Ahhh, the joy of finding an entirely new crime fiction series to read is unmistakeable, especially as it's summer. The Square of Revenge, by3.75 stars
Ahhh, the joy of finding an entirely new crime fiction series to read is unmistakeable, especially as it's summer. The Square of Revenge, by Pieter Aspe, is the first in a series of novels to feature Inspector Pieter Van In of Bruges and it's the first book of the series to be published in English. The next book, The Midas Murders, is slated (according to Amazon) to be released December of this year in the US -- and I've already preordered it. Considering it's the first in a series, it's pretty darn good.
What appears to be a robbery at an upscale jewelry store has police puzzled. Everything has been cleaned out, giving the crime the earmarks of an ordinary burglary, but there are no signs of forced entry. The security company has a taped record of the store owner's son saying he will be switching off the burglar alarm, but he was away all weekend and left no such instructions. The safe had been opened, quietly and professionally. Finally, it turns out that all of the jewelry had been put into a bath of an acid solution called aqua regis, which pretty much destroyed everything. On top of everything else, when Pieter Van In's superior calls him about investigating the crime and then later decides that the case should be shelved because of politics and the owner's (Ludovic Degroof) disdain of publicity, in Van In's mind, something doesn't add up. All Van In is supposed to do is to supply a police report, and the case is technically to be over. The deputy prosecutor, Hannelore Martens, however, thinks otherwise, and insists that a public radio appeal be made to elicit any help from potential witnesses. She hands Van In an envelope with her contact details, and he notices that it is addressed "for you, bastard," and contains a 5-word square of Latin words, setting him on an investigatory track toward a motive based on revenge. His idea is reinforced when later, Degroof's grandson is kidnapped and held for an even more bizarre ransom, but trying to get the strange and eccentric Degroof family to talk or to level with Van In is like pulling teeth, even though one of their own may be in danger. He is also hampered by the politics surrounding various players in the investigation and those at a higher level.
The summary on the top of the front dustjacket blurb calls this novel "heart-pounding," and while it's good, I probably wouldn't have described it that way. While there's a good story here with more than one puzzle for the reader to work out, it's really the characters that drive this book -- especially the lead, Van In. He's beyond good at what he does, is well respected by his coterie of police friends who know him well, and has worked his way up the ladder to assistant commissioner and head of the Special Investigations Unit. He's hates "small-minded intrigue," and is a bit tired of the kinds of cases that normally land on his desk, since "spectacular crimes and real tension were a rarity." Divorced, in debt, and a heavy smoker, he is often sidelined by his boss's son-in-law, whom his boss tends to put on the more sensational cases, only to be bailed out by Van In when there's a problem. He also has no problems breaking or bending the rules when the need arises. He can be snarky, which is a good thing, and though he has some measure of personal angst, it's not's worn on the sleeve like so many other protagonists in other crime novels.
Not to give away the show, but the message left behind at the jewelry store hints at the Knights Templar, and I do have to say that when I saw this, my first thought was "Oh no, please don't go down that alley." Fortunately Aspe didn't. I just wanted to get this out there so no one balks when they get to that part and to let readers know that there's no trace of The DaVinci Code revisited here. My only issue with this book is that as the story headed toward the big finish, things started happening at a lightning-quick pace that seemed downright implausible. While generally I set my brain mode to "suspend disbelief" when I read most crime novels, events buzzed by so fast (on the part of the police) that the action became downright implausible. I get that the time frame is a bit narrow here but still. Otherwise, I was pretty happy with this first entry into a new series, and can't wait to start the next one.
Readers of lighter crime fare will probably enjoy this book, although as I said earlier, much of the subject matter is not what I'd recommend for those who like cozy mysteries. On the other hand, if you're looking for something gritty and edgy, you won't really find that either -- The Square of Revenge lands somewhere in between and makes for a good intro into a new series and a new set of characters to watch. ...more
3.75, read in April of 2013. Another I forgot to write a goodreads review for! better late than never, though.
I was fortunate enough to get an ARC of3.75, read in April of 2013. Another I forgot to write a goodreads review for! better late than never, though.
I was fortunate enough to get an ARC of this novel, so to Trish at TLC Book Tours and to the publisher, a big thanks.
As an avid reader of international crime fiction, I have books from several countries around the world, but The Missing File is my first crime-fiction novel from Israel. It is also the first in a projected series (which I deduced from the final words "to be continued" at the end of the book) to feature detective Avraham (Avi) Avraham, who works out of a small, depressing office in Holon, close to Tel Aviv. As a police procedural it is not quite the same as most books in that category, although Avi shares the what's-becoming-ever-more-traditional detective/personal life angst of many other well known fictional crime solvers. Right away the reader is clued in that this story may actually be something different: a mom comes in to report her son missing and Avraham tells her to go home. The story continues with different twists and turns that also signal that this is not going to be your average police detective novel. No formulaic resolution for this author -- he is bringing something a little different to the crime-reading table in this book, and that's a good thing.
The case of missing 16 year-old Ofer causes Avraham a great deal of anxiety and causes him a major amount of second guessing himself throughout the story. Without going into any great detail about plot, the case takes some very strange turns. The Missing File, however, is less about the plot and more driven by character -- Avraham is supposed to be an ace detective but there are times that as a reader, you'll find yourself a) questioning decisions he makes to the point where it's difficult to understand why he's held in such high regard and b) wondering whether or not this case is ever going to be solved.
