It undoubtedly adds a touch of credibility when the author of a legal thriller has pursued a stellar career as an attorney (think Scott Turow) or when the guy writing a police procedural has moved up through the ranks of the constabulary (Joseph Wambaugh). Few, however, bring better credentials to the table than Stella Rimington, the former head of Britain’s vaunted MI5 counter-intelligence agency. At the opening of her latest novel, The Geneva Trap, it looks as if the Cold War may be heating up once again.
In Switzerland, MI5 agent Liz Carlyle interrogates a Russian spy who claims to possess information about an imminent and potentially devastating cyber attack. Meanwhile, an intelligence drone falls from the sky over Oman, and U.S./Brit forces go on high alert. Are the Russians up to their old tricks, or is something more sinister at play?
Painstakingly plotted and cleverly resolved, Rimington’s novels lean more toward John le Carré than Ian Fleming; there is little of the gadgetry of James Bond. Rather, Rimington pays a great deal of attention to the procedural aspects of espionage, on balance a good tradeoff.
MURDER ON THE PLANTATION
Let’s say you are looking for an atmospheric, nuanced mystery of the Old South, one in which antebellum history shares equal billing with, say, steamin’ humidity. Look no further: Attica Locke fills the bill brilliantly with her second novel, The Cutting Season.
The action centers on Belle Vie, a Civil War-era mansion recreated as a tourist attraction. A young migrant worker has been found in a shallow grave at the edge of the property, her throat slit. Belle Vie’s manager, Caren Gray, feels that the cops are barking up the wrong tree, suspect-wise, so she undertakes a parallel investigation of her own, along the way unearthing some new information about an old murder, one that may have ties to this latest homicide.
As is the case with author Louise Penny, Locke draws the reader into her milieu, offering a taste of history, atmosphere and character with a level of skill rarely equalled in suspense fiction. When I reviewed Locke’s first novel, Black Water Rising, I called it “nothing short of astonishing.” With The Cutting Season, she’s batting a thousand.
TWISTS AND TURNS IN TOKYO
For the most part, Japanese suspense novelists haven’t made much of a blip on the radar in the English-speaking portions of the world; this is something of a mystery in itself, as 2 million (and counting) worldwide buyers of Keigo Higashino’s award-winning The Devotion of Suspect X can well attest. Now “Detective Galileo”—aka brainiac physicist and sometime police consultant Manabu Yukawa—and the intrepid Detective Kusanagi reunite for a second taut psychological thriller, Salvation of a Saint. This time out, the pair investigates the murder of Yoshitaka Mashiba, a very Agatha Christie-ish homicide crafted with arsenic-laced coffee. Easy case: The spurned wife did it, right? Not so fast; she was several hundred miles away at the time. Twists and turns abound, and there are enough red herrings for a first-rate sushi supper.
Higashino is Japan’s best-selling author, with millions of books in print. Read his two Detective Galileo books, and you will see what all the fuss is about.
TOP PICK IN MYSTERY
When last we checked in on Jo Nesbø’s melancholic ex-cop Harry Hole (in 2011’s The Leopard), he was in Hong Kong, having more or less come to terms with his myriad demons and the loss of his lady love. There was nothing for him in his native Norway, and it seemed likely he would never return. But that was before Oleg, the boy he had come to think of as a son, was arrested for murder, a scenario that, for Harry, beggars belief.
Now, in Phantom, the erstwhile investigator is back in Oslo after a three-year absence, only to discover that everything is new—and yet everything is somehow disturbingly the same. He is still persona non grata with most of his former police associates. His one-time lover Rakel is an unknown quantity, and her son Oleg seems to have changed markedly for the worse, a casualty of “violin,” the powerful new synthetic opiate that has taken Norway’s youth by storm. Nonetheless, with or without a badge, first and foremost Harry Hole is still a cop, and that will be either his salvation or his undoing. No spoiler here: You will have to wait until the final pages to find out which. Easily the most troubling and heartfelt of this excellent series, Phantom is one of the finest suspense novels to come out of Scandinavia to date.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read a 7 questions interview with Nesbø for Phantom.