Hush Hush by Laura Lippman

hush hushHush Hush by Laura Lippman

William Morrow, February 2015

Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher.

Hush Hush is the latest installment in the Tess Monaghan PI series by Laura Lippman. Some of the characters overlap from the standalone books as well, so it feels like I’ve  been in the fictional world for quite a long time since I’ve read a huge chunk of her books. That being said, I have to say my main enjoyment of the book comes from returning to characters of whom I’m very fond.

The plot centers around a mother who was found guilty by reason of temporary insanity in the suffocation death of her daughter in a hot car ten years before the book takes place. Melisandre Dawes returns from life abroad after being in a mental institution, and she is financing a documentary about her life and her family. Her older daughters, now teenagers, are understandably conflicted about seeing their mother again. Their father has sole custody of them, and he is recently remarried with a young baby.

The storyline about the bad mother resonates with Tess because she is a mother to a three year old daughter now, and the echoes in her life as well as in the lives of other characters deepens my appreciation for the book. I was more surprised by the emotional depth of this story than I was about learning Melisandre’s story. She was a mysterious character, but she didn’t hold my interest throughout the entire story. I think this book works best for people who’ve already read books in the series.

 

My #1955book: The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith

talented ripleyThe Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith

My edition: Vintage, 1999

Originally published 1955

The Talented Mr. Ripley has been languishing on my shelves for a number of years, and the #1955book challenge led me to pull it off the bookcase. Thankfully, I forgot a great deal of the Matt Damon/Jude Law version of the movie as I settled into the story, but even knowing the story did not keep me from being surprised by the novel.

Tom Ripley is a young American of modest means with some sort of background as a con artist whom we meet in New York City in a bar where he is approached by the industrialist father of Dickie Greenleaf. Mr. Gleenleaf the father hires Tom to travel to Italy to convince his wayward son to return to the United States to take his place in the family boat-building business and be closer to his ailing mother. The rest of the book details Ripley’s adventures and crimes in Italy.

What most impressed me was the tone: I was in the head of one of the strangest characters I’ve read about, and it was profoundly disturbing and at times seemed utterly normal. I was also impressed that I didn’t grow bored of the rich-expatriates in southern-Europe storyline which I’ve found tiresome in other stories. Ripley is fascinating, and the pacing and the plotting he takes on were quite intricate. I’m also a fan of briefer books, and the length of this one felt much shorter than contemporary books I typically read.

All in all, this was a good foray into a more classic story: the psychological work, the creepiness of the plotting: this book stood out a lot more than the only other Highsmith I have read. 

Other reviews appear in Yet Another Crime Fiction Blog, Past Offences, and Existential Ennui (lots of old covers in this post).

I bought my copy of the book.

Echoes from the Dead by Johan Theorin

echoes deadEchoes from the Dead by Johan Theorin, translated by Marlaine Delargy

Öland Quartet book 1

Delta, 2008

Originally published as Skumtimmen, 2007

It’s quite early in the year, but it’s obvious to me that Echoes from the Dead is going to be one of my favorites reads of the year. It’s an enchanting story, it has very vivid characters, and it weaves the past storyline with the present extremely well.

The book begins with the unsolved disappearance of five-year-old Jens Davidsson years before: he escaped from his grandparents’ back garden and encountered an old man calling himself Nils Kant. Nils Kant’s story, beginning with his childhood and his crimes, takes up the other half of the book. Jens’s depressed mother Julia returns to  Öland, the vacationer’s island in the Baltic Sea, when her father Gerlof says there have been developments in the case. The story alternates between the present day missing persons investigation- unofficially carried out by Gerlof and his daughter Julia–and the story of Nils Kant, whose story remains mysterious as well. It takes quite a bit of skill to have two story lines keeping me guessing.

Theorin is so good at capturing the slightly fantastical story, reflecting Gerlof’s love of scary stories told at twilight since he was a boy. The tone works so well and Theorin earned so much goodwill in my eyes that one little bit of action at the end of the book didn’t bother me if it had been in another story. Julia, Gerlof, and even Nils Kant are nuanced characters who I cared about immensely, and that doesn’t happen regularly.

Highly recommended.

Other glowing reviews appear in Yet Another Crime Fiction Blog, EuroCrime  Reviewing the Evidence, and Reactions to Reading.

I bought my copy of the book.

