Finland’s best-selling international crime writer isn't actually Finnish. While he has lived in Finland for 15 years, James Thompson is actually a Kentucky native—but that hasn't stopped him from becoming a Nordic noir favorite.
The newest book in his Inspector Vaara series is Helsinki Blood (featured in our April Whodunit column). When an Estonian woman finds down-and-out Vaara and tells him that her daughter with Down syndrome has gone missing and is perhaps now in the clutches of sex slavers, he sees it as a chance for redemption.
Helsinki Blood is actually the final book in a trilogy (including Lucifer's Tears and Helsinki White) set within the Inspector Vaara series. So while this book is the finale of a storyline, fans have plenty more Vaara books to look forward to.
Check out our 7 questions interview with James Thompson, who shared insight into dark, gritty thrillers:
"Dark stories are for those who want to re-examine the world and themselves, to hold up a mirror to the world and themselves and ask themselves what they see. For those who want to question the truth of themselves and the world around them."
July eleventh. A hot summer Sunday. All I want is some goddamned peace and quiet. Now my house is under siege, I have an infant to both care for and protect, and I’m forced to do the last thing I wanted to do: call Sweetness and Milo, my colleagues and subordinates, or accomplices—the definition of their role in my life depends on one’s worldview—and ask them for help.
I’m shot to pieces. Bullets to my knee and jaw—places I’ve been shot before—have left me a wreck. Only cortisone shots and dope for pain enable me to get around with a cane, speak and eat without wanting to scream. I’m still recovering from a brain tumor removal six months ago. The operation was a success but had a serious side effect that left me flat, emotionless.
My feelings are returning as the empty space where once a tumor existed fills in with new tissue, but I only feel love for my wife and child, and intermittent like for one or two others. My normal state and reaction toward others is now irritability. My wife, Kate, suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and has run away from home, out of control of her own emotions, and abandoned me.
These combined problems, any one of which would drive a person to distraction under the best of circumstances, cloud my judgment and affect my behavior. My judgment and behavior were already clouded. I feel so certain it will all end badly that it seems more a portent than an emotion. Auguries and omens of catastrophe seem all around me, just out of sight, but every time I turn to face them, they disappear like apparitions.
Have you checked out James Thompson's Inspector Vaara series?
Love Southern mysteries? The Buzzard Table is the latest installment in Margaret Maron's popular Deborah Knott series, and Whodunit columnist Bruce Tierney recommends it for its "homespun sweetness . . . [that] doesn’t detract from the edginess."
In this 18th installment, clues from turkey vultures lead an English ornithologist to discover the ominous activity at a local airport in sleepy Colleton County, NC, where Knott is a judge. Writes Whodunit columnist Tierney, "I guarantee that any thought you might have had about Colleton County being a modern-day Mayberry will get blown away like a leaf in the wind."
Check out our 7 questions interview with Maron, where she shares her favorite thing about the holidays, a wonderful family tradition:
"Our 'Christmas Sing,' which is when close family and friends come out to the farm for an evening of good food, off-key singing, skits and much laughter—a 40-year-old tradition. The pre-teen children of those early years are grandparents now, and the in-laws and babies come, too."
Our November Top Pick in Mystery stars a serial killer with a truly fascinating (and ironic) mark: the sole survivors of devastating tragedies. In The Dark Winter, Scottish cop Aector McAvoy is the only guy for the job.
Check out our 7 questions interview with author David Mark, where we talked great books (Beloved) and bad habits (whiskey and cheese). He shares how, as a former crime reporter, he has unique insight not only into police procedure but also the emotional state of a victim's families and witnesses:
"I interviewed a lot of grieving families, right when they were at their most raw, and the characters I write about tend to exist in those moments. I know how the room tastes in that particular situation."
Is David Mark on your thriller radar?
No, that's not Don Draper's younger brother. It's Jens Lapidus, author of Easy Money, our April Mystery of the Month.
Lapidus joins the ranks of superb Scandinavian thrillers with "the antithesis of a police procedural." Easy Money delves into the minds of three career criminals in what Whodunit columnist Bruce Tierney calls "hands-down the best gangster thriller in years."
Swedish criminal defense lawyer by day and author of twisted thrillers by night, Lapidus answered our questions about writing and great books in a 7 Questions interview. Check it out here.
Will you add Lapidus to your list of must-read Scandinavian crime authors?
Our February Mystery of the Month, Defending Jacob by William Landay, taps into a parent's worst nightmare. No -- worse.