Avraham works in shabby surroundings, has to deal with a younger, more tech-savvy fellow detective in his squad who gets his boss's attention with his modern theories, and Avraham also comes home to an empty house every night, to watch Law and Order while picking off every mistake in the TV detectives' cases that would make them unprosecutable. He is constantly second guessing himself on the job and when he makes mistakes, he's virtually inconsolable; when he realizes he's brushed off a mother's concerns and the son still hasn't returned the next day, it causes him to dive into the case with a vengeance.
If you're looking for the average point A to point B solution, this is not the place where you'll find it. I appreciate anything beyond the ordinary, and Mishani has certainly given me that in this novel. Many readers have noted that the action in this book is slow, and that is definitely true. They've also noted that the action in The Missing File is not exactly what they're used to in a police procedural, and that is also the case, but from where I see it, that's a plus. My issue isn't with either one of these points; for me careful character development is key to any first novel in an ongoing series. Plot, pacing and solutions are important to me as well, but when I pick up what may be a series opener, I want to know if I like the main character enough to continue with a second installment. On finishing the book, Avraham still remains a mystery -- while we have a few clues as to what makes Avraham tick, I'm still not sure what lies beneath this very different detective. Then again, trying to discover that unknown factor just might be a very good reason to pick up the next book in the series. Definitely recommended, it should appeal to crime-fiction lovers....more
A Not So Perfect Crime is the first of three in a series of novels featuring twin brothers Eduard Martínez Estivill and Jose Martínez Estivi3.5 stars.
A Not So Perfect Crime is the first of three in a series of novels featuring twin brothers Eduard Martínez Estivill and Jose Martínez Estivill, the latter known as Borja Masdéu-Canals Sáez de Astorga to everyone but his brother, who knows him as Pep. Eduard hasn't even told his wife about the true identity of his brother, and the two of them constitute Frau Consultants, a private "detective" agency with false office doors and a secretary who's always away when their clients come to see them at the office. They cater to the social elite of Barcelona, people with problems and a lot of money that insures that their problems are handled discreetly. This series opener finds the two working for an MP who wants to know if the man who painted his wife's portrait is also having an affair with her. While the book brought occasional smiles to my face because of the many crazy situations in which the two find themselves, the entire crime and its solution could have been achieved in half the space, as there is much more emphasis on developing the characters, setting the social-class scene and keeping the gags going throughout the novel. This isn't necessarily a bad thing -- the characters are fun and well established by the end of the story; I can sense this series is going to be interesting as time goes by.
MP Lluis Font calls in the brothers to find out whether or not his wife his having an affair with the man who painted her portrait. While investigating the artist, they discover that there are a few things that Font hasn't told them -- namely, that he's having an affair of his own, one that literally crashes down onto them. But when la Seňora Font turns up dead, Eduard begins to realize that perhaps this case is more than he and Borja are prepared to handle.
A Not So Perfect Crime is a good mix of a mystery to be solved, well-developed main characters and a look at Barcelona society. As the story begins to wind down, there is a decent solution to the crime, one that fits with clues gathered throughout the book. There are plenty of suspects to keep things lively and interesting and when the action is focused on the brothers' investigation, the story moves at a good pace. The brothers are funny -- they're so different from each other that it keeps things interesting. Borja is being kept in luxury by his mistress while Eduard often wonders how he and his wife are going to pay the bills. Montse, Eduard's wife, is also a well-drawn character, putting up with Eduard when his problems usually stem from the antics of his brother. The scrapes that the two get themselves into (generally of Borja's making) are entertaining as is watching them escape their collective predicament. The focus on Barcelona's higher-class levels of society are also interesting...it is a world where money can buy pretty much anything, where gossip or idle talk can kill careers or make things uncomfortable, where moral scruples are difficult to find, and where only the best will do. This is, of course, contrasted to the world of the regular people -- where bills pile up and people have to make a living. The author does a very good job of putting the two side by side so that the reader gets a feel for how the rich and powerful spend their days and how they're often able to manipulate others behind the scenes.
My issue with this book is that there is a lot of stuff in here that could easily have been left out, making for a tighter, less wordy and even at times rambling story. I didn't care about Borja's adventures with Eduard's sister-in-law, for example; nor did it matter to me about Eduard's previous love affair in Paris. There's more of this kind of thing here, but lots of little things that are meant to go into character development sometimes divert attention away from the crime and its solution, making skimming seem like a good idea in some parts. I will hopefully expect that when I get to Ms. Solana's next book, Shortcut to Paradise, that less backstory will be necessary and that more focus is placed on the brothers' escapades while solving whatever crime in which they become embroiled.
Overall, A Not So Perfect Crime turned out to be an entertaining novel, and a fine first foray into what I hope will turn out to be a very good crime-fiction series. Definitely recommended!...more
I can honestly say that this book is one of the best crime novels I've ever read -- not just this year, but in a4.5 rounded up; longer review here.
I can honestly say that this book is one of the best crime novels I've ever read -- not just this year, but in a seriously long time. My collection of Bitter Lemon Press novels is also growing and kudos to these people for constantly bringing new and for the most part, outstandingly fine crime fiction to readers of this genre. I don't know how they manage to bring out winners each time, but keep up the good work.