A Rule Against Murder by Louise Penny

rule against murderA Rule Against Murder by Louise Penny

Also published as The Murder Stone

Minotaur Books, 2008

I really enjoyed the first three installments in the Gamache/Three Pines series, and since it’s been a significant amount of time since I read the series, I decided to see if my opinion has changed. I haven’t read anything quite this cozy in awhile, and I was a bit resistant to the book because of that.

A Rule Against Murder takes place in a remote vacation lodge on a lake. It used to a be a hunting and fishing lodge, but when the current owners took over, they established “a rule against murder,” to atone for the vast quantity of taxidermied animals in the attic. Inspector Gamache and his wife are visiting the lodge to celebrate their wedding anniversary, and the only other guests are an extended family there for a reunion. One member of the family is murdered by the stone in the alternate title, and Gamache’s vacation is cut short to solve the mystery.

My favorite part of the book was learning more about Gamache’s backstory (his childhood and his parents), but the actual investigation was not the strongest part of the story for me. There’s a lot of psychological conjecturing and summarizing of character’s personalities that feels a tad heavy-handed to me, and that comes down to my bias in favor of more twists in a plot. I hope the next installment gets back to the village of Three Pines!

I borrowed this book from the library.

The Chessmen by Peter May

chessmenThe Chessmen by Peter May
Quercus, February 2015
Book 3 of the Lewis Trilogy

Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher.

This particular installment of the Lewis Trilogy focuses on former detective inspector Fin McLeod’s young adulthood, first at school in Lewis and then his first years at university in Glasgow. He was a roadie for a Celtic rock band until one of its members was lost in his small plane. The discovery of the small plane in an ingenious way starts the murder investigation in the present storyline, but the bulk of the book takes place in Fin’s past.

Looking back at the series as a whole, I prefer the first two installments to this one. The setting of the Isle of Lewis is still vivid in The Chessmen, but it didn’t feel as vivid action-wise compared to The Blackhouse and The Lewis Man. While I learned much about the Lewis Chessmen, this particular book did not include a setpiece as stunning as the guga hunt in The Blackhouse. I think, character-wise, it’s also difficult to get into this book because the focus is on Fin’s young adulthood where he was, understandably, quite self-centered. And part of me is disappointed in the book because I was expecting more storyline about Fin’s relationship with Marsaili or his newly-discovered son: those threads are still open as the story concludes.  It’s still a very good series, but I was not as floored by The Chessmen as I was by the earlier books.

 

 

The Forgotten Girls by Sara Blaedel

forgotten girlsThe Forgotten Girls by Sara Blaedel, translated by Signe Rod Golly

Grand Central Publishing, February 2015

Originally published as De glemte piger, 2011

Book 7 in Louise Rick/Camilla Lind series

Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher.

The Louise Rick and Camilla Lind series pairs a police detective with her friend a freelance journalist, and this particular investigation centers around the death of a woman who supposedly died years before while in the care of a home for mentally challenged children. Both Rick, who recently joined a new division of the police to solve old cases, and Lind, her friend the freelance journalist, interview people surrounding the crime, which broadens to an investigation of a number of unsolved disappearances, assaults, and more.

This is an action-packed book, and the writing was fairly decent. My only hesitation in recommending it is that it’s difficult to jump into the series at this late point. I felt a bit removed from the main character of Louise Rick because she has quite a rough backstory that obviously has affected her deeply. I’m not sure that any part of her past was normal, and that makes her seem a bit unbelievable to me. Believability at the end was also a concern for me.

It’s a book with a horrifying story based in reality (the mistreatment of mentally challenged individuals in institutional settings), and in that ways it reminds me of several other Danish books I’ve read in the last year. This is a good read, but it’s not the best entry to the series.

 

Quick Takes

I’ve been in TV mode for the past month or so, and I just finished the first season of Fargo, the television adaptation of the Coen Brothers movie. I’m slightly tired of the bad-guy-as-superman story, even though I liked Billy Bob Thornton’s performance a lot. The acting was fabulous, it felt like a Coen Brothers movie without being boring (the tone, the artistic shots), and for some reason the artificiality didn’t bother me.

