by Bruce TierneyApril 2013
Everything to prove, nothing to lose
As James Thompson’s Helsinki Blood opens, Finnish police inspector Kari Vaara is but a shadow of his former self, in many of the ways that are vital to his ongoing career as a cop: “I’m shot to pieces. Bullets to my knee and jaw—places I’ve been shot before—have left me a wreck.” Vaara is not anybody’s idea of a clean cop; in fact, he is holed up in a safe house, the byproduct of a sting in which he and his associates liberated 10 million ill-gotten euros from some very dangerous people. And this is where the Estonian woman finds him—her daughter with Down syndrome has gone missing and is perhaps now in the clutches of sex slavers. In some repressed corner of his mind, Vaara seeks redemption for past bad acts, and perhaps locating and saving this young woman can offer some measure of that elusive reprieve. So begins a deadly game of cat and mouse, with Vaara assuming both roles in turn, never entirely certain which part he is playing. Helsinki Blood, a dark and gritty thriller, marks yet another great installment in a first-rate series.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read a 7 questions interview with James Thompson for Helsinki Blood.
NO SIMPLE ANSWERS
I have been waiting for another fine suspense novel to come out of Israel since the passing of mystery author Batya Gur in 2005, and it appears my patience has been rewarded with D.A. Mishani’s electrifying police procedural, The Missing File. Police detective Avraham Avraham (no typo) leads a fairly normal life, as the lives of fictional cops go; Israel is not a land of serial killers, of kidnappers, of rapists. “Here, when a crime is committed, it is usually the neighbor, the uncle, the grandfather, and there is no need for a complex investigation to find the criminal and clear up the mystery. There is no mystery. The explanation is always the simplest.” Well, maybe not always, and therein lies the story of a perplexing investigation into the disappearance of a 16-year-old boy in a usually tranquil suburb of Tel Aviv. The story is told from alternating points of view, with each character revealing a different facet of the tale or a different take on an already revealed piece of the puzzle. Painstakingly crafted, The Missing File offers an intense look at the unexpected fallout of the investigation into a crime against a child. Batya Gur is no doubt smiling down from somewhere above!
WHEN DEATH COMES TO TEA
If you are looking for wickedly inventive crime fiction, you need look no further than the writing team of Nicci Gerrard and Sean French, who have co-authored a string of bestsellers (8 million in print thus far) as Nicci French. Following the success of Blue Monday, the first in the series featuring tenacious psychotherapist Frieda Klein, Nicci French is (are?) back with a second installment, Tuesday’s Gone. London social worker Maggie Brennan is already two days behind schedule for the week, and it is only Tuesday. She is about to fall further behind when, on a routine home visit, she finds a corpse seated on the living room sofa—a naked, decaying, long-dead corpse being served afternoon tea by Maggie’s client, a confused and disoriented former mental patient. Early on, the investigation offers no clues to the identity of the body. Stymied, Chief Inspector Karlsson once again requests the unsmiling Frieda’s assistance. Frieda Klein is not the intuitive choice: Her branch of psychotherapy deals with “ordinary” people, not abnormal psychology. Still, despite her reservations, she accepts the assignment. When the deceased turns out to be a notorious con man, things begin to get complicated in ways unforeseeable by either Klein or her police compatriots. Warning: Unless you are into tension, paranoia and burning the midnight oil to finish a book, don’t embark on reading Tuesday’s Gone after suppertime!
TOP PICK IN MYSTERY
Donna Leon’s latest Commissario Brunetti novel, The Golden Egg, finds the introspective investigator looking into the death of a simple-minded man who worked at the local dry cleaner’s shop. Brunetti’s wife, a kind-hearted woman who feels strongly that everyone’s life matters, is most unwilling to let this death go by without so much as a blip on the collective public radar. She spurs Brunetti into launching an investigation, which in short order raises more questions than it answers: The dead man has essentially no record of ever existing. His mother refuses to cooperate with the investigation, and when pressed, she claims that his papers went missing in a burglary. If that is indeed the case, then where are the analogous files at the various governmental registration agencies that would normally have his records? Conundrums pile upon conundrums, and when the evidence starts to implicate a powerful Venetian family, Brunetti worries that this may be another “swept under the rug” case that gets solved but never prosecuted. Character-driven to the nth degree, The Golden Egg weaves in Brunetti’s relationships with his family, his avaricious boss and the beautiful Signorina Elettra. Add to the mix a convoluted and lightning-paced crime narrative, and you get one of the finest mysteries to come out of Europe in quite some time!