Xpress Reviews: Fiction | First Look at New Books, January 31, 2014

Week ending January 31, 2014

Beaton, M.C. Death of a Policeman. Grand Central. Feb. 2014. 272p. ISBN 9781455504732. $25; ebk. ISBN 9781455553433. MYS
The 30th installment in this long-running series (after 2013’s Death of Yesterday) finds Sgt. Hamish Macbeth facing another threat to his cozy setup in the Scottish Highlands. With the impending closure of local police stations across Scotland and reduction in staffing, Detective Chief Inspector Blair sees his chance finally to rid himself of Hamish. He sends Cyril Sessions, a handsome constable, to Lochdubh to spy on Hamish and report back. Although Hamish quickly discovers Cyril’s identity, he still is angered by Cyril’s presence and Blair’s trickery. When Cyril is murdered, Hamish is briefly considered a suspect. Attention soon turns, however, to an influential restaurateur and his shady business dealings. While Hamish’s investigation uncovers dark secrets and more dead bodies, Hamish struggles to find Cyril’s killer and to sort out his messy love life. Sidekick Dick’s infatuation with a young pretty librarian (and her love-hungry fellow librarian’s infatuation with Cyril, Hamish, and Dick) provides many funny moments.
Verdict Series fans will welcome another visit to Lochdubh. Cozy readers, while they might be surprised by the grisly deaths and the high body count, will enjoy reading about the charming and tenacious Hamish Macbeth.—Lynnanne Pearson, Skokie P.L., IL

Billingham, Mark. From the Dead. Atlantic Monthly. Jan. 2014. 400p. ISBN 9780802122131. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780802192882. F
A case out of DI Tom Thorne’s past has surfaced when he finds out that Alan Langford, a man who was supposed to be dead, seems to be still alive and living it up in Spain, if pictures sent to his former wife, Donna, are any indication. Donna, in fact, was put away for conspiracy to commit murder but is now out of jail, and their 18-year-old daughter has gone missing. Further complicating the matter is a nosy, and very determined, private investigator, hired by the newly freed Donna. When people involved in the case start to die, Thorne knows he must find out the truth about Langford before there are more casualties.
Verdict In the ninth outing featuring DI Thorne (after The Dying Hours), an absorbing mystery is interspersed with some uncomfortable moments in Thorne’s relationship with fellow cop Louise Porter. It’s also flavored with his bitterness as a result of a recent trial that failed to convict someone Thorne is certain is guilty. Newcomers to this series probably shouldn’t start here, but fans of the books will find plenty to enjoy.—Kristin Centorcelli, Denton, TX

Bingham, Harry. Love Story, with Murders. Delacorte. Feb. 2014. 400p. ISBN 9780345533760. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780345533777. F
lovestorywithmurders013114In the follow-up to Bingham’s acclaimed debut, Talking to the Dead, diminutive Welsh detective Fiona Griffiths is investigating an unusual harvest in a remote country village. The leg in the freezer, the arm in the drainpipe, and the head in the vat of oil soon fit together to form two victims, connected only in manner of disposal. Is this the work of a single killer, or is there a copycat in the mix? The investigation will lead the idiosyncratic detective one step closer to solving some mysteries of her own.
Verdict A character-driven thriller as heavy on charm as it is on grisly crime scenes and close escapes. Followers of Fiona Griffiths are sure to delight in her newest adventure, and newcomers will also enjoy the novel, which can be appreciated as a stand-alone. With its frosty settings and offbeat detective, Bingham’s latest might be welcomed by fans of Peter Høeg, Jo Nesbø, Stieg Larsson, and Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö. [See Prepub Alert, 8/19/13.]—Liv Hanson, Chicago

Conroy, Robert. 1920: America’s Great War. Baen. 2013. 512p. ISBN 9781451639315. $25. SF
Conroy (Rising Sun) turns his alternate history talents to a reimagining of the Great War in this action-filled novel. “What if…,” Conroy conjectures, “Germany had won the battle of the Marne in 1914?” His introductory note explains that this isn’t far-fetched and that a swift victory over the French Army and the British Expeditionary Force could have resulted. The slightly mad Kaiser Wilhelm views America as weak and covets the oil of California, and, presto!, the Germans and their ally Mexico invade the American Southwest. Fighting rages between Texas Rangers and the Mexican Army near San Antonio, but the main event is the defense of San Francisco, virtually cut off from the rest of the country by saboteurs.
Verdict Conroy offers up a believable scenario and heroics galore on the part of the good guys, ranging from trench fighting to the first tank charge. His characters, though, come straight from central casting and feature straightforward military heroes, their plucky girlfriends, and dastardly traitors. Still, this should be good fun for alternate history buffs.—Eric Norton, McMillan Memorial Lib., Wisconsin Rapids

