The death of a young heroin dealer causes no great concern for NYPD Detective Frank Parrish - Danny Lange is just another casualty of the drug war. But when Danny's teenage sister winds up dead, questions are raised that have no clear answers. Parrish, already under investigation by Internal Affairs for repeatedly challenging his superiors, is committed to daily interviews with a Police Department counsellor. As the homicides continue - and a disturbing pattern emerges - Frank tries desperately to make some sense of the deaths, while battling with his own demons.
I started reading R.J. Ellory's books with A QUIET BELIEF IN ANGELS which I absolutely loved. Then moved onto THE ANNIVERSARY MAN which made my Top Ten of 2010 and eventually, after I worked out a way to finagle the definition, into the two books that I nominated as my favourites for that year in my contribution to an article in Deadly Pleasures magazine. SAINTS OF NEW YORK is the latest I've been lucky enough to read, and with each book, I just get more and more impressed.
SAINTS OF NEW YORK is veering more towards a traditional procedural crime novel than earlier books, but with Ellory's trademarks of flawed characters, in a dark and murky world, struggling against personal and external demons and pressures.
In Frank Parrish's case, a lot of his demons come directly from the larger than life legacy of his father, one of the original "Saints of New York", the policemen who famously stood up to the Mafia in the early 1980's. Whilst everybody else regards John Parrish as a hero and legend, Frank stands alone, remembering a man who seemed to care more about the job, and the money, and status than he did about his own family. How Frank deals with his own day to day life, as a divorced, alcoholic, desperate and disaffected man, is woven brilliantly into this book as he has been forced to attend daily sessions with a Police Department counsellor. As these sessions proceed, Frank's state of mind, his background and his life are drawn out, just as he inches closer and closer to the killer of what turns out to be more than just one teenage girl.
SAINTS OF NEW YORK has a wonderfully dark, murky, tense and slightly desperate feel about it. It sets itself deep in the underbelly of New York, simultaneously taking you deep into the personal world of Frank Parrish. Violent and dark, there is also an intricate and compelling plot in which a man handles the professional with aplomb and the personal with a staggering lack thereof. I really have no idea how this author does it, but there's something amazingly compelling about Frank Parrish. Which doesn't take anything away from a fast-paced, well plotted novel that takes a few chapters to pull you in and then grabs you and holds onto you until the very end. And then for a while after that.
THE RINGMASTER - Vanda Symon
Death is stalking the southern South Island. And what role does the visiting Darling Brothers Circus have to play?
Sam Shephard is on the bottom rung of detective training in Dunedin, and her boss makes sure she knows it. She gets involved in her first homicide investigation there when a university student is murdered in the Botanic Gardens. Sam soon discovers this is not an isolated incident. There is the chilling prospect of a predator loose in Dunedin.
THE RINGMASTER is the second in the Sam Shephard series from NZ author Vanda Symon. Sam has moved to Dunedin, is in detective training when the body of a young university student is found in the Botanic Gardens. In Sam's world it goes without saying that nothing is ever going to be straightforward, and once the possibility that this murder isn't a solitary event, the connection between murders all over the Southern South Island of New Zealand and a local travelling circus becomes a distinct possibility.
Which, as it does, leads to a sympathetic relationship with an elephant. Which ends badly. So maybe I should get this out of the way up front, things for the elephant don't end well at all, and Sam is just as upset about this outcome as the reader is going to be. But that isn't going to help readers who are completely opposed to anything bad happening to animals. For me, the events, whilst distressing, really demonstrated how sometimes the life of the police isn't a pleasant one. But getting back to the murder investigation, there are aspects of Sam's personality (and personal life) that have come forward from the first book - OVERKILL. There are also aspects of the investigation that remain the same. Sam plays a solo hand again, partly because she's sidelined in a major way by the same bosses that tried to sideline her in the first book, and partly because Sam's much more comfortable out on the edge, playing a solo hand. It's probably that sense that somewhere off in the rough is exactly where Sam is at her best that stops any sense of cliché or convenient repetition. That and the humour, but more on that later.
