This month, Irish novelist Ken Bruen is back with Purgatory, a new novel in his uniquely written Jack Taylor series. Taylor, a former Galway cop with an impressive laundry list of vices, catches the attention of a serial killer known simply as "C 33." This new adversary poses a hefty challenge to Taylor's detective skills as well as his new found, fragile sobriety.
In a 7 questions interview with Bruen, we talked about classic noir films, classic albums and more.
Read an excerpt from Bruen's Purgatory below:
My name on a deep blue envelope, almost the color of a Guard’s tunic. Inside
A photo of a young man, on a skateboard, high in the air, looking like an eagle against the sky. Then a piece from The Galway Advertiser which read
…verdict due on January 10th in vicious rape case. Tim Rourke, accused in the brutal rape and battery of two young girls, is due in court for the verdict. Controversy has surrounded the case since it was revealed the Guards had not followed procedure in obtaining the evidence.
There was more, about this being the latest high-profile case likely to be thrown out over some technicality. And still
Continued to fuck us over every way they could.
A single piece of notepaper had this printed on it
"You want to take this one? Your turn, Jack.
Maybe you've been a loyal Jo Nesbø fan since his first book, The Bat, came out in 1997 (kudos on knowing Norwegian). Maybe you picked up The Redbreast when our whodunit columnist introduced us to police detective Harry Hole. Maybe you checked out Nemesis when it was nominated for the Edgar Award.
Or maybe you don't read him at all—though, chances are, you'll come around eventually.
Jo Nesbø and his Harry Hole thrillers have been climbing bestseller lists across the globe for quite some time, and this month, the Top Pick in Mystery is his newest, Phantom.
But before reading on, know this:
"[Harry Hole] is back in Oslo after a three-year absence, only to discover that everything is new—and yet everything is somehow disturbingly the same. . . . He is still persona non grata with most of his former police associates. His one-time lover Rakel is an unknown quantity, and her son Oleg seems to have changed markedly for the worse, a casualty of “violin,” the powerful new synthetic opiate that has taken Norway’s youth by storm. . . . Easily the most troubling and heartfelt of this excellent series, Phantom is one of the finest suspense novels to come out of Scandinavia to date."
"Be the psychopath. You have to be able to identify with a character, similar to how an actor works. It might be scary sometimes, but that's what you have to do. Humans are complex; you'll be able to find most things within yourself. Just use your imagination."
Seriously, what's going on with with Denmark, Finland, Sweden—really, any of the Nordic countries? It seems like our whodunit column almost always features a mystery from some Scandinavian country. And we've chatted with several of them: here, here and here.
Whatever they're doing, we're paying attention. This month, whodunit columnist Bruce Tierney recommends Jussi Adler-Olsen's newest thriller, The Absent One, which stars Copenhagen cold case investigator Carl Mørck and a 20-year-old murder:
"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."
Who's your favorite Scandinavian thriller writer?
Hallinan's newest Poke Rafferty thriller, The Fear Artist, gets the gold for its intense pacing, great characters and "steamy and dangerous" Thai atmosphere. This is Poke's fifth book, and this time, Poke's witness of a murder on the streets of Bangkok inadvertently sticks him on the wrong side of the War on Terror.
Check out our 7 questions interview with Hallinan, who talks about being a wuss (his words), his favorite books and the Thailand setting. I love what he has to say about Bangkok:
"Bangkok is, as Maugham said about Monaco, 'A sunny place for shady people.' Bangkok is rich and poor, sinful and spiritual, noisy and serene, heartless and cheerful. And it's growing at the rate of one million people a year as family and community structures in the countryside break down. These people are handmade for exploitation. And yet most Thais manage to maintain a kind of equanimity I can only envy."
There's just something about the Amish. Something about their culture that makes for touching romances and tales of friendship (not to mention a hilarious vampire mash-up). And there's something about all that hard work and neighborly compassion that makes for a really gritty murder mystery series.
Linda Castillo's Gone Missing is the newest installment in her Amish thriller series and our Top Pick in Mystery. Writes Whodunit columinst Bruce Tierney, "With its wonderfully conflicted protagonist, and its incisive look into a society most of us know little about, Gone Missing is the unquestioned high point of one of the most compelling series in modern suspense fiction."
Check out our 7 questions interview with Castillo, where she shared why Amish country inspires her thrillers:
"Ohio’s Amish Country is a peaceful and bucolic place of rolling hills, farms and quaint towns. The Amish make it unique—there’s no place like it in the world. I think the element that makes it such a terrific setting for a thriller is the juxtaposition of the beautiful setting and the introduction of evil into it. That contrast is one of the things that prompted me to set my books among the Amish."