In Warsaw, a very weary public prosecutor Teodor Szacki is finding life rather tiresome when on a Sunday home with his wife and little daughter he receives a call that he has to come in to work. Szacki, in his mid-30s, "an underpaid civil servant" whose wife is also a lawyer and similarly underpaid, is not in the best of moods to begin with, he's sent to what used to be a monastery, now a "red brick chimera, a cross between a church, a monastery and Gargamel's palace," where aside from the church in the building, there are also sublet spaces and rooms available for rent by various organizations. One such set of rooms has been rented by a psychotherapist for himself and four of his patients, where over the weekend, they are engaged in Family Constellation Therapy, founded originally by German psychologist and philosopher Bert Hellinger. They are there hoping to resolve some of their personal issues; one of the attendees, businessman Henryk Talek, endures a particularly grueling session and afterward ends up dead with a meat skewer in his eye. Very much overworked, Szacki is hating the idea of having to add this case to his current list; to him it's either a badly-botched burglary or a case of “one body, four suspects–all sober and well-to-do,” as the policeman working for Szacki puts it. Yet the more Szacki investigates, the more he comes up with things that just don't fit right and which create more questions than answers. Meanwhile, in the process of trying to fill in the holes, what he doesn't know is that there is someone taking stock of his every move.
The punch and pizazz he invests in his characters to make them believable also follow suit in the overall writing throughout the book; they keep the action moving, and there are places where you can't help but smirk at Miloszewski's insertion of wry humor. But there is nothing at all funny about this story, where the tension grows not only in terms of Szacki's personal life, but in the murder investigation as it moves toward an incredible ending, as it dawns on you that even in a free society, being free and unfettered may just be a mirage.
Super book, one I definitely and most highly recommend. I don't believe I've read anything like it before. If you want a crime read well above the norm, something utterly sophisticated, this is the one. ...more
a 3.75 rating, not quite a 4 but still an awesome mystery series opener. For a longer look at the entire series at a glance (well, the first 4 books aa 3.75 rating, not quite a 4 but still an awesome mystery series opener. For a longer look at the entire series at a glance (well, the first 4 books anyway) you can pop on over here.
Christine Falls is the Quirke series opener, and it begins one night after a hospital party when Quirke has had a little too much to drink. He comes down to his office to discover his brother-in-law, obstetrician Malachy (Mal) Griffin writing in the file belonging to a newly-arrived corpse named Christine Falls. But since his head is a little fuzzy, he's not really sure what he's seeing at the time. Later when he goes back to figure things out, he realizes that Mal has actually been altering the file -- Quirke's autopsy reveals that Christine died while giving birth whereas Mal's alterations show that a pulmonary embolism was to blame. Questioning Mal, he's told that he's better off leaving things alone, but Quirke, whose signature curiosity gets the better of him, tries to piece together Christine's story. Officially he keeps quiet because he's not sure how it all links back to Mal, but Quirke just can't help delving into Christine's life, which may not have been such a smart idea. He finds himself being followed; a woman who gives him a little insight into Christine Falls ends up dead, tied to a chair, yet he still doesn't get the message. As he states:
"In his world, the world he inhabited up in the light, people did not have their fingernails broken or the soft undersides of their arms scorched with cigarettes; the people whom he knew were not bludgeoned to death in their own kitchens."
Quirke isn't naive, but what he doesn't realize just yet is that he's come up against a very powerful group of men who will do what they have to in order to keep Christine's story from being uncovered. Quirke's search for the truth reveals a host of problems, from poverty to the interlocking of power held by the Catholic church and the wealthier members of the highest ranks of Dublin society, who are not-so-coincidentally respected and powerful members of the Church. These are men whose long arms reach into every facet of the city's power structure, including the press, and will not have that perfect apple cart of a status quo upset by anyone.
While not my favorite book in the series, the novel introduces its readers to Quirke, and to Dublin in the 1950s, and for the most part, I liked it. The first half or so of the novel is just about perfect in terms of setting the tone and atmosphere as well as cluing the reader about the power scene, but once the narrative moves to Boston it turns more to the side of personal melodrama that doesn't play so well and really sort of derails things before they come back around to what's going on in Dublin. However, Christine Falls lays the groundwork for changes in Quirke's personal life; what happens in this book will become the basis for the rest of the series, so I definitely recommend it and reading it first before any of Black's other novels. While the author does recap the basics in the other four novels, reading them is not the same without building from this one. ...more
Here's what I thought: not so hot -- like a 2.4 rating.
In this novel, the focus is on the hunt for a serial killer, someone who not only murders his vHere's what I thought: not so hot -- like a 2.4 rating.
In this novel, the focus is on the hunt for a serial killer, someone who not only murders his victims but also savagely mutilates them as well. Ferrara already has a number of crimes on his hands, but this one becomes personal as he begins to receive strange, anonymous letters that seem to imply that Ferrara is on the killer's list as well. The murderer also indicates that Ferrara will have to wait his turn until the end of the killing spree. Trying to find a connection between the victims eludes police, and a key witness who may hold all of the answers seems to have gone missing. As the investigation proceeds slowly and the public is clamoring for the police to solve these gruesome cases, a second storyline develops, in which a young grad student meets an American journalist who threatens to upset her relationship with her lover.
The best part of this mystery comes barreling at the reader toward the end when the link is finally revealed and things start to make sense, and the underlying motive turns out to be completely credible. However, in all honesty, I can't say that this book really did it for me as a whole. The story is just flat, number one, never really building up to much suspense as I waited for something to sink my teeth into that would carry me through to the end. The anti-gay focus bothered me, but not nearly as much as the unrealistic dialogue that occurs throughout the story. Take the rape scene in the middle of the novel, for example. The young grad student, Valentina, is in bed with her journalist boyfriend who forcibly sodomizes her after she screams for him to stop (and the author doesn't flinch in describing the pain she undergoes). While I've read multiple books where someone is victimized like this, here, after it's all over:
"When he came back from the bathroom, he was as white as a corpse.
