Book Reviews: The Leopard by Jo Nesbo, The Girl in the Green Raincoat by Laura Lippman and Queen of the Night by J.A. Jance

The Leopard
Jo Nesbo
Translated by Don Bartlett
Harvill Secker, January 2011
ISBN: 978-1-846-55401-8
Paperback

[It should be noted that this book is presently only available in/through the UK & Canada. It will be published in the US in hardcover on 12/13/11 by Knopf Publishing Group.]

The latest Harry Hole novel presents the reader with a formidable challenge:  On the one hand, the temptation is to try to read this tautly written, tightly plotted murder mystery in a single sitting.  On the other hand, its 611 pages is undoubtedly a very large hurdle.  Whatever the method, it’s well worth the effort to read it no matter how long it takes.

After the travails he suffered at the conclusion of The Snowman, Harry was so down that he resigned from the police force and traveled to the Far East, where he loses himself in alcohol, opium and gambling.  There, a female detective from Norway finds him, pays off his gambling debts, tells him his father is in the hospital dying and he, as the only officer with experience solving serial murders, is wanted back in Oslo to help in what appears to be another multiple homicide case.  At first he is reluctant, but finally accedes to the request to return because of his dad.

Still refusing to rejoin the crime squad, Harry finally gives in when a third victim, a member of parliament, is killed.  There are no clues and no common links between the victims until Harry discovers all three spent a night in an isolated mountain cabin together, and it becomes apparent that the “guests” are being picked off one by one.

From that point, the case slowly unfolds somewhat murkily to keep the reader in the dark as to the ultimate denouement. Sometimes, Harry’s insights are prophetic, others off base.  But he always has his eye on the main purpose:  to catch the bad guy.  At the same time, he is fighting his personal demons, his separation from the great love of his life, his relationship with his dying father, the politics of the competition between elements of the department as to responsibility for murder investigations, and his disillusionment with his role as a cop.  More than enough, one must say, for one man.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Theodore Feit, March 2011.

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The Girl in the Green Raincoat
Laura Lippman
Morrow, January 2011
ISBN: 978-0-06-193836-8
Trade Paperback

This novella first appeared as a serialization in the Sunday New York Times Magazine.  The author freely admits that she appropriated ideas for the work from a variety of sources, making the story really a smorgasbord of unrelated themes.  It is, however, a Tess Monaghan tale set, as usual, in Baltimore.

Eight months pregnant, Tess, ever the active one, is confined to bed and bored silly.  She looks out the window (shades of Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Rear Window’] and sees a woman in a green raincoat walking a dog with a matching green sweater, who she then notices on a daily basis.  Days later, when she doesn’t see the woman, she becomes, in her state of ennui, obsessed:  Where is the woman?  Then she sees the dog running around unaccompanied.  It is enough to set Tess off in her investigative mode, enlisting others to assist in discovering what has happened to the woman.

Other elements of the novella include observations of love between various characters, the development of Tess as she progresses in her pregnancy and, presumably, future motherhood, and some insights into her friend Whitney.  All in just a slender volume.  Perhaps if the novella were developed into a full-fledged novel, this hodgepodge of subject matter could have been more fully developed, rather than with just token appearances.  Nevertheless, it is written with the author’s accustomed smoothness and is an enjoyable read.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, March 2011.

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Queen of the Night
J.A. Jance
Harper, April 2011
ISBN: 978-0-06-123925-0
Premium Mass Market Paperback

With a bow [by dedicating the book] to the late Tony Hillerman, who was a master at the genre of this novel (and the predecessors in the saga of the Walker family), J.A. Jance has written a murder mystery surrounded by the further development in the family’s history peppered with lots of Indian lore.

The eponymous Queen is a once-a-year blossoming cactus whose legendary beginnings, like many of the tales in the novel, are based on the culture and history of the Tohono O’odhap people of southern Arizona. It plays a minor, but important, role in the story as the site of the contemporary murder of four people.  Meanwhile, former homicide detective Brandon Walker inherits a 50-year-old open case from his Last Chance cold case mentor, one in which a popular coed was stabbed to death in San Diego while on a school break.

The broad sweep of the Walker saga provides interesting and deep personal observations about the characters and what motivates them. The plot lines in the novel are fairly complex, but move forward in a logical pattern.  As usual, the writing is uncomplicated with beautiful descriptions of the Arizona terrain, and especially of the night-blooming cereus (the Queen of the Night), particularly appealing.

Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, March 2011.