As with OVERKILL, the great strength in THE RINGMASTER is the characterisations. Using the same tricks as the earlier book, Sam really is easy to identify with. Her own self doubt, her willingness to feel real emotion, make mistakes, beat herself up, be jealous, angry, daft as a brush, brave, sad and rather clever all at the same time.
There is another great supporting set of characters in THE RINGMASTER. Maggie remains, housemate, and best friend, Sam's touchstone. They are now both living in Dunedin, boarding with relatives of Maggie's, their domestic situation seemingly sorted, Sam's emotional life is still a massive rollercoaster. There is a love interest bought forward from the first book, although it takes quite a while for Sam to twig that this is a love interest, and not just some bloke hanging around being annoying. There is also a great sense of place and sensibility. The book doesn't read as a travelogue, but you really do come away from it with an unscratchable itch to see that place, meet those people.
As with the first book, the humour is pitched perfectly. At no stage is the reader allowed to forget that there are victims involved in any series of murders, there are unwitting involvements that impact everyone as a result, and there are the guilty that have their own, often inexplicable reasons, for doing what they do. CONTAINMENT is the next book in the series, followed by recent release BOUND. Do you think it's too much to hope that now that I'm revisiting the first three books, and have the fourth to look forward to, that a fifth isn't that far away?
A MOST PECULIAR MALAYSIAN MURDER - Shamini Flint
Inspector Singh is in a bad mood. He's been sent from his home in Singapore to Kuala Lumpur to solve a murder that has him stumped. Chelsea Liew - the famous Singaporean model - is on death row for the murder of her ex-husband. She swears she didn't do it, he thinks she didn't do it, but no matter how hard he tries to get to the bottom of things, he still arrives back at the same place - that Chelsea's husband was shot at point blank range, and that Chelsea had the best motivation to pull the trigger: he was taking her kids away from her.
Think Hercule Poirot in a Sikh turban and the tropical heat of Kuala Lumpur, but add a hefty dose of rumpled Columbo and I think that's the best description of Inspector Singh of the Singapore police that I can come up with. A MOST PECULIAR MALAYSIAN MURDER is the first in this series from Singapore based author Shamini Flint.
This book is definitely on the lighter side of crime fiction, I'll have to read the next couple that I have here to be able to say if that's an ongoing characteristic, but I'm guessing it's probably exactly where the books are heading. Whilst there is a shooting murder in this book, it happens off-page, there's very little in the way of rushing around on the part of the main protagonist and whilst there is always the threat of the death penalty hanging over the chief suspect, there's a sense that Inspector Singh will, of course, save the day. Which he does with a hefty dose of gentle humour, quite questioning, observation and just enough prodding of various sore points. Or at least he sort of does. But more on plot later. It seems a more than reasonable expectation that the personality of the main character is going to inform each of his future investigations, and whilst Singh takes his job seriously, he's very much set up to be a "character".
Of course a debut book in a series has to be read with that in mind, and A MOST PECULIAR MALAYSIAN MURDER is an unusual book in that Inspector Singh isn't so much "investigating the crime" as checking that another authority have got it right. He's not in his usual territory and must rely on some local support (and use some indifference from the local authorities as a spur to proceed). There's a few subplots working their way through the book - with the chief suspect fighting the Syariah courts for custody of her children, a battle for control of the family company, and a tribe of native people's being butchered, all of which are pulled together at the end of the book with some hefty reeling in of the various lines. It's not too hard to work out that these threads are all going to coincide, and therefore have some idea of where the resolution is coming from, but there are precious few clues for the reader to work with. Really there's less of a solving and more of a revealing going on, and because of that I doubt it's going to be a very satisfactory ending for fans of guessing the culprit before the author reveals all.
As the start of a new series of rumpled, "character" type detectives, I thought A MOST PECULIAR MALAYSIAN MURDER was a good, light, fun read, introducing a new protagonist who really seems to have some potential. In future books I really hope that he hits his stride, embraces his inner grumpy old man and gets to grips with his surroundings. I'm also hoping that the next books have a little more leeway to introduce the world that Inspector Singh inhabits, as this first book did seem to have it's hands full introducing him.
