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Review: New crime fiction from Val McDermid, Ann Cleeves and others Add to ...

Out of Bounds

By Val McDermid

Atlantic Monthly Press, 422 pages, $36.50

Thirty books in, most crime writers start to flag, but not Val McDermid. This latest book, featuring cold case Detective Chief Inspector Karen Pirie, is as slickly plotted and polished as her earliest works, and that’s saying a lot because McDermid’s work always slashes like a knife. The setting is Edinburgh. Pirie is walking, hours on end, cursed by insomnia and grief over the loss of her partner in life and work. While she walks the nights away, a teenaged boy on a joy ride crashes the car and kills his three best friends. A routine DNA test shows he’s a relative of a man who raped and murdered a woman 20 years earlier, before he was born. It’s a classic historic case for Pirie. Pirie will drift into another case, one that takes her back into the era of British history when the IRA was bombing planes and killing politicians. But she doesn’t lose sight of the dead woman and the kid with the DNA. That’s what makes McDermid so readable. Her police do regular work – forensics, digging for clues, searching for the tiny threat that will give them a way into the crime. There’s a subplot about a group of Syrian refugees that Pirie meets on one of her night walks. They could have been left out, but I’m glad they weren’t.

The Extra Cadaver Murder

By Roy Innes

NeWest Press, 370 pages, $15.95

This is the fourth in a series featuring RCMP Inspector Mark Coswell of Vancouver’s “Q” division, but it’s my first time reading Roy Innes, a retired eye surgeon. I have to assume from his precise prose and skillful plotting that he was a demon with the scalpel. The plot is a bit contrived – the Irish Troubles crop up – but it’s still a quick and readable book. Innes does a great job setting the scene. We open in Vancouver in an anatomy class for medical students; the extra cadaver of the title is an eminent professor from the medical school. Insp. Coswell is called to the scene and the hunt begins. The first clue is that the professor was garrotted, not a crime of the moment. This was planned carefully right down to the nude body on the dissecting table. Coswell’s attention is a bit addled by his fear that he’s losing his memory. It’s further confounded by a lively new addition to his team, a young woman who is clearly not his choice and who is bound to see that he changes some old habits. The personal issues don’t cloud the essential mystery here.

Cold Earth

By Ann Cleeves

Macmillan, 388 pages, $25.99

We know we’re in Ann Cleeves territory – it’s cold, damp and a bit gloomy. There’s a dead wife and the child with two fathers, and, well, sadness. So it’s appropriate this novel opens with a funeral in the rain that turns into a landslide that uncovers a body. DI Jimmy Perez sees a scrap of red in the cold watery earth and it turns out to be a dead woman. That’s the spin a master storyteller takes with an ordinary whodunit and Cleeves gives it her all. There’s a developing something (we don’t know yet) with Willow Reeves and the continuing transformation of Shetland itself, as oil and gas change the landscape and the population. The old ways and people are going (the opening funeral of Magnus Tait is indicative) as the new intrudes, alters, moves. But we are still in a place where fog can close off roads and airports, where cellphone reception is erratic, and a police officer still has to use his wits to solve a murder. Read this and don’t miss the TV series.

Kill the Next One

By Federico Axat, translated by David Frye

Mulholland Books, 416 pages, $34

There may be Argentine writers who are not influenced by Jorge Luis Borges, but Federico Axat is not one of them. This hefty novel, his English-language debut, has labyrinths, twists and psychological games aplenty and, for fans of the clean, cool plotline, it won’t suit. But those of us who like a bit of offbeat writing will find this trip into a man’s madness (or is he?) riveting. Ted McKay has incurable brain cancer and is about to kill himself when a man appears at his door with a proposition. What if Ted doesn’t commit suicide? What if he kills two other people; one is a man who deserves to die, the other is incurably ill and wants out, just like Ted. The exchange is that someone else will kill Ted. It’s so much better if your family thinks you were murdered, rather than a suicide. Or is it? Ted agrees and heads out, but his “victims” know things about him and there are strange coincidences, events that lead to other places and events, and lead on. Eventually, Ted ends up in a psychiatric hospital, where he may or may not belong. The old plot of fantasy versus reality is done well here. Axat is a man to watch.

The Fundy Vault

By Linda Moore

Vagrant Press, 235 pages, $19.95

This sequel to Foul Deeds brings criminologist Rosalind back to solve the case of a body that disappears. If that’s not enough, her associate McBride comes to help her and he disappears, too. Which means Rosalind has to follow the clues all along the Annapolis Valley, which makes for a terrific little light mystery. “If I had just kept my nose in my book – if only I hadn’t looked up when I heard the crows …” That’s the opening for Rosalind, now employed as a researcher for the Public Prosecution Office, to ruin her holiday in Nova Scotia’s Minas Basin. She’s supposed to spend the summer relaxing by the sea and acting as dramaturge for a local theatre. But she looked up and what she saw was a body lifted by a helicopter and, as fans know, that’s catnip to any real investigator. Moore has a good grasp of character and a wonderful ability to bring her settings right onto the page. The plot is a bit stretched, but this isn’t intended as a heavy-duty book, just a nice light caper. That’s exactly what she delivers. Save it for a dull afternoon and then let your imagination wander the byways of a beautiful Maritime summer.

In Sunlight or In Shadow: Stories Inspired by the Paintings of Edward Hopper

Edited by Lawrence Block

Pegasus Books, 279 pages, $34.95

The subtitle of this book tells it all: “Stories Inspired by the Paintings of Edward Hopper.” We are in New York, with pale lights, damp streets and lonely people at diner counters. Anyone who has ever seen an Edward Hopper painting will recognize another instantly and Lawrence Block, one of New York’s finest crime writers, has commissioned a group of the best of the best to create stories based on Hopper’s works. There are no bad tales in this collection. If anything, it’s too short. Among the standouts, we have Michael Connelly, Gail Levin and Joyce Carol Oates. But the rest of the list, including Lee Child, Stephen King and Block himself, carry off the story beneath the tale Hopper calls us to imagine. I loved this book because I’ve always loved Hopper’s paintings, which tell their own stories and leave me to imagine others. The whole idea of the collection is a tribute to a superb painter of a great city. It would be wonderful if this were to become a series – art and storytelling combined – in Chicago or Los Angeles. If you like the stories, Google Hopper and look at the art. Much better, go to New York and see it at the Whitney and then drift downtown and watch it come to life.

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