Vantage Point (House of Anansi, 320 pages, $19.95, paper)
House of Anansi continues to publish some of the best mysteries in the world, and Scott Thornley’s MacNeice series is one of them. The fourth instalment is the best book so far and fans of the city of Hamilton will see how beautifully Thornley gilds the local lily.
The story begins with a murder scene drenched in blood. In a mansion on Hamilton Mountain, there are two dead bodies – Howard and Matthew Terry – who have both been shot twice in the chest. Under Matthew’s body is a doll with red cotton bursting out of its head. Near the bed where the bodies lie is a mannequin in a nightshirt with two bullet holes in its body. Everything is posed and points to a carefully planned ritual murder.
The police hardly have time to process the scene when another body is discovered; this one is posed against a rock outcrop at Devil’s Punch Bowl. The corpse is dressed in a nightshirt and wearing the head of a donkey. There’s an obvious connection to the Terry murder and the clues are in plain sight, if only Detective MacNeice can figure out what they mean before someone else dies. This is a really good, twisty whodunit that also has an art-world background. One of Thornley’s best.
Cape Diamond (ECW Press, 336 pages, $18, paper)
Ron Corbett’s second Frank Yakabuski book proves conclusively that this series has a long life ahead. The setting is as exotic as it gets and the characters are sharp. All that and the terse style and quick dialogue make things move fast.
The story begins where Ragged Lake left off. The place is the Northern Divide, an area just south of the great boreal forest of Northern Ontario and Quebec. The town is Springfield, on the river that marks the Divide. The Divide is more than a geographic spot – there are divisions of class and race and language among the inhabitants, who all have their own gripes. When those gripes turn nasty, county policeman Frank comes in. The nasty this time is a murdered man in a field, tied up to a post with a diamond jammed in his mouth. The diamond is local; the man is not.
Along with a murder, Frank also has to deal with an epidemic of meth addiction kept alive by rival gangs, and then it turns out there’s a serial killer loose in the United States who seems to have connections in the Divide. All this works well in a complicated but perfectly structured plot. We look forward to the next Yakabuski book.
The Plotters (Doubleday, 293 pages, $24.95, paper)
This novel is my first experience with Korean crime fiction and if it’s the appetizer, I can hardly wait for the entrée. The Plotters is a combination of satire, modern politics and culture clash, all mixed into a wonderfully readable story about an assassin who begins to question his profession, with unusual twists and dives in the plot.
The opening is perfection, as a sniper in the woods targets an old man and his dog. The assassin, Reseng, doesn’t shoot, although he has a clear chance. It’s not the right time, he says, and tucks into his tent for the night. Then, the target finds him, and invites him in for a meal and a drink. They tell each other stories and discuss philosophy. The next day, after breakfast, Reseng leaves. Will he kill the old man? If so, why?
Reseng, it turns out, is a professional assassin, born in a rubbish bin in Seoul in the time of a military dictatorship edging into a failed democracy. He is a member of a guild of assassins run by Old Racoon, a man who raised him in a library full of books no one reads. It’s an alternative reality, but everything is recognizable and, at the same time, totally different. In short, this is the kind of alternate-history novel that keeps us reading long into the night.
This is only the first of several books by Un-Su Kim, one of Korea’s best authors, and we can hope for more treats to come. The translation, by Sora Kim Russell is terrific, flowing easily, with a loose slangy touch that perfectly sets off the tight story.
Rupture (Minotaur, 247 pages, $22.50, paper)
I love locked-room mysteries, especially when the clues are deftly hidden, and that’s certainly true in the latest and best of the excellent Ari Thor mysteries from Iceland, written by Ragnar Jonasson and translated by Quentin Bates. In the past, Ari Thor has been trapped by darkness or fear, but this time, it’s a cold case and a town in quarantine.
A highly contagious virus has shut down the town of Siglufjordur and policeman Ari Thor is bored. Then a local named Hedinn comes in with a strange tale. He was born on an isolated spit of a fjord outside town to a family of latter-day hippies living on a lonely farm. There were only four people there: Hedinn’s parents, his aunt and uncle. Some time after his birth, Hedinn’s aunt took her own life by drinking rat poison. Everyone in the area knows the sad story. But Hedinn has found a photo that shows him held in the arms of a young man who obviously belonged to the farm; no one has ever mentioned him and he was not in the police reports of the death.
Regular readers know Jonasson loves his puzzle plots and this one, going back 50 years, is one of his best. There’s also a child abduction and a stalker to keep Ari Thor on his toes, to say nothing of maintaining his romance with girlfriend Kirsten and negotiating an investigation with a smart, ambitious young journalist named Isrun. For a small town locked off from the world, there’s plenty of action to keep this story going.
Tombland (Mulholland Books, 880 pages, US$28)
The latest in the wonderful Shardlake series by C.J. Sansom is a wristbreaker of a book, steeped in detail and Tudor history, but, believe it or not, I hardly skimmed a page. The plot revolves around a little-known peasant rebellion in Norfolk in 1549. To understand the incident, we need the context of the events, as well as the backgrounds of the many leaders involved. In short, we need a lot of history, and Tombland delivers it in a completely readable novel.
Our man Matthew Shardlake, still in the employ of the Lady Elizabeth, is summoned to investigate a strange murder. A minor relative of the Boleyns has been accused of the very public and vulgar murder of his long-estranged wife. The Lady Elizabeth wants Shardlake to investigate and ensure that Boleyn gets honest justice from the Norwich assizes. Thus begins an adventure in law and revolution which turns into one of Sansom’s best books. It’s slow but it’s worth it.
The New Iberia Blues (Simon and Schuster, 454 pages, $30.99)
The latest Dave Robicheaux novel from James Lee Burke, the best Southern author of his generation. No one manages to paint the best and worst of a dying Southern culture, choked by shopping centres and fast-food chains, and the uglification of America.
This time out, Burke returns to a subject he’s touched before: the film industry and its penchant for moonlight and magnolia movies. Dave is never a fan of the tawdriness of film crews or the shallow pictures they produce and, while the director of this film is a local wunderkind, his low opinion is reinforced by the behaviour of one of the producers. It’s also pressured by his daughter Alafair’s attachment to a suave and smart writer/producer who’s promising Hollywood success.
How all this meets in a series of ritual murders is the basis for as fine a plot as Burke has ever written. When you can still keep it fresh after 20 novels with the same character, you’ve got magic.
While I read most of the time, I do take breaks, and one of my favourite timeouts is a recent discovery of crime podcasts. There are hundreds, possibly thousands around but I – like many others – got hooked with true-crime podcast Serial, which surprised me since I really don’t like true-crime books. Recently, I discovered a Canadian version of Serial put out by the CBC and it’s really, really good. The podcast is called Someone Knows Something and it’s a carefully curated revisiting of cold crimes and a re-examination of the investigation and facts to attempt a resolution. There are two seasons so far and they’re gripping. New to podcasts? Many are free, they’re fun and your kids or grandkids can get your started on your phone, computer and tablet. Also great for long periods in the car.
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