It’s Private Eye July at BookPage! All month long, we’re celebrating the sinister side of fiction with the year’s best mysteries and thrillers. Look for the Private Eye July magnifying glass or the hashtag #PrivateEyeJuly for a daily dose of murder, espionage and all those creepy neighbors with even creepier secrets.
Just a few things to look forward to this month:
Be sure to check out all of this year's coverage of mysteries and thrillers, and check back in for new goodies all month long.
What are you supposed to do on the second night your brother is in jail on a murder charge?
Should you watch The Colbert Report? Should you clean the black crud from behind your kitchen faucet? Should you make yourself a smoothie with protein powder?
I did all of these things trying to forget the prosecutor's words: Her body was found in a wooded area, about ten yards from the side of Highway 114. According to autopsy reports, she died of strangulation and also had a deep wound in her upper left thigh, consistent with assault using a screw-driver or scissors.
But what was I supposed to do? Was I supposed to settle into the situation and practice saying things like, "Jeff? You didn't hear? He's in the clink. Homicide." Or in reminiscent fashion, with a long, throaty cough and the resigned wave of a cigarette: "Back when Jeff was still on the outside . . ."
Probably I wouldn't need to practice. Probably one grows used to saying these things, as the first nights turn into first weeks, then months and years.
What are you reading?
Mary Kubica's startling debut thriller, The Good Girl, has been enjoying plenty of buzz and anticipation ahead of today's release.
Our reviewer has high praise for this "psychological puzzle that will keep readers on their toes" complete with an "especially satisfying" end reveal.
Mia Dennett, a 24-year-old art teacher, comes from a well-groomed family and seems poised to continue climbing Chicago's social ladder—until the day she vanishes without a trace.
Told from alternating points of view and timelines, this mystery is sure to keep you confounded until Kubica finally puts the pieces in order.
Watch the trailer below, but don't say we didn't warn you about the creep-out factor:
What do you think, readers? Interested in reading more? Check out our Q&A with Kubica for The Good Girl.
A chain of names leads to a chain of murders in Timothy Hallinan's latest hardboiled mystery, Herbie's Game. When a list of names linking back to a burglary goes missing, people on the list start popping up dead. Professional crook and sometimes detective Junior Bender takes up the case, and soon discovers that his recently murdered mentor and father-figure might not be all he claimed to be. Our reviewer says of the book: "With complex characters, spicy dialogue, clever plot devices and a liberal dose of humor—as is always the case with Hallinan—Herbie’s Game is a fine read." (Read the full review here.)
Murakami is my favorite living novelist, and he has a new book coming out in a month or two, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, so I went back to his most recent book to get ready for the new one–sort of like a wind sprint in preparation for a race. Murakami is a dazzler and a magician: his books are as much cascades of imagination as they are conventionally organized stories. A young Tokyo woman caught up in a traffic jam abandons her taxi and climbs down a ladder leading from the elevated roadway into a new world— an urban rabbit-hole that ends in a Tokyo with two moons. Here a love affair with God only knows how much karma behind it takes place and events follow a kind of dream logic; a jazz-like riffing on themes of love and disappointment. I hope that doesn't make it sound too forbidding. Like all great magic, it's fascinating even when you don't know how it works.
Jade Lady Burning
By Martin Limon
Limon owns the impoverished world of Vietnam War-era Korea the same way James Lee Burke owns the Louisiana bayous. His Eighth Army investigator heroes, the sensitive Sueno and the combative Bascom---who's never seen a wall he isn't willing to walk through-- are (in my mind) among the great pairs in detective fiction. This, the first book in the series, sees the team pulled into the murder of a Korean prostitute, a crime no one, Korean or American, is eager to investigate. Limon nails two conflicting worlds: the U. S. Army with its rigid codes and knuckleheaded, cover-your-butt officers and occupied, pre-miracle Cold War Korea, a place marked by the truculence of an ancient society knuckling under to a new one. The New York Times named this one of their Best Books of 1992, and they got it right.
