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Books Review: New crime fiction from Cecilia Ekback, Jacqueline Winspear and Jean Hanff Korelitz

The Midnight Sun

By Cecilia Ekback

Harper Avenue, 319 pages, $22.99

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If you like Scandinavian noir, you'll love Swedish historical crime. That is, as told by Cecilia Ekback – formerly of Lapland, now of Canmore, Alta. Wolf Winter introduced us to the forbidding slopes of Blackasen Mountain. Ekback returns with a chilling tale of murder in the high summer of 1856. The novel begins with a prologue: A minister and two other men are planning something, we don't know what, that is obviously dangerous and possibly illegal. The door flies open, someone steps inside and the minister is killed. From this dramatic opening, we go to Stockholm, where a mighty Minister of State summons his son-in-law, Magnus Stille, to go to the village at the foot of Blackasen and investigate discreetly. The State must appear just. There are Sami people involved. As the story unfolds, we see events through the eyes of a Sami woman and follow Magnus and his young sister-in-law, Lovisa, as they encounter a clash of cultures in a remote place. Don't read the last chapter first.

In This Grave Hour

By Jacqueline Winspear

Harper, 352 pages, $34.99

Those who haven't already discovered Maisie Dobbs, Jacqueline Winspear's spirited sleuth, can do no better than to start with In This Grave Hour. On the day British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain declares war, on Sunday, Sept. 3, 1939, Maisie is summoned into service. She's tasked with finding a murderer who came into Britain as a Belgian refugee during the First World War. As Maisie searches through a London preparing for battle, another Belgian dies and Maisie finds herself called to use her therapeutic skills for a lost child. I'm a great fan of the Dobbs series, which borrows the best of the new historical novels but also touches back into the history of crime fiction. There are dashes of Ngaio Marsh's Roderick Alleyn, as well as really good historical backgrounds. As the war moves, so will Maisie Dobbs. I can hardly wait for the next instalment.

The Devil And Webster

By Jean Hanff Korelitz

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Grand Central, 368 pages, $35

Jean Hanff Korelitz is best known for her bestseller Admission, a slashing satire on the admissions system in high-status universities, which was made into a film starring Tina Fey. The Devil And Webster, her latest, includes not only the admissions process but student activism, identity politics and a host of other hot-button issues dogging campuses today. The issues are terrific and timely but, alas, the execution of this novel isn't. Webster College (think Amherst) is a tony, entitled, mostly white New England college. Naomi Roth, feminist and Jewish, is the newly hired president. Naomi cherishes her radical past, but her credentials are useless against a student protest based on rumours of racism. Her own daughter is with the students and as the crisis builds, Naomi must protect her family. Korelitz is right on with her issues, but she's weak on the characters and slight on plot. This one could have used another rewrite to make it as good as her other books.

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