So many mysteries or thrillers or novels of suspense, especially the newly hot “domestic suspense” subgenre…
Let’s just say: So much crime fiction, so little time. We do want to get on with this post, after all!
Herewith, to get started: Brief reviews of four works of crime fiction recently read by Yours Truly:
I loved it – but when have I not loved a Peter Lovesey novel? (A lot of love there – and rightly so!) Another Peter Diamond investigation set in beautiful historic Bath and filled with the usual twists and turns – including the bizarre discovery of a cache of Fortuny gowns alluded to in a previous post. Lovesey’s signature wit and style are present in abundance. And there’s Diamond’s unexpectedly powerful reaction as he works to save the life of an elderly accident victim:
He stooped lower for more mouth-to-mouth. The first instinctive revulsion had gone. He cared, he really cared. Hot lips against cold. Two lungfuls of air.
Then back to the compressions. Already he felt the emotional bond that lifesaving creates. He couldn’t allow himself to think this might already be a corpse. He and his mate here were not letting go. There had to be life. Come on, old friend, he urged as he worked his aching shoulders, you and I can do this.
I read The Poacher’s Son, the first entry in this series, when it came out in 2010. It was immediately recognized by readers and reviewers as a superior first novel, and I could see why. For whatever reason, I didn’t return to the series until this year. That may be due to the unusually laudatory reviews it was receiving.
Well, this time around, I thoroughly enjoyed the exploits and tribulations of Maine game warden Mike Bowditch. His efforts to solve a difficult murder, his entanglement with authorities who seem bent on thwarting instead of helping him, his efforts to keep his relationship with his girlfriend, a wildlife biologist, from veering off course – I was happily engaged with all of these aspects of young Bowditch’s busy and often stressful life. He’s the kind of protagonist you root for wholeheartedly. And Paul Doiron‘s vivid descriptions of Maine in winter add a welcome texture to the novel.
Gosh…what was that? This novel begins with a poignant description of a widow coming to terms with her grief. making a life for herself at a house in the French countryside that should have been the retirement abode for both herself and her husband.
At the outset, the reader encounters some felicitous prose:
Buffeted and battered by a year of uncontainable sobs, her heart had at last steadied itself like the green bubble in a spirit level. There was no particular reason for this new-found calm, or rather, there were a thousand: it was May, the rain was beating against the windows, there was baroque music playing on France Musique; she was making her first vegetable jardinière of the season (fresh peas, lettuce hearts, carrots, potatoes, turnips, spring onions, and not forgetting the lardons!); the Colette biography she had picked up the day before at Meysse library was propped open at page 48 on the living-room table; she wasn’t expecting anyone, and no one was expecting her.
All these little things along with countless others meant that for the first time since Charles’s death she did not feel lonely in the house by herself, but one and indivisible.
The mood, while melancholy, is resolute. The pace is slow, even stately.
And then, all of a sudden – or at least, so it seems – chaos and threats of violence – followed by actual violence! It’s a disruption with multiple sources, one of which is literally right next door. And a grand passion emerges, right smack in the middle of it all.
Pascal Garnier has been compared to Simenon, but I’m not sure I see the likeness. Simenon’s books are blessedly short, as is this one, but to my mind the similarity ends there.
Did I like Too Close To the Edge? Let’s say I was intrigued by it – and at certain points shocked and amazed by it. Do I recommend it? If you’re feeling adventurous, and can stomach occasional extremes in language and in action, give it a try.
Yet another entertaining Harpur and Iles novel, replete with the highly stylized, piquant turn of phrase that has characterized this series from its beginning. For instance, there’s this exchange between two of my favorite series characters, Ralph ‘Panicking Ralphy’ Ember and Mansel ‘Manse’ Shale. Shale is explaining the nature of a revelatory experience he recently had in church:
‘That kind of closed-off, solid capsule in the pew was a first-class site for one deeply personal revelation to yours truly. Privileged. Divine-sourced? Who can tell? But, anyway, it arrived.’
‘Which name, Manse?’
‘Besmirched, Ralph,’ Shale replied.
‘A strong word, Manse. In which particular? You feel, felt, besmirched? How was that?’
‘Not so much self, Ralph.’
‘I’m glad. You deserve no such suffering.’
‘That name, suddenly brought to me in a sanctified setting – I felt it besmirched the very structure, fabric, atmosphere of a blameless church.’
‘You were obviously in a profound religious state at that time. I think of Cardinal Newman and “lead kindly light”, when an epiphany came to him to do with leaving the Protestant church.’
‘There are some first-rate epiphanies about, Ralph. Yes, profound is right. I believe if I had not been in that profound state I might not of received the name and how to deal with it.’
‘Ah, I didn’t realize you’d been advised how to deal with it.’
‘That’s the beauty of religion, Ralph. If you ever come across it you’ll discover that it recognizes there is rubbish in the world but it also tells you how to get rid of it. I saw during this specially delivered revelation in the church, like coming from my sub-conscious, that there’s an old film called Stranglers On A Train.’
‘I think it’s “Strangers”.’
‘Whatever. To do with death, anyway. To do with death and with that recently referred to mutuality and interweaving.’
‘It’s a crazy plot, couldn’t possibly be to do with real life.’
‘When I gets a vision in a church, Ralph, I think of it as being full of accuracy.’
‘But it had the name of the film wrong.’
‘Neither here nor there. Merely I made an error in the label. We know what its message is, don’t we? Its message is mutuality, interweaving and interdependence.’
And on it goes. What Manse is actually leading up to is a plan for taking revenge on the man he believes is responsible for the assassination of his wife and son. And Ralph is to play a key role in this plan – a plan derived from a famous Hitchcock film.
I’m told that the books comprising this series are an acquired taste. I acquired it long ago. I find them hugely entertaining, even at times brilliant.
More crime fiction reviews are coming, after a suitable art interlude.