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Posts Tagged ‘Paris’

herooffranceMathieu is his nom de guerre, and, like many of Alan Furst’s leading men, he’s something of a loner, a considered risk-taker who hides his intelligence and sophistication behind a quiet demeanor. He’s good at sizing up people, figuring out if they can be trusted. “And I’d better be,” he says, ”because I can only be wrong once.”

Mathieu is the capable leader of a small Resistance cell in A Hero of France (Random House, digital galley), Furst’s excellent new novel of the shadowy world of espionage. In previous books, he has focused mostly on the twilight years leading up to the war, but here it is March of 1941, and German-occupied Paris is dark and under curfew. Mathieu and his cell help rescue downed RAF pilots and crew members, hiding them in safe houses, securing false identity passes, providing disguises and escorting them to safety — perhaps by train through Vichy France and then to Spain, or in the back of a truck to the countryside and coast to await safe passage to England. It is dangerous, heart-stopping work, but these ordinary people — a professor, a nurse, a schoolteacher, a teen with a bicycle, a widow with a bureaucratic friend, a nightclub owner with connections — prove themselves over and over in extraordinary circumstances. But their actions can only go unnoticed for so long. A fatuous Brit wants to run the network from afar, encouraging riskier acts of sabotage. A German police detective is looking for an informer to penetrate the cell. Then there are the soldiers who will trip a man for no reason, and young street thugs playing at extortion.

The narrative is episodic, and Furst splices tense, action-filled scenes with interludes of relative calm. Mathieu begins a love affair with a neighbor, and adopts — or is adopted by — a Belgian shepherd dog. The writing is atmospheric: a crippled plane tries to land in silvery moonlight, lovers share secrets behind blackout curtains, a cafe owner shrugs when asked about the Resistance. “Monsieur, do you know what goes on in the cafes of Paris? Everything. Of course, one may have a glass of wine, a coffee, and something to eat, but there is more. Love affairs begin, love affairs end, swindlers meet their victims, victims meet their lawyers. But, mostly, the cafe is a place for people to go.” Including the heroes of France.

everyonebraveThe London Blitz is a staple of wartime novels and films, offering a dramatic backdrop for stories of courage and romance. The writer Kate Atkinson called it “the dark beating heart” of her novel Life after Life, and the same can be said of Chris Cleave’s Everyone Brave is Forgiven (Simon & Schuster, digital galley). His fierce re-imagining of the Nazi bombs shattering buildings and lives is both wide-screen and close-up. Perhaps because his story is loosely based on the letters and wartime experiences of his grandparents, it feels immediate and personal.

England’s entry into the war in 1939 is a call to arms for Britain’s youth, including 18-year-old debutante Mary North, fresh out a Swiss boarding school. Her notion of a glamorous wartime job is quickly dashed by her assignment to a school whose students are being evacuated to the countryside. But not all children are suitable evacuees, including some who are physically disabled or mentally challenged, along with Zachary, the 10-year-old child of a black American musician. Mary convinces nice-guy Tom Shaw, a school administrator turned down for enlistment, to let her teach a small class of these outsiders. Tom and Mary begin a whirlwind courtship that is threatened both by Mary’s attraction to Tom’s best friend, Alistair Heath, an art restorer before he joined up, and the war itself, which sends Alistair to France and those left behind to air raid shelters. Eventually, Alistair will wind up in Malta, under siege by Axis forces, and Mary and her friend Hilda will volunteer as ambulance drivers.

Cleave’s harrowing descriptions of the homefront and battlefield are leavened by witty dialogue and letters among the characters. He also raises issues of race and class that seem shocking by today’s standards. Mary, Tom, Alistair, Hilda, Zachary — and a host of others — come across as complex and believable. You remember the stubborn  pride of Zachary’s father, the pursed lips of Mary’s mother, the camaraderie between Alistair and a fellow soldier, the resilience of small children, the bravery of those scared to death. You won’t forget Everyone Brave is Forgiven.

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furstDecember, 1937. The snow is falling in New York City as a lawyer visiting from Paris looks over his shoulder to see  if he is being followed. It’s also snowing in Madrid as a middle-aged museum curator waits nervously to be questioned by the authorities. The two men’s fates are soon linked in the atmospheric Midnight in Europe (Random House, digital galley), in which Alan Furst once again illuminates ordinary people caught up in extraordinary times as Hitler’s shadow looms ever larger. Here, the Spanish Civil War serves as a precursor of what is to come, and Spanish emigre Christian Ferrar, who works for an international law firm in Paris, agrees to help the Spanish Republic obtain much-needed arms to fight Franco’s fascists. There is an eye-opening train journey through industrial Germany in the company of an arms dealer wanted by the Gestapo, and later a more harrowing trip to Odessa and Poland in which a train is hijacked. Moments of heart-in-your-throat terror alternate with scenes in Paris nightclubs and bedrooms that whisper of betrayal and romance. No one is better than Furst at evoking this midnight hour before war plunges Europe into darkness.

