Severn House, March 2011
The tone of the book, the newest in the wonderful Bill Slider series, is initially set with the very first line – in point of fact, the first chapter heading, “The Wrath of Grapes,” describing as it does a thoroughly hung over D.S. Jim Atherton, as he joins his boss, D.I Bill Slider, both of the Shepherd’s Bush police, for just another ‘day at the office,’ i.e., driving to a murder scene. The day that is just starting is portrayed as follows, in typical lovely fashion: “Shepherd’s Bush was not beautiful, but it had something to be said for it on a bright, breezy March morning. Clouds were running like tumbleweed across a sky of intense, saturated, heraldic azure. The tall, bare planes on the Green swayed solemnly like folkies singing Kumbayah. All around, the residents – young, old and middling – were sleeping, getting up, planning their day, thinking about work, school, sex, shopping, footie. Some were perhaps dying. One was dead in what the police called suspicious circumstances, and that, fortunately, was unusual.”
The reader is thereby immediately put into a smiling and receptive mood, the grim destination notwithstanding: When they arrive at the scene, they discover the body of a man very efficiently murdered, with a single gunshot at close range to the back of the head. As the investigation ensues, there are no suspects, no forensics, no obvious motive, and the fact that they cannot find any information as to where the dead man worked or as to the source of his apparently substantial income, only makes matters more puzzling. The police are told he was “a doctor,” “a consultant,” but beyond that there is no information. As Slider says, “it’s astonishing what people don’t see and hear, even when it’s under their eyes and ears.”
The second chapter is headed “Witless for the Prosecution,” but that’s about it for play-on-words – – well, no scratch that, for of course Superintendent Porson, Slider and Atherton’s boss, is present in this book, and malapropisms abound, always guaranteed to bring back that smile. Various permutations of relationships between and among the several well-drawn characters become clear as the investigation
continues. The novel is immensely enjoyable in this well-written murder mystery [there are other deaths as the tale continues], and it is as highly recommended as were the previous books in the series.
Reviewed by Gloria Feit, July 2011.
Every Bitter Thing
Soho Crime, October 2011
On the opening page of Leighton Gage’s newest book, the fourth in his series featuring the Brazilian Chief Inspector Mario Silva, the reader is introduced to Jonas Palhares, a petroleum engineer who is very soon after brutally murdered in his Ipanema apartment. This is but one of several murders committed in the same manner, and with the same weapons. A famous social psychologist is soon found dead in Sao Paulo State. But when the next victim is the son of the Venezuelan foreign minister and former ambassador to Brazil, the political implications become quickly obvious, and the investigation goes into high gear.
Silva, chief inspector for criminal matters with the Federal Police, is described as “a repository of totally useless information,” but self-described as possessing “occasionally amazing instances of insight”. He teams up with the head of the Brasilia civil police, as well as his usual team members, including Arnaldo Nunes and Haraldo “Babyface” Goncalves, known as the Federal Police’s Lothario. The body count rises, and the cops are frustrated by the fact that there seems to be no common denominator among the victims.
The author provides another glimpse into a world and a country with which this reader and I suspect many others are unfamiliar [despite my having traveled there twice, but I’m pretty sure tourism doesn’t count]. We are given examples of “. . . how things work in this country . . . how the rich and powerful get justice and the rest of us can go to hell.” The investigation proceeds rapidly to try to find the killer before more bodies appear, and the ending is as logical as it is startling. A thoroughly satisfying novel, and recommended.
Reviewed by Gloria Feit, September 2011.
Translated by Kyle Semmel
Harvill Secker, August 2011
[This book is presently only available in/through the UK/Canada, not yet available in the US]
Lucy thought she had everything a woman could want [and who could disagree?]: youth, beauty, health, a loving husband, and a baby girl they both doted upon. Until the warm summer day when evil is suddenly visited upon her perfect life in the form of an unknown monster, for when Lily approaches the pram under the maple tree outside their house where the baby had lain sleeping, she discovers that the baby is covered in blood. In their terror and panic, they rush to the hospital, where they are soon told that the baby is unharmed, that the blood was not hers, and that the police have been called. The Inspectors assigned to the case are Konrad Sejer and Jacob Skarre. Later that same night, a postcard is delivered to Sejer’s door reading “Hell begins now.”
Happy people content with their lives, suddenly made anxious, unable any longer to feel secure, as “a soundless form of terror” and utter vulnerability spreads through the community. That is the story line of this newest in the Inspector Sejer Mysteries. And a gripping, albeit somewhat depressing, tale it is, with a perpetrator who fancies himself as invincible, with unimaginable cruelty and an almost equally twisted quirk: He needs to see for himself the effects of his pranks: “Everyone lives on an edge, he thought, and I will push them over.”