Our June Mystery of the Month is Daniel Friedman's brilliant debut Don't Ever Get Old. Whodunit columnist Bruce Tierney classifies it as "Geezer Noir" and says it "is one of the most original and entertaining tales I have read in many a moon."
Don't Ever Get Old stars retired cop Buck Schatz, an 80-something WWII vet on the hunt for a fugitive Nazi officer and the gold he stole from concentration camp internees.
Based on the crotchety protagonist in Don't Ever Get Old, I expected Friedman's answers to our 7 questions interview to be short, funny and snarky. I was surprised to find his answers to be touching, enlightening and my favorites ever to a 7 Q. Here's part of his answer to the question, "When you're in your 80s, what do you hope to be doing?":
". . . Being young is about hope and about expectation. Tomorrow you're going to run faster or lift more weight. Next year you're going to find true love. Within five years, you'll have that promotion, and you'll make more money. But at a certain age, the expectation that things will get better reverses on you. That's what Buck is facing in Don't Ever Get Old.
They say that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, but it isn't true. Invasive surgeries don't make you stronger. Hypertension doesn't make you stronger. Arthritis doesn't make you stronger. Buck Schatz is a war veteran and a retired police detective. His identity and his idea of virtue is based on being tough and self-reliant. A big part of the story is about how he struggles to cope with becoming increasingly frail and dependent on others. And a lot of older people are having to deal with the same kind of circumstances."
There's plenty of talk of summer reading lists as the days grow warmer and longer, but this time, I'm suggesting you add a whole series to your stack. Start with David Downing's Zoo Station and make your way through the adventures of Anglo-American journalist/author/spy John Russell, then grab Downing's newest, Lehrter Station.
This series is best enjoyed from the beginning, and historical suspense fans will agree with Whodunit columnist Bruce Tierney, who insists "Downing’s deft weaving of fiction and real-life WWII history is second to none."
We chatted with Downing about the fifth installment in the story of John Russell, and I loved his answer to this question: "If you could travel back in time to any decade, where would you go and what would you do while you were there?" Read his answer.
Will Lehrter Station make your summer reading list?
Psychological thriller Bleed for Me by Michael Robotham is our March Mystery of the Month! Whodunit columinst Bruce Tierney says it combines "the insights of a trained psychologist; the savvy street smarts and irreverent observations of a retired cop; and intricate plotting from a first-rate author."
BookPage chatted with Robotham in a 7 Questions interview, where he shares insight on writing, his experiences with Jackie Collins and what he's working on next.
Read on for an excerpt from Chapter 1 of Bleed for Me, when psychologist Joe O’Loughlin questions a boy whose mental health is being reviewed (Dr Naparstek is the boy's psychiatrist):
If I could tell you one thing about Liam Baker’s life it would be this: when he was eighteen years old he beat a girl half to death and left her paralysed from the waist down because she tipped a bucket of popcorn over his head. As defining events go, nothing else comes close for Liam, not the death of his mother or his faith in God or the three-years he has spent in a secure psychiatric hospital – all of which can be attributed, in one way or another, to that moment of madness in a cinema queue.
‘It’s been a while since I saw you last, Liam. Remind me again why
‘I did a bad thing, but I’m better now.’
There it is: an admission and an excuse in the same breath.
‘So why are you here?’
‘You sent me here.’
‘I must have had a reason.’
‘I had a per...per...personality disorder.’
‘What do you think that means?’
‘I hurt someone, but it weren’t my fault. I couldn’t help it.’ He leans forward, elbows on his knees, eyes on the floor.
‘You beat a girl up. You punched and kicked her. You crushed her spine. You broke her jaw. You fractured her skull. Her name was Zoe Hegarty. She was sixteen.’
Each fact resonates as though I’m clashing cymbals next to his ear, but nothing changes in his eyes.
‘What are you sorry for?’
‘For what I d-d-did.’
‘And now you’ve changed?'
‘What have you done to change?’
He looks perplexed.
‘Hostility like that has to come from somewhere, Liam. What have you
done to change?’
He begins talking about the therapy sessions and workshops that he’s done, the anger management courses and social skills training. Occasionally, he looks over his shoulder towards Dr Naparstek, but I ask him to concentrate on me.
‘Tell me about Zoe?’
‘What about her?’
‘What was she like?’
He shakes his head. ‘I don’t remember.’
‘Did you fancy her?’
Liam flinches. ‘It w-w-weren’t like that.’
‘You followed her home from the cinema. You dragged her off the street. You kicked her unconscious.’
