Welcome to BookPage's inaugural Private Eye July! Join us throughout the next month as we celebrate the darkest side of fiction—all the murky motives, sadistic serial killers and sweet little neighborhoods with all their many secrets. It's a veritable murder extravaganza, with readers curled in their chairs as the good guys and bad guys figure it out among themselves. Every single day throughout the month of July promises exciting mystery features!
Just a small preview of what you can look forward to:
Get excited, crime fiction fans!
Author David Mark introduced his unconventional protagonist, Detective Aector McAvoy, in his 2012 debut novel, The Dark Winter. McAvoy is back in Mark's new thriller, Original Skin. In a guest blog post, Mark talks about the inspiration behind his gentle giant hero.
We all know what the heroes of crime fiction look like. They’re rumpled. They like a drink. They miss bits when they shave and they don’t see their kids unless one of them has been kidnapped by a serial killer and could be turned into guacamole before the end. What’s more, they drive a classic car. They’re a bit of a maverick. They trade barbs with criminals (in whom they see a little of themselves) and their boss gives them just enough rope to hang themselves with—provided they keep getting results.
Detective Sergeant Aector McAvoy isn’t like that. He’s a six-foot-five Scotsman with the personality of a small, bespectacled accountant. He blushes when people use bad language or tell him he’s handsome. He loves his wife and children. He doesn’t drink. His only vice is sugar and he would cut that out completely if his boss or his wife told him to. He plays things by the book and he changes his mind when the evidence suggests he’s wrong. All in all, he’s a decent chap. And apparently, in terms of crime fiction, he’s a completely new entity.
I came up with McAvoy after a decade of having my early attempts at crime fiction rejected. While working as a crime journalist I crafted several novels that were, in the words of my agent, “as dark as the inside of a dead pig." At their heart were cynical, world-weary, despicable hacks trying to catch people who killed for no other reason than their own innate hatred of the world we inhabit. They may have been well written, but if I was ever convicted of a despicable crime, they would have been produced as Exhibit A. They were horrible stories about horrible people, and I’m delighted they never got published.
McAvoy came along as the antithesis of all that. He was a good man. He was an island in a sea of horror. He was a hero, in the old-fashioned sense of the world. He was upright, strong, sensitive and caring. He was the man we would all want to knock on the door and promise to bring us justice if ever something happened to somebody we loved. He encapsulated all of my notions of chivalry and decency. He was my old clan chieftain; my Highland warrior, defending his people and trying to do the right thing. Then I transplanted this timeless man into a world of cynicism and self-centredness and threw the whole thing at the battered and beautiful architecture of the Northern English city of Hull. Somehow, that all worked out for the best.
Aector is now at the centre of a series of novels that fans of crime fiction seem to be taking to their heart. Women all over the world have written to me telling me how they have fallen in love with him. I’m not sure I really understand that. To me, he’s a bit of a bewildered, inert sort of chap who needs the love of a good woman and the odd comforting arm from his boss just to be able to get himself out the door. But it seems I’ve come up with somebody unique. He’s a good guy, chasing the bad. He’s a walking embodiment of the strong, caring, decent men and women I met during my years as a journalist. He sums up all the people I chatted to at crime scenes, who had to phone their loved ones and apologise for being late home, because they had just found some butchered body in the undergrowth.
I don’t know where McAvoy will fit in to the canon of great literary heroes. But I’m pleased to know him.
Original Skin comes out today! Is Aector McAvoy your kind of hero?
With his debut novel, Hour of the Red God, Richard Crompton introduces a new, wholly unique mystery hero to the scene: a Maasai cop, Detective Mollel. Whodunit columnist Bruce Tierney calls Mollel "outwardly ritually scarred, inwardly emotionally scarred and always a bit at odds with fellow cops (especially the higher-ups) and his own family."
In Little Mombasa in Nairobi, the mutilated body of a Maasai woman has been found. Detective Mollel knows this is more than just a dead prostitute, so set against the backdrop of Kenya’s turbulent 2007 presidential elections, he seeks the truth.
We chatted with debut author Crompton about the gritty Nairobi setting and his warrior protagonist in a 7 questions interview.
Read on for an excerpt from the first chapter of Hour of the Red God (via):
Mollel is vaguely aware of a display of bicycles inside, but he is watching the reflection suspended upon the glass. A group of teenage girls, all gossip and gum, mobile phones wafting like fans, handbags slung over shoulders like bandoliers. And from the shadows, other eyes—hungry now—emerging. Watching without watching, getting closer without moving in, the men nonchalant yet purposeful, disparate yet unified, circling their prey: hunting dogs.
—Go inside the shop, Mollel tells Adam. Stay there till I come back for you.
—Can I choose a bike, Dad? Really?
—Just stay there, says Mollel, and he pushes the boy through the store’s open door. He turns: it’s happened already. The group of men are melting away: the girls are still oblivious to what has just taken place. He clocks one of the guys walking swiftly from the scene, stuffing a gold vinyl clutch bag—so not his style—under his shirt.
Mollel takes off, matching the hunting dog’s pace but keeping his distance, eager not to spook him. No point in letting him bolt into a back street now. Pace up a beat, narrow the gap. Quit Biashara Street. Cross Muindi Mbingu. Weave through traffic—ignore the car horns. Busier here.
The hunting dog is in his late teens or early twenties, judges Mollel. Athletic. His shirt has the sleeves cut off at the shoulders, not to expose his well-developed arms, but to ease its removal. The buttons at the front will be fake, Mollel knows, replaced with a strip of Velcro or poppers to confound any attempt to grab the bag-snatcher’s collar, leaving the pursuer holding nothing more than a raggedy shirt like a slipped snake skin.
