After I’m Gone
By Laura Lippman
William Morrow, 384 pages, $33.50
How good does crime fiction get? Read this book. After I’m Gone covers six characters over 50 years and maintains impeccable characters and perfect timing right to the end. The novel begins in 1976: Felix Brewer is “disappearing” just before the federal government closes in on him. He’s leaving behind his adored socialite wife, Bambi, as well as two teenaged daughters and a mistress. There’s a bar, a lot of illicit activity, and, presumably, a lot of cash. Felix remembers everything except to mail a couple of letters.
Cut to 2012. Roberto (Sandy) Sanchez, a Baltimore detective, is covering the cold case of a woman who disappeared in 1986, 10 years to the day of Felix’s disappearance. But she was found, very dead, in a local park. Just what happened, why, and the hidden secrets of the past decades makes for an irresistible plot. As always with Laura Lippman, it’s the compelling characters who keep the story running. This is one of her best ever.
Dog Will Have His Day
By Fred Vargas, translated by Sian Reynolds
Harvill Secker, 256 pages, $22
This is a sequel to the clever Three Evangelists novel, one of Vargas’s best early works. Fans will recall the Evangelists – historians Marc, Mathias, and Lucien – who reside in a ramshackle property called “The Disgrace” by the neighbours in their tidy little Paris Suburb. They have a fourth roomer, Marc’s godfather, a downgraded policeman. Their first case involved a mysterious tree and a dead opera singer.
Dog Will Have His Day dates back to 1996 and is the second in a series of three. Vargas’s signature detective, Commissaire Adamsberg, is absent here, but fans won’t miss him. Vargas, a historian and archaeologist, has great fun with the plots but it’s her intelligence and wit that win the day. This time, the men have a perfect case for investigation, if only they could find the body. If you’re not already a devoted fan of Vargas, get The Three Evangelists and this one. You’ll be hooked for life.
By Wolf Haas, translated by Annie Janusch
Melville House, 192 pages, $14.95
If you missed The Bone Man, set in the mountains of Austria in a fried-chicken restaurant, you will want to buy Resurrection first. Wolf Haas and Detective Brenner’s debut shows how a washed-up private investigator can solve a double murder on a Swiss ski hill and become an Austrian policeman. There’s also a lot of very funny twists and insights into the fraught relationship between countries that share high mountain ranges. If you like the Coen brothers, you will adore Inspector Brenner. The best news is that there are still four more to be translated.
The Dead In Their Vaulted Arches
By Alan Bradley
Doubleday Canada, 320 pages, $29.95
That adorable and devious child Flavia de Luce is back in her sixth story set Buckshaw, a mansion in the fictional British village of Bishop’s Lacey in 1951. When we first met her in The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, amateur chemist Flavia was practising the craft of poisoner and found a body in the lettuce patch. This book starts to answer the question of where Mamma de Luce got to during the war. On the very day she’s to return, a body drops and Flavia begins doing what she does best.
Fans will love this, but Flavia, Buckshaw, and postwar paucity are getting stale. But there are signs of a new focus here, so Bradley seems ready to let Flavia spread her wings.
The Two Sisters Of Borneo
By Ian Hamilton
Spiderline, 344 pages, $19.95
Ava Lee, Uncle, and the gang are back in the sixth instalment of this marvelous series. Once again, we have financial shenanigans, this time with a furniture company in Borneo. Problems arise and Ava, ever clever, heads out to clear the air. There’s a trip to Holland and then arrival in Borneo with mystery galore. Hamilton has this formula down to an art but he manages to avoid cliché and his ability to evoke a place keeps the series fresh.
The Blood Promise
By Mark Pryor
Seventh Street Books, 280 pages, $17
This is the third book in a very, very good series set in Paris and featuring U.S. Embassy security chief Hugo Marston. This time out, Marston is bodyguarding a senator tasked with settling a delicate conflict between the U.S. and French governments. The talks, taking place in a rural chateau, founder when the senator claims someone broke into his room. Then an ancient sailor’s chest is found and the secret in it leads to murder. This is the best Hugo Marston yet.
By C.J. Sansom
Random House Canada, 608 pages, $22.95
C.J. Sansom is a master of historical fiction. His Tudor series, featuring lawyer Matthew Shardlake, take us right from the throne room to the local bawdy houses. His Madrid series, with a Fascist detective, is terrific. So it’s to be expected that if he decides to do an alternative history of the Second World War, it will be impeccably researched – and Dominion is. We are in London, 1952, the year of The Great Smog, when thousands sickened and died from the air they breathed. But this London is the capital of a beaten country, one that gave up at Dunkirk and sued Hitler for peace. America remains relentlessly isolationist and Churchill is an old revolutionary in hiding, fronting a resistance that seems futile.
All this is fine, but Sansom, creator of some of the most engaging characters around, loses his way here. People spout cant instead of dialogue, slip into cliché, and it’s all far too predictable. In his extensive and detailed bibliographical note, Sansom cites Robert Harris’s Fatherland as “the best alternate history novel ever written.” He is right, and Dominion isn’t Fatherland.