Four mysteries and a thriller….

May 22, 2013 at 5:07 pm (Book review, books, Mystery fiction)

Or can we just say five crime fiction titles and leave it at that?  Well, anyway, lest we get bogged down in these nice distinctions, let’s forge ahead with specifics:

Harvey,_John,_Good_Bait

  John-Harvey-author-of-Good-Bait-and-the-Charlie-Resnick-novels-cr-Molly-Boiling-2012

  I’ve been a fan of John Harvey’s novels since the days when he was writing about Charlie Resnick, an extremely appealing detective who lived and worked in Nottingham. The last entry in this series, Cold in Hand, came out in 2008.  There was a gap of ten years between that title and Last Rites, the one that preceded it. Meanwhile, Harvey had created a new character, retired policeman Frank Elder. Recently, yet more protagonists have been created.

Good Bait is a standalone – or it is considered thus, I suppose, until or unless Karen Shields and/or Trevor Cordon appear in subsequent books. DCI Shields is based in London; DI Cordon, in Cornwall. They’re both involved in separate investigations, which, as the novel progresses, tend more and more to converge. With this kind of narrative, I often find that one thread is more vivid than the other. So it is in this case. Trevor Cordon is pursuing an inquiry on his own time – one that, for him, has a distinctly personal element.

Generally speaking, I liked Good Bait, though I found myself becoming somewhat impatient with  it from time to time. John Harvey is a reliably skilled and intelligent writer. So: recommended, but not with wild enthusiasm.
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141379260  Kfossum I’m a big fan of the novels of Karin Fossum. In recent years, she’s been the author of some of my favorite mysteries. The Caller is about a series of practical jokes being played on strangers by a feckless youth. As the story proceeds, the jokes become increasingly sinister, causing more and more pain for innocent individuals. As is characteristic of much Scandinavian crime fiction, the sense of dread mounts steadily and inexorably as events unfold.

As with Fossum’s other books, the writing is spare and beautiful. She’s master of the plot-driven novel whose characters are fully fleshed out and intriguing, if not always likeable. One who most definitely is likable is her series protagonist, Inspector Konrad Sejer. Among his other winning character traits, Sejer loves dogs. His beloved (and outsized!) Leonberger having passed from the scene, he’s now the proud owner of a Shar Pei named Frank.

leonberger

Leonberger

Shar Pei

Shar Pei

I want so much to recommend this book, but I feel that I must give fair warning: Late in the narrative, a terrible thing happens to a child, and for this reader at least, the event is described in more detail than was strictly necessary.
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JMann  LitRevMag  Jessica Mann reviews crime fiction for The Literary Review. She also writes  novels in the genre. Some years ago, I read A Kind of Healthy Grave, which features series character Tamara Hoyland.  I’ve  been enjoying Mann’s reviews in the aforementioned magazine for several years now, so I decided to read another of her novels. As I was looking for something set in Cornwall, I chose A Private Inquiryinquiry

Barbara Pomeroy is an arbitration judge. Her profession consists of rendering a decision as to whether a given development project can go forward in the location for which it is intended. It’s a job that demands intellectual rigor, scrupulous fairness, and a great deal of traveling. She loves it.

With her husband Colin and son Toby, Barbara lives in St. Ives, a town on the coast of Cornwall famed for its rich concentration of artists. Colin himself is a painter who is slowly but surely gaining recognition. Barbara must perforce spend much time away from her  family, and it is while she’s away that a mysterious newcomer to St. Ives begins to insinuate herself into their small family circle.

The other major character in this novel is Dr. Fidelis Berlin, a child psychologist and specialist in parent child relationships. A breast cancer survivor, Dr. Berlin is unmarried and has no children of her own.

A Private Inquiry is a work of psychological suspense rather than of police procedure. Although the hardback is a mere 176 pages, the author creates a rich, fully realized world, peopled with complex characters whose fates are of paramount importance. The writing is terrific. The puzzle at the novel’s heart is cunning and compelling. (A Private Inquiry was a finalist for the 1996 Gold Dagger Award.)

I raced through this book and was sorry when it ended. Very highly recommended. (Alas, it is neither owned at Howard County Library nor currently in print in the U.S. I got a perfectly good copy from a third party seller on Amazon. That copy is now available for loan.)
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9414851  I so enjoyed A Foreign Country by Charles Cumming that I decided to read another work by him. I chose The Trinity Six, partly because it concerns that most notorious (and endlessly fascinating) clutch of spies, the Cambridge Five.   Sam Gaddis, a divorced academic short on funds, gets a tip about  a spy scandal that could have international reverberations. Problem: anyone who gets near this subject tends to end up dead – or at least, missing. Still, Gaddis knows there could be a  book in this – a sensational book, and one  that could aid him in his solvency dilemma. And so he sets out to pin down the truth – or lack thereof – of the allegations in question.  This is, naturally, is always a dangerous mission in a novel of espionage.

