Author Cara Black (Murder at the Lanterne Rouge) was the featured speaker at my local library recently, and during the course of the program she mused about how mysteries today can engage a wide spectrum of readers because of all the other elements involved in the story. Without using the term, Black was talking about genre crossing. She held her audience of mystery and nonmystery readers spellbound with anecdotes about researching the events and people of Paris so that her heroine Aimée Leduc could have yet another adventure. What became clear was that folks are looking for a good story, and they’re not particularly worried about how a book is labeled or shelved.
First-person narratives also resonate strongly with readers. Their directness has the effect of news coming across the kitchen table. Listen to attorney Jack MacTaggart, who just happens to inherit a dead horse case from his boss in Chuck Greaves’s amusing Hush Money. Criminologist Cait Morgan makes you believe you are there with her as she experiences the beauty of Nice, France, described so well by Cathy Ace in The Corpse with the Silver Tongue.
In a similar manner, the oft-used and very popular journalist-as-protagonist mystery subgenre can appeal to any curious reader because so much information about a given topic is imparted along with the story line. In Wildcat Play , Helen Knode’s feisty and tough onetime film critic Ann Whitehead is now working on oil rigs in a remote corner of California’s San Joaquin valley. And Wayne Arthurson’s gambling addict Edmonton reporter, Leo Desroches, returns in A Killing Winter, wrestling with personal demons while pursuing his newspaper stories.
Which leads me to the allure of the flawed hero, key in the two aforementioned titles. Add to this group Joseph Olshan’s conflicted heroine Catherine Winslow, whose prickly nature works to ratchet up the tension in Cloudland.
We like it in movies and TV shows, and also as a subgenre, based on the growing appeal of what I call police consultant/procedural stories. One unique entry your readers might like is Richard Helms’s The Unresolved Seventh, a moody piece whose psychologist happens to suffer from Asperger’s syndrome. Orfrom a completely different stance, try Keith McCarthy’s father-sonpolice surgeon story (Nor All Your Tears), which somehow makes a serial killer crime light.
The Series Lineup this month salutes two series celebrating their 20th entries. Rita Mae Brown and Sneaky Pie Brown keep purring along with Mrs. Murphy in The Big Cat Nap , while Katherine Hall Page’s Faith Fairchild series takes a look back in The Body in the Boudoir. Anne Perry ushers in a new year and her 25th Charlotte and Thomas Pitt title, Dorchester Terrace. Readers find great comfort with these familiar characters, whose story lines they know as if the characters were family members. If you haven’t sampled one of these time-honored series yet, perhaps this will be the year.
HATS OFF TO…
Dorothy Gilman, creator of the fictional garden club member‚ turned‚ CIA spy, Mrs. Pollifax, died February 2. Gilman’s protagonist, she of many hats and exotic travels, made her debut in The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax in 1966 and enjoyed a long and successful series. Many readers cite Gilman’s stand-alones, such as The Tightrope Walker , as their favorites; her romantic suspense was along the lines of Mary Stewart. Searching several library catalogs, I was tickled by the abundance of Gilman titles currently available in all manner of format: ebook, large print, paper back, hardcover, and audiobook on CD. The Mystery Writers of America named Gilman a Grand Master in 2010.
DEBUT OF THE MONTH
Whellams, David. Walking into the Ocean: A Peter Cammon Mystery. ECW, dist. by IPG. Apr. 2012. c.472p. ISBN 9781770410428. $24.95; pap. ISBN 9781770411036. $14.95. M
Semiretired Scotland Yard detective Peter Cammon is called to help an overwhelmed Dorset police department. An apparent husband-and-wife drowning murder-suicide is not resolving cleanly since the husband’s body has not been recovered. Meanwhile, an elusive serial killer is steadily moving up the picturesque English coastline, ever closer to this area, killing teen girls at a systematic clip. When Peter teases out the connections between the missing husband and a shady
car-export business, he finally gets the break needed to open up that case. An unexpected trip to Malta adds to the swelling adventure tone, but when Peter returns to Dorset, the loose threads from both cases come together in a stunning conclusion. VERDICT Don’t miss this engrossing and complex debut, the first volume in a projected trilogy. Rich prose, literary allusion, and a strong nod to women’s intuition provide a romantic touch to a crack police procedural. It’s perfect for those who love travel and history mixed with crime.
