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Posts Tagged ‘Christopher Fowler’

When the skeleton of a private detective missing for a decade turns up in an abandoned car, it isn’t long before semi-retired Edinburgh police detective John Rebus is drawn into the investigation with ties to his past. The twisty cold case allows Ian Rankin to assemble the old gang of coppers and crooks — Siobhan Clarke, Malcolm Fox, Big Ger Cafferty — and makes In a House of Lies (Little Brown, digital galley) a must for readers of the long-running series. An old pair of police-issue handcuffs on the corpse hints at possible corruption and cover-up on the part of Rebus’ former team, or maybe the cuffs are just a leftover prop from the low-budget zombie flick in which the missing man was an extra. Then again, they could be a red herring in a case that involves land deals, drug deals and a plea deal that landed a possibly innocent man in prison. For sure there’s something fishy about the “Chuggabugs,” a pair of shady cops now working in the ACU –Anti-Corruption Unit — and gunning for the good guys. In Val McDermid’s Broken Ground (Grove Atlantic, digital galley), the search for buried treasure in a peat bog leads to a perfectly preserved body and thus a case for Karen Pirie of Police Scotland’s HCU — Historic Crimes Unit. McDermid deftly splices scenes from World War II into the layered narrative as Pirie digs into the past, bucking her present control-freak boss, irritating the treasure hunters and getting to know a kilted Highlander named Hamish.

 

The past is always present in James Lee Burke’s Dave Robicheaux novels, and no one is better than Burke at evoking the haunted landscape of southern Louisiana. The New Iberia Blues (Simon and Schuster, digital galley), the 22nd in the series, finds Dave, adopted daughter Alafair and old buddy Clete Purcell all in the orbit of Desmond Cormier, a local boy made good as a Hollywood film director. Dave suspects Cormier and his smarmy friend Antoine Butterworth know more than they’re saying about the murder of pastor’s daughter Lucinda Arceneaux, whose crucified corpse is found in the river near Cormier’s estate. But then other bodies show up posed like Tarot card symbols, and the number of suspects escalates as well. Escaped Texas convict Hugo Tillinger is certifiably crazy, as is Chester “Smiley” Wimple, returning from last year’s Robicheaux, and it looks as if the mob is providing the money for Cormier’s latest project. Both the director and widower Dave are attracted to new young deputy Bailey Ribbons, who seems to have wandered in from another book. Still, as digressive as the narrative seems, Burke unknots the tangled strands with practiced ease.

Christopher Fowler’s entertaining tales of London’s legendary Peculiar Crimes Unit don’t appear in chronological order, and so Bryant & May: Hall of Mirrors (Ballantine, digital galley) features our heroes — prehistoric in the 21st century — still in their prime in 1969. John May, of course, looks debonair in Carnaby Street fashions as he and the sartorially challenged Arthur Bryant go undercover to protect prosecution witness Monty Hatton-Jones. An obnoxious snob, Monty resents the coppers escorting him to a country-house weekend at Tavistock Hall, and ignores their efforts to keep him from getting killed. The atmosphere is more Agatha Christie/P.G. Wodehouse than hippy-dippy, but the assorted cast is suitably eccentric to qualify for Peculiar Crimes’ attention, and the ancient butler goes above and beyond in service to his employer. All in all, it’s quite a lark.

Intrepid 1950s English girl sleuth and chemist Flavia de Lucia returns in Alan Bradley’s The Golden Tresses of the Dead (Ballantine, digital galley), suitably devastated that older sister Ophelia is getting married and suitably delighted when a severed finger shows up in the wedding cake. She immediately whisks it away for testing, and she and sleuthing partner Dogger, her late father’s valet, conclude it’s the embalmed digit of a recently deceased woman reknowned for her skill on the guitar. How this ties in with the homeopathic remedies of Dr. Augustus Brocken (confined by his infirmities to Gollingford Abbey), his daughter’s search for stolen letters, and two missionary ladies recently arrived from Africa makes for one of Flavia’s most interesting and macabre investigations. A train trip to visit a Victorian cemetery and the surprising help of Flavia’s snarky cousin Undine are among the highlights, although Flavia might choose the dissection of a poisoned rat.