This is the most recent book by one of the world's funniest and most level-eyed writers. In this, her third novel, Amy Gallup, a reclusive writer whose moments of (relative) fame are safely behind her, takes a fall one day and hits her head against a birdbath. In a concussed state, she gives an interview to a hilariously earnest young reporter who sees profundity in everything Amy says and—voila!—Amy's on NPR and on her way to becoming America's most reluctant celebrity. Like all writers, I sit alone over a keyboard for months on end in a dark room like Howard Hughes (minus the Kleenex-box shoes) and am then hauled out for the performing-seal part of the job called “promotion,” so Amy's adventures on panels, etc. literally made me laugh till I cried. And Willett is a tough, one-of-a-kind piece of work, as you might expect from someone whose Facebook page is anchored by a photo of an adorable baby behind a sign that says PLEASE DO NOT KISS ME.
Thanks, Timothy! Will you be checking out any of the books on his list?
Loyal fans of best-selling author Linwood Barclay will remember the Archer family from No Time for Goodbye (2007). Barclay's new novel, No Safe House, picks up seven years later. Once again, seemingly idyllic neighborhoods hold dark secrets, and the murder of two elderly locals has everyone on edge. The Archers are still recovering—and quite frankly not doing a great job of it. Their little family unit threatens to fall apart, and they soon once again find themselves fighting for their lives.
Barclay certainly has his finger on what makes for a fast-paced, intense tale of suspense and secrets. We wanted to know what books shaped him as a writer.
The Hardy Boys opened the door, but it was Lew Archer who really invited me in.
The first books I ever read—not counting The Cat in the Hat, which is a classic, but not really what we’re talking about here—were crime novels.
The first honest-to-God hardcover crime novel I owned was a Hardy Boy book. It was The Great Airport Mystery, the ninth adventure starring brothers Frank and Joe Hardy. There were bad guys. There was action. There was a mystery to be solved.
I was hooked. I read as many Hardy Boys novels as I could get my hands on. The Tower Treasure, The House on the Cliff, What Happened at Midnight.
Somewhere around the fifth or sixth grade, I discovered Agatha Christie. The plots became more intricate, more inventive. I devoured the classics. The A.B.C. Murders, Murder on the Orient Express, And Then There Were None.
About a year after that, I stumbled upon the Nero Wolfe novels by Rex Stout, and loved those even more. The plots were every bit as good as Christie’s, but there was something more. There was humor. Crackling dialogue. As memorable a character as crime fiction has ever had: Nero Wolfe himself. (Apologies to Sherlock Holmes fans. Yes, he’s probably the single most memorable crime solver, but amazingly, at this point in my mystery education, I hadn’t yet discovered him.)
Stout’s books were terrific, and, oh joy, there were so many of them. By the time I’d read all of them, I was about 14 or 15, and looking for something new.
I found it on the squeaky, spinning paperback rack at the IGA grocery store in Bobcaygeon, Ontario. It was the Bantam edition of The Goodbye Look by Ross Macdonald, and what caught my eye was the quote at the top of the cover: “The finest series of detective novels ever written by an American.” (That was from William Goldman’s review in The New York Times, and a few short years later I would be blown away by his novel Marathon Man, which remains one of my favorite thrillers ever.)
No one seems to know whether blurbs work or not, but that one worked on me. I bought that book and was completely drawn in by the detective work of one Lew Archer. I followed him through this case and all the others available at that time, including The Galton Case, The Doomsters, The Zebra-Striped Hearse and, one of the best crime novels of all time, The Chill.
These were the books that changed me. These books showed me how an author could take the conventions of the mystery novel and use them to do more than figure out how someone was murdered in a locked room. Through Archer, Macdonald shined a light on America’s darkness. He explored family dysfunction, alienated and troubled youth, the corruption of wealth and, in later novels, the destruction of our environment.
Macdonald may not have been the first to show the world that a mystery could be a novel, that it could be literature, but he was the first to show me. No writer had a greater impact on me up to that time, nor has any writer since.
