by Sukey HowardFebruary 2011
Elmore Leonard is a genre unto himself, imitated by many, but never equaled. Djibouti, both the title and setting for his 44th foray into crime fiction, is a change of place rather than a change of pace, a gritty, pirate-infested Red Sea port perfect for international intrigue and 21st-century terrorism. So when Dara Barr, a preternaturally calm, cool (and, of course, gorgeous) Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker and her big, burly, septuagenarian African-American aide-de-camp (aided, himself, by a healthy supply of horny goat weed) breeze into town to make a film, they have no trouble finding real pirates to shoot. And they also find a great cast of characters who walk the Leonardian walk and talk the Leonardian talk—from the suave Saudi diplomat with a gun-running sideline, to a champagne-soaked Texan billionaire with a big yacht and a big yen to be CIA, to James Russell, now Jama Raisuli, a minor Miami felon-turned-al Qaeda operative with a major agenda and not one scruple.
Erika Falck, a serious biographer of serious Swedish women authors, back in the small coastal town of Fjälbacka after her parents’ sudden deaths, hasn’t seen her closest childhood friend for nearly 25 years. Now she’s staring at beautiful, blond Alexandra lying in a bathtub of frozen water, her wrists slashed. That’s just for openers in The Ice Princess, ably read by David Thorn, the first in a series of seven whodunits by Camilla Läckberg, wildly popular in Sweden but making her U.S. debut here. Fascinated and horrified, Erika is drawn into the case when it becomes clear that Alex was murdered. Patrik Hedström, a local police detective who’s had a crush on Erika since high school, is on the case, too, and more than happy to share the detecting (and more) with her. Don’t look for Larsson-esque acrobatics; Läckberg offers a very different kind of Swedish suspense, with lots of intriguing characters, possible suspects and clues, plus a few red herrings and a finely drawn picture of a provincial town with a rigid social hierarchy that knows how to hide its sordid secrets.
AUDIO OF THE MONTH
If I could choose one person to have a martini with (Bombay, straight up), it would be Nora Ephron. She’s so smart, so funny, so on-the-mark, so unafraid of talking about age, so candid about all that comes with it. When last we heard from her, she “felt bad about her neck”; now, in another collection of short essays, I Remember Nothing, she muses on the mundane—email evils, not being asked to bring dessert to the annual Christmas dinner, the healing power of chicken soup—and on the more meaningful: her early days in journalism, the pain of her mother’s alcoholism, surviving a flop, surviving a divorce (maybe that’s just another kind of flop). Light or serious, there’s always a subtext (I’m sure she’d hate that word) that says a great deal about who Nora Ephron is, how she parses the world, how she’s handled life’s roller-coaster ride. Now, to all her many credits and accomplishments, we need to add audio narration. Not surprisingly, her timing is perfect, as good as any practiced standup comic, as balanced as her closing lists of everything she won’t miss and everything she will miss when it’s time to go. And guess what? She remembers everything.