Monday, July 30, 2012

Harbor lights

Tana French has returned with Broken Harbor, the fourth in her Dublin crime series. Mick "Scorcher" Kennedy, the brash cop from Tana French's bestselling "Faithful Place", plays by the book and plays hard. That's what's made him the Murder squad's top detective and that's what puts the biggest case of the year into his hands.

On one of the half-built, half-abandoned "luxury" developments that litter Ireland, Patrick Spain and his two young children are dead. His wife, Jenny, is in intensive care.

At first, Scorcher and his rookie partner, Richie, think it's going to be an easy solve. But too many small things can't be explained. The half dozen baby monitors, their cameras pointing at holes smashed in the Spains' walls. The files erased from the Spains' computer. The story Jenny told her sister about a shadowy intruder who was slipping past all the locks.

And Broken Harbor holds memories for Scorcher. Seeing the case on the news sends his sister Dina off the rails again, and she's resurrecting something that Scorcher thought he had tightly under control: what happened to their family one summer at Broken Harbor, back when they were children.

With her signature blend of police procedural and psychological thriller, French's new novel goes full throttle with a heinous crime, creating her most complicated detective character and her best book yet.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Cats on fire

For some readers, sleuthing felines are the cat's whiskers. There's Midnight Louis, Koko and Yum Yum, Mrs. Murphy and Joe Gray and Duclie -- and those are just the tip of hairball when it comes to detective cats.

If you don't believe that cats can solve a mystery, then you probably read works that feature a cuddly (or not) kitty companion like Sweetums, or Boy Cat Zukas, or Macavity or any of Marian Babson's feline friends from Errol and Esmond to Pandora and Monty.

If, like me, you live with a cat but give it little hope of ever solving a more weighty problem than becoming disentangled from a piece of string, then cat tales leave you cold as yesterday's cod.

Editor and publisher Otto Penzler is often misquoted as saying that he would never publish a book that featured recipes or cats, unless it was recipes for cats. He never said or wrote that. However, in his forward to Hardcore Hardboiled, Penzler said of its content: "You do not expect stories about vicars, rose gardens, tea, clothes shopping, recipes or cats (unless maybe the recipe's essential ingredient is a cat)."

But I digress.

Cats are a big deal in the mystery world and I had yet to warm to fictional fur until now. Nick Smith's Milk Treading is the story of a journalist cat named Julius Kyle, reporter for the Scratching Post, the main daily for the city of Bast, which just happens to be populated by cats.

Julius, a curious cat indeed, encounters gangs of teen cats scratching for territory, political intrigue and the love of a good feline. Julius is also the author of The Kitty Killer Cult, a mystery featuring the character Tiger Straight, and soon his real life begins to parallel his fictional one as a lone cat just trying to keep itself clean and beat a milk addiction.

Told with an edge as hard as Hammett slightly softened by the whimsy of a fairytale, this 2003 book, published in paperback by Luath Press out of Scotland, is a fun, freaky read. Next on my list: The Kitty Killer Cult by Julius Kyle (also from Luath).

Cats writing about cats. What a world.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Pulp friction

Marines were named "teufel hunden," or devil dogs, by German fighters in WWI after the Battle of Belleau Wood. Devil Dog (subtitled: The Amazing True Story of the Man Who Saved America) is the aptly named inaugural book in the Pulp History series coming in October from Simon & Schuster (Shadow Nights: The Secret War Against Hitler follows in November).

You might not think of Smedley Darlington Butler as being the moniker for a tough guy, but this award-winning Marine major general garnered a whole heap of awards: two Medals of Honor, a Marine Corps Brevet Medal, Army Distinguished Service Medal, Navy Distiguished Service Medal and the French Order of the Black Star.

