While the debate surrounding gun control rages on in real life, crime fiction authors continually wage some sort of internal pro-and-con argument about violence with their characters. Chivalry, or the knight errant motif specifically, comes to the forefront most frequently (in Lee Child’s “Jack Reacher” novels, for example). For the darkest point of view, look at James Thompson’s lead, Kari Vaara, who wants to win his wife back and protect his child, so he embarks on a killing mission to prove himself in Helsinki Blood. Similarly, Peg Herring’s Simon Maldon, an Elizabethan-era man, will fight to protect his country and his family in The Lady Flirts with Death.
Art and artifacts bring out their share of dark violence, too. While Thomas Mogford uses Caravaggio’s paintings as his starting point for a mystery laden with pentimento (Sign of the Cross), David Whellams explores James Wilkes Booth’s rumored relationship (rare letters are involved) with Canada in his contemporary procedural, The Drowned Man. Rare horror-film footage sets off a murder case in Loren Estleman’s Alive!.
Some authors use their canines as sidekicks; note Jo Bannister’s assistance dog in her psychological thriller Deadly Virtues, and Karen Keskinen’s loyal companion character in her debut, Blood Orange. Waverly Curtis’s Chihuahua Confidential is more playful, while Sue Owens Wright’s Braced for Murder introduces a supportive duo of basset hounds.
One of the most difficult things about writing fiction must be getting the characters’ voices to ring true. Can an older writer make a 30-something narrator come alive? Sometimes I wonder about the technology the narrator is using (texting vs. email, tweeting, etc.) as opposed to what the author (often many years older) prefers. Kudos to Tammy Kaehler with her Kate Reilly protagonist in Braking Points and Veronica Heley’s Bea Abbot in False Alarm for authentic voice!
Hart, Erin. The Book of Killowen. Scribner. Mar. 2013. 352p. ISBN 9781451634846. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781451634860. M
Pathologist Nora Gavin and archeologist Cormac Maguire are called to the bogs of Killowen to investigate the remains of a ninth-century man found in the trunk of a car along with the body of a controversial medievalist and television talk show host. Mixing work with pleasure, they choose to stay at the spa-lodge of Killowen, once a monastic settlement. Its permanent residents are an eclectic mix of artists and organic farmers who are not entirely appreciated by the locals. Nora and Cormac quickly learn that murder is not uncommon in this remote corner of Ireland and that the residents of the lodge, particularly the estranged wife of the dead TV host and her lover/assistant, all have secrets to hide. Working alongside a prickly group of local Gardai (police officers) and representatives of the National Museum, Nora and Cormac unravel a fascinating tale of ancient scribes, illuminated manuscripts, obsessive treasure hunters, and death. VERDICT This welcome fourth addition (after False Mermaid) to Hart’s Irish archaeological series offers a richly atmospheric read full of medieval Irish lore and a provocative contemporary mystery. Sure to be a huge hit with readers of Aaron Elkins, Elly Griffiths, and Erin Hart’s earlier Gavin/Maguire stories. [See Prepub Alert, 10/8/12.]—Susan Clifford Braun, Bainbridge Island, WA
Thompson, James. Helsinki Blood: An Inspector Vaara Novel. Putnam. Mar. 2013. 336p. ISBN 9780399158889. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9781101609293. M
Finnish inspector Kari Vaara has been beaten down so thoroughly (after Helsinki White) that all bets are off as to his integrity or ability to handle the black-ops work his team has taken on. His wife has left him, but their baby is in Kari’s care. Meanwhile, thugs are targeting him because of his last case, reminding him of his vulnerability. Once that problem is addressed, Kari agrees to help an Estonian woman find her kidnapped daughter, who has Down syndrome. Wading into the dismal morass of human trafficking, Kari’s team goes vigilante. Clearly, there is no turning back. VERDICT Finnish noir is the current tone of Thompson’s series, and his bleak and crushingly violent opening will put off some readers; I still miss the Kari of Snow Angels. But readers who are already invested in this character ache to see him succeed. Just the fact that Thompson can make the situation believable and make us care is evidence of his talent. [See Prepub Alert, 9/17/12.]