twisted

Readers of S. J. Bolton’s gripping Lacey Flint novels know that the secretive London detective rarely goes with the flow. In A Dark and Twisting Tide (St. Martin’s Press, digital galley), she’s again risking life and limb, first by “wild-swimming” in the Thames, where’s she’s living on a houseboat, and then by going after a serial killer who is leaving the shrouded, drowned corpses of young women for her to find. She’s also risking her heart, growing closer to cop Mark Joesbury, whose undercover work takes him away for days at a time. Lacey goes undercover, too, disguising herself as an Afghan refugee to try and find out more about a possible human-trafficking ring targeting the tight-lipped immigrant community. Old friends and new enemies complicate matters, and then a nightmare comes true when she finds herself once again at the mercy of the river and a relentless pursuer who swims like a mermaid and attacks like a shark.

alldayAlafair Burke’s complex new thriller All Day and a Night (HarperCollins, digital galley) takes it title from prison lingo for a life sentence with no parole. That’s what presumed serial killer Anthony Amaro has been serving the last 18 years, which gives him a solid alibi for the murder of a Brooklyn psychotherapist. But because the body has the signature of Amaro’s old kills, it leads to the D.A. and police ordering a “fresh look” at his case. Is a copycat at work or was Amaro wrongfully convicted in the first place? As Amaro’s celebrity lawyer argues to get him released, Burke’s series detective Ellie Hatcher and her partner begin an investigation that takes them back two decades to the murder of a handful of prostitutes in Utica. Also investigating, but for Amaro’s side, is young lawyer Carrie Blank, whose half-sister Donna was one of the victims. Both Ellie and Carrie have conflicted feelings that spill over into their personal lives as old secrets come to light and loyalties are tested. Coincidences abound, but Burke keeps tensions high until almost the very end.

vertigo

How well do you know Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo? You might want to refresh your memory before starting Martha Grimes’ clever Vertigo 42 (Scribner, digital galley), in which Scotland Yard’s Richard Jury makes some dizzying connections between murders old and new. After meeting widower Tom Williamson at Vertigo 42, a London bar atop a financial-district high-rise, Jury takes off for Devon to look into the death of Williamson’s wife Tess 17 years ago. Did she fall — as the police think — or was she pushed — as her husband believes? And what, if anything, does childless Tess’s death have to do with the death five years earlier of a schoolgirl who fell into the country estate’s empty swimming pool while her pals were playing hide-and-seek? Meanwhile, Jury’s visit to his pal Melrose Plant’s country home presents him with the puzzle of a lost dog and the death of a young woman who fell from a nearby tower. Grimes juggles the surfeit of plots and the quirky cast with her usual ease, tipping her hat to Hitchcock and to previous Jury tales (there are 22) while readers’ heads spin.

strangerDetective constable Maeve Kerrigan often finds her brilliant boss, DI Josh Derwent, crude and rude. But no way she thinks he’s a murderer. Still, in Jane Casey’s sterling The Stranger You Know (St. Martin’s digital galley), Kerrigan’s  on the inside in the investigation of a serial killer who kills attractive young women in their homes, but Derwent’s shut out by their superiors. Not only does he fit the profile of a trustworthy stranger a woman might invite in her home, he also was the prime suspect in the long-ago, unsolved murder of his classmate Angela Poole. The new crime scenes have an uncanny similarity to Angela’s. Still loyal to Derwent, a wary Maeve continues the search for the “Gentleman Killer,” even as a stalker from her past reappears. Or has the killer targeted her?

someoneBrian McGilloway returns to Derry, Northern Ireland for the second Lucy Black thriller to be published in this country this year, after Little Girl Lost. In Someone You Know (HarperCollins/Witness Impulse, digital galley), Lucy’s assignment to the public protection squad again brings her into a murder investigation when an at-risk teen is killed, her body tied to the railroad tracks. If the train hadn’t been delayed, it would have destroyed the crime scene, and the death slated as a suicide. But someone is preying on Derry’s girls, even as they escape their dysfunctional homes to party with their friends, unaware just how close the enemy lurks. The daughter of two cops — one her chief superintendent boss, the other now suffering from dementia — Lucy has an affinity for the vulnerable that serves her well. A third book is on its way.

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rageKeeping secrets, telling lies, they require the same skill,” says former FBI agent Brigid Quinn near the beginning of Rage Against the Dying (St. Martins, digital galley), an engrossing first mystery from Becky Masterman.

Brigid is willing to tell her age (59), but there’s a lot she hasn’t told her new husband and her Tucson neighbors. Like how she was an  undercover agent bent on catching human traffickers and sexual predators, and how she is haunted by the memories of one case that went wrong. It’s easier to feel like she’s still undercover, temporarily posing as a “Southwestern Woman of a Certain Age,” keeping house and cooking meals, walking the dogs and collecting interesting rocks. “No one likes a woman who knows how to kill with her bare hands.”