OVERKILL - Vanda Symon
When the body of a young mother is found washed up on the banks of the Mataura River, a small rural community is rocked by her tragic suicide.
But all is not what it seems.
We've got this little dog... Jedda is a 3 year old Australian terrier female. She's short, red-golden haired, extremely independent, determined to the point of obsession, friendly but can switch quickly into extreme bolshie and she is absolutely and utterly incapable of stepping away from an argument. She's the sort of dog that will continue the fight after she's been physically picked up and carried away from the conflict point. I suspect if I'd read OVERKILL before we'd got that dog, there would have been a strong case put for naming her Sam.
OVERKILL is written from Sam's viewpoint. Which is a tricky approach as the reader is going to have to like Sam, or at least feel some sense of connection with her, and be comfortable that Sam is fairly investigating this death. Which is complicated because the grief-stricken widower is Sam's ex-lover. Somebody that you'd have to be dead or thick not have noticed Sam still holds quite a torch for. That, and some really ... well let's go with naive rather than stupid actions, means it's not a big step for the powers that be to suspend Sam from the investigation because she's made herself more than suspicious. Perhaps a little unfairly as it was Sam that first wonders if this death wasn't more than a tragic suicide and it's her sniffing around that finds the forged prescription that triggers the murder enquiry in the first place.
Needless to say, a piddling little technicality like "suspicion" and "suspended" isn't going to stop Sam, anymore than a cow manure shampoo or a few stitches in the head. (And that's got to be one of the funniest scenes I've read in years - thinking about it still made me cry with laughter when we were changing our own ute tyre the other day!)
Whilst there's always the exception to the rule, in the main there are some elements that are kind of expected in some forms of Crime Fiction. With your cop protagonist it doesn't hurt that they are a bit of a self-starter. It works well if there's conflict with higher authorities, and suspension allows your cop to head off into somewhat tricky "procedural" territory. There's really nothing wrong with using some formulaic elements in a book provided that they aren't one-dimensional and there's enough other elements for a reader to identify with to allow you to forgive the occasional blatant setup. Where OVERKILL compensates in spades is in the main characters. Sam and her best friend, housemate Maggie are a good pairing - whilst Maggie takes no active part in the investigation part of the novel, she's the calm in Sam's chaos. And the affection, sarcasm, pithy commentary and observations between the two of them are frequently very very touching and funny.
Part of what I really liked about these books was that sense of humour. Frequently self-deprecating, the humorous touches are part of what makes the first-person voice work. At no stage is Sam overbearingly smug or self-serving. She's flawed and human and probably harder on herself than anybody around her could ever hope to be. OVERKILL is the first book in what is now a 4 book series, and having read the next two before I went back to re-read this one, I can see the developmental elements in this debut. Every series, after all, has to start somewhere and there's nothing worse than a debut book that says and does it all. Sam has places to go, people to annoy, problems to solve, ladders to climb, snakes to slide back down again. You just have to hope that 4 books isn't the end and there's a lot more of Sam in the future. (Expect a flurry of these reviews - I've been slack and need to catch up with talking about this terrific series!)
THE SEX CLUB - L.J. Sellers
A pipe bomb explodes at a birth control clinic, then a young client turns up dead in a dumpster. Kera, the clinic nurse, discovers that the girl’s Bible group is sharing more than the Good News. Confidentiality keeps her from telling the police, so she digs for the truth on her own—becoming the bomber’s new target. Meanwhile, Detective Jackson races to find the killer, fearing that his own daughter could be next. But his investigation is blocked by power politics at every step. Can Jackson uncover the killer’s shocking identity in time to stop the slaughter?
To get the obvious out of the way up front - the title isn't quite as sinister as it first seems. Whilst this is a book which has some unsavoury elements to it, the point being made is more about the nature of peer pressure and the unfortunate consequences of denial.
