Fiction from Fossum, McFadden, Mofina, Moore, O’Connell, and Debuter Stambach | Xpress Reviews

Week ending August 19, 2016

Fossum, Karin. Hell Fire: An Inspector Sejer Mystery. Houghton Harcourt. Aug. 2016. 288p. tr. from Norwegian by Kari Dickson. ISBN 9780544633377. $24; ebk. ISBN 9780544636460. MYS
In Fossum’s 12th “Inspector Sejer” title (after The Drowned Boy), the Norwegian police detective investigates the murders of an impoverished mother, barely able to make ends meet, and her young son, found viciously stabbed in their trailer in a secluded area. A bloody footprint is the only clue. The story line shifts back and forth to another mother, who is dying of cancer and reveals hidden secrets to her troubled adult son, Eddie. He soon becomes obsessed with finding out where the father who abandoned him is buried. Sejer is somewhat more contemplative here than usual as he nears retirement but remains focused on finding the killer. Fossum’s novel, veiled thinly as a police procedural, is more social commentary about ordinary people struggling to get through life.
Verdict For readers unfamiliar with the series, this may not be the one to start with as Sejer and his team take a backseat to the flashbacks of the other characters’ lives. For Fossum fans, other Nordic crime fiction authors worth a read are Karin Altvegen or Jo Nesbø.—Frances Thorsen, Chronicles of Crime Bookshop, Victoria, BC

McFadden, Bernice L. The Book of Harlan. Akashic. May 2016. 400p. ISBN 9781617754463. pap. $16.95; ebk. ISBN 9781617754548. F
bookofharlan081916Born in 1917 to African American parents in Macon, GA, Harlan is in many respects an unexceptional individual who nonetheless lives through some of the most momentous periods of American history. We follow him as a sweet young boy left to live with his grandmother while his parents search for a better life elsewhere. Eventually, he makes his way to New York, settling in Harlem during the Harlem Renaissance and hobnobbing with some of its notables. Having taken up the guitar, Harlan migrates to Paris to perform in Montmartre but is trapped there when the Germans occupy the city. One evening, with his Jewish friend and fellow musician Lizard (Leo), who is especially interesting because he forsook his Jewish roots to identify with black musicians and culture, a Nazi soldier apprehends them, and they are shipped off to the notorious Buchenwald concentration camp. The author, whom the publisher claims was inspired by Firpo Carr’s Germany’s Black Holocaust 1890–1945, amply describes the horrors of the camp and its lasting effect on Harlan.
Verdict McFadden’s (Gathering of Waters) impressive achievement offers us a window into the often very difficult lives of African Americans from the Jim Crow era up to the present—and, unexpectedly, in wartime Germany. Highly recommended for showing us that however badly black citizens have historically been treated, black lives matter.—Edward Cone, New York

Mofina, Rick. Free Fall. Mira: Harlequin. Jul. 2016. 448p. ISBN 9780778319467. pap. $9.99; ebk. ISBN 9781460395837. F
A commuter flight to New York City takes the passengers on a ride into terror when the plane begins to fly erratically. The pilots regain control, and the plane lands safely. The incident is dismissed as pilot error, but reporter Kate Page thinks there is more to the story, and she begins to investigate. As Kate publishes her findings, the culprits responsible realize that their plan is going awry and arrange for another plane to crash. Page works with the FBI and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) while also fighting her coworkers for the next scoop in the story. Former crime reporter Mofina knows how to juggle wonderful characters, a truly tantalizing mystery, and the ever-changing world of journalism as online media continue to replace physical newspapers.
Verdict Mofina’s fourth Kate Page title (after Every Second) will terrify readers who are afraid to fly. Those new to the series won’t feel lost at all, and fans will love seeing her in action again. A perfect book to take to the beach, as long as you can drive to get there.—Jeff Ayers, Seattle P.L.

Moore, Graham. The Last Days of Night. Random. Sept. 2016. 368p. ISBN 9780812988901. $28; ebk. ISBN 9780812988918. F
Thomas Edison’s billion-dollar patent infringement lawsuit against George Westinghouse is merely one salvo in the late 19th-century “current wars.” In a surprising move, Westinghouse hires novice lawyer Paul Cravath to handle his defense, and Cravath quickly discovers that Edison will go to any lengths to ensure that his direct current (DC) system becomes the standard over the alternating current (AC) promoted by Westinghouse. Caught between the two rivals is eccentric inventor Nikola Tesla, driven by visionary ideas, not money. Assisted by Agnes Huntington, a celebrated actress with a shadowy past, Cravath manages to protect Tesla from external pressures and internal demons. Burglary, arson, corporate espionage, and other unscrupulous political and business deals raise questions about who can be trusted and fuel Cravath’s desire to defeat Edison. But will the personal price be too high? Although technical information about electricity sometimes slows the pace, vivid descriptions and plot twists abound. Moore provides extensive notes about real events and where his plot diverges. The cinematic quality of writing is unsurprising, as the author of The Sherlockian is also the Oscar-winning screenwriter of The Imitation Game.
Verdict With Moore’s novel and a 2017 film adaptation starring Eddie Redmayne, Cravath may become as famous as Edison, Tesla, or Westinghouse. Expect heavy demand. [See Prepub Alert, 3/21/16.]—Kathy Piehl, Minnesota State Univ. Lib., Mankato

O’Connell, Carol. Blind Sight. Putnam. (Mallory Mystery, Bk. 12). Sept. 2016. 400p. ISBN 9780399184239. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780399184253. MYS
There’s a killer on the loose in New York City. The victims are loners and shut-ins, but the ultimate target is someone else. The killer is trying to raise the ire of a powerful man by leaving a trail of bodies. One victim, however, doesn’t fit the pattern: a cloistered nun who may be connected to the murderer’s past. The only witness to her death is her young nephew, Jonah Quill, whom the killer has abducted. As Jonah, blind since birth, tries to figure out an escape plan, Det. Kathy Mallory attempts to put the pieces together in time to rescue him. O’Connell’s 12th Mallory novel has all of her trademarks: a twisty puzzle, page-turning suspense, and a dark and complex city of corruption. Above all is the cool, scary Mallory, who sees through the smokescreen of civility to the violence within. As one character says, “Vengeance, thy name is Mallory.”
Verdict A solid entry but perhaps not the best place to start the series. The mystery is satisfyingly complex, and the pace makes it hard to put down.—Devon Thomas, Chelsea, MI

Stambach, Scott. The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko. St. Martin’s. Aug. 2016. 336p. ISBN 9781250081865. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250081889. F
[DEBUT] Seventeen-year-old Ivan Isaenko has spent his life inside the dismal walls of the Mazyr Hospital for Gravely Ill Children in Belarus. An orphan (he’s been told), brought to the hospital as a small child, Ivan was born legless and with only one hand as a result of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Though physically disabled, he proves to be highly intelligent and spends his time reading the literature and philosophy slipped to him by his sympathetic nurse Natalya and caustically commenting (primarily to himself) on the patients and staff. His humdrum existence changes dramatically when Polina, a teenage cancer patient, comes to reside at the hospital. As vivacious and transgressive as it’s possible for a terminally ill teen to be, she gradually pulls Ivan out of his self-protective cocoon, until a friendship, and, ultimately, an unusual and sadly short-lived romance develops.
Verdict Stambach successfully conjures the tone of a Russian novel, to the point where a reader may check the cover to confirm the author’s name. In Ivan, he has created an appealingly uncommon literary misfit and outsider, a character somewhere between Holden Caulfield and Ignatius J. Reilly. A notable debut. [See Prepub Alert, 2/8/16.]—Lawrence Rungren, Andover, MA