by Bruce TierneySeptember 2010
Around the world in September's top mysteries
We have quite an international batch of books this month, with entries from such far-flung locales as South Africa, Iceland, Kyushu (Japan) and wartime Europe. Three are from long-time favorites, and the fourth, Villain, by Shuichi Yoshida, marks the English-language debut for the award-winning Japanese author. Villain reads not unlike a series of in-depth police interviews concerning the suspicious death of a young woman, Yoshino Ishibashi, on a lonely mountain road. There is a narrative of sorts, but critical facts are supplied from several different, and occasionally conflicting, viewpoints. Several potential suspects present themselves as the police investigate the last few days of Yoshino’s life. Her computer and cell phone yield compelling evidence of intimate contact with several men, a side of Yoshino entirely unknown to her family and friends.
An earlier Yoshida novel, Park Life, won the coveted Akutagawa Award for literature, and reading Villain will certainly clue you in as to what all the stir is about. The book is translated skillfully by Philip Gabriel, who has also translated works by Haruki Murakami, Natsuo Kirino and Kenzaburo Oe, to name but a few.
OUT OF ICELAND
Icelandic author Arnaldur Indridason has a couple of major awards to his credit: the Glass Key award for Nordic literature and a Crime Writers’ Association Golden Dagger award. Once again, the English-speaking (and reading) world is a bit behind the curve: Of the 10 Indridason novels featuring the melancholic Inspector Erlendur, we are just now getting number six, 2007’s Hypothermia. This time out, Erlendur embarks on an unofficial investigation into what seems a garden-variety suicide. Still, when the victim’s best friend brings Erlendur a tape to listen to, he sits up and takes notice, for it is an exceptionally eerie recording of a séance. Human nature is on display at its avaricious worst in Hypothermia, as the threads of three seemingly unrelated cases, two of them some 30 years cold, weave ever more tightly together. Fans of Indridason’s work (among whose ranks I count myself) will be happy to know that there are at least two more books in the pipeline; better late than never!
RUNNING AGAINST THE CLOCK
You are no doubt familiar with the television show “24,” in which events take place in real time, over the run of a one-day period. The pace is relentless, and the tension palpable, right? Well, condense a similar level of pressure/anxiety/conflict into just over half that time, and you will begin to get an idea of the heart-thumping pace of Deon Meyer’s latest novel, Thirteen Hours. On holiday in South Africa, American tourist Rachel Anderson witnesses the brutal murder of her traveling companion; she takes off running, getting just the slightest jump on the killers. They have the home court advantage, of course, but Rachel is canny and athletic, and for the time being she is able to elude them. She frets that the police are not to be trusted, though; it is up to homicide detective Benny Griesel to win her confidence and secure her safety before the bad guys (some of whom may indeed be cops) take her off the board. Thirteen Hours is the second book to feature the recovering alcoholic detective, now with 156 days of sobriety to his credit; will he live to see day 157? One of the “do not miss” books of this (or any) fall!
MYSTERY OF THE MONTH
Readers of a certain age may remember English novelist Nevil Shute, whose tales of wartime Europe struck a chord with thousands of fans, propelling him onto the bestseller lists numerous times during the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s. His plot lines were crisply delineated, his characters imbued with dignity whatever their station in life and his dialogue second-to-none.
Fast forward some 60 years, and contemporary author James R. Benn seems to have taken up the mantle of Nevil Shute with his WWII stories featuring Boston cop Billy Boyle, a freshly commissioned first lieutenant in the U.S. Army, serving under General Eisenhower, who happens to be his uncle. Boyle is a hero in the Shute vein, a truly decent guy caught up in a situation over which he has little control. Rag and Bone, the fifth in the Billy Boyle series, finds our hero in Blitz-era London, hot on the trail of a killer who murdered a Russian attaché. Trouble is, one of the prime suspects is Billy’s good friend, “Kaz” Kaziemierz, who has saved Billy’s bacon on more than one occasion. Graceful plotting, a strong supporting cast and a modern take on ’40s dialogue all come together to make the Billy Boyle series one of the finest—perhaps the finest—of contemporary period mysteries. This is not James R. Benn’s first Mystery of the Month; odds are good it won’t be his last. As a plus, the series’ cover designs, reminiscent of War Bonds posters, are suitable for framing!