‘I didn’t rape her.’
‘I didn’t say anything about raping her. Is that what you intended to do?’
Liam shakes his head, tugging at the sleeves of his shirt. His eyes are focused on the far wall, as if watching some invisible drama being played out on a screen that nobody else can see.
‘You once told me that Zoe wore a mask. You said a lot of people wore masks and weren’t genuine. Do I wear a mask?’
What about Dr Naparstek?’
The mention of her name makes his skin flush.
‘How old are you now, Liam?’
Tell me about your dreams.’
He blinks at me.
‘What do you dream about?’
'Getting out of here. Starting a n-n-new life.’
‘Do you masturbate?’
‘I don’t believe that’s true, Liam.’
He shakes his head.
‘You shouldn’t talk about stuff like that.’
‘It’s very natural for a young man. When you masturbate who do you
‘There aren’t many girls around here. Most of the staff are men.’
‘G-g-girls in magazines.’
‘Dr Naparstek is a woman. How often do you get to see Dr Naparstek? Twice a week? Three times? Do you look forward to your sessions?’
‘She’s been good to me.’
‘How has she been good to you?’
‘She doesn’t judge me.’
‘Oh, come on, Liam, of course she judges you. That’s why she’s here. Do you ever have sexual fantasies about her?’
He bristles. Edgy. Uncomfortable.
‘You shouldn’t say things like that.’
‘She’s a very attractive woman, Liam. I’m just admiring her.’
I look over his shoulder. Dr Naparstek doesn’t seem to appreciate the compliment. Her lips are pinched tightly and she’s toying with a pendant around her neck.
‘What do you prefer, Liam, winter or summer?’
‘Day or night?’
‘Apples or oranges?’
‘Coffee or tea?’
‘Women or men?’
‘In skirts or trousers?’
‘Long or short?’
‘Stockings or tights?’
‘What colour lipstick?’
‘What colour eyes does she have?’
‘What is she wearing today?’
‘What colour is her bra?’
‘I didn’t mention a name, Liam. Who are you talking about?’
He stiffens, embarrassed, his face a beacon. I notice his left knee
bouncing up and down in a reflex action.
‘Do you think Dr Naparstek is married?’ I ask.
‘I d-d-don’t know.’
‘Does she wear a wedding ring?’
‘Maybe she has a boyfriend at home. Do you think about what she does when she leaves this place? Whether there is someone waiting for her? What does her house look like? What does she wear when she’s at home? Does she sleep naked?’
Flecks of white spin are gathered in the corners of Liam’s mouth.
Dr Naparstek wants to stop the questioning, but the Judge tells her to sit down.
Liam tries to turn but I lean forward and put my hands on his shoulders, my mouth close to his ear. I can smell the sweat wetting the roots of his hair and see a fleck of shaving foam beneath his ear.
In a whisper, ‘You think about her all the time, don’t you, Liam? The smell of her skin, her shampoo, the delicate shell of her ear, the shadow in the hollow between her breasts . . .every time you see her, you collect more details so that you can fantasise about what you want to do to her.’
Liam’s skin has flushed and his breathing has gone ragged.
‘You fantasise about following her home – just like you followed Zoe Hegarty. Dragging her off the street. Making her beg you to stop.’
The Judge suddenly interrupts. ‘We can’t hear your questions, Professor. Please speak up.’
The spell is broken. Liam remembers to breathe.
‘My apologies,’ I say, glancing at the review panel. ‘I was just telling Liam that I might ask Dr Naparstek out to dinner.’
Will you pick up Bleed for Me? It's out now!
Penny's newest novel centers on a death in the Quebec art community. Clara Morrow's art show is ruined when her childhood friend is found murdered, and signs seem to point to Clara as the culprit. CI Gamache must reveal the secrets within their world, bringing to light their jealousies and competitions using his unmatched powers of deduction.
Read our 7 Questions interview with Louise Penny for more on A Trick of the Light, Quebec and CI Gamache. She also gives some phenomenal writing advice!
A Trick of the Light is out now! Sound like a good read to you?
Peter Spiegelman's fourth and newest thriller, Thick as Thieves, is one of our Whodunit picks for August, and reviewer Bruce Tierney called it "genre-defining" and "twisty as a corkscrew." No surprise there, as Spiegelman's book is not only the story of a "dream crime," but it is also one of the most exciting thrillers to hit shelves this summer.
Check out our Q&A with Spiegelman for his take on crime thrillers, great books and great writing.
And if you needed any more convincing about Thick as Thieves, here's the trailer:
Spiegelman's newest is already on shelves. Will you make room for it on your TBR list?