He did not dare lie down next to her. He sat down on the bed, shamefaced.
Valentina was stilll crying. She didn't dare move, she was afraid it would hurt if she did.
'I ... I don't know what came over me. I swear to you. It was like...I don't know! I'm a monster, Valentina, a monster! How could I?'
She turned slowly towards him. Without saying a word, she gestured to him to lie down.
She placed a hand on his chest. 'It's possible,' she murmured, 'that I still love you.' "
A few sentences later, the author even has her thinking that she's proud of "having given him an erection." I mean, seriously? Really?
The mystery, rather than being "gripping" and "cleverly plotted" as noted in the back-cover blurb, was actually a bit clunky. Not too far into the book, it becomes obvious as to the "who," and the investigation meandered and became jumbled until the last few pages provided some order and cohesion. As a seasoned mystery/crime-fiction reader, waiting until the end for things to happen without periodic hooks in interest just doesn't do it for me. The sense of place is okay, perhaps not as well developed as I'd hoped, the characters are sort of one-dimensional, and the sex scenes seem to be there to ensure a wider range of readership rather than adding anything to the storyline. On a more personal level, I give the author kudos for his mention of The Necronomicon at the beginning of the novel, due to my extreme affection for all things HP Lovecraft.
I'd say give it a try but beware. It does have its fans -- the novel has garnered some 4-star ratings at Amazon, Goodreads and LibraryThing, so there are people who do think highly of this book. Since Giuttari's Black Rose of Florence is on my tbr list for this year's International Dagger, and since I have this compulsion to read an entire series to get to the newest book, I will be reading the rest of the Ferrara novels; my understanding is that the second installment is a bit better. Hopefully the problems I discovered in A Florentine Death will be chalked up to first novel issues; I have more of Giuttari's books sitting here waiting to be read. ...more
(note: this a brief review; you can find my longer one here.
I'd put this book up against any good Scandinavian crime fiction novel -- it's got a cred(note: this a brief review; you can find my longer one here.
I'd put this book up against any good Scandinavian crime fiction novel -- it's got a credible plot with a good mystery wrapped around it, believable characters, and as always, concerns about contemporary issues are embedded within the story. It falls within the category of police procedural, and although I might disagree somewhat with the blurb on my cover calling the book "Sweden's Prime Suspect,” there is very little fault for readers to find in this novel.
Detective Inspector Irene Huss works in the Violent Crimes division of the Göteborg Police. Irene is a martial arts expert, a 10-cup a day coffee drinker and seasoned police officer, who lately finds herself trying hard not to become "jaded or cynical." Her current home worries center on her daughter, who has a new boyfriend who convinces her to play in a skinhead band and to shave off her hair. But her home situation has to fade into the background for a bit while she investigates a new case: a very prominent financier has plummeted to his death off the balcony of his building. At first glance, it seems likely that it’s a suicide, but the medical examiner finds evidence that points to murder. While starting their investigation into the death of Richard von Knecht, the 8-person investigative team soon finds itself in the middle of another crime: someone has bombed the building where von Knecht had his office, and a dead and unrecognizable body has been found there. With a multitude of suspects from which to choose, and possible links into the shady and violent world of the drug trade, the case seems to grow bigger as time goes on. As the detectives seem to get closer to a solution, not only is their case thrown into a frenzy, but a series of clues lead some of them into a potentially deadly situation.
The only major drawback I found in this book was that it wasn't long until I figured out the who in one of the crimes; from the clues it's really not that difficult to figure it out. The other I never had pegged, and trying to get to the solution made it impossible to put the book down. Considering that this book is the introduction to a series, it's very well done, ultimately very satisfying and intelligently written. Tursten hits the ground running. I would recommend this book very highly, not just for readers of Scandinavian crime fiction, but for crime fiction readers in general, as well as those who like credible and strong women characters in the lead role.
Involuntary Witness is the first novel in Carofiglio's series featuring attorney Guido Guerrieri. Currently there are four books -- this one, A Walk iInvoluntary Witness is the first novel in Carofiglio's series featuring attorney Guido Guerrieri. Currently there are four books -- this one, A Walk in the Dark, Reasonable Doubts, and Temporary Perfections. Having never read any of these before and just on the heels of the most current Camilleri novel (and the tv series as well), I'm content right now to continue my sojourn in Italy and to try authors who are new to me from this country. This may be one of the first books of crime fiction I've read where there is definitely crime, it's definitely fiction, but there's no case per se to solve. Instead, what happens in this book is something totally different than most books written in this genre. Rather than focusing on any sort of police procedure or getting into the head of any criminal or cop, Involuntary Witness is the story of Guido Guerrieri, an attorney located in Italy; it's a peek inside the complicated judicial system, and it also offers a look at attitudes toward immigrants to that country. Put all of that together, and throw in some excellent prose, and a stunning novel emerges.
Guerrieri lives and works in Bari, a coastal city just above the country's boot heel, pretty much due east from Naples. After ten years, Guido and his wife have separated and while some people in this situation tend to throw themselves into their work and try to move on, he's having a very difficult time. His depression and anxiety are taking their toll and he's moving through his days as though someone has flipped his personal autopilot switch. He cannot even pretend to be interested in the issues his clients bring to his office, and wonders if it's going to be like this from now on. But in the midst of all of this gloom, he gets a visit from a woman who has her own problems. Her name is Abajeje, and she wants to hire Guerrieri to take on the case of a Senegalese who sells fake purses, etc. along the beach. Abdou is potentially facing life in prison for the murder of a young boy, a murder he says he absolutely did not commit. Abajeje believes in his innocence and needs Guido to stand up for him in court; he is her last hope after earlier lawyers basically sat by and did nothing, taking money raised for Abdou's defense in the meantime. The case as it stands seems hopeless, but Guerrieri agrees to take it on. He has no witnesses, but is determined to find justice for his client somehow. How is he going to pull this off?