 

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sleepwalkerWho knew sleep sex was a thing? Actually, it’s part of the sleep disorder that afflicts wife and mother Annalee Ahlberg in Chris Bohjalian’s The Sleepwalker (Knopf Doubleday, digital galley), which will keep you up all night flipping pages. When Annalee vanishes into the Vermont night while husband Warren is away on a business trip, her elder daughter Lianna fears Annalee’s parasomnia has again led her to the nearby river. But it’s not just the river hiding the secrets to Annalee’s disappearance, as Lianna discovers when she begins questioning her father, her teenage sister Paige, her mom’s closest friends, her therapist, and one detective who knows all too much about Annalee’s history. Bohjalians’ plotting is so clever that I didn’t see the ending coming.

hockadayInspired by true events, Susan Rivers’ first novel, The Second Mrs. Hockaday (Algonquin, digital galley), is a fascinating collage of Civil War history and mystery told through letters and diary entries. Placidia — Dia — is 17 when she marries Confederate major Gryffth Hockaday after a brief acquaintance. Two days later, he is recalled to battle and Dia is left to run his South Carolina farm and care for his young son from his first marriage. Two years later, Gryffth returns to the scandalous news that his wife has given birth and the child has died. Accused of adultery and murder, Dia refuses to explain her actions, which are gradually revealed, along with long-held family secrets. Rivers doesn’t skirt the everyday brutality against women and slaves, nor does she sensationalize it. Dia, Gryffth, the slave Achilles, little Charles — all come across as complex, credible characters.

thedryThe small Australian town of Kiewarra bakes in the sun, parched by a long drought, its family farms teetering on bankruptcy. It’s enough to drive a man crazy, which is why the townspeople think the shocking shotgun deaths of Luke Hadler, his school aide wife Karen and their 10-year-old son Billy are a murder-suicide. But in Jane Harper’s evocative novel of crimes past and present, The Dry (Flatiron Books, digital galley), Luke’s father asks federal agent Aaron Falk to investigate when he returns to his hometown for the funeral of his best childhood mate. Aaron’s reluctant, but he owes Luke and his family. Back in high school, they alibied one another in the suspicious drowning death of classmate Ellie Deacon. Harper uses flashbacks to illuminate the town’s secrets, and her shifting narrative takes on an urgency as hostilities reach fever pitch. Most of the revelations don’t come as a surprise, but the detailed atmosphere keeps things interesting.

strangetideIn addition to reading the three stand-alones above, I checked out new entries in several series over the holidays. Boston investigator and junk food lover Fina Ludlow returns for the fourth time in Duplicity (Putnam Penguin, digital galley), looking into an evangelical church’s cult-like hold on its members and again contending with her black sheep older brother. You’ll appreciate the story more if you’ve read the previous books, especially 2015’s Brutality. Val McDermid’s stellar Out of Bounds (Grove Atlantic, digital galley) marks the third book featuring Scottish cold case detective Karen Pirie, and pivots on the surprising results of a DNA test on an accident victim. And speaking of Scotland, Ian Rankin’s Rather Be the Devil (Little, Brown, digital galley) finds veteran Edinburgh copper John Rebus drawn out of semi-retirement to work a 1978 cold case that also involves his nemesis/frenemy, Big Ger Cafferty. The 21st book in the award-winning series will be published the end of the month. And it’s lucky 13 for the Peculiar Crimes Unit in Christopher Fowler’s Bryant and May: Strange Tide (Ballantine/Random House, digital galley), even if it looks as if ancient Arthur Fowler is losing his mind trying to solve the mysterious drowning of a young woman in the Thames. A fiendishly fun puzzle.

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bleedingheartArthur Bryant and John May of London’s Peculiar Crimes Unit are Golden Age detectives untarnished by the modern era. Irascible Bryant, who looks like an ancient tortoise, is especially disdainful of modern technology; voodoo makes more sense to him than cell phones. Wily John May is somewhat younger and less fusty but knows his partner’s instincts and esoteric knowledge are invaluable. Still, the elderly duo are under pressure again from the higher-ups to prove their relevance or risk defunding. But, seriously, who else are you going to call when a star-gazing teen in a cemetery swears a corpse has arisen from its grave and started a conversation? Or when seven ravens vanish from the Tower of London, and mythology has it that their departure signals Britain’s downfall?

