A Woman Chased By Crows By Marc Strange, ECW, 406 pages, $24.95
Finished off the latest Louise Penny book and wondering what to read next? Look no further than this second Orwell Brennan novel by Canadian actor/TV writer Marc Strange. He manages to make the little Ontario town of Dockerty every bit as fascinating and murderous as Penny’s Three Pines, Que., minus the great food.
Chief Brennan has a dead Toronto cop on his hands. The man was following a Russian ballerina who defected to Canada 30 years earlier. She lives in Dockerty, gives lessons to the locals, is paranoid and under psychiatric care. She had lived in Toronto, where she had a history of calls to the police about strange people following her, and on a couple of occasions she confessed to murder. The dead man told Brennan he was following up on a case of murder in Toronto, but none of his colleagues knew about it.
Brennan has the able assistance of two terrific women, who add lustre to the series. The trail leads to a rare ruby that once belonged to the czarina of Russia and has disappeared. Turns out the paranoid ballerina has real enemies.
Strange won an Edgar for his first novel and has been short-listed for an Arthur Ellis. The first Brennan novel, Follow Me Down, is out in paperback and I can promise that if you read one, you’ll want the other.
Mr. Kill By Martin Limón, Soho, 375 pages, $27
Most of us know the Korean War only as the backdrop for the TV series M*A*S*H. But Korea didn’t end when Hawkeye and the gang went home. Guys like Martin Limón stayed on to patrol the Demilitarized Zone and watch North Korea turn into the world’s largest open-air prison. That’s the conflict sergeants George Sueno and Ernie Bascom are living with, and it makes a perfect setting for murder.
This seventh novel in the series, one of the best, begins with a brutal rape on a train. The victim is Korean, a young mother, and the Koreans believe the rapist is an American in the 8th Army. But the alleged rapist has disappeared, so Command calls in Sueno and Bascom to find him. The trail is clouded by army apologists. Murder follows, taking Ernie and George into Korean crime and the legendary Korean investigator known as Mr. Kill.
This is a terrific story with great characters, and lots of well written history and information on a country we too often overlook. Limón is a find.
Night Rounds By Helene Tursten, translated by Laura A. Wideberg, Soho, 326 pages, $28.95
Stiegmania has one definite upside: It has opened the doors for a host of Scandinavian (and other European) authors and introduced them to North America. Helene Tursten has been a bestseller in Sweden for a decade, and her Inspector Irene Huss series is one of Europe’s most popular. Night Rounds, an early work first published in 1999, is a solid thriller.
The case begins with the murder of an intensive-care nurse in a private hospital. A collateral victim is her patient, who died when the electricity was cut and his nurse was gone. Another nurse insists that she saw the killer. The trouble is, the person she saw – a nurse who committed suicide and who has become a local legend among the staff – has been dead for 50 years.
Soon, another nurse, a friend of the dead girl, is missing. With no clues other than a photo, Huss and her team set to work. Fans of good European-style police mysteries will love this.
A Simple Murder By Eleanor Kuhns, St. Martin’s, 336 pages, $28.99
This outstanding debut won the 2011 Mystery Writers of America/Minotaur Books First Crime Novel Competition, and it’s as good an argument for continuing these contests as it gets. Kuhns, a career librarian, delivers a superbly researched and beautifully crafted historical mystery, one that I hope lives on in a series.
America in 1796 is a large and forbidding land. Will Rees is an ex-soldier of the Revolution, making his living as a travelling weaver. When his son runs away, he heads after him, ending up in a Shaker community in the Maine woods. There, in what should be a sublimely simple place, Rees runs into murder.
Stray Bullets By Robert Rotenberg, Simon & Schuster, 304 pages, $29.99
Only Toronto lawyer Robert Rotenberg would open a novel with a gunfight at a Tim Hortons. Just who shoots what and why is open to interpretation, but the real victim is a small boy who is shot. And that means a return engagement for Toronto homicide detective Ari Greene, in Rotenberg’s best book yet.
This is Rotenberg’s third Greene novel, and while the real action takes place in the courtroom – Rotenberg really knows how to build legal suspense – the search for clues is essential. We know who was there at the time of the shooting, but just who actually pulled the trigger is a mystery, and there are other, larger forces at work. Stray Bullets lets us meet the very worldly and delightful Nancy Parish, defence lawyer for one Larkin St. Clair, a nasty young man with a long rap sheet. With Ari on the streets and Nancy in court, this novel zips along smartly.
Bloodman By Robert Pobi, Simon & Schuster, 368 pages, $19.99
Montreal author Robert Pobi has chosen Montauk, Long Island, as the setting for his debut thriller. With multiple murders and a killer hurricane, he has enough action for three novels. FBI special agent Jake Cole is back in Montauk after 25 years away. His long-estranged father, a famous painter, is in hospital suffering from serious burns and dementia. When a double murder happens, Cole is on call. But this murder is different; Cole has seen this handiwork before. The prose can be overwrought, and the twist is one that many may see coming, but there’s good writing too: an author to watch.
The Bidding By Bill Haugland, Véhicule, 253 pages, $18.95
Haugland, a former news anchor in Montreal, penned his first mystery featuring Montreal news reporter Ty Davis in 2009. The Bidding is better, as Davis takes on a strange cult in the Quebec Laurentians and a kidnapping and murder. The problem here, as in Mobile 9, is the date. It’s 1972, and while the action is as hot as ever, journalism has come a long, long way since, and the old technology makes the story seem dated. Get past that hump, however, and Haugland’s plot is a good one.