by Bruce TierneyOctober 2011
Thrills and chills from Europe
Arnaldur Indridason, the Icelandic author best known for his popular series featuring Reykjavik’s Inspector Erlendur, returns with a stand-alone thriller, Operation Napoleon. This tale of murder and intrigue has roots in wartime Berlin, half a continent (and half a century) away from the Icelandic glacier where the main plot will commence. The backstory, explained in a few introductory pages, is this: In 1945, a German bomber hastily repainted with American markings crashes in a snowstorm. Oddly, there are both German and American soldiers aboard. The glacier swallows up all traces, and there the story remains—frozen in time—for 50-some years. Credit global warming for bringing the airplane once again to the surface, thus stirring up the ashes of perhaps the biggest scandal in history, a secret that could potentially launch World War III. Leaning decidedly toward the thriller side of the thriller/mystery continuum, Operation Napoleon will nonetheless engage suspense devotees who, I guarantee, will be surprised and moved by the final twist.
NO ORDINARY MURDER
Glasgow Detective Inspector Alex Morrow, last seen in Still Midnight (2010), returns in Denise Mina’s latest police procedural thriller, The End of the Wasp Season. Heavily pregnant with twins, Morrow is basically counting down the days until her maternity leave. She is looking forward to not having to deal with her dim-bulb boss on a day-to-day basis, not having to endure the petty bickering of her underlings and not having to think about anything unrelated to the two growing presences in her belly. Then Sarah Erroll is murdered, and Morrow’s world careens off in directions she could not have begun to imagine. No ordinary murder, this one is unusually savage: The woman’s face has basically been obliterated, stomped past recognition by not one, but two pairs of matched sneakers, identical but for the sizes. To make matters worse, the shoes broadly match those worn by the children of Morrow’s girlhood friend, a good-time girl fallen on hard times. Complicating the story even further is the suicide of a wealthy businessman—which may be connected to Sarah’s death. Mina excels at describing the minutiae of police work, inexorably leading to the solution of the crime, as well as the convoluted but exceptionally believable interpersonal dealings of the cops and criminals alike. Read one Mina novel, and you’ll be back for more.
Thomas Enger, already a legend in his native Norway, seems destined for similar acclaim on American shores. His debut novel, Burned, features disfigured investigative reporter Henning Juul, just now returning to work after the fire that destroyed his apartment and his good looks, and took the life of his young son. Juul doesn’t have to wait long to find himself back in the thick of things: It falls to him to look into the murder of a young woman who was buried to her neck in an Oslo public park, then stoned to death. It has the look of a Middle Eastern Sharia punishment, and indeed, the girl’s boyfriend is a Pakistani native; at first blush, he appears to be a very good fit for the murder. Or is he just a good fit for a frame? Enger forces his readers to confront their own (often well-hidden) prejudices, all the while delivering a gripping narrative that begs comparison to Stieg Larsson. A capital-B Bonus: This book is $15—possibly the best $15 you’ll spend on a mystery this year! By the way, you heard it here first: Enger is also a talented composer, with several movie themes to his credit; his tunes are evocative of Philip Glass or Amethystium. Check out his website at thomasenger.net and have a listen.
TOP PICK IN MYSTERY
If there is a mystery premise more original than Zoran Drvenkar’s Sorry—sorry, I cannot bring it to mind. Four German 20-something borderline losers come up with an idea for a business venture: If you have done somebody wrong, and you are too timid, too busy or too removed from the situation to effectively apologize, you can hire their agency to do it for you. The name of the agency: Sorry. They will charge you an exorbitant fee, and they will make amends on your behalf. Their clients include businesses, the lovelorn and, most recently, a brutal killer who nailed his victim to a wall with long spikes through her hands and forehead, leaving the mess for the Sorry personnel to clean up. The killer has done his homework: He knows all of the skeletons in the Sorry closets, and he is quite confident that he can manipulate the staff into doing his bidding—repeatedly. Sorry changes perspective from chapter to chapter, giving the reader unusual first-person insight into the characters and their motivations, with a wild card outsider perspective unrevealed until the very end. Dark, demented, radical and grotesquely humorous, Sorry upends every convention of modern fiction craft, and brilliantly. Indeed, Sorry might well be the Mystery of the Year!