These two cases surprisingly intersect in Christopher Fowler’s Bryant and May and the Bleeding Heart (Bantam/Random House, library hardcover), the delightful 11th installment in the entertaining series. A murder and a presumed suicide lead the detectives to St. Georges Gardens, a small park with ancient graves and a few spaces reserved for new residents. From there it’s a hop and skip to the local undertaker, rumors of black magic, a secret society and the reappearance of the Victorian-era body-snatchers known as the resurrection men. One of the series’ ongoing pleasures, in addition to its endearingly eccentric protagonists, is the way in which Fowler incorporates arcane bits of London history into his clever, convoluted plots. Here we get the chilling legend of Bleeding Heart Yard. Shiver. . .

chimneyA mummified body falling out of a bedroom chimney heralds 12-year-old Flavia de Luce’s arrival at a Canadian boarding school — Miss Bodycote’s Female Academy — in 1951. The precocious sleuth could hardly ask for more from her late mother Harriet’s alma mater after being “banished” from her beloved Buckshaw home in England. “Banished!” Flavia intones at the beginning of Alan Bradley’s As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust (Delacorte Press, digital galley). “There is no sadder word in the English language. The very sound of it — like echoing iron gates crashing closed behind you; like steel  bolts being shot shut — makes your hair stand on end, doesn’t it?”

It takes a lot to unnerve the irrepressible Flavia, as readers of the six previous mysteries well know, so even the dislodging of the aforementioned corpse and the subsequent detachment of its skull only serve to intrigue her, as do the presence of an an acquitted murderess on the faculty and the mysterious disappearance of several fellow students. Is Miss Bodycote’s haunted? Is the stern headmistress friend or foe? Is the locked chemistry lab hiding dark secrets? Flavia is on the case in one of her most appealing adventures yet.

foxgloveBen Aaronovitch is a former screenwriter for Doctor Who, which helps explain his wild and witty paranormal police procedurals featuring detective Peter Grant.  The matter-of-fact manifestation of magic in everyday life came as a surprise to the young police constable in the first book in the series, Midnight Riot. But by now, in the fifth book, Foxglove Summer (DAW, purchased e-book), Grant is a semi-experienced junior wizard, dispatched by his mentor Nightingale to check out a missing persons case in rural Hertfordshire.

Two girls — best friends Nicole and Hannah — have vanished on a moonlit night, and Grant’s supposed to make sure nothing supernatural is involved. Purely routine, until it isn’t, with a mention that one of the girls had an “imaginary friend.” Before long, Grant is researching local folklore as to fairies, while the locals hone in on alien abductions. A retired wizard turns out to live in the vicinity, and there’s certainly something odd about his beekeeper daughter, who reports her bees are avoiding a certain part of the river. The foxgloves — source of digitalis — are blooming profusely. It’s a mash-up midsummer night’s dream of a mystery, and I couldn’t stop reading. Or grinning.

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saintsAfter finishing Ian Rankin’s Exit Music a few years ago, I really hoped we hadn’t seen the last of Edinburgh police detective John Rebus, even if he had reached the force’s mandatory retirement age. Thankfully, it was a metaphorical Reichenbach Falls for Rebus, who next appeared as a civilian consultant working cold cases in Standing in Another Man’s Grave, one of 2013’s  best crime novels. And now in the riveting Saints of the Shadow Bible (Little, Brown, digital galley), Rebus returns to the force, the age ban having been lifted. Still, he’s a bit of a grumpy dinosaur having been downgraded to a DS,  and working on an apparently routine traffic accident.  Then his nemesis, internal affairs DI Malcolm Fox, asks for his cooperation reopening a 30-year investigation involving Rebus and a group of cowboy cops called “the Saints” who had their own rules back in the day.

How different, really, is the old Rebus from the  young one? As Rankin deftly intertwines the car wreck and the old murder trial with current Scottish politics and a new generation of enterprising crooks and cops, we see Rebus contending with loyalties past and present, as well as changes in policing.  At one point he turns on a reluctant suspect: “I’m from the eighties, Peter — I’m not the new-fangled touchy-feely model. Now get out of my fucking car!”

invisibleTalking dinosaurs, you can’t get more prehistoric than elderly London detectives Arthur Bryant and John May of  the Peculiar Crimes Unit, whose eccentricities match those of the unusual cases they take on. In Christopher Fowler’s witty charmer The Invisible Code (Bantam, digital galley), the duo somehow connect the sudden, seemingly inexplicable death of a young woman in a church and the odd behavior of a Home Office politician’s beautiful wife with witchcraft, black magic, general devilment and matters of national security. Fowler never condescends to his characters or readers, threading his puzzles with quirky facts about London history and that of the PCU. An ancient pathologist, Bryant’s landlady and the cat called Crippen add to the three-ring atmosphere.

