by Bruce TierneyOctober 2007
Murder most foul
Icelandic writer Yrsa Sigurdardottir (try saying that three times quickly), award-winning author of five children's novels, makes her suspense genre debut with the chilling Last Rituals. Featuring Reykjavik attorney Thora Guomundsdottir and her more conventionally monikered sidekick Matthew Reich, Last Rituals follows the investigation into the mutilation death of a young German college student. It seems the boy was obsessed with Iceland's history of witchcraft and its often gruesome punishment; indeed, he and his college compatriots took delight in replicating said punishments. A suspect in the murder is quickly identified, but something doesn't ring true for Thora and Matthew. On top of that, they share the nagging suspicion that all the other principals in the case are hiding something that could drastically alter the course of the investigation. Sigurdardottir delivers a clever storyline, superlative pacing and great chemistry between the protagonists this reviewer hopes a sequel is in the works.
Simon Beckett's Written in Bone is a classy suspense novel featuring forensic anthropologist David Hunter. Summoned to a remote Scottish island to investigate the apparent spontaneous combustion of a young woman, Hunter uncovers evidence of foul play. He quickly finds himself isolated and adrift among hostile islanders, one of whom is a multiple murderer. Fans of Reichs and Cornwell will be pleased with the originality of the investigative work, and aficionados of the twist ending will be in for a good tweaking. Beckett's first novel featuring David Hunter, The Chemistry of Death, was short-listed for the Duncan Lawrie Dagger Award for Best Novel of the Year.
Manhattan novelist Reggie Nadelson is back with number seven in the popular series featuring New York cop Artie Cohen, Fresh Kills. Cohen, originally from the now-disbanded Soviet Union, is a well-known figure in the Russian enclaves of Coney Island and Brighton Beach. Recently married to the widow of a 9/11 victim, Cohen is now a devoted husband and stepfather. Still, he can't seem to shake his feelings for a previous lover, a woman with a checkered past and a compelling presence. As Fresh Kills opens, Cohen's adolescent nephew Billy Farone reappears on the scene, freshly rehabilitated (so the shrink maintains) after a stint in the psych hospital where he was incarcerated for murder (that story is told in Nadelson's Disturbed Earth). Cohen would like to believe that Billy is better, but unexplainable things begin to happen everywhere Billy goes. Is the kid really a full-blown sociopath, or is someone setting him up? Complex and darkly satisfying, Fresh Kills will shock you with its ending.
Easy Rawlins prowls the streets of L.A. again in Walter Mosley's Blonde Faith. Upon returning home one evening, he finds a new and unexpected addition to his household: Easter Dawn Black, the biracial daughter of Rawlins' Vietnam comrade-in-arms Christmas Black and a Vietnamese village girl. No note, no explanation. And Black has disappeared. Coincidentally(?), so has Rawlins' longtime best friend, Raymond Mouse Alexander, on the lam from the law for a murder he didn't commit (never mind that he has committed countless other murders). Of course, Rawlins has to look into the unexplained absences, and of course, things go from bad to worse in a serious hurry, careening toward a truly unexpected and sobering climax. The Easy Rawlins books should be required reading for any literary curmudgeon who considers detective novels formulaic tripe. Genre transcendent at every turn, Mosley's novels are atmospheric stories of crime and retribution. To compare Mosley to iconic author Raymond Chandler is to pay Chandler a compliment of the highest order.