When I was lucky enough to get a copy of THE SEX CLUB for my ereader I wasn't really too sure what to expect. The potential sexual elements of the book were certainly not an issue for me, but combine that with a fundamentalist Christian subplot and I became a reluctant reader. But I'm very glad that I was talked into putting my reluctance aside and found, once I started reading the book, I was very quickly engaged.
THE SEX CLUB combines the two main threads - the bombing of the Family Planning Clinic and the death of Jessie. Whilst some elements of the perpetrator of the bombing are known up front, there is less revealed about the murder. This means that the reader watches as, under pressure and under threat, Kera and Jackson must resolve everything - the bomber's identify and motives, the murder's identity and motives and whether the events are connected. And they must do all of that in time to stop any further bombings or murders. It's a well developed methodology, and the storytelling makes the interweaving of these threads believable, complicated but not complex, and engaging.
This book is a debut book and as an opening salvo in getting to know, in particular, Detective Jackson (who has his name on the ongoing series) it was a good start. There was a lot explained about both Jackson and Kera's backgrounds. Both characters do suffer a little from overtly damaged pasts (leading to much scope for mutual understanding and noble intentions), but overall Jackson, in particular, is an interesting character juggling the challenges of a demanding job and single-fatherhood to a teenage daughter. Of the supporting characters, perhaps the least successful is the perpetrator of the bombing - in whose head the reader spends a fair amount of time. It could be that the character was somewhat unconvincing, having said that, as I write this review I'm aware that it could also very well be that somebody that fanatical is.. frankly... completely offputting and impossible to understand.
In the main, THE SEX CLUB is a book that tackles issues that some readers are going to find contentious. For what it's worth, I thought that each of the difficult aspects were handled with sensitivity, although I should imagine that a slight tendency to "lecture" on some aspects might annoy some readers. Having said that, the sheer tackling of these issues alone is undoubtedly going to annoy some readers. On a personal level I was quite surprised that something built around perpetrators with viewpoints that I would normally leave to other readers worked as well as it did, and I'm looking forward to reading the next books in the series.
DARK BLOOD - Stuart MacBride
Everyone deserves a second chance...
Richard Knox has served his time, so why shouldn't he be allowed to live wherever he wants? Yes, he was convicted of a brutal abduction and rape, but he's seen the error of his ways. Found God. Wants to leave his dark past in Newcastle and make a new start.
Or so he says.
The problem with an author making it onto my "Pre-Order IMMEDIATELY list" is that once the book arrives I have that dreaded "do I read immediately or hoard" dilemma. It's easier with some of my all time favourite authors - there's a few, well not to put too fine a point on it, aren't as young as they used to be. Stuart MacBride, on the other hand, is a young man. Last time I set eyes on him he looked to be in remarkably good health. But still, you never know. Publishers are queer folk and they may suddenly have a brain freeze, or worse still, Stuart may just get distracted by .. well gardening stuff... and forget to write the next one.
So I've come up with a reasonable compromise with these books which is simply "hang onto them until you can stand the suspense no longer!". I held out pretty well with DARK BLOOD but I'm really really pleased I didn't keep it up forever (and the latest book has arrived so it's not like I don't have another one to hoard ... just for a little while.)
DARK BLOOD starts out with one of the best opening sequences I have read in years. One of those opening pieces that make you sit up straight and pay attention. From there the reader is launched into a world of missing informants, sawn-off sledgehammers, fake money, counterfeit goods and jewellery shop robberies. Add to the standard mayhem of Aberdeen on a normal day (well a MacBride normal day anyway), and about the only thing that McRae, Steel and the entire Aberdeen command can agree on is that having one of England's most notorious sex killers "dumped" into their patch on his release from jail is just about the height of all cheek. Which is bad enough, but a Northumbrian DSI tagging along to "keep an eye on things" is dangerously close to taking liberties.