vaultedIf you have not yet succumbed to the delights of Alan Bradley’s series featuring precocious junior sleuth Flavia de Luce, do yourself a favor and don’t start with the sixth book, The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches (Random House Publishing Group, digital galley). You need to go back at least one or two books to Speaking from Among the Bones and I Am Half-Sick of Shadows to catch up on the de Luce family history, the moldering mansion Buckshaw, Flavia’s penchant for poisons and detecting (an excess of high spirits got her kicked out the Girl Guides). There’s also the matter of missing mother Harriet, who vanished on a Himalayan expedition in 1941, and whose absence has defined Flavia as an “extraordinary” person. It’s 10 years later as the new book opens, Harriet has been found and Flavia is faced with becoming ordinary. Ha! Harriet’s homecoming is marred by the death of a strange man under a train, the arrival of distant relatives, experiments with reanimation and film restoration, suspicions of espionage and portents of an unexpected future. For series fans, it’s a fun bridge to the further adventures of Flavia. I can hardly wait for the next installment. O Canada!

huntingEarly on in Charles Todd’s Hunting Shadows (HarperCollins, digital galley), Scotland Yard’s Inspector Ian Rutledge gets lost in a shrouding fog on the Fens. That he can’t see a foot in front of him on the dangerous terrain is emblematic of his ensuing investigation into two baffling deaths. It’s August of 1920, and a sniper — presumably a veteran of the Great War like Rutledge — has claimed two victims two weeks apart. One is an Army officer awaiting a wedding at Ely Cathedral; the other a politician giving a speech in a nearby village. There’s no discernible connection between the two, and Rutledge is indeed hunting shadows, especially after one woman recounts seeing a “monster” in a window. As always, he is haunted by his memories of the war and the ghost of the soldier Hamish. The result is a thoughtful mystery rich in atmosphere.

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It’s not so much a case of “he said, she said” in Gillian Flynn’s stellar Gone Girl (Crown, digital galley via NetGalley) as “he lied, she lied.” Nick admits early on that he favors lies of omission, while his wife Amy is an expert revisionist. Maybe. That’s the marvel of this twisting tale that explores the old question of how well we ever really know someone, even our nearest and dearest. Nick begins by describing the disappearance of Amy on their fifth anniversary from their suburban Missouri home and how he quickly becomes the prime suspect. Amy, a native New Yorker and the inspiration for her parents’ best-selling series of “Amazing Amy” picture books, counterpoints with excerpts from her journal, detailing the couple’s courtship and marriage. Both are likable and credible, at least at first. Flynn’s first two novels were Sharp Objects and Dark Places; Gone Girl is both sharp and dark. It reminded me a bit of Tim O’Brien’s In the Lake of the Woods, but Flynn has her own audacious spin.

About two thirds of the way through an S.J. Bolton thriller, I get this almost-irresistible urge to flip to the last page and find out how she’s going to end things. I remember having to stop reading both Blood Harvest and Now You See Me and catch my breath, and the same thing happened with Dead Scared (St. Martin’s Press, digital galley via NetGalley). Oh, the suspense! Who or what is frightening  Cambridge University students to death? DC Lacey Flint of Now You See Me goes undercover as a vulnerable psychology student at DI Mark Joesbury’s behest, working with psychiatrist Evie Bolton of Blood Harvest to find possible links among a rash of gruesome suicides. Maybe it has to do with social networking or cyberbullying, but what of the vivid night terrors that the victims reported? The finely orchestrated finale — and don’t you dare skip ahead — is shattering in its evil ingenuity.

Wit and wickedness are both in play in Christopher Fowler’s The Memory of Blood (Bantam, digital galley via NetGalley), the most recent in the winning Peculiar Crimes Unit series headed up by the elderly and eccentric detective duo of Arthur Bryant and John May. This time, the puppet character Mr. Punch is at the center of a bizarre locked-room death involving the cast and crew of a murder play at the New Strand Theatre. As more bodies turn up, Bryant and May’s investigation takes on theatre history and curses, Victoriana, and the National Secrets Act. All in all, another stylish black tragicomedy. Bravo! Encore!

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