Thanks, Linwood! Readers, No Safe House is on sale August 5.
Mystery fans: Was there a mystery you read at an early age that you'll never forget?
Author photo credit Bill Taylor.
If there's one thing that keeps drawing me back to M.J. McGrath's Arctic thrillers, it's the impeccably rendered sense of place. And I'm not just talking about the beautiful and dangerous landscape of the Canadian arctic, but also the historical and cultural details of the Inuit people. In McGrath's third mystery, following White Heat and The Boy in the Snow, half-Inuit and half-outsider Edie Kiglatuk—with the help of Sergeant Derek Palliser—investigates the murder of one of her summer-school students, a young Inuit woman who turns up in the toxic Lake Turngaluk. As this drama unfolds, an environmental conspiracy concerning the toxic lake begins to take shape. The Bone Seeker can certainly be read as a standalone—and should be read, especially by those who crave harsh northern landscapes—but I'd recommend revisiting Kiglatuk's previous adventures as well.
Read on for an excerpt:
She was gazing down at a dip in the land that locals called Lake Turngaluk, the Lake of Bad Spirits, though it was mostly dry now, pitted here and there by windings of briny marsh. Locals said the area was a portal to the underworld and that birds wouldn't fly over it for fear of being sucked under but Derek didn't hold with that kind of nonsense, prefering to believe that the birds didn't bother to visit because what was left of the water was devoid of fish, a fact that had nothing to do with spirits or the underworld and everything to do with contamination from the radar system. So far as Derek understood it, the site should have been cleaned up years ago but it had got mired in political horse-trading until, about a decade ago, Charlie Salliaq had dismissed the old legal team and called on the services of Sonia Gutierrez, a prominent human rights lawyer specializing in aboriginal land claims. They'd finally won their case against the Department of Defence last year. One of Colonel Klinsman's jobs was to organize a working party to begin the necessary decontamination work at the station and on the surrounding land, including the lake.
'How odd,' Edie said. She pointed out of the side window but all he could see were a few thin strings of cirrus.
'What?' Derek undid his belt and twisted his neck around, though it made his head swim to do it.
'A bear. They're usually on their way north to the floe edge by now.'
'You want me to swing back?' Pol asked Derek.
The policeman nodded and prepared himself for the stomach lurch. Ahead, the rows of tents and prefab units of Camp Nanook stood on the tundra in incongruous straight lines, as though on parade. The plane rose higher then banked sharply and wheeled round, retracing their route through a patch of cloud. Coming through into clear air they caught sight of the bear. Spooked by the sound of the aircraft engine, it was running for the safety of the sea.
The surface of the pool where the bear had been appeared to be bubbling and seething. Derek first supposed it was a trick of the light, but as the slipstream from the plane passed across it, the western bank seemed to expand, as though it had suddenly turned to gas. He realized that he never seen anything like this before. He turned back, leaning over Edie to get a better view.
'What the hell is that?'
She curled around and caught his gaze. There was something wild about the way she was looking at him now, the muscles in her face taut, her black eyes blazing.
He began to speak but she cut him off. 'They're feeding on whatever attracted the bear.'
Readers, what are you reading today?
Ravenous mystery readers know that crime isn't limited to big cities. It's not even limited to Amish farms, charming British villages or too-perfect suburbs. Revenge and murder even finds its way to paradise, such as in Mark Troy's new mystery, The Splintered Paddle. In a guest blog post, Troy shares his insight into the dark side of Hawaii.
Where do most fictional private eyes hang their fedoras? That’s easy: New York City, Boston, Detroit, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Far down on the list is Honolulu.
You can name the Honolulu private eye series on one hand. Television gave us Tracey Steele and Tom Lopaka in "Hawaiian Eye," and Thomas Magnum in "Magnum, P.I." The list of Hawaiian private eye novel series begins and ends with Charles Kneif’s John Caine. Some mainland-based eyes, such as Sharon McCone and Adrian Monk, have had adventures in the islands, but none have stayed. The most famous Hawaiian crime fighters are police detectives Charlie Chan and Steve McGarrett (both incarnations), but, even with their inclusion, the list is a short one. One gets the sense that there just isn’t much crime in the islands.
