by Bruce TierneyAugust 2012
A new hero in Scandinavian suspense
Now that Chief Inspector van Veeteren has retired, forsaking the cop’s life for that of a bookseller, Intendent Münster must step up to the plate in Håkan Nesser’s Münster’s Case. Nevertheless, Münster still consults his longtime mentor on hard cases, and the murder of septuagenarian Waldemar Leverkuhn looks like it will be a doozy. Leverkuhn was one of four friends who invested in a lotto ticket that hit big. By the end of their evening of celebration, one has been brutally murdered; another has gone missing. In short order, Leverkuhn’s nosy neighbor joins the ranks of the absent as well, at least until bagged pieces of her body begin to show up in the city park. Van Veeteren plays second fiddle this time around—the sixth in Nesser’s series—but he plays it like Stephane Grappelli. Münster’s Case is sure to be a hit with fans of Scandinavian suspense, as well as those who enjoy a first-rate police procedural. Note: Münster’s Case was released in Sweden back in 1998, although it speaks well of Nesser’s skills that the book does not seem dated, except perhaps in terms of up-to-the-minute police gear.
A ROLLICKING SPY THRILLER
If you’re a fan of Robert Ludlum’s Bourne series or John le Carré, Charles Cumming’s A Foreign Country should be right up your alley. It certainly has all the requisite components: a world-weary protagonist; exotic locales (Tunisia and the Sinai, among others); a plot featuring intrigues within intrigues; and a bunch of good guys who might be bad guys (and vice versa). In 1978, Amelia Weldon was an au pair in Tunis. She became pregnant by her French employer, and opted to leave without notice, frustrating his every attempt to find her; nine months later she gave the baby up for adoption, a decision that would come back to haunt her. Fast forward a few decades, and Amelia Weldon (now Amelia Levene) is the head of Britain’s spy agency, MI6. Or rather, she would be, except that she has gone rather embarrassingly missing. Thomas Kell, a Secret Intelligence agent fallen from grace, is nursing a hangover when he receives the call summoning him back to duty, a call he never expected. His mission: find Amelia Levene. Cumming’s crisp prose and relentless plotting push all the right buttons. Extraneous details, character motivations, lush backstory . . . ah, who needs ’em? But if you’re looking for a spy novel par excellence, look no further.
QUIRKE IS BACK
Benjamin Black’s Dublin pathologist/protagonist, Quirke, more than lives up to his unusual name. Since his debut in the groundbreaking Christine Falls, the eccentric (and often obdurate) medical examiner has proven to be more than a match for colleagues and criminals alike, not to mention family members and lovers. In his latest outing, Vengeance, Quirke is called upon to investigate the killing of a wealthy businessman, a death that occurred within days of the suicide of the victim’s equally wealthy business partner. There is no shortage of suspects. Business dealings were, by all accounts, ruthless; family matters even more so. Stir in a hormonal trophy wife, a sociopathic pair of identical twins and a disgruntled whistle blower—and you have a recipe for murder most foul. Black is in fine fettle, as usual; his prose harkens back to an earlier time, when the English language was to be savored. He develops a plot with the best of them, and his characters are finely drawn and challenging.
TOP PICK IN MYSTERY
In my August 2010 review of Timothy Hallinan’s last book, The Queen of Patpong, I mentioned that the author was the only three-for-three winner of Top Pick in Mystery. Now he’s four-for-four with his latest Poke Rafferty novel, The Fear Artist. Rafferty is the author of a series of books titled “Looking for Trouble in . . . ” (fill in the exotic Asian locale of your choice). Thing is, he doesn’t have to look for trouble; it tends to find him. And where better for a head-on collision with trouble than the teeming streets of Bangkok? As an elderly and overweight tourist barrels into Rafferty, three shots ring out; moments later, the man lies dying. His final words: “Helen Eckersley, Cheyenne.” At the time, these words mean no more to Rafferty than they do to you or me, but they will take on sinister proportions in the coming days, as Thai security forces interrogate Rafferty about his connection with the dead man. Rafferty comes to realize that he has inadvertently wound up on the wrong side of the War on Terror. He sends his family to the country for safety, and goes underground in a desperate attempt to clear his name. The pacing is intense, the characters are among the best in modern suspense fiction and the atmosphere is steamy and dangerous throughout. Come to think of it, not unlike Bangkok in real life.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read a 7 questions interview with Hallinan.