Whodunit: Next-level Scandinavian suspense
For those who admire Scandinavian suspense novels (a group of aficionados growing in leaps and bounds), here’s one well worth your consideration: Samuel Bjørk’s riveting American debut, I’m Traveling Alone. When the body of a 6-year-old Norwegian girl is found hanging from a tree, a police task force is speedily formed to investigate. Soon, three more children are found, each with a number lightly incised into a fingernail of her left hand. Mounting evidence suggests that there will be six more to come. For police investigator (and worrywart) Holger Munch, the case holds extra significance, as he has a granddaughter the same age as the victims. Retired investigator Mia Krüger has agreed (begrudingly) to assist Munch and lend her considerable investigative talents to one last case. But the villain they seek appears as something of a chameleon: Perhaps it’s the cross-dressing man with an eagle tattoo, or possibly the lovely young woman off her meds, or could it be the religious cult leader who holds acolytes underwater just a bit too long during baptism? Surprises come right up until the final chapters, and the book begs for a sequel.
A FAMILY MATTER
T. Jefferson Parker’s thriller Crazy Blood strays far from the whodunit genre, but it’s nonetheless a must-read for his legions of fans. Although you may know “whodunit” early on, there are still plenty of revelations in store. Wylie Welborn has just returned to his hometown of Mammoth Lakes, California, after a stint in Afghanistan where he did things he won’t talk about. The Sierras should be much more tranquil than the Hindu Kush, but there are some factors that militate against that. Wylie is the black sheep of the wealthy Carson family; he’s the illegitimate son of Richard Carson, a man murdered by his jealous wife, Cynthia, on the very night of Wylie’s conception. Cynthia herself was pregnant at the time with Wylie’s half-brother, Sky. From childhood, Wylie and Sky have engaged in rivalry over everything imaginable, a drama that played out repeatedly on the ski slopes of Mammoth Mountain. Now, after a tragic skiing accident involving third brother Robert, Wylie and Sky will duel one more time, in a winner-take-all confrontation that will either save the family or tear it apart in unimaginable ways.
Donna Leon’s well-loved protagonist, Venice police Commissario Guido Brunetti, falls squarely into the “likable cop” mold, not unlike Martin Walker’s Bruno, Chief of Police, or Håkan Nesser’s Inspector Van Veeteren. He’s urbane, well read and well liked by family and townspeople alike. And he can be a bit of a pushover, as is the case in the latest installment of the series, The Waters of Eternal Youth. When the best friend of Brunetti’s formidable mother-in-law asks him to look into a 15-year-old unsolved attempted murder, he agrees (outwardly), while wondering just what he can hope to accomplish. But Leon is a consummate storyteller, and she doesn’t leave Brunetti foundering for long. Soon he is embroiled in one of the most troubling cases of his career, the strange story of a young girl whose (deliberate?) near-drowning left her with the mental capacity of a 7-year-old. The Waters of Eternal Youth is populated with old friends (and frenemies) and is filled to the brim with insightful and often surprising observations about life in modern-day Europe.
TOP PICK IN MYSTERY
This past December, I was in an Internet café near Angkor Wat, Cambodia, when an email arrived from my editor with a list of suspense novels available for review for March, among them Nick Seeley’s debut novel, Cambodia Noir. Kismet? I’ll leave that for greater minds than mine to decide. It ticks all the boxes that make for a capital-T Thriller: gin-soaked protagonist, self-exiled in a backwater of the Third World—check; controversial and mysterious missing girl—check; strong supporting cast of alcoholic expats, prostitutes and corrupt members of the power elite—check; drugs, assassinations and mad motor-cycle chases through pockmarked streets—check, check, check. Seeley gets Phnom Penh in the same way that John Burdett gets Bangkok, with descriptions so vivid that even if Seeley never mentioned the city by name, anyone who had ever spent time there would recognize it immediately. The thriller unfolds at a breakneck pace, with a backdrop of unrest and upheaval, and characters that blur (or totally obliterate) the lines between good and bad. Seeley impresses on every count.