There is always something comforting about returning to a favoured series character - and Logan McRae is one of my favourite characters, although DI Steel is not above giving him a bit of a nudge. Having said that, other readers of these books will be wondering what exactly I'm sniffing if I think McRae, Steel or any of the circumstances of MacBride's books are comforting. But in a strange (okay so slightly twisted) way, they are comforting. That's not to say that things also don't move on in their lives, albeit sometimes slowly. McRae's been doing quite a strong line of greatly put upon, martyrdom in recent books, but in DARK BLOOD he's actually firing up a bit, getting a bit bolshie. Which needless to say doesn't go down well. Nobody could possibly have imagined it would go down so badly that DI Steel would be giving him "advice" on how to get on with others mind you. But advice she does dole out. At the same time that the impending birth of her child is making her life a lot more complicated than she thought it would... especially with conciliatory and caring not exactly coming naturally to DI Steel. As usual McRae doesn't just have to deal with Steel, DI Beattie seems to be going out of his way to behave like a prat, whilst all the time journalist Colin Miller is needling away at the police in general and McRae in particular.
The problem with an ongoing series has to be that it's sometimes too easy to slip into familiar patterns, particularly where the characters and their interactions are concerned. Avoiding this DARK BLOOD has something a little more edgy about McRae - sure he's still a bit of a martyr to the cause, but there's just the occasional flash of a fight back. DI Steel is still delightfully, gloriously over the top, but she's softening just a little, impending parenthood is obviously going to have some sort of affect, but what exactly... well some things aren't to be contemplated too closely. DARK BLOOD also veers away from the more gruesome aspects of some of the recent books, and works harder on a really tight, taut, pacey and interesting plot. There's a realistic feel of pressure - external and within, of competing priorities, and changing levels of urgency. It feels like each of these characters is doing a fine line of tight-rope juggling - personally and professionally. MacBride also isn't afraid to ditch popular characters, to put them in unexpected situations, to pick them up again, and generally to move his chess pieces where the will takes him. But, as always, there's a real underlying humour - some of it observational, some of it almost slapstick, but always with sneaking sense of great affection. The characters for each other, the author for his cast, and in the case of this reader, the reader for the whole package.
LIKE CLOCKWORK - Margie Orford
When a beautiful young woman is found murdered on Cape Town's Seapoint promenade, police profiler Dr Clare Hart is drawn into the web of a brutal serial killer. As more bodies are discovered, Clare is forced to revisit memories of the horrific rape of her twin sister and the gang ties that bind the city's crime rings. Are the murders really linked to human trafficking, or is the killer just playing sick games with her?
Margie Orford lists, among many other activities, that she does Advocacy work for a Rape Crisis group in South Africa, so it's not very surprising LIKE CLOCKWORK looks very closely at the horrific consequences of rape and extreme violence against women. Because of that there's nothing particularly easy about reading this book, but it definitely fulfils one of my major preferences in crime fiction - which is to inform the reader. No matter how uncomfortable that information can sometimes be.
Dr Clare Hart is a police profiler who lives on Cape Town's Seapoint promenade, so the discovery of a young girl's body at that location has a very close, discomforting feel for her. There's something very brutal about the way that this girl died, and something oddly ritualistic about the way that the body was disposed of. The discovery of more young girls - all very similar in appearance - make for the sobering realisation that there is a serial sex killer in Cape Town. A city that's not unused to violence and, in particular sexual violence, as Clare and her twin sister are all too aware.
One of LIKE CLOCKWORK's strengths is the glimpse that the reader is given of the living victim - in this case Clare's sister and a young victim of gang rape and violence that Clare steps in to save. The other strength is the strong characters. Clare Hart is an interesting woman - dour, somewhat humourless, more than a little obsessive, she's working on a documentary set in Africa, but she also freelances as a police profiler (although there's not a lot of detail as to how she got that job or what her background is). The main police character - Riedwaan Faizal has enough twists on the standard scruffy, lone wolf policeman to make him just that little bit unexpected. He's a Muslim, alcoholic, dissolute, and a loner. Clare and Riedwaan share a good working relationship (which seems to be about the only one that they each have), as well as a somewhat uninspiring sexual relationship. As unappealing as they both would seem, they were both great characters - real, imperfect and quite human. There is, however, some sort of backstory between these two which was hinted at, but not really fleshed out in this book. But it is Clare and Riedwaan who carry the interest in the book, supported well by a cast of supporting characters including the state pathologist; the nasty brother of one of the victim's and the refugee chef's assistant in a sushi restaurant. As does the glimpses of Cape Town. A beautiful place, with seafront views and a comfortable lifestyle, where a dangerous killer is disposing of his victims. A modern city entertainment area, full of trendy bars and partying people, side by side with sexual exploitation and sleaze.