But Brigid will have to call on all her old skills when the local FBI office busts a truck driver with a mummified corpse in his cab and who claims to be the infamous Route 66 serial killer. Floyd Lynch certainly knows the creepy details of the murders that were kept from the public, and, in exchange for a plea deal, he’ll lead them to the body of Brigid’s young protegee, Jessica, who vanished years ago while on the job. Brigid is brought in to help tie up the loose ends, like contacting Jessica’s widowed father, but then begins to doubt Lynch’s confession.

Masterman uses many of the traditional serial killer tropes, including icky forensic details, but she puts enough spin on the plot and convincing characters to make Rage Against the Dying something singular. Although let’s hope that this isn’t the only adventure for feisty, flawed “Stinger” Quinn.

aimeeIntrepid and chic Parisian PI Aimee Leduc is once again running in heels on the cobblestones, and/or racing her Vespa through the dark honeycombs of the City of Light in Murder below Montparnesse (Soho Crime, digital galley), the 13th entry in Cara Black’s winning series. Of course, it’s just Aimee’s luck that she’s a passenger in a borrowed classic Citroen when it runs over a man in the scruffy bohemian neighborhood.

“A man dead, her friend injured and in police custody, an old man who claimed to know her mother, and now a stolen painting. A sour aftertaste remained in her mouth and it wasn’t from the vodka.”

The painting may well be a long-lost Modigliani, and Aimee’s week goes from bad to worse as she encounters vengeful Serbs, moneyed Russians, conniving heirs, murderous thieves and cunning cops, or flics. Meanwhile, her business partner Rene is discovering his new job as a Silicon Valley security consultant comes with unexpected strings necessitating a sudden flight to Mexico. Just wait until he hears  about his beloved Citroen. The fast-paced narrative cuts back and forth between the two detectives before a startling finale that promises big changes for Aimee and company.

goldeneggJust as Black immerses readers in Paris, so does Donna Leon with Venice, contrasting its splendid architecture, art, culture and history with corruption and crime. Commissario Guido Brunetti is again our guide in The Golden Egg (Atlantic Monthly, digital galley), the 22nd book in the series and one that hinges on murderous greed.

When Brunetti  looks into the apparently accidental death of a deaf and mentally challenged man, he is surprised that there’s no official record of his existence. The man’s secretive mother, who once worked for the wealthy Lembo family, claims her only child’s identification papers were stolen long ago, and she’s reluctant to cooperate with Brunetti’s investigation.

“What troubled him was not the circumstances of the man’s death but that he had managed to live for forty years without leaving any bureaucratic traces that he had lived at all. That mystery, and its sadness, nagged at Brunetti.”

dyingfallThe mystery surrounding the identification of old bones puzzles forensic anthropologist Ruth Galloway in Elly Griffith’s intriguing A Dying Fall (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, digital galley). Ruth is shocked to learn of her university friend Dan Golding’s death in a house fire, especially when she receives a letter from him written right before his death. In it, he hints at a major archaeological discovery connected to Arthurian myth, but he thinks his life might be in danger.

Not surprisingly, Ruth is invited to look at Dan’s discovery by his Lancashire university and its underfunded history department. With her druid friend Cathbad along to help take care of her toddler daughter Kate, Ruth arrives to find something amiss with the bones in question and a nasty atmosphere on campus fomented by local white supremacists. By coincidence, DCI Harry Nelson, Kate’s father, is vacationing with his wife in his nearby hometown of Blackpool, and soon involves himself in the various investigations.

Griffiths continues to combine modern mystery with ancient history in inventive ways as she also explores  Ruth’s complicated personal life.

keepnoWhen it comes to complicated lives, St. Louis district attorney Jack Hilliard trumps everyone in Julie Compton’s Keep No Secrets (Fresh Fork Publishing, digital galley), a sequel to her first legal thriller, Tell No Lies. Four years after the events of that book, Jack is still married to Claire and slowly earning back her trust after a fateful one-night stand with Jenny Dodson. But his life is upended once again when Jenny returns to town, claiming her life is threatened and that she needs his help. Then his teenage son’s troubled girlfriend Celeste accuses him of sexual assault after he gives her a ride home, and Jack becomes a defendant fighting to keep his professional life and family intact.

I’m not usually a fan of presumed-innocent plots, but Compton’s skill at meshing several storylines,  detonating any number of secrets, and delineating credible characters kept me flipping pages, hoping that truth, justice — and Jack — win the day.

Open Book: Credit to Open Road Integrated Media, the digital publisher that is celebrating March not only as Women’s History Month but also as Women’s Mystery Month. At www.openroadmedia.com, it has a video, an infographic and a blog post charting the history of women in crime fiction. The company also publishes e-books of mysteries by such late greats as Charlotte MacLeod and Charlotte Armstrong. I was vastly entertained by the digital galleys of MacLeod’s The Family Vault and Armstrong’s The Case of the Weird Sisters.

Also, I know Julie Compton as a fellow Central Florida writer, although we have yet to meet for lunch to celebrate the publication of Keep No Secrets. Maybe next month.

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