British author Magdalen Nabb's 14th mystery, Vita Nuova, features beleaguered Florentine Carabinieri Marshal Salva Guarnaccia in what may be the author's cleverest and most convoluted police procedural yet. Guarnaccia is summoned to the site of a brutal murder. A young woman has been killed in her bedroom, finished off with a single shot to the back of the head. Incredibly, although several family members were at home, nobody admits to having heard anything out of order. That said, this family would likely not admit to having eaten breakfast unless you pointed out the cornflake crumbs on their shirts: Mom is a raging alcoholic, Sis has some serious mental and emotional problems, and Papa is a kingpin in the international sex trade, the proprietor of an infamous nightclub/brothel overlooking the quaint red tile rooftops of Florence. Daniela, the deceased, was likely the most normal family member, a single mom pursuing her doctorate in chemistry. Even she had her peccadilloes, though; for instance, she refused to name the father of her young son, despite heated inquiries from her family members. Was he the murderer? Or did someone have it in for her father, perhaps an unscrupulous business associate? Nabb clearly drew her inspiration from the Agatha Christie school of suspense novels, rather than, say, the Raymond Chandler school. This is no bad thing, because Nabb's books display all the rich prose and quirky characters that Christie was famous for. Sadly, Magdalen Nabb passed away last August, so Vita Nuova is likely the last of Marshal Guarnaccia adventures.
AN INNOCENT MAN
Quadriplegic criminologist Lincoln Rhyme is back, and in fine fettle, in Jeffery Deaver's chilling new novel, The Broken Window. This time, the crime in question hits close to home - Rhyme's cousin Arthur has been accused of murder, and the body of evidence against him is overwhelming. Arthur says he didn't do it, but then everybody says that, and the cops and prosecutors are quite satisfied that they have the right man. Enter Lincoln Rhyme. There is no love lost between the cousins, but Arthur's wife pleads with Rhyme to help. Somewhat reluctantly, he agrees to have a look into the case. What he finds boggles the mind: apparently somebody with access to a treasure trove of personal data is using his (or her) ill-gotten knowledge to frame innocent people for murder. Rhyme's investigation suggests that several others have been convicted of crimes they didn't commit, thanks to this cold-blooded and exceptionally manipulative individual. The Broken Window is a gripping tale of a total invasion of privacy that is all the more chilling because what happens here could easily happen to you or me.
VAN WEETEREN'S FIRST ADVENTURE
Finally, after 15 long years, we readers of English get the 1993 Hakan Nesser novel that introduced Chief Inspector Van Weeteren to the world. Its original title was Det grovmaskiga natet, which (thankfully) has been translated to Mind's Eye—much easier to pronounce. For those of you who loved Borkmann's Point and The Return, which were published in English two years ago, I am happy to report that Nesser was superb right out of the gate; you will find Mind's Eye to be as suspenseful and involving as the ones that came before (or after, depending on your point of reference). The case seemed open and shut: a teacher awoke in an alcohol-fueled stupor to find his wife, with whom he had been arguing earlier in the evening, face down in the bathtub, quite dead (and clearly not by accident). He didn't remember doing it, but he didn't remember not doing it either, so of course he was convicted and sent up the proverbial river. End of story? Hardly. For shortly thereafter, the teacher is murdered as well, leaving a mysterious letter, a note from beyond the grave, so to speak, which piques the interest of our hero, Chief Inspector Van Veeteren. As is the case with the other Hakan Nesser novels, Mind's Eye satisfies on every level. It is an intelligently written, cleverly plotted tale, populated with believable characters, most especially the aforementioned Chief Inspector.
MYSTERY OF THE MONTH
After four thrillers featuring San Francisco ER doctor Carroll Monk, author Neil McMahon switched gears and gave us Lone Creek, a stand-alone tale (well, it was at that point, anyway) whose protagonist was Montana ex-journalist-turned-construction-worker Hugh Davoren. A sort of modern-day Lone Ranger sans black mask, Davoren came similarly equipped with a loose-cannon Native American sidekick, the aptly monikered "Madbird." Now the team of Davoren and Madbird are back in this month's Tip of the Ice Pick selection, Dead Silver. It's installment two of what I fervently hope is a long and successful series of mysteries set in the New Old West.
Some years back, the father of one of Davoren's closest friends was suspected of having murdered his wife, an activist best known for her strident opposition to a controversial silver mine. He proclaimed his innocence, and indeed the evidence was not strong enough to arrest him, let alone convict him; nonetheless, he went to his grave with a cloud of suspicion over his head. Now, some startling new evidence has come to light (some racy photos of the dead woman, if you must know), indicating that she had led a secret life. It falls to Davoren to make some sense of the situation, and with luck, to prevent any further killings. Hugh Davoren is the prototypical Old West hero: taciturn, loyal to a fault, strong (but gentle), with an enviable built-in BS detector. Madbird is not your typical second banana: he is Davoren's equal (and more) in terms of brains and brawn, with a healthy dose of hair-trigger kick-ass added for good measure. All of the panoramic Old West themes are present: big money vs. ecology, the cowboy code, the marginalization of Native Americans, not to mention a healthy dose of frontier romance. Dead Silver will resonate with mystery/Western aficionados who routinely devour C.J. Box or James Crumley novels, as well as fans of modern Western literary writers like Thomas McGuane or Larry McMurtry.