The weaker side of the book is the plot, which is a little disjointed. Perhaps the author has understandably tried to build in as many examples of the violence and exploitation experienced by women in particular. There's absolutely no doubt that these women's stories (including that of Clare's sister) are told gently and respectfully - there's no voyeuristic or sensationalist descriptions of appalling violence here, but, whilst that is happening the focus (and tension) of a serial killer stalking young women dissipates. Which leads to a final flurry of activity to expose him and save a young girl before it's too late.
Despite those plot inconsistencies, LIKE CLOCKWORK really gives the reader a feeling for Clare and Riedwaan's Cape Town - from it's physical beauty through to the gang violence that plagues the society. It also gives the reader glimpses into the diverse society that exists in South Africa. It certainly tempted me enough to order other books by this author.
A DEATH IN TUSCANY - Michelle Giuttari
In the picturesque Tuscan hill town of Scandicci, the body of a girl is discovered. Scantily dressed, with no purse or other possessions, she is lying by the edge of the woods. The local police investigate the case - but after a week they still haven't even identified her, let alone got to the bottom of how she died.
A DEATH IN TUSCANY is the second book from former Florence police chief Michele Guittari, billed as a bestseller in Italy and translated into nine languages. I was particularly interested to read this as the first book A FLORENTINE DEATH had a number of elements which didn't work at all for me, and I wanted to see if this was first book syndrome or more to do with this particular author's style of storytelling.
A DEATH IN TUSCANY starts out with the discovery of the body of a girl near a small Tuscan hill town. Scantily dressed, no identification, the problem for police is discovering who she is - let alone who killed her. Stepping into lead the investigation is Chief Superintendent Michele Ferrara, head of Florence's elite Squadra Mobile, although he is soon distracted by conspiracies to the left and right of him.
Part of my problems with the first book was the overt self-aggrandisement of the central character - I don't think it was too much of a stretch to imagine that it's very much autobiographical, and frankly, the self-reverential tone got really tiresome, really quickly. The second book is only marginally better in this respect, as once again Ferrara seems to be the only person in the entire cast that knows anything, can see anything, understands the clues. Combine that with a plot that just simply did not work, and this book was very disappointing. At the centre of the story is the discovery of this young girl, who quickly becomes the catalyst for a crusade and much righteous (and reasonable) indignation at her fate. That is until Ferrara's best friend goes missing and he heads off in that direction. Which leaves the reader with absolutely no doubt whatsoever that somehow these two seemingly unconnected events will eventually be connected. Which was disappointingly drawn out and overly convoluted to the point where the whole plot became almost laughably contrived. Add to that the requisite shadowy influence of a secret society (in this case the Freemasons as well as the Mafia), political corruption, international drug running and a greatly put upon and misunderstood Ferrara and the whole thing not only lacked credibility, it got dangerously close to silly at points.
The action either lurched forward in chunks of Ferrara's personal brilliance, or bogged down in endless drives, bizarre chats, and detailed descriptions of procedural elements that frankly got so boring it was a real struggle to stay with the book. Which is a pity. Because the death of young people at the hands of sick adults in powerful positions should be a storyline that makes the reader stop and think about what's going on in the world.
INTO THE SHADOWS - Shirley Wells
When Rodney Hill, wrongly arrested for a series of murders, hangs himself, Jill Kennedy the forensic psychologist whose profile led to Hill's arrest, gives up her work with the police and moves to the peaceful village of Kelton Bridge to write self-help books, enjoy a quiet life with her cats and perhaps an occasional flutter on the horses.
