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book review


By Robert Harris

Random House Canada, 304 pages, $24.95

There's no other way to put it: Conclave is one of the best crime novels of 2016. In fact, it may be one of the best novels of 2016. There are thrills, devious plots, brilliant characters, a perfect setting and Harris's usual skillfully rendered historical research. If you liked the Cicero trilogy, or were transfixed by The Ghost or An Officer and a Spy, you do not want to miss one line of this novel. The time is the near future. The pope in Rome is dead. The cardinals of the Catholic Church are summoned to the conclave to select a successor. This is the simplest and, yet, most complex meeting in the world. The conclave begins with a power struggle; Cardinal Lomeli is in charge. Facing him are three great and powerful figures: an Italian traditionalist, an ambitious Canadian and a reactionary African. All are candidates, all believe they are the chosen one. Then in comes an unknown, Cardinal Benitez, chosen by the deceased pope, who wanted the cardinal's identity kept secret. To what end? At this point, the real power struggles begin. I read this book in one long day, taking time only to eat a sandwich. It is the best Robert Harris novel to date.

The Twenty-Three

By Linwood Barclay

Doubleday Canada, 451 pages, $22.95

The first thing to know about this terrific thriller is that it's the third in a trilogy. It can stand alone, but I promise that you will want to seek out the other two (and it's more fun to read them in order). Taken together, this trilogy is the best thing Linwood Barclay has written and The Twenty-Three is the best book of the bunch. Trouble has dogged the small, pretty town of Promise Falls, N.Y. There is a possible serial killer on the loose, there's been a bombing, sinister forces are at work. Detective Barry Duckworth is responsible for solving crimes and, despite all, he has no clues. Then, a catastrophe hits: On Memorial Day, hundreds of citizens are hit with a flu-like illness. The source turns out to be the city water supply. A candidate for mayor owns a bottled-water business and he donates to the citizens. Is it possible that someone would poison an entire town to advertise his product and, incidentally, get votes for being a "good guy." While the water crisis continues, across town at Thackeray College, a co-ed is dead, with wounds that Duckworth recognizes from previous murders. Then there's the mysterious number 23 that keeps appearing in strange places. It's the crucial clue, but what does it mean? This fast-paced book will keep you reading right to the end, with a twist you won't see coming.

The Eskimo Solution

By Pascal Garnier, translated by Emily Boyce and Jane Aitken

Gallic Books, 160 pages, $20.50

Aside from the unfortunate title, this elegant little novel is a gem. We don't get enough French noir these days and Pascal Garnier, justly compared to Georges Simenon, deserves to be discovered. The story revolves around a crime novelist with writer's block. He goes to the Normandy coast (so well done here that you can smell the salt air) to get on with his current project. The plot revolves around Louis, who decides to dispose of his elderly mother, who has become a burden. That's where the dreadfully politically incorrect title arrives: Louis's solution is to simply expose Mom and let her die in what he believes is the "Eskimo" style. Once relieved of his own problem, Louis finds himself assisting others to escape the calls of elderly relatives. What happens is where Garnier shines and I'm not about to give it away, but this is a story about a story about … well, more stories. It's short, sleek, beautifully written and well translated. I'm hunting for more Garnier books. You will, too.

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