Elevator Pitch by Linwood Barclay (Doubleday Canada, 464 pages, $24)
Linwood Barclay, one of Canada’s most successful and prolific crime writers, is a retired Toronto Star columnist who wrote for many years about life in his leafy suburb of Oakville, Ont. A lot of us followed along with his charming family tales and it seemed logical that, when he moved to fiction, he’d stay with the familiar. His wildly successful Promise Falls series did just that. It was a modern take on the British village-set mysteries and it worked.
Barclay could have stayed in the nice neighbourhoods forever but Elevator Pitch, his newest and best book by far, leaves his comfort zone behind. We are in New York, the vertical world. Right away, we follow a wannabe script writer into an elevator where he plans to pitch a script to a showrunner trapped in the car. He has a couple of minutes for the talk and he’s barrelling away when the elevator goes haywire. Four people are dead and it appears to be a horrible accident
From the crash opening, we move immediately to a body discovered on the High Line, New York’s famous park in the sky. The dead man has been disfigured and his fingertips cut off. Obviously the killer wants to made an ID as difficult as possible. Homicide detectives Jerry Bourque and Lois Delgado have the case.
Back at the elevator, reporter Barbara Matheson realizes that she knows one of the victims, a young woman who once interned with her. She follows the ambulance and arrives at the ER in time to get one word from her: Floating. Matheson can’t begin to understand but, like all good reporters, she tucks it away for future reference.
As the cops hunt for ID and the journalist mulls meaning, another elevator crashes and it’s clear that this is an attempt to terrify the city. It’s terrorism but what kind? Domestic or international? At least one possible culprit are the Flyovers, disgruntled white supremacists and mid-Americans who are responsible for at least two bomb attacks on “elite” coastal cities. A Flyover leader is in New York ostensibly to celebrate his anniversary, but other than that, there’s nothing to connect him, or anyone, to the elevator sabotage.
The cast of Elevator Pitch is large and Barclay’s story has many points of view. Richard Headley, the mayor, may or may not be a corrupt and completely self-serving figure. Arla, Barbara Matheson’s estranged daughter, works for him and his son Grover, who agonizes under his father’s disapproval. Flyover member Bucky seems more complex than your garden-variety goon and then there’s Mayor Headley’s personal thug, who’s tasked with keeping Barbara from finding the mayor’s secrets and ends up saving her life. In other words, this is a complicated story with a lot of moving motives and suspects.
As a page-turner, Elevator fills the bill. The book is 100 pages too long but that’s a minor quibble in these days of whoppers (Elizabeth George and Robert Galbraith, I’m looking at you) that require wrists of steel just to hold them up. Dialogue has never been one of Barclay’s strengths, and he doesn’t bother much with the New York backdrop other than what’s needed for the plot. But there are twists aplenty and the too-obvious bad guys aren’t actually the elevator culprit. As the plot moves along and another elevator goes down, readers are trapped, just like the victims, in the driving plot, which turns out to be very scarily plausible. I didn’t put this book down and neither will you. I also am taking the stairs whenever I can.
Joe Country, by Mick Herron (Soho Crime, 347 pages)
This is Mick Herron’s 16th novel and I’ve only read one other. A friend turned me on to London Rules, an earlier book in the Slough House series and I was instantly caught. Herron blends character, place and espionage into a riveting melange that I’ve only encountered in the best of John le Carré or Len Deighton.
Joe Country, the sixth in the Slough House series, is a place for dead spies. The ones who screw up end their days in the purgatory of Slough House, an ugly, depressing wallow far from the glorious Secret Service headquarters on London’s Regent Street. The losers are a motley crew but recent addition Lech Wicinski has been cast down, accused of possessing and perusing child pornography on his service computer. That’s a vile crime even by Slough House standards and it’s completely false.
It’s clear from the opening that this is an unfolding story told over many books and, like le Carré, Herron tells his tale in the elegantly constructed language of people accustomed to encryption. It’s great fun to read and the story, as it unravels, is marvellous. Read one and you’re hooked for the whole series.
The Long Call, by Ann Cleeves (Publishers Group Canada, 376 pages)
Readers everywhere eagerly await the new Jimmy Perez and Vera Stanhope novels. Now, their author, Ann Cleeves, brings us a new series called The Long Call. Meet detective Matthew Venn, a very buttoned-up copper whose habitat is North Devon, with its Cornish overtones, and who also happens to be gay, and married. His husband runs the local community centre where there’s everything from folk dancing to AA meetings. When a body is discovered on the beach, murdered, clues lead back to the centre. Should Matthew withdraw from the case?
Cleeves novels spend more time with background history and landscape than most mysteries and The Long Call has all that and more. Matthew’s family are members of a rigid evangelical sect that banished him when they discovered he was gay. It’s been decades but the demons of childhood are still in his head if not his daily life. There is a great deal unsaid and hidden in the place and the people Matthew serves. This is a perfect opening chapter that promises to be another phenomenally successful Cleeves series.
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