mystery/crime



Photo by tibchris used under a Creative Commons license.

Thomas Roberts, Drake’s Bay (Permanent Press, 2010).
House-hunting one afternoon in Kensington, near Berkeley in the East Bay, San Francisco State history professor Ethan Storey stumbles onto a trail that may or may not lead back to evidence of Sir Francis Drake’s visit to the Bay Area more than four hundred years ago. As he soon discovers, the mystery is of more-than-academic interest to some rich and powerful interests, and Storey’s efforts to uncover the truth prove to be hazardous to his health. Without giving the plot away, I will say that the story (and Storey) move around the Bay Area, from Kensington and Berkeley to San Francisco to Richmond, both on and off the water.

Here’s the publisher’s page. Clark Isaacs says it features excellent prose. CelticLady calls it a suspenseful and entertaining story. Jenna A. recommends it highly.  Laura Pryor says it’s an old-school mystery (scroll down) that relies on intelligent plot twists and well-paced revelations, rather than relentless violence and gore. It’s on (UC Berkeley’s) Bancroft Library’s list of mysteries set in the Bay Area.  Mary Rees chatted with Roberts.  And here is Wikipedia’s page on Sir Francis Drake. Did he visit the Bay Area?

Buy it at Half.com.

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Both sides
Photo of Amsterdam by Photochiel used under a Creative Commons license.

Janwillem van de Wetering, Outsider In Amsterdam (Soho Press, 2003).
Crime fiction set in 1970s and featuring a duo of Amsterdam detectives, Grijpstra and de Gier, the first in a series of such mysteries by van de Wetering.  Piet Verboom is found hanging from a beam in his seventeenth-century house in central Amsterdam, the victim of what some detectives might have taken for a suicide, but Grijpstra and de Gier find a crime to solve. Other readers might find it too languid, but I quite enjoyed it.

Here is Wikipedia’s entry about van de Wetering. Here is a bio from Dunn and Powell Books, and another from the New Netherland Institute. When he died in 2008, the Guardian ran this obituary, and the Ellsworth (Maine) American ran this one. Cathy gave it only a B- but says it serves up a feast in the city and culture of Amsterdam. In a survey of van de Wetering’s career, Avram Davidson says it explores in fictional form philosophical and existential questions. Glenn Harper saw a 1979 Dutch movie adaptation. In 1975, Time said van de Wetering writes with pace, freshness and laconic precision, and that he clearly relishes irony. This novel got Peter Rozovsky turned onto international crime fiction.

Buy it at Amazon.com.

Fringed
Photo by m4r00n3d used under a Creative Commons license.

Kate Atkinson, One Good Turn (Little, Brown, 2006).
Private detective Jackson Brodie makes a return appearance (we met him first in Case Histories), this time in Edinburgh, where his girlfriend Julia is appearing in a Fringe Festival production.  Brodie is witness to a routine fender-bender which turns ugly, and the chain of events it touches off are hardly mundane.  As trouble ensues, Atkinson switches the point of view repeatedly between strangers whom events have thrust together, including Edinburgh police inspector Louise Monroe.  The result is perhaps more literary than most mysteries, with an emphasis on character development and dialogue.  A genre-bender, and my favorite of Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie books.

Google Book Search gives you a preview.  Janet Maslin (The New York Times) says Atkinson’s characters are all interestingly off-balance.  Liesl Schillinger (The New York Times) calls Atkinson’s writing bleakly funny.  Laura Miller (Salon) savored the tart, quirky character portraits.  It’s the most complicated plot Becky has encountered in a long time.  Justine Jordan (The Guardian) says Atkinson interweaves stories with panache.  Nancy Fontaine compares it to a rich, chocolate dessert.  Cate Ross was reminded of the ourobouros (careful: spoilers).  Mary Whipple smiled at the plotting and twists of fate.  Amanda Craig (The Independent) says Atkinson is splendid at the stuff of people’s lives.  Dana Kletter (The San Francisco Chronicle) says a melancholic atmosphere pervades the novel.  Claudia FitzHerbert (The Telegraph) calls it an action-packed cartoon of a book in a flimsy throwaway frame.  Norah Piehl says crime-novel purists would not call it a mystery.  B. Morrison found it confusing but still a good read.  C. Max Magee calls it antic and madcap.  Veronique De Turenne (NPR) calls it a Rubik’s Cube of a book.  W.R. Greer calls it one fine novel.  It knocked off Thomas Pynchon in the 2007 Tournament of Books. David Thayer says great swathes of it are fun to read, others are frustrating.  Ellen liked unexpected twists and turns.  Mel says Atkinson’s stories begin like shattered vases, but then they fit together.  Sam Sattler says the story is bigger than the sum of its parts.  Ladyslott calls it a very enjoyable and literary mystery.  The Nag is one of several to liken the plot to matryoshka nesting dolls.  Sam Smith calls it a book about coincidences.  Jenny says it revolves around coincidences.  Chris Marshall calls it a load of rubbish.  Jo calls it brilliant.  Shelly says it’s not a traditional mystery.  Margaret likes Atkinson’s gently amusing detachment.  Atkinson is asked about her portrayal of Edinburgh in this interview on NPR.  Listen to Atkinson read from the book on KQED.  Or listen to Atkinson discuss the book on the Bat Segundo Show.