Greaves, Chuck. Hush Money. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. May 2012. c.328p. ISBN 9781250005236. $24.99. M
When Sydney Everett’s Olympic-caliber jumping horse, Hush Puppy, dies suddenly, her law firm jumps into action, sending out young Pasadena, CA, attorney Jack MacTaggart. Sydney is worth watching because another horse she owned died under suspicious circumstances just a few years earlier. Jack follows a circuitous paper trail and learns that Sydney was guilty of insurance fraud that first time, and someone within the club has been blackmailing her ever since. Jack knows he’s hot on the trail when the next death turns out to be that of his mentor at the law firm. Stable manager Tara Flynn clues in Jack to the riding club’s dirt and also provides romantic interest and an investigative assistant he can trust. Meanwhile, Jack’s other case, about medical insurance, gives him the break he needs. VERDICT Winner of the SouthWest Writers (SWW) grand-prize Storyteller Award for 2010, trial lawyer Greaves’s delightful debut, which the SWW also named Best Mystery of 2010, cleverly intermingles equestrian show jumping, insurance claims, and high-tech science in this sunny California thriller. Great readalikes for tone would be Jack Fredrickson and Spencer Quinn. [Greaves’s second book, Hard Twisted, was named best historical novel of 2010 by the SouthWest Writers and will be published by Bloomsbury USA this fall.‚ Ed.]
Hicks, Jonathan. The Dead of Mametz: The First Thomas Oscendale Novel. Y Lolfa, dist. by Dufour. Apr. 2012. c.332p. ISBN 9781847713155. pap. $16.95. M
In the early years of World War I, a chance battlefield encounter between a German soldier who had worked in Wales and a Welsh soldier led to a precious piece of paper‚ a treasure map‚ being passed on to Corporal Vincent. Flash forward to 1916 when, in the Allies’ barracks near Mametz Wood, France, Vincent shoots two of his colleagues and then kills himself. First, however, he passes the piece of paper to another soldier. Enter Det. Thomas Oscendale, a military policeman, who soon has two incidents because a local French widow is murdered, perhaps by a British soldier. Too many coincidences make Oscendale think the cases are connected, but it takes digging to ascertain the motivation behind such personal crimes. Oscendale doesn’t know it, but certain Germans want that map, too, and amid horrific battles, another layer of intrigue ignites. VERDICT This satisfying historical debut partners abundant military and battle details with breathtaking spy adventure on both sides of the front. It’s perfect timing for all the Downton Abbey‚ spurred interest in World War I.
Casey, Jane. The Reckoning. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. May 2012. c.368p. ISBN 9780312622008. $24.99. M
After her acclaimed debut, The Burning, Casey delivers a second tension-filled thriller featuring DC Maeve Kerrigan, who works for a major crimes team of the Metropolitan London Police. This time Kerrigan is investigating a series of gruesome murders with Detective Inspector Derwent, who is new to the team. Kerrigan finds her colleague somewhat ambivalent about rushing to identify the murderer because the victims all have criminal records as sex offenders involving children. When a break in the case leads to a mobster and his missing teenage daughter, Kerrigan, Derwent, and the entire major crimes team move fast but still risk running out of time. VERDICT Casey has succeeded in writing another impossible-to-put-down thriller with surprising plot twists and well-developed, intriguing characters. Readers will want to know what happens to Kerrigan next!‚ Lisa Hanson O’Hara, Univ. of Manitoba Libs., Winnipeg
Freed, David. Flat Spin: A Cordell Logan Mystery. Permanent. May 2012. c.300p. ISBN 9781579622725. $29. M
At 43, Cordell Logan has retired from being a National Security go-to guy (assassin) and Air Force pilot. He just wants to be a flight instructor with his beloved 1973 Cessna, the Ruptured Duck. Then his beautiful ex-wife Savannah asks him to help find the killer of her husband, Logan’s former boss, friend, and fellow agent. Russian oil deals, several more murders, and a mysterious ex-father-in-law tycoon complicate matters as Logan battles to clear his own name, avoid pursuers, and figure out his feelings for Savannah, who left him for his ex-boss. VERDICT A pilot, screenwriter, and Pulitzer Prize‚ winning journalist with a military background, Freed manages to introduce into his debut mystery lots of technology without tedious detail. Logan is a wisecracking on-the-wagon protagonist who finds his violent past still has its uses. This series launch is a delightful romp through the familiar hard-boiled scene with a literate hero who admits he is so far failing to find tranquility with the Buddha. Highly recommended.‚ Roland C. Person, formerly with Southern Illinois Univ. Lib., Carbondale
SPRING AWARDS SEASON
The MWA’s Edgar Awards will be awarded April 26; see www.theedgars.com for updates and additional categories. Right after that, the Agatha Awards for traditional mysteries are announced; see www.malicedomestic.org for a fuller list of Agatha nominees. Time to check your holdings! My votes are for Mo Hayder’s thrilling procedural, Gone, Steve Ulfelder’s gritty Purgatory Chasm, G.M. Malliet’s pitch-perfect Wicked Autumn, and Rochelle Staab’s witty Who Do, Voodoo?
Edgar Best Novel
Atkins, Ace. The Ranger. Putnam.
