Arne Dahl’s latest thriller, Bad Blood, is sure to resonate with literary critics, as the lead victim in the book is—wait for it—a literary critic. Systematically tortured in a janitor’s closet in Newark International Airport, he dies horribly. With his penultimate fleeting thought, “he realizes that nothing he has read or written has meant anything. He might as well have done absolutely anything else.” His murderer, a known U.S. serial killer long on the lam, audaciously escapes, taking the dead man’s seat aboard a flight to Sweden. Stockholm police superintendent Jan-Olov Hultin, tasked with intercepting the perpetrator, summarizes the situation to the Intercrime team quite succinctly: “If we fail, Sweden has imported its first real American serial killer. Let’s avoid that.” It goes without saying that Hultin’s unit could not avoid that, and detectives Paul Hjelm and Kerstin Holm find themselves one step behind a truly extraordinary psychopath. “Thriller” is the perfect descriptor for the second installment in Dahl’s Intercrime series, which crackles with pent-up energy on every page. My bet is that it will resonate with the reading public every bit as much as it will with lit-crits.
It takes but two short pages for the first twist to be revealed in Mark Billingham’s latest Tom Thorne mystery, The Dying Hours, and a very good twist it is. This time out, Thorne believes he is hot on the heels of a serial killer. The common factor seems to be that the murders, if indeed they are murders, have been staged to look like suicides. Thorne is pursuing the case more or less solo, as he cannot seem to persuade the Murder Squad that the deaths are anything other than they appear. It doesn’t help that Thorne has been persona non grata around the department since his unorthodox handling of a deadly hostage situation in 2012’s The Demands. Nonetheless, he keeps digging until he identifies the clue that has been nagging him since early on in the investigation. Thorne is an exceptionally well-drawn character, ably supported by a cast of complex colleagues and truly disagreeable villains, although at times you will have some question as to which is which. The Dying Hours is a fine addition to what is already one of the best crafted police procedural series in contemporary fiction.
If you think that Alec Blume is an unusual name for a cop in Italy, you wouldn’t be alone. Blume is the token American on the Rome police force. He works in a very American, “my way” manner—to the ongoing chagrin of his superiors, who would have had him sacked or demoted long since, were it not for his prodigious crime-solving skills. The Memory Key, Conor Fitzgerald’s fourth installment in the popular Alec Blume series, sees our hero recruited off the books to look into the murder of a young woman who was a recent witness to a shooting. That shooting was an attempt on the life of a one-time terrorist, convicted for her role in a 1980 railway station bombing, who now lies in a hospital bed and claims no memory of anything that happened after 1979. If it’s an act, it’s a good one, and to his surprise, Blume finds himself accepting her at face value. The investigation will have to be pursued quietly, but given Blume’s tenacity and his disdain for authority, it will surely be pursued relentlessly. Top-notch fare, as usual, leaving the reader itching for Blume’s next appearance.
TOP PICK IN MYSTERY
David Gordon’s Mystery Girl starts with failed novelist Sam Kornberg’s wife saying those ominous words, “We have to talk.” This is never a good sign—as Kornberg points out, it’s never, “I’m horny, but let’s hurry because there is pizza on the way.” And this time it’s the worst news: She’s leaving him. She can no longer tolerate his lackadaisical approach to his series of dead-end jobs and the desk drawers full of his unfinished manuscripts. But Kornberg’s wife has it wrong, at least according to him: “I wasn’t lazy. . . . I’ve slaved away desperately my whole life. What I am is a failure.” And then, just as he is poised to hit rock bottom, he happens upon an email with the subject line, “Private Detective Requires Assistance.” His soon-to-be employer is Solar Lonsky, a morbidly obese, house-bound private eye (no doubt a nod to Rex Stout’s armchair sleuth Nero Wolfe), who wants Kornberg to track a woman named Mona Naught. Kornberg does his part as a postmodern, wisecracking sidekick à la Archie Goodwin, albeit with a dash of Woody Allen-esque neurosis thrown in for good measure. Together they tackle the strange case of the Mystery Girl, who, incidentally, turns up dead early on, under suitably mysterious circumstances. We have here a love story (two, actually), a dark comedy and some darn fine suspense as well. David Gordon is an astute observer of the Los Angeles scene, a natural storyteller and an all-around funny guy. Mystery Girl deserves to be at the top of your reading list.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read a 7 questions interview with David Gordon for Mystery Girl.