Buy it at Amazon.com.

The Szechenyi Baths
Photo of the Szechenyi Baths by wfbakker2 used under a Creative Commons license.

Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, The Man Who Went up in Smoke (Vintage, 2008).
Inspector Martin Beck of the Stockholm police has just arrived at Baltic island for an overdue vacation when he is summoned back to the capital and asked by the national government to find a missing man, a journalist named Alf Mattson who has not returned from a trip to Budapest.  Beck soon finds himself flying to Budapest to search for Mattson.  The Man Who Went up in Smoke was first published in 1966, when Hungary lay behind the Iron Curtain and Sweden was neutral.  Sjöwall and Wahlöö may not be the first guides you’d pick for a visit to Hungary, but they do write an nice little mystery.  Note that this is the second of a series.

Here is Wikipedia’s entry about the authors, a husband-and-wife team. Maxine Clarke wondered if it could live up to the praise for the series, but calls it marvelous. James Smith says the accumulation of detail is almost mesmeric.  William Corbett (The Boston Phoenix) says Sjöwall and Wahlöö deliver all that you want from a thriller. Kate S. charts its resonances in more recent fiction.  David Cranmer thinks the joy of the book is in the way Beck’s character is drawn. Moonraking posts a random passage. Adam Bowie likes it.

Buy it at Amazon.com.

Punts in Cambridge
Photo by Jan-Willem Swane used under a Creative Commons license.

Kate Atkinson, Case Histories (Little, Brown, 2004).
Jackson Brodie is a private investigator in Cambridge, a divorced father of one, a veteran and an ex-cop, and not a glamorous fellow.  The novel — a sort of a hybrid of the crime genre and a more literary endeavour — follows Brodie through the wending courses of several different engagements — a lost child, an allegedly unfaithful spouse, a missing sister.  The lure here is Atkinson’s storytelling, and particularly her ability to draw a variety of compelling characters.  
Some coincidences knit the plot together, but they are readily overlooked.

Google Book Search lets you preview it. Carrie O’Grady (The Guardian) says Atkinson is very good indeed. Katie Owen (The Telegraph) likes Atkinson’s wicked sense of humour and her delight in eccentricity.  Roberta Silman (The Boston Globe) calls it an interesting hybrid of a novel.  Timothy Peters (San Francisco Chronicle) says it transcends the limitations of the genre.  Jacqueline Carey (The New York Times) calls it exuberant and empathetic. Misha Berson (Seattle Times) says it has real gravitas. Sharon Dilworth (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) calls it a brilliant if circuitously plotted novel.  Michael Allen found it hard going.  The Complete Review says it’s very well-written and consistently entertaining.  Boris Kachka (New York) says in the end this is a clever detective novel, no less but no more. Jeff Turrentine (The Washington Post) calls it a rousing triumph if you ignore mystery conventions.  Sam calls it darkly comic and well characterised. Dest reeled from one of the most powerful stories he or she read in a while. Michelle loved the bits of humour and irony. Rosario thinks the best thing about it was the small, understated connections. MsTweet didn’t see the connections. Jessica became a hopeless fan with the fourth chapter. Luanne liked the deliciously intricate, detailed plot. Margaret calls Atkinson a master at creating separate stories, then slowly intertwining them. Natasha Tripney thinks some of the resolutions are a little too neat. Bookdwarf says you can’t put it down. Jenny hugely enjoyed it. Paul thinks it’s pretty good. Devourer of Books did eventually enjoy it. It didn’t work for showhost. Atkinson’s writing drove raych round the bend. Denise Pickles calls it a thumping good tale. Sam Smith calls it nearly perfect. Jo wants to know more about Jackson Brodie. The Litblog Co-op picked it for its 2005 Read This! — read this and subsequent posts. Helen Brown interviewed Atkinson for The Telegraph upon the release of Case Histories.  Georgie Lewis interviewed Atkinson for Powells.com following the publication of a subsequent book.  You can listen to a discussion about it on The Diane Rehm Show on WAMU.

