Whodunit: Following the trail of a Swedish serial killer
Irene Huss, Violent Crimes Unit investigator and determined protagonist of Helene Tursten’s The Treacherous Net, is not a happy bunny. People in Huss’ line of work rarely have a “happy bunny” existence, faced as they are with the relentless barrage of nastiness that humans can inflict upon one another—but the horribly scarred young girl found dead in the Göteborg forest pushes Huss to her limit. A second body is then found, thus raising the ugly specter of a serial killer preying on teenage girls. Complicating matters is the new head of the department, an opportunistic woman who uses her feminine wiles to great advantage in her career trajectory, while virtually sidelining Huss. But Huss is nobody’s fool, and she deftly maneuvers her way toward center stage, leading the investigation into the murky world of Internet chat rooms. If you like Scandinavian mysteries (and really, who doesn’t?), this will be right up your alley.
GOOD GOLLY, MISS MALI
Bamako, the capital of the West African country Mali, ranks with Gaborone, Botswana (the setting for Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency novels), as one of the least likely places to pursue a career in private investigation. French ex-cop Soulemayne “Solo” Camara is doing exactly that in Laurent Guillaume’s English-â€‹language debut, White Leopard, albeit in the distinctly shady manner of a noir gumshoe. Shady behavior makes sense in a corrupt country where “buying off people is the national pastime,” but things go pear-shaped for Camara after he secures his latest client’s release by paying some money under the table. Her body is found in the muddy Niger River, and it becomes a race against time to neutralize the killers before they neutralize him. No matter how gritty a hardboiled detective novel can be, it’ll always be grittier in the Sahara.
Inspector Pekkala has something of a checkered past: When we first met him in 2010’s Eye of the Red Tsar, he was a favorite investigator in the court of Tsar Nicholas II. He was imprisoned during the Russian Revolution, and now he’s once again employed in an investigative capacity, this time by former adversary Joseph Stalin. At the opening of Sam Eastland’s latest historical thriller, Red Icon, the year is 1944, and the German army is flagging in the face of crushing Soviet forces. A pair of soldiers take shelter in a church burial vault, where they find a priceless and long-missing Russian icon. It once belonged to a powerful radical sect called the Skoptsy; the members who weren’t slaughtered by the Bolsheviks escaped to the harsh forests of Siberia, where they await their chance to once again rise to prominence. They may not have to wait long, because they have the secret to a poisonous gas so deadly it could alter the course of the war. They want their icon back, and it matters little whether they use the lethal gas as a bargaining chip or as a weapon. Don’t worry if you’re not a history buff; if you admire the writing of David Downing, Philip Kerr or Robert Harris, you’ll find lots to like in Red Icon.
TOP PICK IN MYSTERY
A person who’s planning on making a living as a contract killer probably shouldn’t have an overactive conscience, like ne’er-do-well (and somewhat reluctant) criminal Iain Fraser in Denise Mina’s latest thriller, Blood, Salt, Water. He’s convinced that somehow his victim lives on inside him, an unsettling presence to say the least. He tries to keep the truth of the girl’s death locked away, but he’s spiraling, obsessing over her blood on his hands (which, in his mind at least, resists even the strongest scrubbing) and the mile-deep waters of Loch Lomond, where he deposited her body. Meanwhile, the corpses are piling up in the quiet Victorian seaside town of Helensburgh, and it’s a sure bet that Glasgow Detective Inspector Alex Morrow will be relentless in her pursuit of the truth. On hand is a diverse and finely drawn cast of characters: an entrepreneurial heiress with a distinctly larcenous streak; an underworld kingpin who runs his fiefdom every bit as efficiently from inside his prison cell as he ever did when he was out on the street; and a strange yet somehow fragile woman who has returned home after half a lifetime in America, just in time to rekindle a tenuous relationship with a killer. Secrets won’t stay hidden; as Fraser’s mother often said, “Salt water lifts blood, only salt water.” And Loch Lomond is filled to the brim . . . with fresh water.