Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Lisa Brackmann 101

Review of latest Lisa Brackmann novel now at The Life Sentence.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

3 by

My review of the first three Camille Verhoeven books by Pierre Lemaitre is now live at TheLifeSentence.net

Monday, June 29, 2015

Innocence

My new review of Heda Margolius Kovály’s distinctive Czech crime novel Innocence is now live at The

Friday, June 19, 2015

An Irish book and a Swedish movie

Ken Bruen's Green Hell seems at first to be a series finale, but by the end it leaves open the possibility of future entries focused on his melancholy former Garda Jack Taylor. There's a lot of metafiction in it: an American student becomes fascinated with Jack and abandons his research on Becket to write a biography of the Galway private detective, and a good part of the first half of Green Hell is his research on the project. Bruen himself makes an appearance as a customer/drinker in a bar, and Iain Glen, who plays Taylor in the TV series based on these books, also makes a cameo appearance. There is a crime plot, but it mostly takes place offstage. There are some interesting characters, including Ridge, the female cop who's a running character who has survived (many haven't) and a new Goth who seems a bit modeled on the dragon-tattoo-girl (that seems to be the source of the U.S. cover art fro the book). And as usual there are a lot of references to and quotes from crime fiction and crime TV series.

But all of the above is finally subsumed in the same pattern as has appeared in all the Taylor books. The evocative writing serves to set up Taylor's rise from the gutter and his ultimate descent thereto. A regular reader will know immediately upon the entry of a new companion (canine) what the animal's fate is likely to be. I've read most, but not all, of the Taylor books, but I find myself reading them rather rapidly (they're short books, but also easy to cruise through at high reading speed), and growing impatient with the persistent pattern. If this is indeed not the last of the Taylor series, it may still be the last for me.

Johan Theorin's Echoes from the Dead is an impressive crime story set on the Swedish island of Öland that gives a reader a lot in the way of interesting and rounded characters, plus echoes of a larger frame of reference that is mythic or nonrational (without ever abandoning realism). The movie recently made from it maintains the emphasis on character but doesn't manage to convey the fairy tale or mythic quality of the book (maybe that sort of thing is difficult in a film format, unless you go all the way into horror of fairy tale territory). The story develops slowly in both formats, following a double story of a post-World-War II crime and its consequences in subsequent decades. There's a final twist that would seem to upend the life of the cenral character, a woman who lost her child decades earlier and must now return to Öland to help her father (whom she has always blamed for her child wandering away) close up his house after he has moved into a retirement home. But a code gives some consolation, so that the story doesn't end without a note of grace.

All in all, Echoes from the Dead makes a good movie, though a little less distinctive and involving than the book on which it's based.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Donna Leon and Commissario Brunetti

My survey of the Brunetti series by Donna Leon (on the occasion of her new one, Falling in Love) is now live at The Life Sentence.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

New review, new magazine on-line

My review of Helene Tursten's The Beige Man is now live a the new crime fiction magazine and website, The Life Sentence: have a look at the new site! The url is www.thelifesentence.net (and beyond reviews, the magazine features interrogations and feature articles across the spectrum of noir, mystery, cozy, spies, thrillers, etc. The editor is Lisa Levy, until recently the noir editor at the Los Angeles Review of Books.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Jake Needham, The Dead American

The third book in Jake Needham's Samuel Tay series finds the detective on administrative leave, following the suspicious (from the police force's point of view) shooting at the end of the previous book, The Umbrella Man. The always independent and skeptical Tay is approached by Emma Lazar, a writer for the Wall Street Journal, who wants him to help her investigate the apparent suicide of a young American software engineer who had been hired by a Singapore company developing a driverless car.

Tay is reluctant to help but becomes involved (he after all has nothing else to do right now) and becomes, as usual, involved in the complicated politics and bureaucracy of the hyper-nanny city-state. The danger to Tay and Lazar, and everyone else involved, plus the interest shown by Singapore's security establishment, make it clear that there's something going on besides cars without drivers, but the detective and the small team that he enlists to help him cannot penetrate the company's security to find out what's going on.

Needham keeps up the tension by keeping the focus on Tay, not a particularly charming man but a curious one who isn't easily intimidated (except for the ghost of his mother, in whom he doesn't believe but who nevertheless haunts him with advice about his life and the case occasionally). The ghost's presence is not as pervading as the ghosts in the Doctor Siri series by Colin Cotterill, Needham's style is realistic. And the grounding in the real provides a very powerful conclusion to the reasons for the company's secrecy and the murder(s), leading to the dark heart of a conspiracy that is linked to recent headlines and is all-too-believable.