Whellams, David. The Drowned Man: A Peter Cammon Mystery. ECW, dist. by IPG. Mar. 2013. 440p. ISBN 9781770410435. pap. $14.95. M
Retired Scotland Yard Inspector Cammon wonders why he is needed to accompany a dead agent, John Carpenter, home from Montreal; any low-ranking individual could do the job. Quickly, he realizes that John’s business in Canada doesn’t quite fit into a suitable business model. John was working with people purportedly selling rare letters written by Abraham Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth. Someone stood to make quite a bit of money auctioning off the documents and somehow the dead agent ended up in the middle. Once Peter learns of John’s elusive girlfriend, he realizes that more than rare documents are at stake. A dazzling game of cat and mouse carries him from Canada to England to Washington, DC, and beyond as a global plot unfolds. VERDICT Whellams’s sophomore entry (after Walking into the Ocean) sweeps the reader away with its elaborate plot, insightful observations about human character, and genuine spy adventure. This title can be read as a stand-alone, but take my word for it, this is a series to follow particularly for Louise Penny fans and the Masterpiece Mystery set.
For all the latest reviews in this subject area and more, check out our new Book Verdict site! Book Verdict is fully accessible to all users, though certain content and functionality are only available to subscribers.To log in to your account, click here. To view the new subscription options, Get Started With Book Verdict Pro Today.
Don’t know if you have an account with us? It’s easy to check and verify your email, or create a new account.
The following titles are reviewed in the March 1 print issue. Visit Book Verdict for the full reviews.
CHECK THESE OUT
Bannister, Jo. Deadly Virtues. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Mar. 2013. 272p. ISBN 9781250023445. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250023452. M
Estleman, Loren D. Alive!: A Valentino Mystery. Forge: Tor. Apr. 2013. 284p. ISBN 9780765333315. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466800649. M
Herring, Peg. The Lady Flirts with Death: A Simon & Elizabeth Mystery. Five Star: Gale Cengage. May 2013. 244p. ISBN 9781432827120. $25.95. M
Kaehler, Tammy. Braking Points: A Kate Reilly Racing Mystery. Poisoned Pen. Apr. 2013. 300p. ISBN 9781464200991. $24.95; pap. ISBN 9781464201011. $14.95. M
Keskinen, Karen. Blood Orange. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Jun. 2013. 320p. ISBN 9781250012333. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250028334. M
Legault, Stephen. The Third Riel Conspiracy: A Durrant Wallace Mystery. TouchWood, dist. by Midpoint Trade. Mar. 2013. 272p. ISBN 9781927129852. pap. $14.95. M
Mogford, Thomas. Sign of the Cross: A Spike Sanguinetti Novel. Bloomsbury, dist. by Macmillan. Mar. 2013. 240p. ISBN 9781620402009. $25. M
Parks, Brad. The Good Cop. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Mar. 2013. 352p. ISBN 9781250005526. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250022462. M
Curtis, Waverly. Chihuahua Confidential: A Barking Detective Mystery. Kensington. Apr. 2013. 300p. ISBN 9780758274960. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9780758286048. M
Heley, Veronica. False Alarm: An Abbot Agency Mystery. Severn House. Apr. 2013. 220p. ISBN 9780727882370. $28.95. M
Wright, Sue Owens. Braced for Murder: A Beanie and Cruiser Mystery. Five Star: Gale Cengage. May. 2013. 244p. ISBN 9781432826895. $25.95. M
Box, C.J. Breaking Point: A Joe Pickett Novel. Putnam. Mar. 2013. 384p. ISBN 9780399160752. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9781101609279. M
Cha, Steph. Follow Her Home: A Mystery. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Apr. 2013. 288p. ISBN 9781250009623. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250023131. M
Freed, David. Fangs Out. Permanent. Apr. 2013. 304p. ISBN 9781579623333. $29.95. M
Läckberg, Camilla. The Stranger. Pegasus Crime. May 2013. 384p. tr. from Swedish by Steven T. Murray. ISBN 9781605984254. $25.95. M
Robertson, Michael. The Baker Street Translation. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Apr. 2013. 288p. ISBN 9781250016454. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250022554. M
Sigurdardóttir, Yrsa. The Day is Dark. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Mar. 2013. 384p. tr. from Icelandic by Philip Roughton. ISBN 9781250029409. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250020970. M