In the minds of most people, Hawaii is a paradise of golden sands, sparkling waters, waving palm trees and gyrating hula girls. Where are the mean streets? They are everywhere, but, like the changes in seasons, they are easily missed until you have spent time there.
Although I love Hawaii, its beaches and mountains, what I love most are its people and culture. By culture, I don’t mean hula dances and ukuleles, but the circumstances of history and geography from which the spirit of the people is formed.
One of the tenets of Hawaiian culture is a long tradition of resisting mistreatment of its citizens and of taking care of the weak and helpless. That tenet is stated in the Law of the Splintered Paddle—Kānāwai Māmalahoe in Hawaiian. The law was the first edict promulgated by Kamehameha I after uniting the islands.
The Law of the Splintered Paddle is basically understood to mean that citizens have a right to defend themselves against mistreatment by the government and that the weaker members of society can expect protection from the more powerful members. The state constitution makes mention of the law and the Honolulu Police badge bears an image of crossed canoe paddles in reference to the law.
Ava Rome, the private eye in my stories, is an outsider. She is not Hawaiian by birth or upbringing, so she brings an outsider's perspective to the culture. In that, she is like many other private eyes. What sets her apart from other private eyes is her mission. Ava believes in the Law of the Splintered Paddle. She believes in protecting the defenseless. She has adopted this basic tenet of Hawaiian culture and made it her mission in life. She doesn't require innocence to take on a client, only defenselessness.
Ava's belief in the Law of the Splintered Paddle is fueled by a burden of guilt over her failure, as a teenager, to protect her brother from bullying. She is determined not to fail anyone else. She takes on a prostitute who is being harassed by a high-ranking police officer and a troubled teenager who has fallen prey to her own bad decisions and to the predations of a marijuana grower. Ava's greatest challenge, however, arrives in the form of an ex-con, whom she had arrested when she was an MP. He is out. He is seeking revenge, and he harbors a secret from her past.
The Splintered Paddle is the story of a private eye, Ava Rome, and her personal foray down the mean streets of Hawaii to protect the defenseless in the dark side of paradise tourists seldom see.
Thanks, Mark! Readers, The Splintered Paddle is now available.
It's not too late to reach for a mystery or high-stakes thriller in honor of Private Eye July!
If you're still looking for the right book, then this unnerving mystery with maximum stranger danger is a perfect choice.
In Amanda Kyle Williams' newest Keye Street mystery, Don't Talk to Strangers, the Atlanta private eye finds herself taking on a case outside of her comfort zone in the deep woods of Whisper, Georgia.
A killer abducts and keeps young girls captive for months, or even years before taking their bodies to the same location, and Street is determined to track the culprit before he can strike again. Trouble is, the locals are putting up a lot of resistance to her cause. Is everyone in town a potential enemy or suspect? Can Street find the culprit on her own without becoming a target herself?
Watch the extra-creepy trailer below:
What do you think, readers?
Ten years later, check out our 2004 Top Picks in Mystery:
January 2004: The Frumious Bandersnatch by Ed McBain
In the 53rd book featuring the cops of the 87th Precinct, McBain (aka Evan Hunter) spun a "hilarious and diabolical"—and topical—web, skewering the music industry, sensationalist cable news coverage, George W and the Patriot Act. Read our review.
February 2004: Hard Revolution by George Pelecanos
Pelecanos fills us in on the backstory of D.C. private investigator Derek Strange, star of such titles as Soul Circus and Hell to Pay, from coming of age in the early '60s to his experience as a cop during the riots following the assassination of Dr. King. "Hard Revolution plants the reader in the middle of a population run amok, where the major difference between the criminals and the cops is possession of a badge." Read our review.