Buy it at Amazon.com.

Walking under the lights Munich
Photo by moertl used under a Creative Commons license.

Philip Kerr, The One from the Other (Penguin, 2009).
Kerr’s hard-boiled detective, Bernie Gunther, known to readers of his Berlin Noir trilogy, is back again. It is 1949, and Gunther finds himself running an inn in Munich, but innkeeping is not really Gunther’s metier, particularly when the inn is across the street from the Dachau camp. He soon goes to work as a private investigator, looking for a missing husband. In post-war Munich, Americans are hard to miss and ex-Nazis are hard to avoid.

Wikipedia’s bio of Kerr is a little thin. Here is a brief Q&A with him. The Complete Review says it’s occasionally far-fetched, and trying too hard, but thoroughly entertaining. Ron Rosenbaum (The New York Observer) says Kerr is unique in that he bridges the private-eye and public-spy genres . Simon Clews (The Age) says Kerr’s almost gothic characters are drawn with a painterly eye . Patrick Anderson (The Washington Post) calls Kerr’s Germany a searing portrait of Hell on Earth. Peter Guttridge (The Guardian) calls it slow-moving but intelligent, if didactic. Marilyn Stasio (The New York Times Book Review) calls it a bleak tale of the dirty deals made by victors and vanquished alike. Tim Davis calls it tense, chilling and provocative. C. Michael Bailey (Blogcritics) thinks Kerr creates an intriguing picture of postwar-occupied German. Whisky Prajer says it doesn’t soar to the heights or plummet to the depths of Berlin Noir. Yvonne Klein sees a complex, tricky plot. Irma Heldman (Open Letters) says you can smell the depravity and feel the evil (n.b. – this review is long on plot). Chris Marshall thoroughly enjoyed it. Jedidiah Ayres says the research and period details are priceless. And if you speak Dutch, this Philip Kerr page is for you.

Buy it at Amazon.com.

Reykjavik
Photo of Reykjavík by Kirstín Sig used under a Creative Commons license.

Arnaldur Indridason, Jar City (Picador, 2006).
There aren’t many murders in Reykjavik, but this novel starts with a new case for inspector Erlandur, the death of an elderly man, apparently killed by an intruder in his basement apartment.  I hesitate to say much more, for fear of spoiling the plot — read the reviews linked below if you’ll take that risk — but it was terrific, and I look forward to reading more from Indridason.

Google BookSearch has a preview. Jane Jakeman (The Independent) sees elements of the sagas. Kara Kellar Bell says you learn quite a few things about Iceland reading it. But Sharon Wheeler didn’t see much of Reykjavik in it. On the other hand, Cela says Reykjavik is directly or indirectly present in almost every chapter. Becky read it before a trip to Iceland. Wendy R. loved that it rained constantly. Ali Karim said it made him cry. Jandy calls it well crafted. Steve Himmer thought the plotting and prose too conspicuous. Theodore Feit thinks Indridason is on a par with the best mystery authors. Joy wasn’t totally impressed. Alan Neale has some favorite quotes. Dove Grey Reader has spoilers. Laura Schut says Indridason has an amazing way of fitting pieces of a mystery together. DEY says much of the charm is the setting. This Iceland Review article about thrillers focuses on Indridason.  Scandanavian Review interviewed Indridason. So did Doug Johnstone, for Times Online. There’s a movie adapation, and Wendy Ide (The Independent) reviewed it (via Maxine). Finally, Michael Lewis’s article on Iceland in Vanity Fair was terrific, if barely related to the novel.

Buy it at Amazon.

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