For most of the novel, Involuntary Witness is actually more of a character study, introducing readers to Guerrieri, following him through his time of crisis, and watching him emerge out of darkness into a different person, making the quotation by Laozi (or as most people know this ancient Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu -- 老子) at the beginning of the novel highly appropriate: "What the caterpillar thinks is the end of the world, the rest of the world calls a butterfly." But what also comes out of this book is a stunning courtroom performance where Guerrieri has little or nothing in the way of evidence to prove his client's innocence other than his commitment in the truth. Carofiglio also examines racist attitudes and anti-immigrant sentiment in a very open and honest manner.
Had someone told me that there is very little in the way of crime solving in this novel and that it rested mainly on the character of a depressed attorney who has trouble making it through the day without bursting into tears, I may have given it a pass in favor of much more meaty crime fiction. But once I launched into the story, I had to keep going and couldn't put the book down until the last page. No, there's not the usual crime-fiction fare here; no, there's not much action going on; and no, there's not much focus on investigative technique. On the other hand, the insights into the judicial and legal systems, the attention to racism and the amazing courtroom scenes should more than make up for what's NOT here enough to keep any reader satisfied. If those reasons aren't enough, Carofiglio is an amazing writer who manages to set you on the path of Guerrieri's journey, keep you there, and blow you away by the end of the book. And considering that this is only the first novel, I'm sure the rest of the books have the potential to be even better.
If you only want the standard crime-fiction fare and put action ahead of character, this may not be the right book for you. I've seen this book classified as a legal thriller, but that's not exactly right either. On the flip side, if you're looking for solid writing, a character who is credible largely because he is so human, and if you want some sterling moments of drama, you should consider giving this book a try. Sometimes less is more, which is definitely the case here. Highly recommended....more
A new Nordic author has come my way -- Norwegian writer Thomas Enger, who also has a new series to watch out for. EvenA solid 3.5 of a series opener.
A new Nordic author has come my way -- Norwegian writer Thomas Enger, who also has a new series to watch out for. Even if I didn't know that there are already more in the works, the end of Burned literally paves the way for a sequel. Hopefully the new entries will be translated and made available to readers as soon as possible, because if this first foray is any indication, the series is going to be a good one.
A young woman is found half buried and stoned to death in a tent with one of her hands cut off. It is not long until the police suspect that the details of her death relate to an "honor killing," a draconian form of punishment under Sharia law, implying a connection to Islam. It just so happens that her boyfriend is a Muslim, and it doesn't help that the a) young woman has left two messages for him about another man meaning nothing, asking for forgiveness and b) he is found trying to destroy his computer when the police come to question him. The boyfriend is quickly arrested. The murder coincides with the return of Henning Juul, an investigative journalist for the online news site, 1-2-3 News, "as easy as 1-2-3!" Juul has been away for two years as a result of a tragedy that left him physically scarred on the outside and emotionally scarred within. He's not too excited about returning to work after what's happened, but his feelings begin to change as he becomes involved in covering the case. Sent to cover the press conference on his first day back, Juul hears what the police have to say, and isn't quite sure they've got it right. After he goes to visit the university where the young girl was a student, he is even more convinced that there's much more to this story than meets the eye. Helped by an informant from the police whose identity he does not know, as they converse only via instant messaging, Juul sets out to discover the truth, and as he does so, he puts his own life in danger.
There are several reasons to like this novel. First, there's Juul himself, who makes his way back into the world of journalism only to find that it's become more dependent on titillation, sensationalism and celebrities rather than on old-fashioned reporting, and that now it's the sex and gossip columnist that is the "paper's most important news desk", and that the number of website hits is what really determines success. It's interesting to watch Juul slowly changing as the thrill of chasing after the truth starts to help him back to his feet emotionally, but he also carries around a lot of baggage. There's his mother, lost in an alcohol and cigarette haze; his estranged sister, who just happens to be a minister of justice, and his ex-wife, who is now involved with one of Juul's colleagues; all of this on top of dealing with past tragedy, or "That Which He Doesn't Think About," which is unfolded as the novel progresses. The plotting is tight and very well paced, and there's a good, solid mystery at the core. But there's something else as well -- although the plot involves elements of Islam, it never devolves into anything stereotypical or demeaning.
On the other side of the fence, I got really tired of the character of Inspector Bjarne Brogeland, a schoolmate of Juul's, and a "Romeo whose ambition was to sleep with as many girls as posssible." He might be a decent cop, but the continuing sleazebaggy, interior monologues about another female officer that run throughout the story got really old after a while. The first of these was just an eyebrow raiser, as in "this guy's such a jerk", but became tedious very quickly. I can only hope that in the next novel the author either develops this bit or shelves it all together. It's pointless, really, adding nothing to the story but contempt for a cop. While a great many of the characters are flawed, as credible characters most often are, Brogeland was just a bit too much to take. And as another issue, I sort of figured out the who before anyone else in the story did -- to me it was a bit obvious.