Grossman, Paul. Brotherhood of Fear: A Willi Kraus Novel. St. Martin’s. Feb. 2014. 320p. ISBN 9781250011596. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466840911. F
brotherhoodoffear013114Jewish police detective Willi Kraus makes his third appearance (after Children of Wrath) in this historical thriller. It’s 1933, and the rise of Hitler and the Nazi party in Germany has forced the famous and well-respected Kraus to flee Berlin for Paris, making him a refugee with no papers or work permit. His detecting skills are recognized in Paris, and soon Kraus is doing some illegal private detective work that involves following a university student. Kraus’s tenacity leads him into even shadier territory, and he begins to wonder for whom he’s really working. Meanwhile, wealthy financier André Duval befriends Kraus and convinces Kraus’s in-laws to invest in his firm. After an anonymous source accuses the financier of fraud, the police coerce Kraus into spying on Duval by threatening to deport him to Nazi Germany. Then Duval enlists Kraus to find the accuser. Caught in the middle, Kraus tries to satisfy both sides while continuing to pursue the original mystery of the student.
Verdict Grossman’s atmospheric thriller is full of twists that viscerally capture Paris on the brink of war. Readers will root for his hero, a hard-boiled detective unmoored by the loss of home and country yet determined to seek justice for the victims he encounters.—Melissa DeWild, Kent Dist. Lib., Comstock Park, MI

Hunsicker, Harry. The Contractors. Thomas & Mercer: Amazon. Feb. 2014. 514p. ISBN 9781477808726. pap. $14.95. F
In his new stand-alone, the author of the Lee Henry Oswald PI mysteries (Still River; The Next Time You Die) takes as his realistic premise the proliferation of private military contractors and the privatization of law enforcement. Ex-Dallas cop Jon Cantrell, along with his partner Piper (with a penchant for orphan charities and a shoot-to-kill policy), works for a private contractor, intercepting drug shipments along the U.S.-Mexico border. But when they confiscate the wrong load, all hell breaks loose—violence, murder, revenge, and shootouts are here aplenty.
Verdict Hunsicker has written a very good thriller, all the better for addressing serious issue of narco-trafficking and privatization of law enforcement. His complex story line is plausible, very well paced yet also easy to follow. Characters both major and minor are well drawn and memorable, and the action sequences are convincing and compelling. The only drawback is the rather inappropriate humorous tone that detracts from a well-crafted novel of suspense.—Seamus Scanlon, Ctr. for Worker Education, CUNY

Rankin, Ian. Saints of the Shadow Bible. Little, Brown. Jan. 2014. 400p. ISBN 9780316224550. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780316224567. F
After a short-lived retirement, John Rebus (Exit Music; Standing in Another Man’s Grave) returns to the Edinburgh police force albeit with a demotion. Serendipitously, a new law is passed that allows the Scottish police to reopen old cases. Malcolm Fox (The Complaints; The Impossible Dead), the officer in charge of Complaints (Internal Affairs), reexamines a 30-year-old case investigated in the 1980s, when Rebus was a young officer, by his old team, known as “the Saints.” At the same time, Rebus teams up with his former mentee Siobhan Clarke to investigate a new case involving a young woman injured in a car accident. The evidence at the crime scene suggests foul play. When the young woman refuses to divulge the truth about the incident, Rebus and Clarke delve further into her life.
Verdict Edgar Award winner Rankin’s intricate plot and well-developed characters make this novel a must-read for Rankin fans, who will especially enjoy the Rebus-Fox matchup. By effectively recapping pertinent prior novels in the series, the author makes his latest title and his enigmatic protagonist accessible to new readers. [Eight-city tour.]—Russell Michalak, Goldey-Beacom Coll. Lib., Wilmington, DE

starred review starVlautin, Willy. The Free. Harper Perennial. Feb. 2014. 320p. ISBN 9780062276742. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062276759. F
free013114An elegy for the blue-collar worker, Vlautin’s (Lean on Pete) fourth novel focuses on three ordinary people and spotlights their essential dignity in the face of economic hardship. Eight years after leaving Iraq with a traumatic brain injury, Leroy Kervin in a rare moment of clarity attempts to commit suicide at his group home, unable to see any way that he could live a happy life. Freddie McCall, at the first of his two jobs he works to fight off mounting medical bills, is the night caretaker at the home and calls in the accident. Leroy is moved to a hospital, bedridden and lost in the fog of his own mind, in which he plays out a fantastical adventure with his girlfriend Jeanette as they elude a mysterious gang known as the Free. His nurse, Pauline Hawkins, who lives alone and cares for her aging and infirm father, develops a bond with one of her patients, a heroin-addicted 16-year-old runaway.
Verdict Despite touching on urgent national issues such as health care and the death of the middle class, Vlautin’s deeply sympathetic novel never feels labored or overtly political, telling its characters’ stories in direct, unvarnished prose that recalls the best of John Steinbeck.—Michael Pucci, South Orange P.L., NJ