The writing is wonderful, as one has come to expect of this author. She describes Sejer’s dog as follows: “a Chinese Shar Pei called Frank, lay at his feet, and was, like most Chinese, dignified, unapproachable and patient. Frank had tiny, closed ears – and thus bad hearing – and a mass of grey, wrinkled skin that made him look like a chamois cloth,” and someone’s “cat [which] slept in a corner, fat and striped like a mackerel.” The humans are just as well-drawn. Widowed at a young age, Sejer is now feeling the frailty of impending old age, and along with him the reader feels a palpable sense of inescapable mortality, as well as “what was raw and brutal in the heart of every living creature.” A disturbing but ultimately thoroughly enjoyable novel, very fast reading, and highly recommended.
Reviewed by Gloria Feit, November 2011.
Murder New York Style: Fresh Slices
Terrie Farley Moran, Editor
L&L Dreamspell, September 2011
Although short stories are not usually my preferred reading choice, this anthology proved to be perfect for this time of year, when so many of us are overloaded with the demands and hecticness of the holiday season, and ready for short bursts of good writing. A group of twenty-two authors, some whose work is published here for the first time and others who are award-nominated or award-winning writers, combined for this mixture of genres and the second such anthology written by members of the Sisters in Crime NY/Tri-State Chapter, the unifying theme being the various neighborhoods in and around New York City. Those encompass such diverse areas as Gerritsen Beach in Brooklyn and its neighbor, Brighton Beach; Greenwich Village; downtown Manhattan; and College Point, Queens, among several other sections and towns in what is known as the “greater metropolitan area.”
There is one lone entry authored by a man [k.j.a. (Kenneth) Wishnia]. I had initially thought – mistakenly – that there was only one with a male protagonist, but then realized that over a third of the stories have male narrators/protagonists. Lest any reader be concerned that the points- of-view might feel monolithic, they not only range in age and class, but also in gender, even including one inanimate-object as narrator for people who want variety from the usual human POV The tales run from eight to twenty pages in length, and vary widely, though each is worthwhile reading, dealing with characters ranging from a vampire; a widow whose long-buried secret is about to be exposed; a young woman with a scary stepson, in what is perhaps a cliché in reverse; and although most of the protagonists are fairly young, there are an 84-year-old and two centenarians included. I especially enjoyed Catherine Maiorisi’s first published story, “Justice for All,” of a young African-American detective, Cappy Jones, who draws the short straw in partnering up with a misogynistic male cop in an investigation into the death of a young Asian woman on a path adjacent to the Hudson River; Triss Stein’s “The Greenmarket Violinist,” included in which is a tribute to a place dear to this reader’s heart: “a spot sacred to all true Brooklynites . . . the original home of the team that became the Brooklyn Dodgers and was managed by the original Mr. Ebbets himself;” as well as Liz Zelvin’s miniature addition to her wonderful “Death Will . . . “ series, this one entitled “Death Will Tank Your Fish,” not, from the title, obviously dealing with recovering alcoholics, but which turns out to be just that.
All in all, these short stories provide very enjoyable reading, and the anthology is recommended.
Reviewed by Gloria Feit, January 2012.
A Trick of the Light
Minotaur Books, September 2011
As with Miss Marple, or the folks who live in the environs of the protagonist in “Murder She Wrote,” and as a couple of the residents of Three Pines say, “there must be something in the water,” almost “a cottage industry.” And to quote the author, “this little village produced bodies and gourmet meals in equal proportion.” For shortly after Louise Penny’s newest Chief Inspector Gamache book opens, a celebratory party held in that bucolic Quebec village just south of Montreal is dampened when a dead body is found in the garden of the hosts, Clara and Peter Morrow, with her neck broken. A decidedly personal manner of death, all agree. The dead woman, Lillian Dyson, was Clara’s BFF [before there was such a term] many decades earlier, their friendship coming to a shattering end when Dyson’s treachery became known, and it had been years since they had had any contact. The party itself followed a vernissage, a private solo showing of the artist’s work at the Musee d’Art Contemporain in Montreal, a dream come true for Clara.
Armand Gamache, the deceptively mild-mannered head of homicide for the famed Surete du Quebec, and his second in command, Jean Guy Beauvoir, are investigating the murder, not the first time they had come to Three Pines on such a mission. As Gamache says, “Why not just move the whole homicide department down here?” [In jest, almost certainly.] Jean Guy, with his unspoken love for Gamache’s daughter [who is, after all, married], is still recovering, mentally as well as physically, from a horrific incident six months prior, as is Gamache himself. [Although not essential, I’d recommend first reading the prior book in the series, Bury Your Dead, as to the events and the repercussions thereof which ended that book.]
The inhabitants of Three Pines [a village so small it doesn’t even show up on a map] who have been introduced to readers of the earlier books are still present, including Ruth “the demented old poet;” Gabriel and Olivier, the gay owners of the local B&B; Myrna, the bookstore owner; and assorted horses, including one that looks like a moose. There is also an interesting sub-plot on the subject of AA. The dominant theme is “do people change,” and there are many examples of the possibilities, as well as the need, for such change, with varying degrees of success. The book describes the rivalries, egos, politics and backbiting that exist in the art world, as well as a good mystery. It is a true pleasure to read, well deserving of its recent nomination for the Agatha Award for Best Novel of 2011, and is highly recommended.
Reviewed by Gloria Feit, February 2012.