For something a bit more realistic though it’s quite old (published in 1921 and 1915), I read a pair of short stories by Akutagawa, “In a Grove,” and “Rashomon,” both of which inspired the 1951 film Rashomon. The plot comes from In a Grove, and a couple elements in the movie come from the story Rashomon. “In a Grove” is a short story told from multiple perspectives about the murder of a samurai and the rape of his wife, and it’s an incredibly unsettling and unresolved story. Unreliable narrators all around in a distilled story. I haven’t seen the movie yet, and I felt I should read the story for crime fiction’s sake and just because I’ve been aware of the story for years.

 

Bäckström: He Who Kills the Dragon

he who kills the dragonBäckström: He Who Kills the Dragon by Leif G.W. Persson, translated by Neil Smith

Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, January 2015

Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher.

 

Bäckström is a despicable, crooked cop who is racist, sexist, homophobic, and more. While the story begins and centers him, there are definitely moments of relief from his mindset. He begins the story after being transferred to a new police district and being given sobering news by the police doctor: he’s in danger of dying soon from his excessive drinking and eating. The chastened Bäckström investigates what appears to be a straightforward murder of a drunken retired accountant, but soon the investigation uncovers that things are not what they seem.

I appreciated the focus on the investigation and on the many layers of hierarchy in various Swedish police forces: too much focus on the evil killer gets old for me. What also stood out was the circling back in time to see crucial events in the storyline from different characters’ perspectives. There’s also plenty of black humor in the story: Bäckström himself is quite ridiculous, and the jokes about corruption and police bureaucracy are quite pointed.

Only the Story of a Crime trilogy and this book have been published in the US, and I’ve read just one previous Persson book, Free Falling, As in a Dream, so I’m not the foremost expert. This edition coincides with the television show, but what from what I’ve read, the show differs quite a bit from the books: Bäckström is not entirely unredeemable, and the plots are not just adaptations of the books. I think I’ll stick with the pricklier books. While I’m fairly new to the series, the characters keep appearing in Persson’s books, which take a very methodical approach/ procedural approach to solving the murder that begins the book. The procedure slows down the book a bit, but all in all it’s a quick read.

Highly recommended.

Other reviews appear in Crimepieces, Col’s Criminal Library, and Crime Scraps.

 

 

The Divorce Papers by Susan Rieger

divorce papersThe Divorce Papers by Susan Rieger

Broadway Books, November 2014

Disclosure: I received a review copy via Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

The Divorce Papers is a novel in the form of a legal file for a bitter divorce between a wealthy couple in a fictional state very much like Massachusetts. Sophie Diehl is a young criminal lawyer roped into doing her first divorce case, and a very high-stakes one at that. Besides the legal file, we are also privy to her email correspondence with her best friend, an aspiring actress, as well as quite a bit of correspondence relating to human resources issues going on within her law firm. It’s an epistolary novel that breaks its own rules a bit: it’s more than just the case file. And also rest assured that the legal writing is not nearly as dry as it would be in real life.

I am very glad that this is a book with emotional heft, which I was not expecting at the outset. Rieger is very smart about the effect of divorce on children both in the throes of divorce and as they grow up. There are a couple aspects of the storytelling that niggled at me: Rieger’s writing of crucial legal opinions that were part of the file were just not realistic (the statements of fact felt very novelistic), and the characters bringing up so many literary allusions felt like the author stretching a bit to give this story more weight. It’s strange to call a divorce story an enjoyable read, but that’s my conclusion.

The Fifth Woman by Henning Mankell

fifth womanThe Fifth Woman by Henning Mankell, translated by Steven T. Murray

Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, April 2004

Originally published as Den Femte Kvinnan , 1996

I bought my copy of the book.

I’ve put off reading The Fifth Woman for some time because I watched the tv adaptation (Kenneth Branagh) a few years ago: I wanted to wait until I forgot enough of the plot to make the reading of the book suspenseful. Needless to say, I enjoyed the book more than the film, and the book had a subplot or two that I don’t remember in the film, which added extra depth.

Wallander investigates a batch of seemingly unrelated, horribly violent murders in the fall when his father dies, and the crimes and his grief affect him deeply. The investigation is quite long and involved because the police do not have any viable theories of the case for a number of weeks, and that makes for a bit of a slow read in the middle of the story. The conclusion is very brisk, and I’m most impressed with the epilogue which basically involves Wallander reflecting on the crime and himself, which felt like a necessary part of the story because he felt so on edge during the investigation.

This series is one of my favorites, but I’ve decided to write just a few thoughts about it because it’s one I’ve blogged about before.