March 2004: Deep Pockets by Linda Barnes
Private investigator Carlotta Carlyle takes on the task of unearthing a blackmailer who threatens a Harvard professor over his illict affair with a student. First the student turns up dead, then the blackmailer, and the professor seems to be the culprit. As might be expected, he claims innocence, and it falls to Carlotta to uncover the truth. This pageturner comes highly recommended for fans of Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series. Read our review.
April 2004: Sleeping Beauty by Phillip Margolin
In Margolin's chilling novel, true-crime author Miles Van Meter's bestseller told the story of the serial killer who killed several people in Miles' life and put his sister in a coma. Flash back six years to the story of high school soccer star Ashley Spencer, who escapes the murderer who kills her mother and father—the same killer who leaves Miles' sister comatose. But back in present-day, Miles reveals that all is not as it seems. "Sleeping Beauty is a must for suspense fans; red herrings abound, and the twists are as convoluted as the whorls of a killer's fingerprint." Read our review.
May 2004: Live Bait by P.J. Tracy
This Minnesota mystery comes from mother-daughter writing team P.J. and Traci Lambrecht. Homicide detectives Leo Magozzi and Gino Rolseth follow up their Monkeewrench (2003) adventure with an investigation into a string of octogenarian murders—and some of the victims were Holocaust survivors. Read our review.
June 2004: Loaded Dice by James Swain
Retired cop and gamesman Tony Valentine makes a living uncovering crooked gamblers. In his fourth appearance, he ravels to Las Vegas to investigate a lovely blackjack amateur who bears an uncanny resemblance to Valentine's deceased wife. "Swain is a master storyteller, often mentioned in the same breath with Elmore Leonard or Carl Hiaasen." Read our review.
July 2004: Little Scarlet by Walter Mosley
In the summer of 1965, the Watts riots rage in L.A., and Easy Rawlins is charged with investigating the murder of a young black woman, one who cared for a white man who narrowly escaped a mob of angry black youths. "Mosley captures the nuance of atmosphere and time better than any mystery author since Raymond Chandler; he is the unchallenged modern master of the craft." Read our review.
August 2004: The Wake-Up by Robert Ferrigno
"Robert Ferrigno is in many ways the consummate author," and in this edgy noir, who proves just that. Mostly-retired black-ops specialist Frank Thorpe comes to the aid of a mistreated vendor in an airport, and with that small act, "the first domino is pushed, the carefully arranged pattern goes awry remarkably quickly." The villains in this one make it a true standout mystery. Read our review.
September 2004: Destination: Morgue! by James Ellroy
This collection, packed to the brim with crime and murder, is composed of 14 pieces including three novellas, a profile of celebrity defendant Robert Blake, several true-crime stories and a wealth of autobiographical material that provide a template for writing a mystery novel. "If you feel that your favorites have gone a bit too soft around the middle, a touch mainstream, give James Ellroy a shot." Read our review.
October 2004: California Girl by T. Jefferson Parker
Part family drama, part murder mystery, this California tale is "first-rate; the true success of the book, though, is how well it captures the time and place, a sun-drenched, orange-scented utopia gone but affectionately remembered." Read our review.
November 2004: The Rottweiler by Ruth Rendell
A serial killer christened "The Rottweiler" starts picking off girls one by one and steals one token from each. When the victims' belongings turn up in an antique shop, the police begin to investigate the many quirky characters who reside in the building. Read our review.
December 2004: Rumpole and the Penge Bungalow Murders by John Mortimer
Modern-day Rumpole shares with readers the details of his very first case, the defense of a young man accused of killing his war-hero father. "The Rumpole books are equally appealing to fans of British mysteries and aficionados of the bad-boy English authors of the '50s. They are clever, exceptionally relevant and crammed full of the sort of weird and wonderful quotes that stick with you long after you put the book down." Read our review.
Were you reading any of these winners in 2004?
