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book review

What's Left Behind

By Gail Bowen, McClelland & Stewart, 309 pages, $32

Is it really the 16th book for Regina's beloved Joanne Kilbourn? At a point where most long-lived series are sagging (I'm thinking of you, Jonathan Kellerman), Gail Bowen has managed to keep her characters and her plots fresh. She's killed off Kilbourn's first husband and brought in another; she's Joanne Kilbourn Shreve now. And the kids are grown up, which gives a lot of youthful zest. This latest Kilbourn adventure has it all, including a wedding, a long-buried secret, and a murder. Joanne's husband, Zack, has just been elected mayor of Regina, and this socially-conscious couple has great plans: Regina will become the city for all the people, including the dispossessed. (Long-time readers know that this has been a dream since book one.) There's also a big personal event; Joanne's son Peter is marrying Maisie Williams, a girl everyone agrees is perfect for him. The wedding is a lovely affair held outdoors by a beautiful lake. It's a dream occasion that is marred by a vicious act of cruelty and then a murder. The Shreve/Kilbourns are a loyal lot but this is a true test of the family's ties. This is definitely one of Bowen's best.

A Midsummer's Equation

By Keigo Higashino, translated by Alexander O. Smith, Minotaur, 358 pages, $29.99

We don't get enough good Japanese crime fiction, which is a shame, because the Japanese have a long tradition of great writing. A Midsummer's Equation, by one of Japan's best-known and most prolific authors, is a case in point. Keigo Higashino's first novel in translation, The Devotion Of Suspect X, introduced physicist Manabu Yukawa and was nominated for an Edgar Award. This second Yukawa novel is even better. The setting is Hari Cove, formerly a luxury resort known for its beauty and its pristine waters. But the people who once came for the beauty have gone elsewhere and Hari Cove is a dying town. An underwater mining company wants to "revive" it with new industry. Yukawa is there for a conference to examine the idea, and finds the town is split: Save the coast or keep our children employed. It's the kind of conundrum facing much of the developed world. When a body is found at the foot of a cliff, the local police first assume it's an accident, but the dead man is a policeman who wouldn't have gotten lost and fallen over. Soon they discover he died of carbon monoxide poisoning. There are more twists than a bag of pretzels before this novel ends.

Victim Without A Face

By Stefan Ahnhem, translated by Rachel Willson-Broyles, House of Anansi/Spiderline, 588 pages, $19.95

Victim Without A Face is a debut novel that lives up to its very hefty pedigree. Stefan Ahnhem is one of Sweden's best TV writers – his credits include the wonderful Wallander series, created by Henning Mankell, along with a host of other award-winning scripts. It's clear from the opening that Ahnhem knows how to take the reader away. A man is alone, naked and a crow is pecking him. It is "three days from now." Seventy-two hours earlier, we're with a family heading into what is supposed to be a new life. Criminal investigator Fabian Risk, his wife and children, have moved from his old job in Stockholm to a quieter life in Helsingborg. The marriage is crumbling and Risk hopes to salvage it, as well as spend more time with his children. But Risk has no sooner arrived in Helsingborg than he's summoned to duty. A man has been found dead, a particularly gruesome and cruel murder. He's an old schoolmate of Risk's and there is a message of sorts. This case will take an investigator with special talents as well and one who can dig deep into his own history. Ahnhem does all this and more in a truly auspicious debut.

The Sleeper

By J. Robert Janes, Mysterious Press, 249 pages, $20.49

J. Robert Janes, of Toronto, is best known for his excellent series set in occupied France during the Second World War that features the duo of Kohler (Gestapo) and St-Cyr (Surêté). The combination of good historical research and excellent characters has kept his series fresh for more than 10 books. Now, in The Sleeper, he opens what I hope will be a new series with the introduction of David Ashby, ex-soldier, American ex-pat, British schoolmaster and husband to a Nazi. It's 1938 and the war that paused in 1918 is about to explode again. Ashby fought the Germans during the Great War and then surprised himself by falling in love with the country and one woman in particular. They married and had a child, Karen, but the rise of Hitler ended the marriage and Ashby went to Britain to teach. But, discovering his ex-in-laws were indoctrinating Karen, Ashby kidnapped her and stashed her with a family in Cornwall. That puts him in the Nazis' crosshairs, and a sleeper agent is sent to the school to kill Ashby and take Karen back to Germany. The opening, which has to cover a lot of backstory, is a bit slow, but don't worry: Janes makes up for it all once the plot gets moving. Once again, he combines great history with excellent action. Well done.

Orphan X

By Gregg Hurwitz, Minotaur, 357 pages, $29.99

Fans of white-hot action books should grab Orphan X. This novel, already optioned for a film by no less than Bradley Cooper, delivers. Evan Smoak is Orphan X, plucked out of an institution as a child and trained by a top-secret organization as an assassin. Smoak has a dozen identities and an assortment of lethal skills that serve him well. It's his decision to go off the grid and use them on behalf of people he thinks deserving. A phone call to a top-secret number will take the caller to "The Nowhere Man," who is the agent of last resort in kidnappings, murders, or worse. One day a call comes that leads Smoak out of the shadows. This time, he's the quarry and whoever is after him has the skills and the smarts to not only keep up with him but to possibly end the legend of The Nowhere Man and bury Orphan X in an unmarked grave. Save this one for an eat-and-read weekend. You won't put it down.

Divorce Turkish Style

By Esmahan Aykol, translated by Ruth Whitehouse, Bitter Lemon Press, 252 pages, $21.50

This is my first Esmahan Aykol novel and I can't wait to read the two previous ones. It is witty, smart and filled with lively characters I want to know more about. If that's not enough, the setting is Istanbul, and Aykol is the perfect tour guide. Our heroine is Kati Hirschel, owner of Istanbul's only bookstore dedicated completely to crime fiction. It's clear from the outset that Hirschel's interest in crime goes far beyond the printed word. She observes anyone and everything, and that includes a very attractive young woman who lunches alone in a modest restaurant next to her shop. Who and what is she? And why is she always alone? When the woman is found dead in her apartment, Hirschel recognizes her from a photograph and is instantly convinced there is a mystery there. The police say it was an accident but the woman was in the midst of a divorce from a wealthy man and, as an ecology activist, had made enemies of some local big businesses. Kati Hirschel is on the trail. This is a great one-day book, with plenty of local colour, lively characters and a solid plot. Who knew that the world's next Agatha Christie just might hail from Turkey?