Devil Dog follows Butler's military career (he went to war at the age of 16) through the Spanish-American War, the Boxer Rebellion, the Banana Wars, the occupation of Haiti, the Mexican Revolution, World War I, and other major and minor skirmishes. And as his military career progressed, Butler became more embittered and disillusioned with U.S. Imperialism and with the men who sent the soldiers out to die. In his 1935 book War Is a Racket, Butler described the reasons we go to war as having more to do with banks and business than with governments.

How did Butler save America? Would you believe exposing a fascist coup, a Wall Street plot to overthrow the president? That, and its bizarre investigation, are to be found in his post military years, along with his run for senate, his anti-prohibition fervor and his campaign to rid the streets of Philadelphia of bootleggers, bandits and b-girls.

Devil Dog, written by David Talbot with illustrations by Spain Rodriguez, is a fast-paced read supported by photographs, cartoon strips and newspaper clippings. Its pulpiness is redolent in its man-of-action main character, exotic locals, provocative situations, jingoistic attitudes and the occasional line scripted of purple prose.

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Girl Who Satirized Larsson

How popular is the Steig Larsson trilogy? Since I'm in the mystery book business, I don't know of many who have not dipped a tentative toe into his cold, brutal waters. His books are best sellers; they're our numbers one, two and three. Customers are asking for The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo DVDs (out July 6), so most of the people I run into have read him, are reading him or have his titles piled precariously on their nightstand in anticipation of reading him.

But when Nora Ephron writes a short, witty piece for The New Yorker that skewers the series' excesses and its readers' frustrations, the series must be well enough known by just about everyone...or, at least, a bit above the hoi polloi and into the consciously fashionable elite.

For those who love the series (or who love to hate it), click on the link below:

Friday, June 25, 2010

Crime writing as an art

There's a great article about mystery writing and its literary merits in London's The Guardian today. It focuses on Peter Temple and his wonderful new book, Truth. Anyone interested in the excellence of crime fiction should check it out.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Reading group

It's always interesting to me to see what people choose to read ... and why.

Recently, a local book club decided that, after reading Dostoevsky, that they were looking for something a little lighter yet literary for their summer read. I collected a half dozen titles and went through them with several group members. I mentioned the usual suspects: Possession by A. S. Byatt, The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, Case Histories by Kate Atkinson, The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco and The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield.

But what sold them on a book (none of the above) was the cover art and title: Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin. The medieval thriller is, of course, bloody and perverse...still I'm not one to talk anyone out of anything they might want to read. Besides, it's a great novel, well researched and well written, serving up enough surprises to please any mystery reader's palate.

I just have the nagging feeling in the back of my neck that I will hear from someone in the group who expected a more refined tale. We shall see.

Meanwhile, if you are part of a book group that discovered a recent or little known mystery you might suggest. Please let us know by clicking on Comments below.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

A is for Amish

Kate Burkholder is back in Linda Castillo's latest, Pray for Silence.

Fans of Sworn to Silence, in which Chief of Police Kate Burkholder hunted down a serial killer, will find this second case just as riveting as Kate must discover who murdered an entire Amish family and possible prevent more carnage in this closed community.

New arrivals from Lancaster, Penn., the Plank family has joined the small Amish community of Painters Mill only to be slaughtered on their farm. There are few cluse, no suspects and no motives, which makes local residents anxious and Kate, no stranger to Amish life, knows that this crime is extraordinary in its execution.

What may or may not help in solving the case is the discovery of a diary that belonged to one of the dead teenaged daughters, a book filled with dark secrets and illicit rendezvous. Who was this man the young girl was meeting or are these killings a case of revenge?

While Kate's on-again-off-again relationship with John Tomasetti seems off again for the moment, Tomasetti arrives in Painters Mill to offer assistance, doing so at the risk of his own job back in the state capitol. There are a lot of ghosts from the past that both Kate and Tomasetti have to face before they can begin to get a handle on this unspeakable crime. And once they do, the danger level hightens.

Castillo immerses us in the world of the Amish, and Pray for Silence serves up an intriguing puzzle that moves at an increasing speed and offers several surprises.