Mysteries recently read and enjoyed, in varying degree

December 2, 2015 at 9:11 pm (Book review, books, Mystery fiction)

I’m a big fan of Barry Maitland’s Brock and Kolla mysteries. They’re set in London and are characterized by a nice feel for the great metropolis. Maitland currently lives in Australia, the setting for his newly begun Harry Belltree series. I usually feel somewhat frustrated when an author abandons a series I enjoy in order to start a new one. However, Crucifixion Creek has gotten very good reviews, and I do admire Barry Maitland’s writing, so I thought I’d give this one a try.

For starters, I’d call this novel a thriller rather than a mystery. The action is pretty nonstop – so nonstop that at times, I had trouble deciphering the plot. A biker gang figures prominently. They’re called the Crows; hence this cover: 41McRwX9cQL._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_ The writing is excellent, as I knew it would be. But I was hoping for more of an Australian ambiance.

Harry Belltree is an interesting detective, one who is not afraid to bend the rules to suit  his own purposes. Oh, and here’s a strange thing: He’s the second fictional policeman I’ve encountered in recent years whose wife was blinded in an accident. The first is Reginald Webster, a member of George Hennessey’s team in the Peter Turnbull series.

When I finished Crucifixion Creek, I had a feeling somewhat like you get when you’ve eaten an entire bag of potato chips (not that I’ve done that lately, more’s the pity): overstuffed but undernourished. I hope we haven’t seen the last of David Brock and Kathy Kolla.
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51EsxiykTBL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_  Archer Mayor’s Joe Gunther series is one that I turn to when I’m in the mood for good, solid crime fiction. Not only are the plots interesting, if somewhat convoluted at times, but the characters are three dimensional people that you care about – that even includes, at times, the “bad guys.” Mayor has created an ensemble cast for the (fictional) Vermont Bureau of Investigation that’s the last word in realism. It includes not only Gunther himself, the consummate law enforcement professional, but also the irascible misanthrope Willy Kunkle. Willy has surprised everyone by falling in love with fellow officer Samantha “Sammy” Martens. They are now married and have an infant daughter. She’s naturally the apple of Willy’s eye. He’s  softened a bit as a result – but not too much.

In this series, Vermont is a state of mind as well as a place with its own unique character. Like his creator, Joe Gunther could come from nowhere else:

His rural heritage– truly springing from the soil of this unusual, hard-working little state–had given him not jut an identity, but a sense of moral sturdiness that had served him well through the decades.

Archer Mayor’s intimate knowledge of law enforcement in Vermont is no accident. The jacket copy informs us that he’s “…a detective for the Windham County sheriff’s department, a death investigator, and the state medical examiner, and he has twenty-five years of experience as a firefighter/EMT.”

The Company She Kept is the twenty-sixth novel in this series. Like its predecessors, it was a pleasure to read.

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It’s been several weeks since I read Karin Fossum’s The Drowned Boy; yet only now am I emerging from a profound melancholia….  Melencolia_I_(Durer)

Not really, but that opener was simply my effort to convey the bleakness that suffuses this brief heart breaker of a novel. A small boy has met with a death  by drowning; that much is known from the outset. But was it an accident – or something else… Carmen Zita, the victim’s mother, is hard to read; she is alternately flighty, self-obsessed, and desperate. The father can barely speak; he is consumed by grief.

51iaIkKhuxL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_  Once again, Inspector Sejer and his second in command Jacob Skarre are on the case. They are called upon to be both sensitive and probing, in their efforts to reach the truth of the matter. It will take some hard digging, combined with a maximum exercise of tact. Among the facts that had to be taken into account: little Tommy had Down Syndrome.

I enjoy spending time with Konrad Sejer and Jacob Skarre. Their conversations are invariably interesting, whether they’re discussing an investigation or something else. At one point, Sejer questions his fellow officer, a church goer, on the subject of his religious belief. He observes that the cruel death by drowning of a toddler makes it hard for him to believe in the benevolence of a Supreme Being:

“And according to your faith, everything has a meaning; isn’t that right? That’s what I’ve always struggled to understand”

Skarre responds:

“Yes, it’s not easy, I have to admit. And to be honest, I sometimes falter too. But doubt is an important part of faith; that’s all there is to it. And unlike you, I at least have somewhere to go with my complaints. Others flail around without focus, but I couldn’t take that. I need a wailing wall.”

(I very much empathize with that last bit.)

I am a committed reader of Karin Fossum’s crime fiction. Her insights into human nature are eloquently expressed and her plots are rarely too convoluted to comprehended. Her writing s beautiful, and kudos are merited for the translations, this one by Kari Dickson (from the Norwegian).

There is one element of the narrative that lightens the proceedings somewhat: Sejer’s dog, a Shar Pei named Frank. Sharpei

1 Comment

  1. kdwisni said,

    I just finished a 2006 Brock & Kolla called The Spider Trap, concerning some murders that hark back to the Brixton Riots of 1981. It rivals Peter Robinson’s novels involving the Miners’ Strike for insight into the lives of blue collar people during the ’70s and ’80s. Awfully good–and far more nutritious than most thrillers IMHO!

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