Gaddis’s quest has him careening all over Europe and Russia. He himself soon becomes as much the object of pursuit as the pursuer. There’s danger around every corner! And this was one of my problems with The Trinity Six.  It makes use of  the standard tropes of the genre without adding anything terrifically unique to them. Yes, there’s suspense; yes, there’s moral ambiguity. But the plot was so complicated that I gave up trying to tease out the various threads and had to be content to simply hang in there for the wild ride. Parts of it were fun. Other parts were baffling.

So: The Trinity Six had its enjoyable moments, but for this reader, it lacked the charm and the compelling quality of A Foreign Country. Still, Charles Cumming is at the forefront of the new wave of espionage authors, and deservedly so. He’s a good writer, and I would definitely read another novel by  him.

Here’s a video interview of Cumming conducted by Dominic West:

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9781250006943

 Barry+Maitland

  Finally, we come to Chelsea Mansions, the eleventh entry in the series featuring DCI David Brock and DI Kathy Kolla. Barry Maitland’s meticulously crafted procedurals set in London are among my favorites. This one gets off to a flying start with an act  that is both audacious and outrageous: the murder of a seventy-year-old American woman, committed in the street in broad daylight, in full view of aghast onlookers. Another killing soon follows, the victim this time being a Russian businessman.Could there possibly be a relationship between these  two apparently disparate events?

Brock and Kolla are soon on the case, but Brock can’t be, for long. He is taken ill with a mysterious ailment. Kathy is beside herself with worry about this man who is both her mentor and her close friend. Meanwhile, one John Greenslade, a Canadian linguistics professor in town for a conference, becomes involved in the investigation. Greenslade seems just as anxious about David Brock’s illness as Kathy is. This puzzles Kathy, with good reason.

These and other tantalizing questions are not amenable to easy answers. Kathy and her team are dogged and skillful investigators. Brock’s indisposition has left Kathy in charge, with nearly disastrous consequences. She’s so good at her job, she’s almost too good – at least, in the estimation of certain people.

Other titles I’ve read in this series are The Marx Sisters, All My Enemies, Babel, No Trace, and Dark Mirror. If pressed for a recommendation, I’d choose The Marx Sisters or Dark Mirror, but really I’ve very much enjoyed them all. And that most definitely includes Chelsea Mansions. There is something of a story arc in this series, but I don’t think it’s necessary to read the novels in strict chronological order – that is, unless you’re compulsive about such things. (And you know who you are!)

5 Comments

  1. Angie Boyter said,

    Roberta, Your reaction to Trinity Six was exactly the same as mine. I had picked out the book for a Vine review and ultimately decided not to review it. I was underwhelmed but felt that perhaps I was missing something. You have confirmed I was not!

  2. Yvette said,

    Haven’t read any of these, Roberta. But still I was intrigued by your reviews. I’ve read, I think, two Barry Maitland books (because of your enthusiasm since I’d never heard of him before) and enjoyed them. I can’t say why I’ve never read any others except that there are just SO MANY books waiting to be read.

    And lately I seem to be doing a lot of re-reading which doesn’t help matters any. I don’t know why, but the warmer months seem to be made for re-reading my favorites. It’s like visiting old friends, I suppose. But in between, I try to get in some newer stuff. Although I’ve also been reading more and more vintage books, egged on by some of my other blogging friends who specialize in same. It’s a whirlwind!

    Roberta I forgot if you’ve read any Patrick O’Brian or not, but if you haven’t, oh I do recommend his books.

  3. kathy d. said,

    I haven’t read these books but my TBR mountain is so intimidating I can’t add more books now.
    But a real treasure is Fred Vargas’ The Ghost Riders of Ordebec with its eccentric characters, Normandy setting, medieval folk lore, incredible wit, a pigeon named Hellebaud — and so much more. A pure delight, a book I was sad to finish.

    • Roberta Rood said,

      Thanks for the recommendation, Kathy. I’ll look for the Vargas title. And I know what you mean about the ‘TBR mountain!’

  4. jm@jessicamann.net said,

    Thanks for the kind words about A Private Inquiry, Roberta. You might like to know that my new crime novel, DEAD WOMAN WALKING, will be available in early August. I love your blog! Best wishes from Jessica.

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