Havana Blue by Leonardo Padura, translated by Peter Bush
Bitter Lemon Press, 2007
Written in 1991, originally published in 2000 as Pasado perfecto
Mario Conde is a detective in Havana who investigates the disappearance of one of his high school classmates, Rafael Morin, a vice-minister who negotiates international business deals who also happens to be married to a woman whom Conde loved when they were young. The story alternates between the present missing persons investigation in the late 1980s and their time in high school in the 1970s, and Padura spends a great deal of time talking around the question of why Conde joined the police and stayed (he’s a frustrated writer who idolizes Hemingway, but he leaves a university course in psychology to join the police).
I read the book to get a sense of Cuba, and this particular story follows Conde and his group of friends as they go to school and become adults. Conde is a good detective, Morin becomes a superstar in his bureaucratic post, and his other close friends’ stories I will leave you to discover. On the negative side, the actual mystery was not as well-developed for me as the story of Conde and his friends growing up, I was dismayed by Conde’s constant interior monologues about women he lusts after, and sometimes the translation felt clunky to me. When I happen to read a book with such a sexist main character, it’s jarring to me despite the interesting commentary about life in Cuba in the 1970s and 1980s.
I refer you to another review in The Game’s Afoot and a profile of Padura in The Independent.
The Havana Quartet is known as Las cuatro estaciones in Spanish, and each takes place in a different season.
- Pasado Perfecto published as Havana Blue
- Vientos de cuaresma, published as Havana Gold
- Máscaras, published as Havana Red
- Paisaje de otoño, published as Havana Black
The Silence of the Rain by Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza
Translated by Benjamin Moser
Henry Holt, 2002
Originally published as O silêncio da chuva, 1996
I picked up this first novel in the Inspector Espinosa series as I’m in the final stretch of the 2013 Global Reading Challenge, and this is my first Brazilian crime novel. Espinosa works in Rio in a corrupt police department, which makes for an interesting set-up as he investigates the apparent murder of a wealthy executive in a parking garage. Several other crimes follow, and, interestingly enough, we as readers know that the executive actually killed himself. This doesn’t feel like a police procedural because Espinosa spends most of his time investigating in a roundabout fashion by himself, and sometimes he’s accompanied by Detective Welber.
Espinosa is an interesting character: age forty-two, divorced, a wanna-be bookstore owner, a man who relies on contemplative times in a crowded park by the port to determine which way to proceed in his investigation. It’s not an entirely rational or scientific approach, which makes the story entertaining. The hypotheses–or fantasies as Espinosa calls them– can go on a bit long in parts, but I think that is in part because we know that he’s investigating a suicide and coverup instead of a murder. I believe part of his approach is his coping mechanism for working within a police department he doesn’t trust, though he hasn’t left the force in 22 years.
The book touches on class issues (Carvalho, the deceased, is quite wealthy and his secretary who disappears is not) as well as how the police are viewed by the people of Rio (it’s a rare crime novel that admits that police are known to rough up the public) and how pointless some investigations are. Carvalho is not missed, the investigation does not proceed well, and there is a certain amount of a lack of resolution of the plot in the end. It’s not a frustrating ending, but it is not a neat and tidy one.
I borrowed this book from the library.
Other reviews appear in Confessions of a Mystery Novelist, Bitter Tea and Mystery, and Finding Time to Write.
Settled Blood by Mari Hannah
DCI Kate Daniels book 2
Witness Impulse, November 2013
Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher
While I was a little leery about jumping into this series with book two, I don’t think I missed too much information about DCI Kate Daniels’s personal and professional lives in order to enjoy this novel. Hannah is good at not dumping too much exposition into the first sections of the book: she doesn’t slow things down. Daniels is a closeted lesbian detective in Northumbria, and this particular case involves the murder of a young woman found at Hadrian’s Wall and the disappearance of another young college student within days of the murder. The plotting was very good, and the characters were interesting: everyone on the police team has plenty of backstory, from Daniels’s mentor Bright to her team members. Daniels herself is recovering from the trauma of her last case, the focus of the book The Murder Wall, and her break-up with police profiler Jo Soulsby. My only reservation about the story is that it centered on a murdered young woman and an abducted woman in harm’s way, and I’ve read and seen that story too many times. I enjoyed this book, but, to be honest, I prefer Anne Holt’s Hanne Wilhelmsen series a bit more.
Witness Impulse is a new imprint of Harper Collins that is digital only, and they publish both new and backlist titles. The first two DCI Daniels books are available now, and the third will be published in the U.S. in December 2013.
Other reviews appear in Reviewing the Evidence and Curious Book Fans.
