The parting words from a dying cop, “Above anything else, a policeman must be fair,” in Marco Vichi’s stirring Death in Sardinia, resonate. A similar sentiment echoes in N.P. Simpson’s debut military procedural, B.O.Q. And once again, in Sally Spencer’s compelling Death’s Dark Shadow. Yes, cases are solved, but verdicts can be complicated.
Consider gearing up for April’s Earth Day with three very different titles dealing with environmental topics coming out this month. Brad Parks (The Player) and Esther Figueroa (Limbo) take serious stabs at environmental disasters and victims, but both manage to insert a Carl Hiaasen splash of the absurd, too. Vicki Delany, meanwhile, goes chilling with a case involving ecoterrorists (Under Cold Stone).
Colorado-based author Robert Greer had Russia on his mind when I queried him about his plans for reading in 2014 (see LJ 1/14, Mystery, for the full report). In an email he wrote, “I plan to read Doctor Zhivago, largely because for some reason I recently haven’t been able to get the haunting sounds of “Lara’s Theme” (from the movie) out of my head. I saw the original 1965 motion picture, but have never read the book, which, by the way, I have always considered a political thriller rather than the love story, which the movie centers on.”
For readers, Greer says, “I’d recommend The Conjure-Man Dies. Set in 1930s Harlem and written by a physician, Rudolph Fisher, the book is widely regarded as the first known mystery by an African American writer.” Greer knows of what he speaks. A Denver resident, the talented African American professor/pathologist/dentist/rancher must run out of hours in the day for those of us eagerly awaiting a sequel to Astride a Pink Horse. [Starred review, LJ 2/1/12.]
Numerous award nominees will be posted by the time this issue reaches you. Make sure to flag the Edgar Award nominees (theedgars.com), to be given out on May 1 in New York City. Later in May, the Agatha Awards will be announced at Malice Domestic (malicedomestic.org). These two sets of awards provide an excellent window into the mystery genre. With the burgeoning interest in YA and children’s mysteries, make sure your youth librarians are tuned in to the Edgars and Agathas, too!
If you’re heading to Left Coast Crime in Monterey, CA, later this month (March 20–23), please stop by and introduce yourself at the registration desk. I’m always eager to meet and catch up with library folks from around the world who love mysteries. Perhaps you have something interesting for LJ to know about? Do share! (leftcoastcrime.org/2014).
Debut of the month
Simpson, N.P. B.O.Q.: An NCIS Special Agent Fran Setliff Novel. John F. Blair. Mar. 2014. 324p. ISBN 9780895876164. $26.95. M
Damage control begins almost immediately at North Carolina’s Camp Lejeune when a drowned woman’s body is found on base, near the Bachelor Officers’ Quarters (B.O.Q.). The victim, Ann Buckhalter, was a journalist, and a rumor that she was the source of a politically damaging leak sets up a red flag in Fran Setliff’s mind. Alabama-born and proud to be an agent for the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), Fran is on the case. As she and her team gather evidence from unreliable sources such as the local newspaper’s military reporter and assorted teenagers who talk too freely, Fran wonders what sort of soap opera she’s wandered into. Her investigation keeps drifting back to the base’s commanding general, who has some skeletons in his closet regarding his treatment of women. Gutsy Fran strays into harm’s way more than once, but proves her mettle by staying on task. VERDICT This military police procedural is just right for the many fans of TV’s NCIS. Dense as a Scott Turow legal thriller, Simpson’s debut is finely attuned to military culture and her details (and low-key humor) will appeal to military thriller readers.
Parks, Brad. The Player: A Carter Ross Mystery. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Mar. 2014. 328p. ISBN 9781250044082. $25.99; ebk. ISBN . M
Newark’s Eagle-Examiner reporter Carter Ross smells a major story when he meets with a group of African American residents, all getting sick, who live adjacent to an old factory site being cleaned up for new commercial development. But Carter has to shift gears quickly when the slick developer, Vaughn McAlister, is murdered. Carter pauses to consider the timing and to wonder why the police appear disinterested, and then he forges ahead in pushy journalistic fashion. In quick order he comes up short against a sleazy lawyer, a well-known crime family, and details about Vaughn’s checkered history. Both Tommy Hernandez, Carter’s gay colleague and series staple, and the paper’s latest hapless intern are deep into the chase with Carter at this point. Expect a complicated, thrilling ending with a splash of mayhem. VERDICT Parks, a gifted storyteller (with shades of Mark Twain, or maybe Dave Barry), shows his mastery of the comic absurd behind serious journalism in his fifth outing (after The Good Cop).
Rigolosi, Steven. The Outsmarting of Criminals: A Mystery Introducing Miss Felicity Prim. Ransom Note. Mar. 2014. 304p. ISBN 9780977378791. $24. M
After being mugged in New York City, Miss Felicity Prim plans to embark on a new career: “criminal outsmarting.” She is going to do it the cozy way by moving to a small hamlet in Connecticut, where she’ll buy a cottage with a garden. All this in Chapter 1! The staff of the doctor’s office where she works is distraught when Felicity announces her resignation, especially the doctor, who wants to marry her. She’ll have none of this until she tries her new venture, though. Investigating as a concept gets decidedly real when a corpse turns up in her basement (a secret basement, by the way). Det. Ezra Dawes and his team make a valiant effort to keep up with Felicity. Concurrently, Felicity and her sister learn they have a secret half-sister, and thus she has a second case to solve. Mercy! VERDICT This title had me at the cover—all done in Edward Gorey style. The tongue-in-cheek humor Rigolosi showed in his earlier work (Androgynous Murder House Party) is key to this pitch-perfect mash-up of the greatest traditional/cozy mystery tropes. Similar in tone to Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher series although with a contemporary setting; a pleasure from cover to cover.
Vichi, Marco. Death in Sardinia: An Inspector Bordelli Mystery. Pegasus Crime. Mar. 2014. 456p. tr. from Italian by Stephen Sartarelli. ISBN 9781605985015. $25.95. M
As Christmas 1965 nears, Florence’s Insp. Franco Bordelli is investigating the murder of a loan shark, who was killed in his own apartment. After finding damning photos and promissory notes, Bordelli systematically visits those who were beholden to the man, narrowing the suspect list. Meanwhile, back on the island of Sardinia, Bordelli’s young assistant, Pietrino Piras, is recuperating from work-related injuries. Piras’s interest is piqued when a neighbor is an apparent suicide; sure enough, Piras is correct in thinking it’s homicide. Through telephone calls, Bordelli assists Piras, but it’s the young cop’s observational skills that finally trap a vicious killer who is also guilty of World War II atrocities. In Florence, Bordelli broods about aging and guilt. VERDICT Vichi’s series, now at number four here (after Death in Florence) is immensely readable. The author’s use of flashbacks, while important to character development, slows the story down, but Vichi is making a case for the strong contrast in generations, circa 1965. Crank up the Ennio Morricone and enjoy a leisurely and reflective read. Stephen Sartarelli, who also translates Andrea Camilleri’s books, provides notes.
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Betto, Frei. Hotel Brasil: The Mystery of the Severed Heads. Bitter Lemon. Mar. 2014. 256p. tr. from Portuguese by Jethro Soutar. ISBN 9781908524270. pap. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9781908524287. M
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