Overall, Burned is intelligent, believable (down to Juul's obsessions with matches and batteries), and at times humorous, while remaining somewhat understated in tone. These same traits also mirror those of the main character. I like the fact that Henning Juul is not just another detective or another cop, but a journalist, who is much better than the police at putting people at ease while he's getting valuable information out of them. I'd definitely recommend this one to readers of Scandinavian crime fiction....more
Keeper of Lost Causes is another entry, this time from Denmark, in the realm of Scandinavian crime fiction, and it's the characters that make this booKeeper of Lost Causes is another entry, this time from Denmark, in the realm of Scandinavian crime fiction, and it's the characters that make this book work and work well. The mystery is good, and will keep you turning pages, but unlike some other novels from this region, there are actually parts that will make you laugh or at least chuckle. It's a very good novel, one I definitely recommend.
As is the case in many novels from Scandinavia, politics once again interferes with how the police do their jobs, and as Keeper of Lost Causes opens, the homicide division chief of the Copenhagen Police has been told that he's going to have to "provide a flying squad for hopeless cases" -- to look into cold cases that have long since been shelved. And as it so happens, the homicide chief is all for it. There's a budget attached (which the chief plans to appropriate), and he has just the perfect person in mind to take it on: Detective Carl Mørck. Mørck has recently returned to active duty after an ambush at a crime scene, where one cop was killed, one was left paralyzed and unable to walk, and Mørck himself was injured. Now Mørck is back to work, but he comes in late, is constantly in a bad mood, and continues to blame himself for what happened. Mørck's moods and his emotional baggage do not make for good work relations, so moving Mørck to the newly-formed "Department Q" solves a lot of problems. Mørck takes on the job, and promptly moves to the basement, the home of Department Q, and proceeds not to care and to read and play a lot of Sudoku. When he figures out that Department Q actually has a budget, he asks for and is given an assistant, Assad. Although his new helper is there to mainly make coffee and clean up the place, after getting rather bored with doing a whole lot of nothing, Mørck decides to take a look through some of the cold-case files, and Assad is more than happy to help. When they come across the five-year old case of the missing Merete Lynggaard, head of the parliamentary Health Committee, Mørck finds himself against his will slowly becoming interested. Lynggaard has disappeared from a crowded ferry and with no clues coming to light, the original investigation ended. But Mørck starts the case again with fresh eyes -- maybe just in time, as it turns out. The story switches from 2002, with the story of Merete Lynggaard to 2007 and the story of Mørck and the investigation into her disappearance, and the chapters go back and forth in time.
While the story itself is quite good, very well told and contains a core mystery that will keep you flipping pages, what makes this book stand out are the characters, especially Mørck and Assad, and Adler-Olsen's attention to detail. Mørck's personal life is really kind of out there, with Vigga, a rather flighty ex-wife to be whose latest desire is to have an art gallery (for which Morck will foot the bill), a stepson who lives with him rather than with his mother, and an overweight tenant named Morten who hasn't quite figured out what he wants to be when he grows up, and when not working at his video store, is Carl's housekeeper as well, the "best housewife" Carl ever had. As a cop, Mørck's burnout is obvious, as is his sense of guilt and the fact that he's an outcast in his department. But underneath it all, he's a top-notch detective and it is easy to tell that he's really eager to get back into the game despite what he says and how he acts. Assad, on the other hand, is quite the enigma, and it's very obvious that there's more to him than what's on the surface. From little hints that are dropped throughout the story, he comes from Syria, has a cryptic past and the author never fully answers the question of who he really is -- my guess was either a criminal or a member of a secret police group or something along those lines. I expect that as the series progresses, more of these little hints will be given until a more complete picture is available. Anyway, the dynamic between Mørck and Assad develops over the course of the novel, moving from Assad as a kind of errand boy/office cleaner to Assad as a partner in Carl's investigation. Assad's little surprises and Carl's reaction to them make for some funny reading moments -- including Assad's charming attitude to one of the women working in the department whom Carl lovingly calls "the she-wolf." Even though Mørck may roll his eyes at the paper shades over the basement lights or the smell of middle-eastern food permeating the office, eventually both of these men find a mutual respect for each other and make a connection as the exiles that they truly are.
This dynamic between the two main characters,as well as the author's amazing characterizations of the other people who surround Carl Mørck on a daily basis definitely make for something new and intriguing to look forward to in the next book, which I hope is translated soon. All of the hallmarks of Scandinavian crime fiction are also found in this book -- politics, social issues, etc., but when you get right down to it, the fact that there's room here and there to laugh in and among all the seriousness rounds out the story a bit more than what you'd normally find in books from this region. I'll definitely recommend Keeper of Lost Causes not just to readers of Scandinavian crime fiction, but to crime fiction readers in general. It is amazingly good....more
Lumen is an interesting book. It is a novel of crime fiction, but the actual crimes and their solutions tend to take a back seat to the main characterLumen is an interesting book. It is a novel of crime fiction, but the actual crimes and their solutions tend to take a back seat to the main character, Captain Martin Bora of the Wehrmacht Intelligence division. Bora is recently arrived in Cracow, just after the German army has invaded Poland, and finds himself involved in an unusual case involving the Abbess Kazimierza, a nun who supposedly has prophetic powers and who at times bears the stigmata. He had seen her before her death when he would accompany his superior officer Colonel Hofer, who went to see the Abbess on personal matters, so when she is killed, Bora is assigned to look into the case. He is assisted in his work by Father John Malecki, an American priest who has been assigned by the Vatican to investigate claims of her mystical abilities, and then later to examine the circumstances of her death. Bora is young, still in his 20s, newly married, and has left his wife behind in Germany. But his investigative prowess does not actually take center stage in this novel -- although he's quite good at what he does -- it is his gradual awareness of growing doubts about a cause that supports mass killing, cover ups, racial superiority and the deaths of innocent people which make Bora stand out as a character. He's a scrupulous person whose sense of duty doesn't necessarily extend over the full range of Nazi ideology and practices, and his own moral compass makes him a target for potential enemies in the SD (the Sicherheitsdienst -- Security Service), who were responsible for overseeing and carrying out many of the atrocities perpetrated against the Polish people. And there's no room in the Wehrmacht for a "young captain with scruples," according to his commanding officer Colonel Schenck:
"If you start feeling sorry so early on, Bora, you're screwed. What should you care? We have our orders and the SD have theirs. It was only an accident that you didn't have similar orders. And these Polack farmers -- they aren't even people, they're not even worth reproducing. I can see you're perturbed, but believe me, don't start caring...We're all in it. If it's guilt, we're all guilty. This is the way that it is."
