• Entry Island, by Peter May (Quercus, UK):
Hot on the heels of his Lewis Trilogy (which includes the Barry Award-winning The Blackhouse) comes yet another remote-island murder mystery from Scottish author Peter May. Fifth-generation Canadian-Scottish Sûreté Inspector Sime Mackenzie is far from his home in Quebec, having been sent off to the Gulf of Saint Lawrence and Entry Island--850 miles from the Canadian mainland--as part of a team investigating the murder of that isle’s wealthiest resident, James Cowell, who operated the majority of boats farming lobsters along the sea coast. Mackenzie’s role is to act as an English-French translator in police interviews with such people as Kirsty Cowell, the deceased’s spouse. Kirsty is the only person to have witnessed what she says was her husband’s death at the hands of a ski-masked killer. She’s also regarded as a prime suspect in that crime. Yet despite her bloodied clothing, Mackenzie feels a closeness to Kirsty, a feeling he can’t seem to shake. May’s novel elegantly blends two story lines, one following the contemporary investigation, and the other recounting the history of Scotland’s Highland Clearances, which influenced Canada’s development. As Sime Mackenzie and the Quebec Sûreté investigate Cowell’s untimely end, we learn there may be a longstanding link to the Mackenzie clan as well as a connection to a more recent tragedy in the inspector’s past. The superlative Entry Island proves that May’s Lewis Trilogy was no flash in the pan. This is a book in which one can get easily lost.
• The Girl with a Clock for a Heart, by Peter Swanson
(Faber & Faber, UK):
This throwback to the criminally twisted romantic-noir tales of James M. Cain, Jim Thompson, and Patricia Highsmith focuses around an unremarkable Bostonian, George Foss, who (despite his job as the business manager for a literary magazine) has been drifting through life, directionless. But his world-view is shattered when the mysterious Liana Dector (or is she “Jane Byrne,” or somebody else?)--his unforgettable first love, from their college days together--suddenly reappears in his life. I say “mysterious,” because as far as George knew, Liana had committed suicide decades ago under circumstances he never quite understood. Or did she? The situation only grows more bizarre and unpredictable when the woman he knows as Liana asks George for help. There are supposedly dangerous people dogging her trail, led by an enforcer named Donnie Jenks … who has been sent by Liana/Jane’s ex-lover, Gerald MacLean, to exact retribution for a theft that may or may not have occurred. George’s willingness to lend aid quickly brings peril to himself as well as to his on-again/off-again girlfriend, Irene. This is a wild ride of a novel, built on the themes that a broken heart can change a person deeply and that love can be both manipulative and dangerous when it is blind to its consequences. Reading this book may require a seat belt, as its turns are nowhere near safe. Boasting a fabulous femme fatale and a terse writing style that’s astonishing for a debut effort, The Girl with a Clock for a Heart suggests Massachusetts resident Peter Swanson may be someone worth watching closely in the future. A new U.S. paperback edition of this novel is due out in January.
• The Last Room, by Danuta Reah
(Caffeine Nights, UK):
A new publication by Danuta Reah (or her alter-ego, Carla Banks) remains a treat for serious readers of crime and thriller fiction. The back story to The Last Room is the Balkan Wars, though its lineage traces back even farther, to World War II and African civil wars. This novel’s opening is a terse, grueling snatch of a vicious attack on a pregnant woman, Nadifa, on Africa’s war-torn Ivory Coast in 2005. This sets the stage for a complex novel that questions whether there can ever be any absolute truth amid the “fog of war.” Moving the story on to Europe in 2007, we follow the aftermath of the suicide of Dr. Ania Milosz, a forensic linguist and expert witness involved in the conviction of a child killer, Derek Haynes. Haynes is currently appealing his guilty verdict in the slaying of Sagal Akindes, the 6-year-old daughter of the aforementioned Nadifa, who’s now an asylum seeker in Great Britain. Neither Ania’s father, retired policeman Will Gillen, nor her fiancé, Dariusz Erland, believes the young woman jumped to her death. And so starts a trail that snakes its way to the deeds of the past, deeds that some wish to see remain hidden forever. The Last Room is highly recommended, a topical novel that really challenges the reader’s understanding of reality.
• Mr. Mercedes, by Stephen King (Scribner):
Never one to be constrained by the convenient definitions of genre, King’s latest novel is a full-out detective thriller, the first clue to that being the nod to James M. Cain that opens this tale. When longtime cop Bill Hodges finds it difficult to cope with his retirement from the force (a diet of bad TV dinners, daytime TV programs, and holding his father’s pistol in his mouth not being good for his health), he finds solace in returning his attention to an unsolved case. The Mercedes Killer was a madman who drove a top-range SL500 into the crowd at a job fair in a Midwestern American city, killing and maiming many people. But like the morning mist, he vanished from the scene, leaving no trace. Now, though, the driver has reached out to Hodges, sending him a taunting missive that leads to a cat-and-mouse chase between the retired detective and the Mercedes Killer, aka Brady Hartfield. A disturbed young man, the Norman Bates-like Brady supports his alcoholic mother by working two jobs, one as a computer repairman and the other as an ice-cream man, complete with a van and afternoon sales route. Author King does an exceptional job of digging beneath Brady’s vile, empathy-lacking exterior to expose the misfortunes of his existence. Yet Brady isn’t done hurting people; he’s planning an encore to his Mercedes rampage, one that could have far more devastating results. Unable to convince former police colleagues to help him with his unofficial investigation, Hodges turns for aid to a couple of computer wizards: Holly, his lover’s high-strung niece, and his lawnmower man, Jerome. There should really be a sticker on the front of Mr. Mercedes, saying “No bookmark required,” because this is definitely a one-sitting read.
