Sunday, November 10, 2019

Mystery Publisher to Keep an Eye On: Encircle Publications


At  the New England Crime Bake this weekend, the two (married to each other) people who "are" Encircle Publications, Eddie Vincent and Cynthia Brackett-Vincent, shared perceptive insight on today's mystery publishing business. Just as much in flux as any other market segment, it's also providing healthy new forms, and Encircle captures one of the most intriguing: a small to mid-sized publishing house where authors are significant, strong writing matters, and this much-loved genre thrives.

In a season when several small-ish mystery publishers have either folded or been gobbled up by the big franchises, here's a chance to pay attention -- and pay some support -- to a rising star.

Currently the mystery author list at Encircle includes:

Thursday, November 07, 2019

For the Gift List: Cara Black, MURDER IN BEL-AIR

It's time to shop for holiday gifts. One book for me, one book for you. Isn't that fair enough, from one book lover to another?

Cara Black's MURDER IN BEL-AIR, number 19 in her astonishing series featuring single-mom Parisian detective Aimée Leduc, may be her best yet. With a robustly complex plot that involves the disappearance of Aimée's own mother, as well as others, this crime novel plunges into both the Leduc family complications and the criminal enterprises of the City of Lights. And it's full of moments that capture this stylish detective at her most determined an active, like this:
She'd struck a chord. Thrown him off-balance.

"Where are you from?" she asked.

"Arles." His answer came too quick. And she'd never heard a Provençal accent like his. Not even close to that musical patois.

She saw him tense, and his lips moved—he was whispering something.

Merde. Was he wired?

With no more of a plan than to get the hell out, she accelerated, veering left as she kicked straight out with her right foot. Counted on the element of surprise. Her stiletto heel got him in the thigh. Wobbling over the cobblestones in the rain, the scooter shot forward and out of the courtyard.

Right into traffic. Her handlebars scraped a van, and she almost lost her balance. But somehow she kept going, weaving in the downpour with a cacophony of horns blaring behind her.
Black's author note at the start connects the plot to her own mother, and her lithe depictions of strong vibrant women in MURDER IN BEL-AIR contributes to the story's swift action and bright undercurrents. No need to read the other 18 titles first ... get this one for yourself for holiday-season relaxing, and give a copy to one of your best friends as well.

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

Saturday, November 02, 2019

Strong Stand-Alone from Garry Disher, UNDER THE COLD BRIGHT LIGHTS (Australia)

Australian author Garry Disher now has more than 50 books to his credit, but is not yet well known in America. Thanks to Soho Crime, his two crime series—the gritty yet often tender Hal Challis books and very very dark "noir" of the Wyatt series—have mostly traveled to the United States. In July, Soho Crime (the crime fiction imprint of Soho Press) brought out a stand-alone from this author: UNDER THE COLD BRIGHT LIGHTS.

The book's closer in tone to the Hal Challis series than to the Wyatt books. Detective Alan Auhl, now an acting sergeant, is much older than most of the force and has been pulled back into action to tackle the cold cases. He is clearly wounded, himself. His former wife sometimes visits, but not always to share affection with him; in addition, Auhl owns a boarding house that caters to people with hard-luck stories yet decent hearts, among them an abused woman named Neve and her young daughter Pia, still being emotionally strangled by their ties to Pia's father. While Auhl struggles to help Neve and Pia find a position of strength, he's also tangled up in the cold case of John Elphick, whose daughters insist he was murdered, and with a newly discovered body that clearly dates back to a much earlier death, as well as a murderous doctor—and maybe it's just as well he's so busy. Otherwise he'd drown in the grief and angst of his boarders.

The delight of Disher's investigation novels is the depth he unfolds in his investigators, and UNDER THE COLD BRIGHT LIGHTS is a great example -- and also, for that reason, a good starter if you haven't yet read any of this Down-Under author. Here's a sample:
As the evening deepened, Auhl brooded. Men like Kelso, Fanning—Alec Neill. Their assumptions,  cronyism, power, sense of entitlement. Pre-emptive strike kinds of men: they seized the advantage while the rest of the world was thinking things through. Like Neill with his accusations against his wife,  thought Auhl. And as soon as we move against him he'll surround himself with lawyers and colleagues. ... Quite suddenly, a deeper unease settled into Auhl. Saturday morning. Janine Neill, pale, dizzy, uncoordinated. She had speculated blithely that Neill might shoot her or push her off a rock, but what if he'd poisoned her? Surely he couldn't be that arrogant? But he'd succeeded three times before Maybe he thought he was untouchable. ... [Auhl] dressed in dark clothing, backed his elderly Saab out of the garage and headed across to East Melbourne, heart jumpy and mouth dry.
Like Karen Slaughter, Tucker Coe (a Westlake nom de plume), or Louise Penny, Disher gives us an investigator whose sense of his own belonging to the world depends on taking action against the cruel, malicious, and criminal. Thanks to his deep experience and careful craft, UNDER THE COLD BRIGHT LIGHTS is one of the most satisfying mysteries of 2019.

[More Disher reviews here.]

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

Friday, November 01, 2019

New from Lee Child, BLUE MOON (Jack Reacher)

At a rough count, this is number 25 from Lee Child, of which 23 involve Jack Reacher. Count on BLUE MOON for rattling good adventure, casual violence, and those moments of thoughtful appraisal and deep kindness that make a Jack Reacher thriller so different from the average shoot-'em-up. I confess, I pre-order each one and look forward to a couple of evenings of true relaxation.

In BLUE MOON, Reacher's riding on a long-distance bus when he realizes an elderly man on the bus has become a crime target. And you know Reacher, right? He gets off the bus when the almost-victim does, tries to intervene ... and gets caught up in a city-wide crime wave.

It's hard to avoid spoilers, so let's just say there are Albanians and Ukrainians, and some effect of Russians -- and a remarkable woman, and some great brothers-in-arms moments.

What I do want to specifically mention is part of the brothers-in-arms conversation on pages 182-183, when Reacher outlines his approach to the potentially violent confrontation he's headed into:
"First I need to understand what they're saying in the texts, and then I need to use what I learn, in order to figure out what to do next. No combat readiness yet. No warnings necessary."

"Suppose what you learn is that it's hopeless?"

"Not an acceptable outcome. Can only be a failure of planning."
Now that I've noticed this, I'll be re-reading earlier Reacher titles, looking for the same sort of wry comment on military prep and thinking. It comes up again later in BLUE MOON, when the very interesting woman (yes, Reacher seems to only connect deeply with strong women) asks Reacher whether he actually believes -- as he told someone earlier -- than some day he will fail:
"It's something they teach you in the army. The only thing under your direct control is how hard you work. In other words, if you really, really buckle down today, and you get the intelligence, the planning, and the execution each a hundred percent exactly correct, then you are bound to prevail."
And in some ways, of course, Reacher does. Readers of the series know that won't make him immune from pain and loss, but ... it makes a heck of a good story.

If you've never read one of these -- go back as far as you can in the series (see https://www.leechild.com/books.php), and read your way forward, for the most enjoyment.

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