Scenes change quickly in this novel, and the action is offered up from different perspectives throughout the story. The investigation into the death of the Abbess lasts from beginning to end, while other mysteries crop up in the meantime adding to the crime elements of the novel. At the same time, it's a solid piece of historical fiction, examining the psyche of a man who finds himself in a situation where normal laws don't apply and the world seems to have gone crazy. There are, believe it or not, bits and pieces of humor in spots, but overall, given the circumstances, there's little to smile about during this time. Pastor's novel is no lightweight thriller; she's written a much edgier story of a dark time in history.
Definitely recommended. Lumen is supposed to be the first in a series of books about Martin Bora, so I'll look forward to the second. ...more
While his crew of co-workers are trying to figure him out, the new commissaire Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg settles into his job in the Paris police forceWhile his crew of co-workers are trying to figure him out, the new commissaire Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg settles into his job in the Paris police force in the 5th arrondissement. Adamsberg started his police career in the "stony foothills of the Pyrenees," where another inspector told him that he wasn't "cut out" to be a policeman. But that was before he went on to solve several murders in the area, was promoted to inspector and then commissaire. When the job in Paris was offered to him, he grabbed it. Showing up to work with clothes in disarray, doodling all day, working largely on gut reaction and intuition, and moving very slowly, he didn't fit into what Adrien Danglard, one of his inspectors, considered to be the regular policeman mold.
This entire novel, like Adamsberg himself, is rather quirky, but the commissaire is just the tip of the iceberg. There is an assortment of offbeat and unusual characters that populate this book (more later), as well as a rather peculiar set of crimes that occur, all beginning with someone who draws blue chalk circles throughout the city, leaving different articles in each one: one day it's paper clips, another day it's a lamb-chop bone, and yet another a swimming cap, etc. And around each circle is written the same phrase: "Victor, woe's in store, what are you out here for?" The chalk circle phenomenon has become so widespread that the newspapers have a field day:
People will soon be jostling for the honour of finding a circle outside their door on the way to work in the morning. Whether the circles are the work of a cynical con artist or a genuine madman, if it's fame he's after the creator of the circles has certainly got what he wanted. Galling, isn't it, for people who've spent a lifetime trying to become famous? ... If he's ever tracked down, they'll have him on a TV chat show in no time (I can see it now: 'The cultural sensation of the fin-de-millenium'. (23)
But Adamsberg senses that there's more, and orders Danglard to have a police photographer out in the street to photograph the circle that he feels will come that night. And Adamsberg's intuition serves him well, as the harmless chalk circles escalate into murder.
Besides Adamsberg, who while doing his job is always thinking about his lost petite cherie Camille, a woman with a pet marmoset named Richard III, the author has created some other rather off-the-wall characters. Mathilde Forestier is a famous oceanographer whose hobby is following people around the city. Living with Mathilde is Clémence Valmont, her seventy-something year-old assistant, whose teeth remind Mathilde of those of crocidura russula, and to whom she often refers as "shrew mouse." Clémence spends her evenings combing the personals, looking for romance, and going out on pointless dates. There's also Charles Reyer, blinded when he was dissecting a lioness to study its locomotive system, and was squirted in the eye with rotten flesh. (Seriously -- I couldn't make up this stuff if I tried.) And finally, there's Adamsberg's colleague, Danglard, whose wife left him with two sets of twins and a child from a love affair. He's a good cop, but he also has a sense of compassion that doesn't stop, to the point where he worries about the sun dying in five billion years. Danglard, who has a bit too much to drink now and then, often holds "case conferences" with his kids, where he discusses police work and allows them their own voices in "theorizing" about the crimes. Vargas allows her characters to develop their own approaches to Adamsberg's character, but in the end, it's Reyer, the blind man, who says it best:
He just gets on with his life, letting it all swill about, big ideas and little details, impressions and realities, thoughts and words. He combines the belief of a child with the philosophy of an old man. But he's real and he's dangerous. (103).
