by Bruce TierneyMarch 2013
A new voice in Swedish suspense
Fans of international mysteries, queue up! Two new Swedish suspense thrillers lead off this month’s selections, followed by an eerie English tale of revenge and a taut police procedural set in Brazil.
First up, a debut novel—Alexander Söderberg’s The Andalucian Friend, a tale of cutthroat mob bosses and the extraordinary lengths to which they will go to one-up one another. Unwittingly (and unwillingly) at the center of the action is Sophie, a nurse and single mom whose charitable instincts toward her patient—the leader of a crime ring—could wind up costing her the thing she values most in life: her teenage son. Told largely in flashback, the story takes place to a great degree in Sweden, but the electrifying final chapters are set in Spain’s Costa del Sol, culminating in a car/motorcycle gunfight that just begs for a film adaptation. Söderberg writes exceptionally well-drawn and sympathetic characters, demonstrates an easy familiarity with diverse European locales, and has the chops to move a story along with the best of them. All in all, The Andalucian Friend is yet one more compelling reason to read Scandinavian suspense novels, some of the finest in the genre today.
BEHIND CLOSED DOORS
If you need additional persuasion to read mysteries from the Land of the Midnight Sun, look no further than suspense veteran Åke Edwardson, whose Room No. 10 is his seventh critically acclaimed police procedural featuring Chief Inspector Erik Winter. This time out, Winter investigates the suspicious death of a young woman found hanged in a tatty hotel room. The whole scene is more than a bit weird: The girl’s hand and forearm are covered in white enamel paint; the note she left behind is somewhat cryptic; and the chair from which she supposedly jumped to her death bears no indication of having been stood upon. A troubling set of circumstances, to be sure. The case resonates for Winter for another reason, however. Early in his career, he investigated a missing-persons case in the same hotel—a case that was never solved. On a whim he decides to see what room was involved. Naturally, it was Room No. 10. Coincidence, or a bizarre connection that spans decades? As always, Edwardson spins a wonderfully convoluted tale populated with a cast that has grown together over the years into a well-oiled investigative unit. Note: There is a case to be made for reading the Erik Winter novels in order, as once you read one, you’ll be back for the others, guaranteed. But don’t let that stop you from starting with this one!
REVENGE BY ANY MEANS
Fifty pages into Erin Kelly’s superlative tale of revenge upon revenge, I found myself thinking: “Wow, folks who devour Sophie Hannah’s books are going to be over the moon about this one!” It’s not that the writing styles are derivative of one another, but rather both authors draw from a long tradition of English parlo(u)r mysteries that date back at least to Daphne du Maurier. Spanning three generations, The Burning Air tells the story of an obsessive mother who wants only the best for her child, and the retribution she is willing to exact when her efforts are stymied. I read enough mysteries that I quite often see the twist coming, sometimes many pages before the setup for the Big Reveal. This time, I was totally blindsided, to my dismay and—it must be said—to my delight. Even the good guys (and gals) in this story hide hampers full of dirty laundry, and in the end, some of those secrets will accompany their bearers to the grave. Taut, suspenseful and wickedly engaging, The Burning Air is one of the best mysteries to come out of England in recent memory.
TOP PICK IN MYSTERY
Leighton Gage’s series featuring Brazilian Federal Police Inspector Mario Silva is a perennial personal favorite. Well-written police procedurals set in an exotic location . . . what’s not to like? Think of Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct transplanted to Brasília, and you wouldn’t be far off, although Gage’s stories exhibit a somewhat more serious bent. His latest, Perfect Hatred, finds Silva looking into a particularly nasty suicide bombing, in which a live infant was used to hide the shrapnel bomb in a baby carriage. He won’t be looking into it for long, though, because on the heels of one disaster inevitably comes another: this time, the assassination of a wildly popular, albeit polarizing, politician in front of an audience of several hundred thousand admirers. There is no question regarding the identity of the shooter, who is killed immediately after firing the fatal shot. Video of the scene adds a troubling detail, however. Another gun was drawn, seemingly in anticipation of the event, begging the question of whether a conspiracy was in play. When the second gunman turns up murdered in a nearby hospital, it becomes painfully evident that the “straightforward” assassination investigation is about to become considerably less straightforward. Perfect Hatred is hands down the first “do not miss” mystery of 2013!
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read our 7 questions interview with Leighton Gage for Perfect Hatred.