BONES, DeMarco is determined to recover from his losses -- and to get around to the foundational work that his romantic relationship with a fellow officer, Trooper Jayme Matson. It's already a fraught affair, taking place around his obvious case of depression and PTSD and haunted by his child's death and the way his wife has abandoned him (but not yet divorced him). Is there any chance he can regain enough health of heart -- emotional and physical -- to meet Jayme's expectations?

Things look rough -- but when a cabal of quirky justice seekers in Jayme's hometown of Aberdeen, Kentucky, enlist DeMarco to investigate the deaths of seven young women (only their bones remain), his sense of purpose moved back into position (and Jayme's egging it on).

The crimesolving here is well plotted and first rate. But the best strength of any Randall Silvis book is the growth of character, often through pain, and with much awareness of how fragile life can be. Here's a taste of WALKING THE BONES:
At sixteen [DeMarco] was still fleet of foot, and by then had gotten a name for himself as a street fighter thanks to his quick hands and footwork. His knuckles were still scarred fro some of those fights.

In the army he could do five miles with a full pack and still be the first man to the showers. But he had been forty pounds lighter then. And unburdened by the elephantine weight of a conscience that rendered all unnecessary movement futile.

These days all the important movement took place in his head. And to keep that movement fro devolving now into a dark downward spiral, he thought about the girls. Seven unfortunate girls of color, all from miles and hours away. all ending up here in quiet little Aberdeen with the butterflies and hummingbirds,

He wondered if Hoyle had been aware of the metaphor he had created by describing the girls as cocooned in plastic sheeting. Hoyle, as strange as he was. did not strike DeMarco as  man who chose his words lightly.

And it made DeMarco sad to think of those girls as unformed butterflies. They had never been given their wings, had never tested the sky. And now every time DeMarco saw a butterfly, he would think of those girls.
For DeMarco to solve the case, he'll have to push well beyond his current physical limits, and risk both his life and his heart, under grim conditions that reminded me at times of a Stephen King horror plot. But don't underestimate him -- or Jayme, who's determined to somehow pull him back to life.

A fine read; I only wish DeMarco's series came to publication more often than once a year. This one, like its predecessor, comes from Sourcebooks. Readers of Julia Keller's West Virginia mysteries will feel at home in this Silvis series; those to value the mysteries of Charles Todd and Louise Penny will also recognize the soul battle underway.

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