• Run, by Andrew Grant (Ballantine):
This first standalone techno-thriller from Grant (the younger brother of best-selling novelist Lee Child) reveals his skill as a master puppeteer, peeling away later upon layer of misdirection and revealing the murky motivations of his characters. At the tale’s outset we find Marc Bowman, a loose-cannon information technology troubleshooter for communications giant AmeriTel, having just devoted his weekend to a covert project--only to then be unceremoniously dismissed from his job and escorted off the company’s premises. When he later recounts this episode to his wife, fellow AmeriTel executive Carolyn, a woman he loves with a passion, he’s perplexed to find her siding with their employer rather than offering him sympathy. The theme of this novel is well summed up by its title: Run. Before you can fire a starting pistol, Bowman is fleeing for his life and sanity, pursued by agents from the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, and the CIA (or at least they appear to be from the CIA). Word is out that Bowman spent the weekend before his termination copying sensitive AmeriTel data onto twin USB sticks, and it seems nobody wants him to keep those. Then just when you think things couldn’t get worse for Bowman, his wife and a large slug of cash disappear, putting this Everyman in the cross-hairs of some very dangerous folk. Run is a pulse-accelerating, sometimes confusing ride through the technological paranoia of our age. Nothing is as it seems in these pages. No one can be trusted. Trust me.
I’m late posting today – OK, I know I’m late two weeks out of three, but today was kind of inevitable, if not quite deliberate, because I have to snatch whatever half-hours I can to do Secret Christmas Things, and husband was out of the house for part of the morning.
Christmas is our winter festival of choice, and it seems to have followed a similar pattern with very little variation for about twenty years. This year’s variation is a very unusual one: I appear to be fairly well organized! As a rule I lay down all kinds of good intentions in early November, and by mid-December I’m chasing myself in ever decreasing circles, wondering where all the time has gone and whether I’m going to be ready in time.
But this year cards are sent, the feast is either ordered, scheduled or in the deep freeze, and husband’s absence this morning allowed Santa Claus access to the secret hiding places so he could send a helpful elf to wrap the gifts that didn’t get done at the weekend. Well, something like that; I’m sure you get the picture. Next week daughter will be home, and we’ll slip into a well-oiled routine of baking, meal preparation and cake decorating. And putting the tree up, of course.
Unlike Marilyn’s husband, mine is a reader, and we have broadly similar, though not identical, tastes. This brings its own problem when I’m choosing gifts. We have a tall, narrow shelf unit which is designated for books yet to be read; at the moment the top two shelves are mine and husband’s fill four (or possibly five – I forget), and the shelves hold an average of six books each. Mostly this is because I read more quickly than he does; in general, unless a book belongs specifically to one of us and is unlikely to appeal to the other, I get first dibs, then move them on to his shelves when I’m done.
And thereby hangs the problem. The shelves are pretty well full, so he already has a backlog of at least two dozen books; I add to the supply at the rate of at least two a week, and he reads at little more than half my pace. So the only sensible way to buy him books as gifts is to choose something he really wants to read; he’s already well supplied with the kind that require the 50-page test. Which means he’s no easier to buy for than a non-reader!
The part of Christmas I’m really looking forward to is a few days’ respite from the constant comings and goings of large trucks, loud rumblings and beepings and layer of dirt over everything, all caused by the building site across the road which used to be a beautiful green field. My office hideout is as far from the chaos as it’s possible to be considering that we live immediately opposite the main access, but I’ve had a low-level tension headache since it began, and there’s no end in sight.
But for a few blessed days, they will go away.
And now, so must I. It’s Christmas Day next Wednesday, but fret not, through the magic of modern technology my post will appear. Whatever you celebrate at this time of year, enjoy!
Seriously, if you’re one of those people who loved True Detective but was disappointed its resolution didn’t actually involve cosmic, eldritch horror, you need to read Broken Monsters.
“Richard Lange’s stories are a revelation. He writes of the disaffections and bewilderments of ordinary lives with as keen an anger and searing lyricism as anybody out there today. He is Raymond Carver reborn in a hard cityscape. Read him and be amazed.” —T.C. Boyle, author of San Miguel
There are so many great ones on the big screen. But the small screen usually gives us the added twist of a kiss perhaps taking years to come--like this one.
What is your favorite on screen kiss? Big or small screen.