by Bruce TierneyDecember 2012
A mystery within a mystery
There is little I can say to add to the legend that is Ruth Rendell: today’s doyenne of the mystery novel in the British Isles, check; multiple Edgar Award winner, check; spiritual heir to Dame Agatha Christie, check. The Child’s Child, Rendell’s new work, written under her Barbara Vine pseudonym, spins the unsettling tale of a pair of adult sibs—a brother and sister—who jointly inherit a stately London manor. As the two have always gotten on well, they decide to move in together. At first, all goes swimmingly. Then Andrew brings home a new boyfriend, the arrogant and much too handsome James Derain, with disastrous consequences. Concurrently, in a clever novel-within-a-novel twist, sister Grace becomes entranced with an unpublished novel from 1951. Its protagonists, a gay man and an unwed mother, seem to foreshadow the lives of Andrew and Grace to an uncanny degree. That Vine brilliantly carries off this intricate construction is a given, but she deserves special mention for her insightful portrayal of society versus its taboos, both in 1951 and 60 years hence.
SEARCHING FOR A KILLER
Oslo’s Inspector Gunnarstranda could best be described as “unprepossessing.” Late 50s, barely 5-foot-2, sporting a threadbare suit and a wispy comb-over atop a shiny pate—you get the picture. But like his disheveled American analog, Lt. Columbo, Inspector Gunnarstranda is not a man to be trifled with. In K.O. Dahl’s latest thriller to be released stateside, Lethal Investments, the rumpled cop investigates the murder of a beautiful young woman who was stabbed to death in her own apartment scant moments after a late-night tryst. There is no dearth of suspects: the sensual fellow she picked up in a bar earlier that evening; the jilted ex-lover filled with rage; the elderly voyeur who eyed her every move through binoculars from his vantage point across the street. Trouble is, the suspects start turning up dead, sending Gunnarstranda and his team back to the starting block again and again. I’ll just say: You are better at solving mysteries than I am if you can guess the perpetrator before Dahl is ready to identify the guilty party!
There is a homespun sweetness about Margaret Maron’s Deborah Knott mysteries—but this quality doesn’t detract from the edginess of the Southern-inflected books upon which Maron has built a successful career. I offer this as a compliment, not a criticism, because Maron maintains a difficult balancing act achieved by few authors; Alexander McCall Smith and Peter Mayle jump to mind. In The Buzzard Table, the latest installment of the popular series—18 and counting!—an eccentric English ornithologist takes up residence in sleepy Colleton County, North Carolina, where Knott is a judge. He is ostensibly gathering data on turkey vultures and supplementing it with expertly rendered photographs. However, some of his copious photos appear to depict the strange goings-on at the local airport, a rumored CIA rendition center where suspected terrorists are shipped out to countries less scrupulous about the use of torture than the United States is supposed to be. Then the suspicious deaths start taking place . . . and I guarantee that any thought you might have had about Colleton County being a modern-day Mayberry will get blown away like a leaf in the wind.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read a 7 questions interview with Maron for The Buzzard Table.
TOP PICK IN MYSTERY
For a homicide detective with the case-clearance rate of Harry Bosch, an unsolved crime is bound to stick in his craw, particularly when the victim is a heroic and beautiful journalist cut down in her prime. The case dates from 1992, when the riots following the Rodney King verdicts reverberated like an earthquake through South Central Los Angeles. The LAPD was stretched thin, and Bosch was unable to devote much time or energy to the homicide, which was generally considered to be just one more riot-related killing. Now, 20 years later, Bosch gets a second bite at the apple as a cold-case detective in Michael Connelly’s gripping new thriller, The Black Box. It is no easy feat investigating a 20-year-old crime: Witnesses have moved away or died; chains of evidence have been broken past repair. Nonetheless, Bosch is able to unearth some coincidences that seem a little too pat to be plausible, and he begins picking at threads. There are powerful forces hard at work to thwart Bosch, some of them from within his own department—a fact that seems only too clear when he finds himself crouched in a barn, handcuffed to a pillar, waiting to die. The Bosch books just keep getting better and better—they are cleverly plotted, swiftly paced and populated with characters both valiant and flawed. Not to be missed!