Hayder, Mo. Gone. Atlantic Monthly.
Higashino, Keigo. The Devotion of Suspect X. Minotaur: St. Martin’s.
Holt, Anne. 1222. Scribner.
Kerr, Philip. Field Grey. Marion Wood: Putnam
Edgar Best First Novel by an American Author
Conlon, Edward. Red on Red. Spiegel & Grau.
Duffy, David. Last To Fold. Thomas Dunne: St. Martin’s.
Rosen, Leonard. All Cry Chaos. Permanent.
Roy, Lori. Bent Road. Dutton.
Ulfelder, Steve. Purgatory Chasm. Minotaur: St. Martin’s.
Agatha Best Novel
Andrews, Donna. The Real Macaw. Minotaur: St. Martin’s.
Davis, Krista. The Diva Haunts the House. Berkley Prime Crime.
Malliet, G.M. Wicked Autumn. Minotaur: St. Martin’s.
Maron, Margaret. Three-Day Town. Grand Central.
Penny, Louise. A Trick of the Light. Minotaur: St. Martin’s.
Agatha Best First Novel
Bolin, Janet. Dire Threads. Berkley Prime Crime.
George, Kaye. Choke. Mainly Murder Pr.
Henry, Sara J. Learning To Swim. Crown.
Staab, Rochelle. Who Do, Voodoo? Berkley Prime Crime.
Townsend, Kari Lee. Tempest in the Tea Leaves. Berkley Prime Crime.
For all the latest reviews in this subject area and more, see LJ‘s new Reviews Center (Beta)!The Reviews Center (Beta) is available free through March 1, 2012 to all users with a Library Journal or School Library Journal online account (this includes current recipients of our email newsletters). Don’t know if you have an account with us? It’s easy to check and verify your email, or create a new account.Log in to the Reviews Center (Beta) now.
The following titles are reviewed in the April 1 print issue. Visit our Reviews Center (Beta) for the full reviews.
FORENSIC Experts FOR HIRE
Helms, Richard. The Unresolved Seventh. Five Star: Gale Cengage. Apr. 2012. c.300p. ISBN 9781432825874. $25.95. M
McCarthy, Keith. Nor All Your Tears: A Dr. Lance Elliot Mystery. Severn House. Apr. 2012. c.208p. ISBN 9780727881199. $28.95. M
CHECK THESE OUT
Arthurson, Wayne. A Killing Winter. Forge: Tor. Apr. 2012. c.304p.ISBN 9780765324184. $24.99. M
Grabenstein, Chris. Fun House: A John Ceepak Mystery. Pegasus Crime. May 2012. c.336p. ISBN 9781605983363. $25. M
Jones, Merry. Behind the Walls: A Harper Jennings Mystery. Severn House. Apr. 2012. c.224p. ISBN 9780727881182. $28.95. M
Knode, Helen. Wildcat Play. Houghton Harcourt. Apr. 2012. c.320p. ISBN 9780151004294. $24. M
Linnéa, Sharon. These Violent Delights. Arundel. (Movie Mystery Bk. 1). Apr. 2012. c.388p. ISBN 9781933608617. $24.95; pap. ISBN 9781933608600. $14.95. M
Olshan, Joseph. Cloudland. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Apr. 2012. c.304p. ISBN 9781250000170. $24.99. M
Ace, Cathy. The Corpse with the Silver Tongue: A Cait Morgan Mystery. Touchwood, dist. by Midpoint Trade. Apr. 2012. c.240p. ISBN 9781927129098. pap. $14.95. M
Belle, Josie. 50% Off Murder: A Good Buy Girls Mystery. Berkley Prime Crime. Apr. 2012. c.282p. ISBN 9780425247020. pap. $7.99. M
Chase, Erika. A Killer Read: An Ashton Corners Book Club Mystery. Berkley Prime Crime. Apr. 2012. c.304p. ISBN 9780425247037. pap. $7.99. M
Hart, Carolyn. Death Comes Silently: A Death on Demand Mystery. Berkley Prime Crime. Apr. 2012. c.288p. ISBN 9780425245705. $24.95. M
Holt, Anne. Blind Goddess: A Hanne Wilhelmsen Novel. Scribner. Jun. 2012. c.352p. tr. from Norwegian by Tom Geddes. ISBN 9781451634761. pap. $15. M
McGee, James. Hawkwood: A Regency Crime Thriller. Pegasus Crime. May 2012. c.416p. ISBN 9781605983684. $25.95. M
Russell, Sheldon. Dead Man’s Tunnel. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Jun. 2012. c.304p. ISBN 9781250001009. $25.99. M
Speller, Elizabeth. The Strange Fate of Kitty Easton. Houghton Harcourt. Jul. 2012. c.416p. ISBN 9780547547527. $25. M