Twelve Drummers Drumming By C.C. Benison, Doubleday Canada, 375 pages, $25
Who knew that a successor to Agatha Christie was living and writing in Winnipeg? Twelve Drummers Drumming will please the most discriminating lover of the traditional British mystery. It has a village, a vicar, atmosphere to burn and a perfectly constructed puzzle plot.
The setting is the village of Thornford Regis, which is St. Mary Mead updated, and our doughty detective is Rev. Tom Christmas. Of course, this is 2011, not 1930, so the reverend has a child and a history. His wife was murdered and he’s in the country to recover. But murder follows him. In the middle of the local fete, a woman is killed, and quick as you can say, “Have a cup of tea,” the whole town is suspect and the secrets roll out.
This smart, well-written book promises a fine series.
Inquisition By Alfredo Colitto, translated by Sophie Henderson, McArthur & Company, 375 pages, $18.95
A professor of anatomy named Mondino lived, worked and taught at the University of Bologna in the early 14th century. At the same time, the King of Spain and the Pope began the trials of the Knights of the Temple of Jerusalem, the Templars. The Inquisition was in charge of ferreting out information to convict the Templars of everything from black magic to sexual perversity. From those bits, Colitto has reconstructed a place, a time and a marvellous, complex tale.
Mondino di Liuzzi is working on his manuscript on anatomy when he is presented with a dead body. He has been waiting for a corpse to study, but this body isn’t ordinary: The heart has been turned to iron. From there, Mondino heads ever deeper into dangerous waters, including an investigation by the head of the local Inquisition. Colitto has spared nothing in his reconstruction of 14th-century Bologna and that, combined with alchemy and a genuine Arabian sorceress, makes this story zing.
Tabloid City By Pete Hamill, Little, Brown, 278 pages, $29.99
This is a New York book. Pete Hamill, journalist and novelist, loves his city and this is his billet-doux. The fact that it’s a mystery is incidental. There is a murder; two, in fact. But they serve primarily to link a half-dozen characters from across the city. The dead woman is a socialite/philanthropist and lover of libraries. The other dead woman is her assistant. The rest of the cast are the cops, a couple of kids, a sharp PR exec, the editor of a flashy tabloid and a pair of smart young reporters. But the real star is NYC, full of characters, stories and events. The characters seem, at times, a bit clichéd, but Hamill saves it all with a sharp style.
Slash and Burn By Colin Cotterill, Soho, 304 pages, $28.25
Any crime fan who hasn’t discovered the Dr. Siri books should start here and then work back. This is the eighth and best , and it’s been far too long since book seven. The setting is Laos, where Dr. Siri is pushing 80 and retired as state coroner. But when a matter of political delicacy surfaces, only he can be trusted. A long-missing American fighter plane has been discovered in the Laotian jungle. The plane, and the body in it, are part of a war that officially didn’t exist, so both the Laotian and U.S. governments are involved. Then a succession of suspicious accidents threatens the entire operation. Dr. Siri’s unique talents are needed as the bodies fall.
A Vine in the Blood By Leighton Gage, Soho, 304 pages, $27
This witty novel begins with the poisoning of a batch of bougainvillea plants. Although the owner of the flowers has just been kidnapped, her gardener’s concern is saving himself from her vindictive fury when she discovers that the red bougainvilleas she wanted are, in fact, pale mauve. Hell hath no fury like Juraci Santos, mother of Brazil’s greatest soccer star, Tico Santos. Tico is essential for Brazil to win the World Cup and someone has snatched Juraci, planning to force her son to throw the game.
That set-up is perfect for Leighton Gage’s fifth novel featuring Chief Inspector Mario Silva. The combination of high-profile crime and high-level skulduggery make exactly the kind of case Silva hates, one that could finish a career. Gage knows Brazil well and has a cast of characters so amusing and so skillfully constructed that this novel is irresistible.
V is for Vengeance By Sue Grafton, Putnam, 437 pages, $32.50
There are only four letters of the alphabet left and at this stage, most series are just plodding along. Surprisingly, this is one of Kinsey Millhone’s best outings. V begins with Kinsey shopping for lingerie – surprise there – when she spots a shoplifter. Kinsey turns in the thief, but when the woman commits suicide, she feels guilty. The dead woman’s fiancé asks Kinsey to investigate, and the trail leads to a global shoplifting racket that puts her in direct confrontation with members of the Santa Teresa police, as well as her old flame, Cheney Phillips. Must reading for Grafton fans, and even naysayers may rediscover the joys of Millhone.