Monday, January 12, 2009

Top Mysteries: What's on Your Latest List?

When Maureen Corrigan gave her short list of the top five crime and mystery novels of 2008, Dave and I jumped in delight -- because Dave Zeltserman's SMALL CRIMES, set in Vermont, made the list! Corrigan gave it first place, saying Zeltserman's version of crime noir belongs right up there with James M. Cain. My husband agrees, saying, "When you buy this one, buy at least two copies, because Zeltserman is the modern master of noir."

Here's Corrigan's full list:

Dave Zeltserman, SMALL CRIMES
Friedrich Glauser, THE CHINAMAN
Richard Stevenson, DEATH VOWS

You might notice that the last one isn't a mystery novel, but an homage instead to America's foundational writer of detective fiction.

If you don't have time to read all five right away, make sure to tuck SMALL CRIMES into your schedule -- because Zeltserman is coming to Kingdom Books this summer, and you'll want to absorb the story, pull together some friendly questions, and come soak up the gift of time with this gifted writer.


I'll toss another list here tomorrow. But Corrigan's list points out the immense change in how Americans are selecting mysteries to read: We've gone global. Some are older treasures just reaching us through long-delayed translation, while others are hot and new.

I've already mentioned (and recommended) Leighton Gage's dark passage into Brazil's urban and rain-forest crime waves, BURIED STRANGERS. Just out this month, it's the second in Gage's Chief Inspector Mario de Silva series. His third is well on its way toward publication.

Soho Crime brings Gage's work to us, along with Eliot Pattison's Chinese-occupied Tibet series and, as it has for years, the French detective series by Cara Black, featuring Aimée Leduc. Scheduled for release in March 2009 by Black is MURDER IN THE LATIN QUARTER. It's a gem that gives not just Paris and its personalities, but also the hazards and complications of politically based immigration into the city. If the mention of Haiti gives you a shiver of foreboding, you're ready to grab this one.

Guilt stirred her. "I had Papa, a childhood, food on the table." She stared at René. "But maybe she didn't. I need to know."
"You're reading too much into this, Aimée."
He meant she wanted to believe. Maybe a big part of her did. But she had to see proof.

Threat, disorientation, and sudden entanglements drag Leduc through the worst side of detective work. Pre-orders are available.

During the holiday break I dipped into my first acquaintance with the Dutch writer who's so well known by his surname that that's exactly what's on the cover of his books now: not A. C. Baantjer, but simply BAANTJER. The February release of DeKOK AND THE DEAD HARLEQUIN is the latest in a long string of relatively old-fashioned, but also quite dark, police procedurals set in the lowlands among the dikes and windmills. Inspector DeKok, like many of today's silver foxes, hasn't yet grasped how to do a thorough Internet search -- but he knows how to delegate that labor, and he's patient enough to dig under the surface, find the motivations of the criminals around him, and make sure that when he catches them, something worth prosecuting will be documented. I found Smittenaar's translation to be mildly awkward, but sometimes that actually gives a better sense of cultural difference, marking this book as quintessentially European.

Somewhere in the maelstrom of his memories, DeKok searched for a handhold on this reality. He often prided himself on his inability to think in a straight line. He knew he was able to jump from one subject to another. He also knew he reached conclusions based on instinct and intuition as much as logic. He had confidence and reason, backed by an enormous amount of experience. His eyes followed the little girl's outstretched finger.

And the plot is a clever twist on the old "locked room" paradigm: here, an unlocked one, in which a battered body is cleverly arranged to suggest a macabre take on the wooden marionettes known as harlequins. Ironically, before the first death is discovered, DeKok and his partner Vledder receive a visit from an accountant who announces the murder -- but has an alibi that DeKok can't possibly deny.

Of course, I can't do a binge of "foreign" mysteries without plunging into the British ones. Later this week I'll survey a good one by John Harvey and the newest John Le Carré. And yes, I've got opinions about SCARPETTA, and have we talked about Peter Spiegelman? His books are irresistible during a "deep recession." But that's enough for today.

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