Book Reviews: Box 21 by Anders Roslund & Borge Hellstrom, Vienna Twilight by Frank Tallis and Death Toll by Jim Kelly

Box 21
Anders Roslund and Borge Hellstrom
Picador, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-312-65534-1
Trade Paperback

This is not an easy novel to read, but it is well worth it because it is quite different from the usual crime-cum-thriller novels from Scandinavia.  It really is a psychological study of the conflicts facing detectives in their moral and ethical judgments.  It is the story of how they not only solve cases, but deal with personal relationships and crime.

There are two plots running through the book, each posing a separate question for the main protagonist, Detective Superintendent Ewert Grens, while only one of them presents itself to his sidekick, Sven Sundkvist.  In the end, they both have to face up to reality.

The crimes are gruesome enough, one involving young Baltic women forced into prostitution and enduring humiliating circumstances instead of the promised ‘good jobs’ in Sweden.  The other deals with a sadistic enforcer for a drug lord who breaks bones at stated prices, so much for a finger or a knee, a higher price for murder.  In short, in riveting alternating chapters, the stories come together and the two detectives have to resolve the questions facing them as they relate to the crimes involved.  Recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, February 2011.

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Vienna Twilight
Frank Tallis
Random House, April 2011
ISBN: 978-0-8129-8100-1
Trade Paperback

Human obsession with sex and death dominate this latest in the Max Liebermann Mystery series.  And of course, the good doctor’s psychoanalytic abilities, with only a cursory assist from Sigmund Freud, are the key to unraveling a series of murders of young women, with detective inspector Oskar Reinhardt, as usual, playing a supporting role, when he is not busy consuming Viennese pastries and Turkish coffee that is.

There are three unrelated mysteries which the pair have to solve: one in which women are murdered while having consensual sex; another of a patient of Liebermann who suffers from what is termed a Sophocles Syndrome; and the third, an unfortunate woman struggling to hide her past.

In many ways this novel, the fifth in the series, is not up to the level of its predecessors in terms of history, and the turn-of-the-century atmosphere of the Austrian capital.  Nevertheless, it makes up for this lack with an abundance of psychoanalytic analysis, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, June 2011.

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Death Toll
Jim Kelly
Minotaur Books, June 2011
ISBN: 978-0-312-57352-2
Hardcover

A protagonist like DI Peter Shaw gives the author license to throw more curve balls at the reader than a major league pitcher.  Shaw, a super-cerebral, over-intuitive detective who develops more and more theories as a case develops and he encounters more facts, certainly proves the point in this novel, which has two plot lines, both based in the distant past.

As a result of severe river flooding, graves along the bank in a cemetery are being exposed.  When one is opened, a skeleton is found atop the casket which contains the remains of the landlady of a local pub.  This sets off an investigation leading Shaw to discover a number of family secrets, with dire consequences to all concerned.  The inquiries move back and forth, uncovering events from a decade ago.

Meanwhile, Shaw, and his partner, DS Valentine, continue to try to prove one Bob Mosse a murderer.  It was Shaw’s father who arrested Mosse years before, only to see the charges thrown out of court because the judge declared a crucial peace of evidence had been contaminated by mishandling.  Consequently Shaw pere took early retirement under a cloud, and his partner, Valentine, was demoted and sent into limbo.

The story moves forward on both plot lines, more or less simultaneously, with Shaw, Valentine and the rest of the team uncovering a clue here, a fact there, until finally it all comes logically together, even if the conclusion requires a bit of manipulation by the author.  Well done, and recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, September 2011.