English village mysteries are one of the categories that remind me that even though I love the dark and noir side of crime fiction, a little lighter fare every now and again is good for the psyche. Or at least a welcome change in approach. I'm always on the lookout for a new "series" of these style of books to accumulate for when I'm looking for something lighter as I'm running a little short of favourites to turn to.
INTO THE SHADOWS is a more modern take on the traditional English village style of book, mostly I felt, because there's yet another serial killer involved. I have to say that the combination of a blurb talking about a retirement life with cats, romantic tension with an ex-lover trying to regain affection, and a stalking serial killer and I was feeling a little leery. Add to that some predictable plot points (every male in the village seemed to be a suspicious character), and some flat out unbelievable plot points (look behind you - well in this case above you for goodness sake!) and I wasn't exactly in my own particular reading comfort zone.
Surprisingly enough though, I found that I could still read this book. Perhaps it's because Jill and Max were an interesting pair, flawed, warm, funny, very realistic. Perhaps it's because it is an English village mystery and there are some aspects of those style of books that you can just let roll - after all they are the perfect antidote to a cold Sunday afternoon. And that's probably the main reason that I'm always on the lookout for a good English village series - I like reading these sorts of books, curled up in the rocking chair in front of the fire, large glass of something red and a small select box of good choccies. Whilst I can't say that INTO THE SHADOWS wasn't a flawed book, it certainly had enough going for it to put other entrants in the series on my potential new series to follow list.
HYPOTHERMIA - Arnauldur Indridason
One cold autumn night, a woman is found hanging from a beam in her summer cottage by Lake Thingvellir. At first sight, it appears to be a straightforward case of suicide; the woman, Maria, has never recovered from the loss of her mother two years earlier and had a history of depression. But when Karen, the friend who found her body, approaches Erlendur and gives him the tape of a séance that Maria had attended, his curiosity is aroused.
Less of a review - closer to a drool, HYPOTHERMIA is the latest in one of my all time favourite series of books from Icelandic author Arnauldur Indridason. If you've not read any of the earlier books, coming to HYPOTHERMIA from the start could still work, but part of what is really wonderful about this series is the slow unfolding of the backstory of the central detective Erlendur.
Erlendur is very much of the "rumpled / crumpled" detective genre - somebody who life has dealt some complicated hands to. Whilst he shuffles those cards, the reader is taken through his current life, his relationships with his estranged children, his childhood and his family tragedy. Still with that Nordic sense of constraint, thoughtfulness and introspection, there's also something lighter and hopeful in the sub-themes of HYPOTHERMIA, despite the puzzling suicide of a woman in a beautiful lakeside location. Her obsession with the loss of her mother, and the drowning of her father when she was a child takes Erlendur back to what happened to events from her childhood, somehow giving him permission (or the will) to explore his own history, and the death of his young brother in a blizzard many years before.
Within this series there has always been a strong sense of Icelandic culture and beliefs, from their particular personal name conventions in earlier books, to a real sense of the relationship between the present and the supernatural in this book in particular. And it's not just Erlendur's personal circumstances that leads to an exploration of the past and the present - there is often a theme within the books that pursues exactly the effect that past events (sometimes hidden, sometimes not) have on the current lives of many of the characters.
Along with the rumpled / crumpled detective styling, Erlendur has an admirable sense of justice and duty. He doesn't give up, he doesn't accept the obvious (in this case the rapid verdict of suicide) and he is prepared to stick to the task until the truth is revealed - no matter what the consequences. Having said that he, and this author, are not unaware of the effect of this sort of persistence. Grief, loss, guilt and confusion are beautifully illustrated, as is there often a cheeky sense of humour.
HYPOTHERMIA is an outstanding example of everything that is wonderful about crime. The book transports the reader to the place and the culture in which it is set, the landscape, the people, their particular way of looking at the world are woven into the threads of grief, loss, cause and effect seamlessly. There is pace to the story, alongside lyrical, beautiful storytelling and there are wonderful, believable, flawed characters to follow. Hopefully for lots of books to come.