Thursday, February 19, 2009

Get Your Holds On -- New Mysteries. . .

Over the next few weeks I'm going to try and highlight some of the great new books being published this spring and early summer. Avid readers - your local libraries will already have many of these titles on order, so start placing your holds early. I'm going to start this spring preview with mysteries; not only are these library favourites but they have also formed a good chunk of my reading over the last few wintry weeks. So here are my picks for the best of the spring crop:

Old Favourites Return With New Cases:

Two of my current favourite mystery writers have new books out this spring. Fred Vargas's The Chalk Circle Man is actually the first in the Adamsberg series, but the fifth to be translated into English. So if you've never read her, this is a great place to start. And you are in for a treat - Vargas is terrific at original and quirky plotting and the dialogue between her characters is highly entertaining. Blue chalk circles are popping up on the sidewalks of Paris enclosing odd, mundane objects. The city is amused until a woman's body is found in one of them. Adamsberg has only just arrived in Paris and his colleagues aren't quite sure what to make of him and his propensity to take long walks. Some of the suspects are equally strange: a rude blind man; a woman who likes to follow strangers at night and has very definite ideas about what one should do on certain days of the week; and an elderly woman who loves to answer lonely hearts classifieds. I read this in almost one sitting - just loved it!

Arnaldur Indridason's mysteries feature Erlendur of the Reykjavik police - possibly the only Icelander, fictional or otherwise, who prefers the winters to the summers (keep in mind that Iceland only gets about two hours of daylight during the dead of winter). He is a good detective, but an unhappy man - divorced and estranged from his children, although he keeps trying to build a relationship with his drug addicted daughter. He's also continually haunted by the childhood trauma of losing his young brother during a blizzard. In his latest case, Arctic Chill, a young Thai boy is found murdered near his home and the ensuing investigation brings out some of the racial tensions brewing in Icelandic society. The title is apt - the identity of the killer will indeed be chilling. I've read four previous Erlendur mysteries - this is my favourite to date.

I'm so far behind in this next series, but can you believe that Alexander McCall Smith's No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency is ten years old this year? And gosh darn it all, the tenth book also comes out - again with a wonderful title: Tea Time for the Traditionally Built. Raise your china cups and crook your pinkies to Mma Ramotswe! (P.S. I digress, but McCall Smith also has a stand alone novel out this spring that I have read. La's Orchestra Saves the World is not part of any of his many detective series', but is a warm tale about a woman living in the English countryside during WWII who brings the eccentric characters of the village together when she organizes an amateur orchestra to keep up morale. For the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society fans among you.)

Others to check out:
The Redeemer - Jo Nesbo's fourth book in his Harry Hole thriller series. I'll admit my palms sweat too much while reading him and his books are not for the faint of heart, but my god, can he tell a story!
Joe Gores has guts - he takes on a literary icon by writing the prequel to Dashiell Hammett's Maltese Falcon. To get the back story on Sam Spade, check out Spade & Archer.
And finally, José Latour brings us more international intrigue set in the world of design, with his latest mystery - Crimes of Fashion.

New Detectives On the Case:

I'm extraordinary proud of Vintage Canada's World of Crime series - the editors are always on the prowl for the best international mystery writers and I've been introduced to so many great reads as a result (Vargas and Indridason, just being two of them). Their latest discovery is Deon Meyer, one of South Africa's best selling thriller writers. Blood Safari is the story of a freelance body guard hired to protect his beautiful female client when she gets too involved with trying to clear her brother of a murder. It promises a lot of action and witty dialogue set among the current racial, economic and ecological problems facing South Africa.

For fans of Slumdog Millionaire or Alexander McCall Smith, comes a new series set in India written by Tarquin Hall and featuring The Most Private Investigator, Vish Puri. In The Case of the Missing Servant, Puri has to find a young female servant who has disappeared, presumed dead, but may be an important witness in clearing a man accused of murder. At the same time he has to avoid being shot himself. But perhaps his greatest challenge is to stop his inquisitive, pushy (and annoyingly effective) mother from meddling in his cases. I've read the manuscript and I would compare Puri to a modern day, Indian, Hercule Poirot, complete with brains and ego, but with better technology at his disposal. And Hall is definitely great at evoking the sights, sounds and smells of busy Delhi.

Another debut series coming this spring is The Crossing Places, by Elly Griffiths which features Ruth Galloway, a salty-tongued forensic archaeologist. She's called upon to date the bones of a child's skeleton that is found in the marshes of Norfolk, in the hopes that it will clear up the ten year old case of a missing girl. The bones turn out instead to belong to the Iron Age, and are 2,000 years old but the case isn't quite yet closed. . .

And for pure fun, try The Love Potion Murders in the Museum of Man by Alfred Alcorn. Two academics who hated each other, are found with arms entwined and hearts definitely still, murdered in the Museum of Man. The murder weapon is a powerful aphrodisiac being developed in a genetics lab. Director Norman de Ratour has to solve the murder in this humourous, black comedy. Academics behaving badly - my favourite kind of murder mystery.

The Stand-out Stand Alone:

Iain Pears is back! I almost want to categorize this book separately in a future blog devoted to some of the great fiction en route this spring, but there is a murder at the heart of it, so if you're a fan of An Instance of the Fingerpost, or Sarah Waters' Fingersmith, you must pick up Stone's Fall. I'm a third of the way through this and am loving it. Probably because it's partially set during one of my favourite historical periods - the Edwardian era. Matthew Braddock is a young, cocky journalist who is hired to write the biography of John Stone, a recently deceased business tycoon and arms dealer who fell (or was he pushed?) out of the window of his study. Matthew also has to track down the child that Stone left money to - a child no one ever knew existed. The novel moves chronologically backwards from 1909 London, to Paris in 1890 and Vienna in 1867 as secrets are gradually revealed. It's a long but riveting and juicy novel; I'm completely hooked.

And the Come-back Classics:

Vintage U.S. continues their re-issues of Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö's Martin Beck series from the 1960s and 70s. I've read the first three of the ten books that form the Story of Crime and I want more. It's refreshing to read about solid, old-fashioned detection work in the pre-computer, pre-DNA testing days and it's hard and lonely slogging. More than any other series, this one demonstrates why so many policemen and detectives are alcoholics or just plain gloomy and miserable. And it was the prototype for so many contemporary crime writers today, many of whom are contributing introductions to these new editions. Books #3 and #4, The Man on the Balcony and The Laughing Policeman respectively, have just come out this month. Look for the next two - Murder at the Savoy and The Fire Engine That Disappeared in June.

And coming soon are three re-issues of Gladys Mitchell's Mrs. Bradley mysteries. Some of you may have seen the BBC series that has run on PBS a number of times, starring Diana Rigg as Adela Bradley, the multiple divorcee with an interest in Freud and a chauffeur sidekick. Mitchell had a very prolific writing career starting in the 1920s and was a member of the Detection Club that included Dorothy Sayers and Agatha Christie. Much of her work is out of print, so maybe this is the start of a revival. I've certainly never read any of these mysteries but this is my favourite era of crime writing, so I'll definitely be digging in. The Saltmarsh Murders, Tom Brown's Body and When Last I Died will all be out at the end of May.
Happy sleuthing!

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