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Whodunit: Cat got your tongue?
Duluth police detective Jonathan Stride and his Asian-American partner Maggie Bei comprise one of the more complex and chemistry-driven investigative teams in modern suspense fiction. This time out, in Brian Freeman’s The Cold Nowhere, Stride discovers a young woman hiding in his lakeside cottage, dripping wet and scared out of her wits (or so it seems). And “so it seems” is the key phrase here, because orphan-turned-prostitute Cat Mateo is no stranger to the casual lie. She carries secrets buried within secrets, and it proves nigh impossible to separate the truth from the fiction in her stories of life on the street, and of the alleged predator who (allegedly) stalks her relentlessly. Maggie is sure that Cat is playing Stride, but he and Cat share a bit of dark history, and he owes her in a way that he cannot easily explain, even to himself. Freeman delivers an edge-of-the-seat thriller that begs to be read in one sitting.
WHAT THE DOG KNOWS
Mo Hayder set the hook in me with The Devil of Nanking and then reeled me in with Hanging Hill; now she is back with the home invasion novel to end all home invasion novels, Wolf. The Walking Man, a peripheral yet pivotal recurring character in several Hayder novels, happens upon a dog wearing a collar on which “HELP US” is written. He calls upon DI Jack Caffery, with whom he has a longstanding and rather unusual (some might say “mystical”) relationship, to investigate the situation. Caffery is inclined to demur, but he finds himself inexorably drawn in when the Walking Man offers up some crucial information that may help explain the disappearance of Caffery’s brother Ewan, a loss that has plagued him since childhood. Hayder neatly splits genres with this series, borrowing in equal measure from suspense and horror, not unlike John Connolly’s Charlie Parker novels or T. Jefferson Parker’s Charlie Hood books. Wolf is exceptionally original in premise and nightmarish in its rendering.
RARE BOOKS & MURDER
I have it on good authority that Donna Leon’s books are not published in Italian because some of the characters in her Venice-based Commissario Guido Brunetti series hew rather closely to real-life folks, and she doesn’t want to unduly ruffle official feathers in the city that has been her home for 20-some years. True or not, I am happy that her books are published in English, because they are routinely some of the finest mystery novels to come out of Europe (or anywhere else, for that matter). Her latest, By Its Cover, will do nothing but burnish that reputation, as the redoubtable Brunetti looks into a theft at Venice’s prestigious Merula library. The initial investigation ratchets up into a full-blown murder case, with the requisite complement of twists, cul-de-sacs and misdirection. Brunetti et al. are by turns warm and loving, acerbic and pointed, very like real people in real life, warts and all. The Brunetti novels are endlessly atmospheric and redolent of a Venice that you can smell, taste and embrace the rich history thereof, even if you have never spent time there in person. You cannot help but learn something new and have a darned good read in the process.
TOP PICK IN MYSTERY
Former teacher Gavin Miller led a hermit-like existence after his termination for sexual misconduct with a student. The juicy details of his transgression traveled at the speed of gossip through the academic community, ensuring that he would never again work in his chosen field. His death appeared at first glance to be an accident or suicide, but the forensic evidence strongly suggests murder. Enter veteran Detective Chief Inspector Alan Banks, the dogged protagonist of Peter Robinson’s latest and possibly greatest police procedural, Children of the Revolution. Banks has logged 30 years at his job and is eligible for retirement; that said, he cannot think of anything he would prefer doing than continuing in his current role. However, his boss is gently nudging him upward toward an admin-centric position, using the tried-and-true carrot/stick approach. The carrot: Banks may continue working until age 65 (the downside being reams of paperwork, which he abhors). The stick: If he doesn’t take the promotion, he may be superannuated at any moment. And with this scenario hanging over his head, Banks launches the sensitive investigation into the death of Gavin Miller, whose checkered past includes drugs, radical student activism and an odd connection to one of Great Britain’s best-known titled personages, who knows more than she is willing to let on. As ever, Robinson’s writing is first-tier; read one of his books, and you will be back for more.