Assistant D.A. Andy Barber's son seems the most likely suspect for a neighbor's brutal murder. Andy finds himself desperately defending his son, holding his family together and keeping at bay that tiny nagging doubt. Writes Whodunit columnist Bruce Tierney, "Defending Jacob is one of the most disturbing books of the year, and soon to be one of the most talked-about."
Check out an excerpt from Chapter 1, when Andy is being questioned by the prosecuting attorney:
In the grand jury room that morning, the jurors were in a sullen, defeated mood. They sat, thirty-odd men and women who had not been clever enough to find a way out of serving, all crammed into those school chairs with a teardrop-shaped desk for a chair-arm. They understood their jobs well enough by now. Grand juries serve for months, and they figure out pretty quickly what the gig is all about: accuse, point your finger, name the wicked one.
A grand jury proceeding is not a trial. There is no judge in the room and no defense lawyer. The prosecutor runs the show. It is an investigation and in theory a check on the prosecutor’s power, since the grand jury decides whether the prosecutor has enough evidence to haul a suspect into court for trial. If there is enough evidence, the grand jury grants the prosecutor an indictment, his ticket to Superior Court. If not, they return a “no bill” and the case is over before it begins. In practice, “no bill”s are rare. Most grand juries indict. Why not? They only see one side of the case.
But in this case, I suspect the jurors knew Logiudice did not have a case. Not today. The truth was not going to be found, not with evidence this stale and tainted, not after everything that had happened. It had been over a year already — over twelve months since the body of a fourteen-year-old boy was found in the woods with three stab wounds arranged in a line across the chest as if he’d been forked with a trident. But it was not the time, so much. It was everything else. Too late, and the grand jury knew it.
I knew it, too.
Only Logiudice was undeterred. He pursed his lips in that odd way of his. He reviewed his notes on a yellow legal pad, considered his next question. He was doing just what I’d taught him. The voice in his head was mine: Never mind how weak your case is. Stick to the system. Play the game the same way it’s been played the last 500-odd years, use the same gutter tactic that has always governed cross-examination — lure, trap, f*ck.
Does it sound like your type of thriller?
Don't you love when an author's backstory is just as interesting as his or her fantastic new book? Take Taylor Stevens, for example, whose second Vanessa Michael Munroe novel, The Innocent, is featured in our January Whodunit column.
Self-employed spy Munroe has the difficult task of infiltrating a religious cult called "The Chosen" in order to rescue her best friend's kidnapped daughter. Sounds intense, right?
It just so happens that Stevens was born and raised in a very similar cult, the Children of God. Her education stopped at age 12, she hopped from country to country and lived (as she describes on her website) as a "worker bee child in a communal apocalyptic cult."
So before you check out The Innocent, read what Stevens had to say about the Children of God in our 7 questions interview. (And if you haven't read her first book, The Informationist, you should read that, too.)
Is Vanessa Michael Munroe your type of heroine? And does knowing an author's cool backstory entice you to read their book?
Ian Rankin's The Impossible Dead, featured in our December Whodunit column, is the second book in his new series starring Edinburgh cop Malcolm Fox, who investigates corrupt police officers. Columnist Bruce Tierney says it's packed with "fascinating backstory, compelling characters and some sly social commentary."
Now, we're continuing the conversation in honor of Fox's second tale. Rankin answered some great questions such as this one:
Would you make a good cop?
I would make a terrible cop. I don't work well as part of a team, and don't take well to being told what to do by those in positions senior to mine. (I know this from past experience.) So I would have to be a maverick, and the real-life police have little patience with those.
Are you a fan of Rankin's new character?
Breaking Point, the sequel to Dana Haynes' Crashers, doesn't lose any of its prequel's original momentum. Writes our reviewer, "This is a book for adrenaline junkies; it grabs you by the frontal lobes right at the outset, and doesn’t let go until the last page."
Featured in our Whodunit column, Breaking Point finds the Crashers--the government airplane crash investigators--racing for their own lives. They must unravel the mystery behind a crash as it burns around them and threatens to destroy the evidence.
We chatted with Haynes about his new book, what his shoes look like and much more. More than anything, I wanted to know: After writing Crashers and Breaking Point, are you afraid of airplanes? Click here to see his answer.
What about you? Does reading books about airplane crashes make you afraid to fly?
Breaking Point came out yesterday! Will you pick up a copy?