One could easily be forgiven for consigning Philip Kerr’s Bernie Gunther series to the war novel genre, or perhaps even historical fiction, but the simple fact is that Kerr crafts some of the finest mystery novels in contemporary fiction, noir classics set against the multiple backdrops of WWII’s far-reaching stages. The latest, Field Gray, finds the definitive anti-hero in postwar (but pre-revolution) Cuba, working for American crime boss Meyer Lansky. But not for long—Gunther will be summarily kidnapped and extradited to Germany, then interrogated at length, all in the name of bringing one Erich Mielke to justice. Told partly in flashback, Field Gray recounts the fictional interactions of Gunther, a former soldier in the SS, and Mielke (a real-life character who was the longtime head of East Germany’s feared state security agency, Stasi). Although there is no love lost between the two, in some strange way they repeatedly come to each other’s rescue, a fact that has not gone unnoticed by the Allies, who want Mielke’s head on a platter. And how better to accomplish that lofty goal than by dangling Bernie Gunther as expendable bait? Painstakingly researched and beautifully written, as always, this is a fine addition to a fine series.
WOMAN IN WHITE
The Fauborg, a landmark Beverly Hills restaurant, is closing its doors for good. Over the years The Fauborg has served as watering hole for, among others, noted psychologist/sleuth Alex Delaware and his girlfriend, Robin Castagna, so it is only fitting that the pair show up for one last night, to send the place off in style. Most of the patrons are regulars, save for a newcomer at the bar, a waifish, enigmatic young woman in white who repeatedly checks her watch, unintentionally capturing Delaware’s attention. It will be a moment he’ll not soon forget, as mere hours later, the young woman will be brutally murdered, her body savagely mutilated. The case will fall to Milo Sturgis, Delaware’s cop buddy of long standing, and Delaware will (naturally) be brought on board as a consultant. This is a formula that has worked for many years for writer Jonathan Kellerman, and it continues to work with no sign of a letup in his latest mystery, Mystery. Sturgis and Delaware play off one another like an old married couple (I mean that in a good way), and the plotting is tight from start to finish. Mystery is another solid entry in one of the longest-running series in suspense fiction.
PROBLEMS FOR THE PICKETTS
C.J. Box moves from strength to strength with each new installment in the saga of Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett, the 11th and latest of which is Cold Wind. Not one, but two killings rock the Pickett family within days of one another: Joe Pickett’s father-in-law Earl Alden, a wind-energy entrepreneur whose body is found dangling from the spinning blade of one of his giant windmills; and Alisha Whiteplume, the longtime love interest of Pickett’s “best-friend-forever-slash-nemesis,” Nate Romanowski; both murdered by person or persons unknown. The prime suspect in the Alden case is none other than Missy Alden, Earl’s wife and Pickett’s despised mother-in-law. Despite his ongoing loathing of the woman, Pickett grudgingly agrees to lend a hand toward proving her innocence. It won’t be long until he regrets that decision, on more levels than he can count. I would say that C.J. Box is at the top of his form, but the top just keeps moving ever upward. Cold Wind is a nonstop thrill ride not to be missed!
MYSTERY OF THE MONTH
Whew! What a group from which to pick a Mystery of the Month! But pick one I did, and the honors go to Swedish author Henning Mankell, for the stellar The Troubled Man. Billed as “the final volume in the Kurt Wallander series,” The Troubled Man takes its title from the brooding future father-in-law of Wallander’s daughter Linda. Hakan von Enke is a retired submarine captain, one with a secret buried deep beneath the black northern sea dating back to the days of the Cold War. Shortly after his first cognac-fueled chat with Wallander at a family gathering, von Enke disappears without a trace while taking his morning walk through a nearby park. Days later, his wife disappears as well. The sole clue: an uncharacteristically messy desk drawer, in an office otherwise quite orderly. Wallander finds himself drawn to the case, to the point of taking time off from work to investigate the disappearances. He is suffering problems of his own, however: His memory is failing him at crucial moments, leaving him frustrated and more than a bit apprehensive about his ability to continue as a police officer. One tends to expect a surprise ending at the end of a mystery, perhaps even more so at the end of a series of mysteries, but the conclusion of The Troubled Man is both unexpected and profoundly moving. Years from now, this book will be required reading in mystery writing classes, a genre novel that indisputably transcends the genre.