Whodunit: An Irish chill settles deep in your bones
As Dervla McTiernan’s debut novel, The Ruin, opens, the year is 1993, and Cormac Reilly is a trainee officer in Ireland’s Garda. He has been summoned to a decrepit estate house, where he is greeted by a teenage girl and her 5-year-old brother. Upstairs, their mother lies dead of an accidental heroin overdose. Fast forward to 2013, and the young brother, now 25, has just discovered that his surgeon girlfriend is pregnant. He goes out grocery shopping while she catches some much-needed shut-eye, and then, according to an eyewitness, he inexplicably jumps to his death from a Galway bridge. To the police, it seems an open-and-shut case, but his older sister doesn’t believe it’s that simple for a moment. Meanwhile, a new look at old evidence suggests that the mother’s overdose may not have been as accidental as it first appeared. McTiernan weaves in the Catholic Church, child abuse, police corruption and murder for a multilayered narrative as Irish as corned beef and cabbage (and I love corned beef and cabbage).
FEWER THAN NINE LIVES
Detective Inspector Tom Thorne takes his fair share of ribbing in Mark Billingham’s edgy and unusual thriller The Killing Habit. Thorne has been assigned to investigate a series of murders . . . of cats. Astute readers of suspense novels know that the slaughter of animals is one of the common precursors to the serial killing of humans, but Thorne is still none too happy about this turn of events. In this case, however, the killing of cats may not be a precursor, but rather a “cooling down” activity between premeditated homicides. Meanwhile, DI Nicola Tanner has been tasked with investigating the murder of a junkie—with the distinct possibility that the prime suspect has been framed. The fact that Thorne and Tanner will team up is a given; Thorne’s shoot-from-the-hip manner plays off Tanner’s rather more by-the-book style, and they make a formidable investigative team, decidedly greater than the sum of their parts.
DIRTY COPS IN PARIS
Since 1998’s Murder in the Marais, I have looked forward to each new installment of Cara Black’s series featuring Paris-based private investigator Aimée Leduc. I’ve read them all, and there isn’t a clinker in the lot. The latest, Murder on the Left Bank, is set in 1999, when Leduc’s attention is focused on the furor surrounding the worrisome Y2K computer issues predicted for the turn of the 21st century. It is fairly benign investigative work—until, all of a sudden, it isn’t, as she is drawn reluctantly into the search for a notebook containing a confession and a detailed exposé of police corruption spanning decades. There is a troubling personal component to it for Leduc, as her deceased father, once a high-ranking police officer, may be among those named in the tell-all. As readers might imagine, the individuals named in the notebook will stop at nothing to ensure that it never sees the light of day, and before the narrative draws to a close, their crimes will include torture, kidnapping and several particularly gruesome murders. Black’s milieu-driven novels could not take place anywhere other than the City of Light, and they are all the better for that.
TOP PICK IN MYSTERY
It has been 17 years since the last Cecil Younger novel from John Straley. That’s a long hiatus, to be sure, but Baby’s First Felony proves more than worth the wait, as Alaska’s erstwhile writer laureate dusts off his suspense fiction chops to craft the finest installment of the series thus far. The novel unfolds as a flashback, with Younger chronicling the events that led to his conviction of a fistful of felonies. That he will do time is a foregone conclusion; the question is how much time, and that is predicated upon how well he persuades the sentencing judge regarding the extenuating circumstances. The book’s title refers to a side project of Younger’s, a humorous guidebook to coach first-time defendants on the finer points of keeping themselves out of the slammer. To wit: “Don’t eat the cheese puffs when burglarizing a house. The yellow dust makes your fingerprints pop when the cops first arrive.” Of course, Younger breaks virtually every rule in the book, and now he may have plenty of time to consider the error of his ways. One note of caution: This is not a book for everyone. There is a fair bit of graphic violence (one example is a severed foot with a toe ring), as well as one of the most tasteless jokes I have ever heard: “What is green and melts in your mouth?” And no, I am not going to give you the answer, but trust me, it’s worse than whatever you’re thinking.