by Bruce TierneyJune 2011
Every rose has its thorn
The title of Ruth Rendell’s latest mystery, Tigerlily’s Orchids, is perhaps something of a misnomer: Tigerlily is not really the girl’s name, and her orchids—well, they’re not exactly orchids either. Not a problem, however, for Stuart Font, smitten at first sight with the attractive Asian lass from across the street. Stuart is even considering marriage, a first for him, thinking just how wonderful it would be to have the lovely Oriental flower at his beck and call. Never mind that the two have barely spoken, or that he already has a girlfriend (who is married to someone else)—should things with Tigerlily come to fruition, well, that relationship could be sidelined. There are forces at work, however, that militate against any affair with the comely Tigerlily: another would-be lover waiting in the wings; Tigerlily’s unsavory flatmates; and the husband of Stuart’s current amour, who would cheerfully dispatch Stuart to his final reward, should the opportunity arise. As is always the case with Rendell’s books, Tigerlily’s Orchids is drily humorous, insightful and instantly recognizable as having been penned by the reigning doyenne of British mystery.
BENDING ALL THE RULES
From time to time, it has to happen, I suppose: An author wins the Edgar, Gumshoe and Shamus awards, gets Notable Book mentions in the New York Times, and still I haven’t read anything by him. Such was the case with Steve Hamilton, whose latest novel, Misery Bay, I just finished. Alex McKnight is a textbook example of the reluctant detective: a retired cop with a bullet lodged adjacent to his heart, now eking out a living renting holiday cabins in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. One wouldn’t think that the UP would be crime central, but darkness lurks in the hearts of men everywhere, and in this case it is pitch black. A specialized serial killer is targeting the children of law enforcement officers, making their deaths appear to be suicides. McKnight is dragged into the investigation by his longtime nemesis, Sault Ste. Marie police chief Roy Maven, who concludes grudgingly that some things can be better accomplished by a PI amenable to bending the rules. And clearly McKnight is no stranger to bending the rules. If Misery Bay is your first Hamilton book, you’ll definitely be back for more.
KICKING BUTT, TAKING NAMES
There are quite a few suspense novelists who write excellent “one-offs,” but I have always had a warm spot in my heart for a well-written series, with the attendant character development that comes into play therein. The Ranger marks the beginning of Ace Atkins’ first series, which author John Sandford says “should propel him to the top of the bestseller lists.” I agree. Army Ranger Quinn Colson, who neatly splits the difference between Jack Reacher and John Rambo, returns to his Mississippi hometown for his uncle’s funeral, and overstays his welcome long enough to rout a meth ring, take down a local underworld figure and seriously piss off three counties’ worth of law enforcement officers. He does this with the panache of a military professional, which is to say, almost without trying. He has help, to be sure: an attractive cop reputed to be a gung-ho lesbian and a one-armed army burnout with a boulder-sized chip on his truncated shoulder. Together, the unlikely troika takes on all comers, few of whom will be left standing by page 350. Fans of grit, gore and violence, the line starts here.
MYSTERY OF THE MONTH
One of the mysteries of a Håkan Nesser novel is the setting: It could be Sweden, but the place names sound distinctly Dutch, as does the surname of the protagonist, Inspector Van Veeteren. The action plays out in and around Maardam, a fictitious city “somewhere in Northern Europe,” with landscapes distinctly more Scandinavian than Benelux. Another mystery is why it took 14 years for Kommissarien och tystnaden, published in 1997, to finally appear in English as The Inspector and Silence. In any event, let us be glad that it has arrived, as it is perhaps the best of the series thus far, sympathetically rendered by veteran translator Laurie Thompson. Chief Inspector Van Veeteren is called upon to investigate the rape and murder of an adolescent girl, a member of Pure Life, a cultlike religious sect led by a reclusive guru. There will be no assistance forthcoming from the Pure Life flock—they have been sworn to silence on the matter, and refuse any comment whatsoever. The only clues are being rationed out by an unidentified phone caller, and they prove to be but the tip of a very large and dangerous iceberg. Although nearing retirement, Van Veeteren shows no signs of losing his edge, as you will no doubt deduce from Nesser’s latest expertly crafted thriller. The Inspector and Silence is an absolute must for fans of Henning Mankell, Jo Nesbø and Karin Fossum.