by Bruce TierneySeptember 2012
When football meets murder
With an impressive eight books to his credit in as many years, Michael Koryta once again wows readers with The Prophet, a tale of football and murder in a small Midwestern town. Brothers Kent and Adam Austin have followed wildly disparate paths since the abduction and murder of their beloved sister many years before. Adam has become a bail bondsman, haunting the fringes of the criminal element of Chambers, Ohio. Kent, by contrast, has grown deeply religious; he is something of a town hero as well, as the high-school football team he coaches seems poised to win the state championship. Then the sweetheart of the team’s star receiver is found strangled to death, and all hell breaks loose in the usually peaceful town. Worse, the murder bears marked resemblances to the killing of Kent and Adam’s sister all those years ago, stirring up ghosts neither brother is prepared to deal with. Already optioned for a feature film, The Prophet is one of the year’s best mysteries.
Copenhagen cold case investigator Carl Mørck, who made his debut in Jussi Adler-Olsen’s 2011 novel, The Keeper of Lost Causes, once again takes on a cold—make that frigid—case in The Absent One. The case involves the killing of a brother and sister some 20 years before, a case in which the prime suspects were the progeny of some of Denmark’s most prestigious families, all classmates in a high-dollar (er, kroner) boarding school. Most of said suspects went on to become contemporary Danish movers and shakers. One, a “poor relation,” went to jail for the murders. And one, Kimmie—who knows that the convicted murderer was nothing more than a paid scapegoat for his wealthy friends—is living on the streets, furtively plotting her revenge on the band of sociopathic socialites. Somehow, Mørck will have to find a way to bring the miscreants to justice before Kimmie has the opportunity to administer her altogether more Old Testament style of retribution. Scandinavian suspense fiction is just about the best thing going nowadays, and Adler-Olsen is well toward the front of the pack.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read a 7 questions interview with Jussi Adler-Olsen for The Absent One.
Historical mysteries are not usually my thing, although I’ve made happy exceptions for Umberto Eco and Ross King (to name a couple). Now I will be adding Michael Ennis to my must-read list, thanks to his absorbing page-turner of 16th-century Italy, The Malice of Fortune. It takes a certain amount of chutzpah to throw Niccolo Machiavelli and Leonardo da Vinci together into a Renaissance investigation of serial murder, but Ennis has done just that. Populating the landscape with a plethora of real-life characters, the author has woven a tale of intrigue based on the well-documented slaying of the heir presumptive to the Borgia mantle. As Ennis notes in the intro: “All of the major characters are historical figures, and all of them do exactly what the archival evidence tells us they did, exactly where and when they did it. What history fails to tell us is how and why they did it. And thereby hangs a tale . . .” And what a tale it is, replete with byzantine machinations and subterfuge, a fair bit of bloodletting and something of a love story as well. What’s not to like?
TOP PICK IN MYSTERY
Very little will break the monks’ vow of silence at Saint Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups, a remote Quebec monastery dedicated to Gregorian chant. But one thing has: murder. In the garden of the abbot lies the choir director, his skull bashed in. Improbable though it may seem, one of the two dozen monks must be the killer. As Louise Penny’s The Beautiful Mystery opens, Chief Inspector Gamache is summoned to look into the homicide with right-hand man Jean-Guy Beauvoir. It doesn’t take the canny pair long to realize that all is not harmonious inside the walls of Saint Gilbert. Indeed, there is a schism that has divided the monks: those who support the abbot and want to keep the monastery as it has been for hundreds of years, and those who supported the choir director, who wanted to make a high-tech recording of Gregorian chant, thereby drawing the order into the 21st century. Gamache and Beauvoir play off one another brilliantly, offering a stirring point/counterpoint with regard to the spiritual and secular issues that have become such an element of modern life. In the process, they do a damn fine job of solving mysteries.