By Denise Mina, Mulholland Books, 304 pages
No one associates Denise Mina with togetherness and, after reading Confidence, it’s clear why they don’t. In a long lifetime of reading, I don’t ever recall a more disastrous vacation than the one true-crime podcaster Anna McDonald arranges for her convoluted blended family and her partner, Fin Cohen, and his girlfriend. They are in the boondocks with no decent roads, the internet is out and the weather is godawful. Add to that the whining of Fin’s girlfriend and you have the perfect recipe for disaster. So, when a kidnapping occurs, Fin and Anna do what good crime solvers do – they abandon the family and head out into a vicious storm to follow a whisper of a story.
Fin and Anna made their clever and amusing debut in Conviction and their reappearance is a delight. Mina has a gift for bright characters and droll dialogue.
It turns out that a retired drug lord is going to assist them in uncovering the story of a young woman who disappeared after posting a video of herself wandering though a deserted French château. The kidnapping, another mysterious disappearance and the international art market are just the pins in the plot of this simply terrific tale. Mina knows her way around social media and uses it to grand effect to build character and keep the storyline moving. If you haven’t already discovered her work, start with this one and work back. For Fin and Anna fans, it looks like this just may turn into a series.
In The Dark We Forget
By Sandra SG Wong, HarperCollins Canada, 356 pages
Edmonton-based Wong has a lot of writing under her belt. Her Lola Starke series of speculative fiction has received critical acclaim, and add to that her Crescent City short stories. Her first stand-alone mystery, and a debut at that, is terrific.
Cleo Li comes to on the side of a B.C. highway with no idea who she is and how she got there. The RCMP quickly identify her but that’s all they have to say at the time. Cleo has a younger brother, Cass, and when he shows up, she discovers that her parents have disappeared. They were last seen close to the road where Cleo was found and her mother was carrying a winning lottery ticket for $47-million. More than enough motive for all kinds of foul play. It’s the mystery of what happened that Cleo and Cass and, Aoki, a Japanese-Canadian RCMP officer, must solve.
Wong is excellent at building character and using race and racialism to give depth. Aoki is assigned to the Li case because of her race, a microaggression she accepts and derides. Cleo is revealed to have camouflaged some very nasty parts of her history. Then there is the amnesia that makes Cleo an even less reliable narrator than we can expect. It’s also clear that Cleo lies; to herself to cover up faults, to the reader to lead us astray. I have only one quibble with this book but I’m not telling because that will give away a clue. Read and enjoy a pure Canadian mystery.
The It Girl
By Ruth Ware, Simon & Schuster, 420 pages
Ruth Ware has created a whole category of mysteries featuring young(ish) women who slip from one class into a higher one in British society. They often end up at interesting locales and encounter demons from their pasts. In the case of Hannah Jones, the place is Pelham College, Oxford, and the demon is the murder of her roommate April Clarke-Cliveden. The man convicted of killing April, John Neville, a porter at the college, is dead 10 years later of natural causes in prison. Hannah and her husband, Will, know the publicity will reopen the public lust for information and reporters will once again be camping on their lawn. She is pregnant with their first child and talking to the press isn’t something she plans to do.
Ware is excellent at setting up the framework for the story to come, or rather, the story that was. The chapters switch from after to before and we are introduced to Hannah, the comprehensive school student who, on her first day, is swept into the orbit of April and her friends, with their public school pasts, their money and sophistication, and April, the clever leader with her mystique and her endless energy. Ware devotes a lot of time to the nuances of Oxford, the class differences, the roles of the servants, the customs for eating and dressing and wearing of robes. A bit too much, in fact, since we know April is dead but what happened? Hannah’s Oxford career ended but her links to April’s life didn’t. She married April’s boyfriend, Will, and she’s in touch with at least one or two of the old crowd. When one of them encourages her to talk to a reporter, she does and he persuades her that Neville might just have been innocent. Hannah begins to question everyone and everything right up to a clever twist that keeps a very slow plot alive. This isn’t Ware’s best book by far but even mediocre Ruth Ware is worth the time.
By Joachim B. Schmidt, translated by Jamie Lee Searle, Bitter Lemon Press, 352 pages
Tired of gloomy Nordic Noir? Kalmann is the perfect antidote. Joachim Schmidt, born in Switzerland, resident of Iceland, takes us to the remote village of Raufarhofn, on the country’s northeast coast. Village is an overstatement, it’s really just a cluster of buildings that are gradually emptying. However, Raufarhofnis is home to Kalmann Odinsson, whose mental age is about six and whose brain sometimes just switches off and, at other times, explodes in anger and violence.
Kalmann’s livelihood is based on fishing. His specialty is the Greenland shark, which he catches and turns into hakari, an Icelandic treat. But Kalmann also hunts, and it’s when he’s on the trail of an Arctic fox that he finds a pool of fresh blood. He follows its trail, but there’s no body at the end. When Kalmann returns to town, he discovers that the local hotel owner, Robert McKenzie, has disappeared. Then Magga, McKenzie’s pregnant girlfriend dies. Kalmann is intent on not getting involved but his observations and knowledge of the village and its people keep us reading. This book is quirky and, often, very funny, despite the very dark plot at the centre.
The Murder Rule
By Dervla McTiernan, HarperCollins, 304 pages
The Murder Rule is devious and clever from start to finish. Hannah Rokeby is a bright young law student from Orono, Maine. She is applying for a position with the Innocence Project, a group of dedicated lawyers who seek out incarcerated individuals claiming to be innocent. The Project has, in fact, saved many lives by proving that convicts were wrongly accused and convicted. From her application, which opens this novel, we discover Hannah to be one of the lawyers who wants to save lives.
But that Hannah, the saviour of the wrongly accused, is a ruse. Hannah’s actual intent in joining the Innocence Project is to ensure the conviction and execution of a man she is convinced murdered her father. In so doing, the accused turned her mother into an alcoholic and destroyed Hannah’s family. Hannah plans to make him pay.
If a revenge motive was all this book has to offer, it would be a flop but McTiernan spins Hannah and her plot into a far more interesting tale. In short, McTiernan transforms a little revenge drama into a truly irresistible legal thriller with suspense that builds until it explodes. I haven’t enjoyed a legal thriller this much since Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow. Dervla McTiernan is a writer to watch.
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