When I read crime fiction or mystery novels, I'm not so much interested in the "who" but rather the "why," as my primary interest is in that well-worn cliché about the evil that lurks in men's souls. I look for motivations and underpinnings in the criminal's psyche and search for any hint of his or her existential crises in determining the why. I'm a puzzle solver and this type of fiction (if written well) appeals to that part of me. And then I decide whether or not an author has fulfilled my expectations in those categories. I must say that Vargas sends all of that flying right out of the window -- she has written a very unusual novel in which those things really don't matter. She lulls you into thinking along the lines of "it's this person, no, it's that person, but wait, that's also possible," and then she comes up with an ending that hits you like the proverbial ton of bricks. And I liked it. It was well written, the characters are so eccentric that they appealed to my sensitivity to the quirky side of life, and it may be a bit odd for most readers of general crime fiction who may become a bit frustrated with all of the philosophical outpourings from time to time. But it's good. There is just nothing orthodox about this book, and I think that's part of it its appeal. Most highly recommended. ...more
Just past the midway point of this novel, the mother of the victim, local "big-shot" Silvio Lupanello, implores Inspector Salvo Montalbano to uncoverJust past the midway point of this novel, the mother of the victim, local "big-shot" Silvio Lupanello, implores Inspector Salvo Montalbano to uncover what really happened to her son. Lupanello was found dead, pants down around his ankles, in a car in a local area of Vigàta (Sicily) used by prostitutes and drug dealers. Although the coroner has judged that Silvio died of natural causes, his mother knows that something more sinister lies at the bottom of Silvio's death, even if he truly died of a heart attack. She tells him a story about when she was a little girl, and her friend once put water into things like bowls, teapots, cups, and a square milk carton, trying to establish its shape. When asked "what shape is water," she replied
Water doesn't have any shape!...It takes the shape you give it.
She asks Montalbano to discover what really was behind Silvio's death -- the alternative, as she noted was to "stop at the shape they've given the water." Because of where her son had been found and because he'd been caught with his pants down, so to speak, Lupanello and his family name had been disgraced and his cronies were assured of never being part of local politics again. But the inspector had already guessed there was more to the story, and despite pressures from higher-ups, he had prolonged the investigation, refusing to close the case.
Montalbano is an interesting character. He declares himself to be an honest man, but also understands that there's a certain way things work politically in Sicily and he rolls with it. He's funny and cynical, able to mix compassion for others with his duty as a cop. He's involved in a relationship that takes place mostly over the phone, yet doesn't stray with local women. He has a love of good food, which is described throughout the novel. He also has an incredible sardonic wit and is not afraid to speak his mind. As a character, he definitely stands out in the world of fictional detectives, and he, rather than the crime he is working on, is the focal point of this novel.
Camilleri evokes a strong sense of place here, there are rarely any distractions which get in the way of either the main plot or the characters, and there's a sarcastic sense of humor that floats in the background of this book. He makes his people real and believable, which guarantees that I'll be back for the next book in the series. Very highly recommended....more
Oh dear god. This may be one of the most graphic crime novels I've ever read, and one of the most unsettling books as well. I read a lot, and this oneOh dear god. This may be one of the most graphic crime novels I've ever read, and one of the most unsettling books as well. I read a lot, and this one really got me. I'm STILL thinking about it.
From the outset the reader is sucked directly into the mind of a psychopathic sex offender, Bernt Lund, a very sick pedophile who preys on young girls. And it's not pretty, not at all. After he kidnaps and kills two girls he is caught & put into a sex offender unit in prison after being diagnosed with a "minor mental disorder", but manages to escape, even though chained, while in transit to the hospital. Ewert Grens and his partner are assigned to the case, and Grens knows, after having spent a lot of time studying Lund, that he's likely to do it again and soon. But even after elaborate preparations and police watches on nursery schools, the police don't make it in time to prevent another kidnapping. The father of this particular victim has a breakdown and decides that he doesn't want it to happen again -- and proceeds to take the law in his own hands, with some horrible consequences. There is also a simultaneous storyline taking place in the prison from which Lund escaped, and both stories eventually weave together in a most gut-wrenching way.
This is the first book in a series by Roslund and Hellstrom, just prior to Box 21. Once you begin reading it, you'll discover that this book is not so much a mystery or crime novel, but that it is actually about the nature and meaning of justice. Although it is very gritty and incredibly tough to read due to its subject matter, this is a book that will make you pause and think. It is not your average police procedural -- the authors have a definite message here. Although set in Sweden, trust me -- this could most definitely happen here. I would definitely recommend it to readers of Scandinavian crime fiction. Not for people with a weak stomach, definitely! ...more
Garnethill is a good example of a first novel in series that works and works well.
The main character in this story is a young woman, Maureen O'DonnelGarnethill is a good example of a first novel in series that works and works well.
The main character in this story is a young woman, Maureen O'Donnell. Set in Glasgow, Scotland, the back story finds Maureen in a mental hospital for a nervous breakdown (for reasons explained but which I will not go into here), and as this story opens, she's home again, with a job and in an affair with a married therapist named Douglas. Maureen didn't know he was married until just recently, and has decided to break it off. Off with a friend she goes for a few drinks, comes home blotto and passes out in her bed. The next morning, however, she wakes up, and finds Douglas dead, sitting tied to a chair with his throat slit from one end to the other. After a panic attack, Maureen calls the police, but it becomes painfully obvious to her that they think she's the killer. So in order to clear her name, she needs to find out why Douglas was murdered, why it happened in her apartment, and becomes embroiled in a situation where her very life is at stake. And, as if all of this isn't enough, she's got an extremely dysfunctional family to deal with, some of whom think she's probably guilty.
Normally, I'm not a reader of stories involving dysfunctional families, but this one really works. Although the subject matter is serious, the author's characterizations are nearly perfect, and at times I found myself actually laughing out loud. It's a very well-balanced book, a very good mystery, and I loved Maureen O'Donnell. I've already bought Exile, the second book because this one was so good. It's not really a hard-boiled crime novel, nor is it a police procedural, and it's not a cozy by any stretch of the imagination. However, it is well worth the reading time, and I can highly recommend it.