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.