Book Reviews: The Preacher by Camilla Lackberg, The Burning Lake by Brent Ghelfi, Buried Prey by John Sandford, and A Drop of the Hard Stuff by Lawrence Block

The Preacher
Camilla Lackberg
Translated by Steven T. Murray
Pegasus Books, May 2011
ISBN: 978-1-60598-173-4
Hardcover

This Swedish author has written seven novels, of which this is the second to be published in the United States.  The first, The Ice Princess, was widely accepted as on a par with the best of the recent Scandinavian noir novels.  As with that debut book, this novel also is set in the small fishing village of  Fjallbacka and is a police procedural that seems to drag until the miracle of science, rather than good old-fashioned footwork, brings it to a conclusion.

The plot is relatively simple:  A body is discovered, with the remains of two skeletons over 24 years old underneath.  It’s up to the local police, led by detective Patrik Hedstrom, to conduct the investigation.  Customarily, they usually look into bicycle thefts. Then two more women go missing, increasing the pressure.  Attention centers on one family, the offspring of a man known to all as the Preacher:  misfits, religious fanatics and criminals.

The length of the novel seems overly long, and probably could have used some judicious editing.  And the translation does not seem to be up to the level of The Ice Princess.  Nevertheless, the story is clever, and the plot twists, which in a sense were somewhat obvious, keep the reader moving ahead.  Despite these misgivings, the book is an enjoyable read, and one hopes for US editions of the author’s other five novels. Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, September 2011.

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The Burning Lake
Brent Ghelfi
Poisoned Pen Press, May 2011
ISBN: 978-1-59058-925-0
Hardcover

Unlike the previous three novels in the Volk series, this story is a little different.  It brings Volk into a sort of international plot involving the United States, France and Russia seeking to circumvent and hide the errors and dangers in atomic plants and spent fuel.  What brings Russian agent Alexei Volkovoy into the picture is the murder of a sometime girlfriend, a talented and courageous journalist, known professionally as Kato, who had uncovered two stories: one involving a wide area of radioactive contamination in Russia and an attempt to ship spent fuel from America to that location.

When Volk learns of Kato’s death, he remembers a notebook she had given him for safekeeping.  Upon reading her notes, Volk embarks on a trail to finish her work, and along the way, avenge her death by finding and killing her murderers.  The journey takes him to the radioactive village of Merlino and the burning lake, the dumping ground of spent fuel from a nearby facility, and then to Las Vegas and Mexico.

The author’s ability to capture contemporary Russia and its politicians, such as Putin, is impressive, as is his ability to cram into few pages the depths and insights of the subject of the dangers of atomic waste.  Written with tight prose, this fourth Volk novel is, perhaps, the most interesting and satisfying of the series, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, September 2011.


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Buried Prey
John Sanford
Putnam, May 2011
ISBN: 978-0-399-15738-7
Hardcover

Discovery of the bodies of two young girls, murdered 25 years earlier, sets the stage for a look at the popular protagonist, Lucas Davenport, both as a rookie patrolman and later as the seasoned investigator of the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension a quarter of a century later. Soon after joining the Minneapolis police department, Lucas worked with the Intelligence Division on a couple of murder investigations, especially the case of the two young Jones Girls.

He became so involved in the work that he solved one of them, and came close to discovering the identity of the culprit in the girls’ slaying.  The facts continued to haunt him and 25 years later, when the bodies are found during the excavation at a construction site, he pursues finding the killer with an obsession, using all his training and intelligence (and a lot of luck) in the chase.

The depth of the plot and taut writing give the reader incentive to keep turning pages.  The dialogue is sharp and the pace well-measured. Character development is extremely effective.  Another welcome addition to the series, and recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, September 2011.

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A Drop of the Hard Stuff
Lawrence Block
Mulholland Books, May 2011
ISBN: 978-0-316-12733-2
Hardcover

The Alcoholics Anonymous program is designed to provide sustenance and guidance to those seeking to remain sober.  Its 12-Step program is meant to provide them with a moral roadmap to atone for past abuse, mistakes and sins.  In this early-days Matthew Scudder novel, it instead leads to a series of murders.

An alcoholic himself, Matthews enters AA in an effort to stay away from alcohol, which had basically ruined his life.  Soon he meets Jack Ellery, another AA member with whom he grew up in The Bronx.  While Matthew became a cop, Jack went the other way, living a life of crime. Now he is trying to take the seventh and eighth steps of the Program by making amends.  The effort gets him murdered, shot in the head and mouth, presumably by someone who is afraid Jack’s endeavors would expose the killer for an act done in the past.  Jack’s sponsor retains Matthew to look into some of the people Jack went to in his attempts to make amends, if only to eliminate the innocent.

The novel is a look into not only a murder investigation, but other things as well: Matthew’s development as a sober person; love; loss; nostalgia; and most importantly, human relationships.  Written with a fine eye for dialog and penetrating insight into the characters, the book is an excellent example of why the Matthew Scudder series is so highly regarded, and it is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, September 2011.