The Eye of Jade by Diane Wei Liang
Simon & Schuster, 2008
Mei Wang book 1
Mei Wang, a female private detective in contemporary Beijing where private detectives are illegal, is the main character of The Eye of Jade. It’s nominally a mystery centered on the search for a jade seal that allegedly was not destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, but the central case does not seem to occupy most of the story. Liang is more interested in describing life as an entrepreneur or as a government employee in China. Wang, a former employee of the Ministry of Public Security turned private investigator, is a part of both realms. There are several set pieces that are especially vivid, including Mei’s visits with several high-end antique dealers and Mei’s sister’s flashy wedding.
The other main part of the story deals with the Cultural Revolution and its aftereffects. Wang lived in a labor camp with her father before her mother was able to free her, and the jade of the title allegedly escaped destruction during that time. How the generation that lived through the Cultural Revolution, including Wang’s mother and friends, has adapted to life in China today is a crucial element of the story.
Liang is a former Chinese citizen who has written two books about Mei Wang as well as a memoir about her experience growing up in part in a labor camp during the Cultural Revolution. Other reviews of The Eye of Jade appear in The Game’s Afoot and Ficsation.
Montalbano’s First Case by Andrea Camilleri
Translated by Gianluca Rizzo and Dominic Siracusa
Mondadori/Open Road Integrated Media, October 2013
Originally published as La prima indagine di Montalbano, 2004
Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher.
It feels strange to call a crime novel delightful given the subject matter, but Camilleri manages to balance out the violence of the crime Montalbano investigates with the humor and bits of life that make him human. I’ve only read the first novel in the series, but I’m already a fan of this series. In this novella, Montalbano is 35, apprenticed in the mountains and eager for a placement by the sea. Once he moves to Vigata, he investigates a thwarted shooting of a public official instead of an actual murder, and Montalbano displays plenty of skill in dealing with corrupt government officials as he pursues the case.
My English edition only contains one story unlike the three billed in the Italian edition. It appears that the other two stories in the Italian collection take place in Mascalippe, in the mountains of Sicily, before Montalbano is promoted to Inspector and moves to Vigata, on the Mediterranean. The novella feels like a Camilleri novel in miniature, which is a compliment, and it was nice to meet some of the characters when they are a great deal younger. Not all of the regulars appear in this story.
White Heat by M.J. McGrath
So White Heat may take place in the most far-flung locale of any book I’ve read this year: Ellesmere Island in the Arctic, part of the Nunavut territory of Canada. The main character is Edie Kiglatuk, who is half Inuit, and she is a hunting guide and teacher who investigates the mysterious death of one outsider (a man she led on a hunting expedition) and the apparent suicide of her former stepson Joe. She works by herself for most of the book, in true amateur PI fashion, and part of the time she works with Derek Palliser, a member of the High Arctic Police Service who also happens to be part Inuit.
The setting is key: the people, the society, the outsiders who move or visit Ellesmere Island, the land. McGrath spends a lot of time describing Edie’s travels during the investigation and what measures she takes to survive the cold, and those passages make the setting more accessible to someone like me who’s never been to the Arctic.
I only have minor quibbles with the book, and those are that Edie’s dialogue toward the end feels a bit preachy and that the pacing feels a bit slow in spots. I’m picky about PI novels because I’ve overdosed on them over the last twenty years. I go into a PI novel a bit skeptical that the protagonist can reach the conclusion on her own. That being said, I did enjoy this book a great deal.
Other reviews appear in Books to the Ceiling (includes lots of background information on McGrath’s nonfiction work about the Inuit), Petrona, and Raven Crime Reads.
Finally, a word on how I chose the novel. It was a pick of the Crime Fiction Book Club organized by Rebecca Bradley that meets via Google Hangout monthly. I encourage you to check it out– and I hope to make the November meeting.
Alas, I didn’t photoshop out the extra four candles for this blog’s second birthday.
Two years ago I started this blog with a short, short review of I Am Half-Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley, and after a few months I settled into a crime fiction blogging groove, with the occasional slowdown when life became busy, as well as dabbling in a bit of non-crime fiction reading when the mood strikes. I am grateful to all of you for reading, and thank you pointing me to more interesting books in your comments and own blog posts. Finding your blogs and making your acquaintance online has been the greatest pleasure of blogging.
As I don’t have time to look back and analyze trends in the 108 books I’ve reviewed here so far (I’ll leave that for a year-end post), I want to take a little time to talk about my plans for the next year:
1. I am joining the USA Fiction Challenge in 2014, and I’ll treat it as a perpetual challenge (one book set in each state and Washington DC).
2. I’m also going to turn the Global Reading Challenge into a perpetual challenge for me and keep track of books set in each country. Since there are close to 200 recognized nations, this will take me awhile.
3. Borrowing from an idea from Nancy’s blog The Crime Segments, I’m going to include a sidebar of books I’m giving away. US readers only, please. Email me at rebecca.kreisher (at) gmail (dot) com.
Again, thanks for reading and writing such interesting comments and blog posts to keep me excited about reading.