Friday, January 22, 2010

Two Mysteries to Thaw Out With. . .

The mild weather this January (relatively) has allowed my roving bookshelf eye to rest more kindly on these frigid-sounding titles from last fall. Last weekend I was in the perfect mood for reading some good mysteries and these two certainly didn't disappoint.

I'm hooked on the Erlendur novels from Icelandic author Arnaldur Indridason and his latest, Hypothermia (such a great title), translated by Victoria Cribb, is a masterfully crafted read. Inspector Erlendur, out of all the gloomy, unhappy detectives in the Nordic crime world, seems the most obsessed with the ghosts of his past. When he was a child he lost his younger brother in a blizzard and the body was never found. As a result, Erlendur is tenacious in never giving up on missing persons' cases. A depressed woman named Maria has hanged herself in a small cabin by Lake Thingvellir, the site of her father's accidental death many years ago. It seems like a simple case of suicide but Maria's friend Karen isn't convinced and as Erlendur starts unofficially poking around, he not only has his suspicions, but manages to stumble on a few clues that might also reveal what happened to two young people who disappeared thirty years ago. The intricate plotting cleverly parallels the continuing story of Erlendur's personal life - his attempts to reconnect with his estranged children and even thaw out the chilly relations between himself and his ex-wife. Guilt, despair and forgiveness are at the core of both narrative strands. It's a riveting and touching read.

Snow Job by William Deverell is something completely different. I have no idea why it has taken me this long to finally read one of Deverell's books especially since he was the creator of Street Legal which, in its time, was one of my favourite television shows. It was a smart, witty series and Snow Job shares all of those characteristics. Retired lawyer Arthur Beauchamp just wants to retreat in peace to his goat farm on a West Coast island, but he's stuck in an ugly, noisy, Ottawa apartment during a cold winter because his wife Margaret has won a seat as the Green Party's first MP. Arthur gets further drawn into politics when a delegation of visiting ministers from the oil-rich country of Bhashyistan are killed when a bomb detonates in their car, and he is entrusted with defending the prime suspect - if he can find him first. Meanwhile the Conservative government is facing a crisis because Bhashyistan has just declared war on Canada and is holding five employees of an Albertan oil company hostage. Three Canadian tourists have gone missing in the country as well. An election is looming, ministers are squabbling and defecting, the interests of several oil conglomerations are suspect, and there's a scheme to deflect blame for the killings onto eco-terrorists - two of whom are employed by Arthur and Margaret as caretakers on their farm. When one of them sleepwalks into Arthur's bed and is spied by the island's notorious gossip, he's also burdened with the stress of having to explain "The Episode" to his wife.
Whew! There is a lot going on in this book which mixes contemporary political satire with a mad espionnage caper, but it's a terrific and entertaining ride. The paranoid machinations of spin and ego going on behind closed doors on Parliament Hill are hilarious. As is Arthur's ongoing relationship with a CSIS spy who may or may not be a double agent. Beauchamp may not be much help on his wife's political campaign trail, but he certainly gets my vote of approval.

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