Like his rebellious game warden Mike Bowditch, Maine author Paul Doiron has come a long way. His debut thriller, The Poacher's Son, was nominated for an Edgar Award, and each subsequent book has gained richness and nuance. In Doiron's newest novel, The Bone Orchard, Mike shows signs of becoming a real hero. Doiron shares a little bit about the journey he has made as a writer and how it is reflected in his hero's story.
When I began writing my first novel, The Poacher’s Son, I had no idea I was about to change my life. I was a magazine journalist who had written a few nonfiction articles about Maine game wardens, and one Saturday morning, I started noodling around with a short piece of fiction—not even a story, just an anecdote—about a rookie warden and a marauding black bear. For reasons I still don’t understand, I wrote the episode from the perspective of the young man, whom I named Mike Bowditch. It didn’t occur to me that this might be the beginning of a crime novel, let alone a series of them.
I just wrote the story and, because I liked what I’d done, I kept going. I decided my warden should return home after dealing with the bear. What does he find there? A message on the answering machine. Who is it from? His estranged father. Who is his father? A notorious poacher in the North Woods. Mike Bowditch, I decided, has become a law enforcement officer to make amends for his dad’s life of criminal acts.
As I continued writing, I found that one creative choice led inevitably to another. A son who chooses his profession as a rebuke to his father is going to have a lot of unresolved issues. He would be filled with anger and yet crave approval and respect. And because I was writing this story in the first person, it followed that Mike Bowditch would be blind to his own emotional problems. The plot of what I now recognized as the beginning of a novel took shape from this essential conflict in his character. The father is accused of having committed murder, but the son, despite his boiling resentments, cannot bring himself to believe that he is guilty.
Flash forward several years: The Poacher’s Son is done, and I have just approached Ann Rittenberg, the woman who will become my literary agent. She asks if the book is the first in a series of Mike Bowditch novels. The idea had been brewing in the back of my mind while I was writing. Game wardens are Maine’s off-road police force, and they are involved in the investigation of almost every major crime committed here. There were opportunities for my troubled-but-brave young warden to get himself messed up in any number of stories. In fact, I was itching to tell them.
I also recognized that few readers would continue rooting for an impetuous and headstrong protagonist if he didn’t mature, no matter what other noble qualities he might possess. Rather than write about a character who stays the same from book to book, I decided, my series would be about the process of becoming a hero. How does it happen? What mistakes would Mike Bowditch need to make, both personally and professionally, from story to story, and how would he learn from them?
The Bone Orchard is my fifth book, and I have said that it is my best (although readers will get to decide that question for themselves), and I’ll try to explain why. Over the course of the series we have watched Mike Bowditch get in recurring trouble with his superiors who believe he is unfit to be a law enforcement officer. At the beginning of The Bone Orchard, Mike has finally come to the same conclusion. He has left the Warden Service and is working as a fishing guide. He is trying to move on with his life. He has gone from troublemaker to caretaker, tending to both a mansion in the woods and the family of an incarcerated friend.
There’s only one problem: “Just because you’re done with the past, doesn’t mean the past is done with you,” Mike realizes. After his former sergeant Kathy Frost is forced to kill an unstable Afghan War veteran in what is a “suicide-by-cop” incident, she begins receiving threats. She blames Mike for having left the service, for not having been with her as back-up the night of the shooting. When she herself becomes targeted by a sniper seemingly out for revenge, Mike finds himself outside the investigation and second-guessing his decision to quit. His newfound maturity allows him to see that there are other ways of getting answers than going head-to-head with people. And he realizes, as he gets pulled into the hunt for the shooter, that he has all the necessary instincts and skills to be a successful law enforcement officer after all.
The Bone Orchard is about all the ways the past can haunt us and what we need to do to transcend it—lessons it has taken Mike years to learn. The novel isn’t the conclusion of the series. But it is the end of a story I began writing one Saturday afternoon many years ago, and the beginning for a newly self-aware and heroic Mike Bowditch.
Thanks, Paul! Readers, The Bone Orchard is out now!
Author photo credit © 2012 Lori Traikos.