Saturday, November 23, 2019

Stress-Free Holiday Travel: Crime Fiction from Sujata Massey and Peter Lovesey

Book shopping for the holidays? Here are two for the list, whether your intention is to gift-wrap a treat for a friend, or to build a TBR stack for yourself to hide in as the year-end "important" celebrations roll up.

Sujata Massey's India series, set after World War I, features Perveen Mistry, a young woman lawyer from Bombay struggling to find a niche for her skills in a culture and time period that bars women from full action. The first in the series was The Widows of Malabar Hill, and it involved a lot of explanation of religious groups, liberal versus orthodox leanings, and gendered roles of the period. In THE SATAPUR MOONSTONE, the second in the series, Massey relaxes this pressure and focuses instead on life in India's hill states at the time, when a prince can isolate the women and children in his family in ways that prevent any public presence for them. So Sir David Hobson-Jones recruits Perveen to travel to the very un-Westernized state of Satapur and insinuate herself among the women there, to tackle a mess that the civil service is unable to resolve.

Aong its haunting details of the terrain and the odd balancing act of British rule and local princedoms, to the dangerous emotional ride Perveen chooses for herself as she interacts with a man her own parents would clearly not approve of, the book's tension rises rapidly. Risk, deadly attacks, poisoning, and isolation in the hill country all ramp up the suspense. Although, because this is a series, there's good reason to believe Perveen will survive her investigation, she's clearly stirred up more violence, including against children, by intervening on behalf of the civil service, and a number of intense scenes and perilous moments keep open the question of how much Perveen herself will risk and lose in her work ... and who else will pay the price.

Fair warning: Although you don't need to read the first in the series before thoroughly enjoying THE SATAPUR MOONSTONE, you're likely to want to acquire it soon afterward. And, of course, leave room on the shelf for more to come. (No translation issues here, by the way; Massey was born in England and lives in Maryland, and is a very nimble storyteller.)

Peter Lovesey opens his 18th "Peter Diamond" crime novel, KILLING WITH CONFETTI,  with a prison outbreak that's soon linked to a quandary for his long-term protagonist and seasoned law enforcement officer, Detective Superintendent Peter Diamond: Diamond's superior, Deputy Chief Constable George Brace, expects him to personally supervise a highly unusual situation. Brace's son Ben is marrying his longtime girlfriend Caroline, and Diamond is to provide both security and prevention ... because the bride is the daughter of crime boss Joe Irving, and the fact that Irving is out of prison at the moment doesn't make him any less dangerous or treacherous. Plus, of course, Irving's exposure in a public wedding frame sets up crime vengeance opportunities for his enemies.

Louise Penny has called this investigator "impatient, belligerent, cunning, insightful, foul, laugh-out-loud funny." It's a good description, and Diamond will need all those character traits to sort out the mess he's been dumped into. Adding to the complex of personalities and potential crimes is the setting for the wedding: the Abbey and Roman Baths of Bath, England, an archaeological delight and a crime prevention nightmare.

If you have a friend who's still stuck in "old-fashioned" British crime fiction like Agatha Christie's books, here's a great opportunity to lure the reader into the modern century without losing the very British flavor. No need to read the earlier books before this one, as Lovesey is adept at setting a scene and moving his diverse and diverting characters into believable and intense confrontations. That said, long-time readers of the series will get the most chuckles from the humor in here. A great book for crossing generations, too—something to bear in mind if you're in a book club where the age range is wide and there are frequent disagreements about taste. You could sow holiday peace and renewal, just by handing around copies of Lovesey's latest.

Both of these are from Soho Crime, the very active mystery imprint of Soho Press.

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

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