While he weighs his strategy—a dive to the legs rather than a clutch at the torso—Mollel realises the thief is heading for the City Market. Got to close the gap now. Lose him in there, he’s gone for good.
Taking up an entire city block, and with more ways in and out than a hyrax burrow, on a day like this the market’s dark interior is thronged with shoppers escaping the sun. Mollel considers yelling Stop, Mwezi! or Police!—but calculates this would lose him precious time. The thief leaps up the steps and deftly vaults a pile of fish guts, pauses a moment to look back—showing, Mollel thinks, signs of tiring—and dives into the dark interior. Mollel’s gaunt frame is just a few seconds behind, heart pounding, gulping lungfuls of air with relish, even as his stomach rebels at the powerful reek of fish. He hasn’t done this for a while. And he is enjoying it.
It takes his eyes a moment to adjust. At first all he can see are tall windows high overhead, shafts of light like columns. Noise fills in what eyes cannot see: the hubbub of negotiation and exchange, the squawking of chickens, the multitudinous laughter and chatter and
singing and hustle and bustle of life.
And amongst that hustle and bustle—a bustle, a hustle, that should not be there. He sees it now, as well as hears it, just a few stalls ahead. Figures tumbling, voices raised in protest.
Through a gap in the crowd, Mollel sees the thief. He’s scattering people and produce behind him in an attempt to obstruct his pursuer. No point going down that aisle. He looks left and right, plumps for right, rounds a stall and starts to run down a parallel row. Although he’s keeping up with his prey, Mollel’s not going to catch him this way. Ahead, he sees sacks of millet stacked loosely against one of the stalls. It’s his chance. He bounds up, one, two, and is atop the stall, balancing on the boards which bound the millet.
A howl of protest rises from the woman behind the stall, swiping at his legs with her scoop. —Get down from there! But he is already gone, leaping to the next stall, hoping the rickety wood will take his weight—it does—and run, leap, again—it does.
A better view from here, and clearer run—despite the efforts of stallholders to push him, grab him, drag him to earth. He rises above the hands, above the stalls, intent only on the pursuit.
The fresh, clean smell of peppers and onions cuts through the dusty dryness of millet. Easier to negotiate. He bounds across the stacked vegetables, skipping, skimming, recalling chasing goats across mountain scree when he was a child. Momentum is everything. Each footstep expects you to fall: cheat it. Be gone.
Outraged yells fill his ears but he feels like the great hall has fallen silent: there is no-one in it but him and the fleeing man. Distance between them measured in heartbeats: arm’s reach; finger’s grasp.
And then he is out of the door.
Mollel suddenly finds himself standing on the final stall, surrounded by furious faces. They barrack him and block him; hands reach for his ankles. He sees the back of the thief’s head about to melt into the crowd outside the market. He sweeps his arm down; feels hair and hardness—coconuts—beneath his feet. Another goat-herding trick: if the animal is out of reach, throw something at it.
The coconut is out of his hand before he even thinks about it. It describes a shallow parabola, over the heads of the stallholders, through the square, bright doorway. He even hears the crack, and relaxes. He has time now to produce his card and clear the way to the
doorway, where a circle has formed.
The crowd is now eager, anticipatory. The rear doorway of the city market is inhabited by butchers’ stalls, and the metallic smell of blood is in the air.
They part before him, and Mollel steps into the ring. The thief is on his knees, gold handbag dropped to the ground, one hand dazedly rubbing the back of his head. The smashed coconut has already been snatched by a pair of children, front of the circle, who suck on the sweet flesh and grin at Mollel. Free food and a floorshow. What more
could you want?
—You’re coming with me, says Mollel. The thief does not respond. But he staggers groggily to his feet.
—I said, says Mollel, you’re coming with me. He steps forward and takes the thief by his upper arm. It is wider than Mollel can grasp and as hard as rock. He hopes the guy’s going to remain concussed long enough to drag him downtown. If only he had cuffs—
—and then the arm wheels away from his, Mollel just having time to step back to take a little force out of the blow which lands on the side of his head. No concussion—the faintness feigned—the thief now alert and springing on his heels. A lunge—missed—at Mollel. The crowd cheers. He is strong but top-heavy, this fighter, and the policeman
judges that a swift shoulder-ram would push him once more to the ground. Mollel seizes his chance, head down, body thrown at his opponent’s chest, but he misjudges the timing, and the thief parries him easily. Mollel feels a sharp, agonising pain in his head—everywhere—stabbing and yanking, the pain of capture, and of submission.
His opponent laughs, and a roar of approval comes from the crowd. No partisans, these. Mollel feels his head jerked from side to side, up and down. There is nothing he can do.
—I have you now, Maasai, laughs the thief.
He has put his thumbs through Mollel’s earlobes.
Mysteries/thrillers and historical fiction are two of the most popular genres for BookPage readers, so it's only natural to love books that are both. Great historical mysteries (or, because it's so fun to say, "history-mysteries") are the perfect mix of fast-paced sleuthing and snapshots into another place and time.
Readers will best know author David Morrell for his iconic adventure novels, including First Blood, which introduced the character Rambo. Morrell's moving in a new direction with his new novel, Murder as a Fine Art, a meticulously researched historical mystery set in Victorian London.
This book is an engrossing mix of history (from the British East India Company’s opium trade to 19th-century changes in police procedure) and psychological suspense, especially because Morrell's detective is Thomas De Quincey, a real-life English essayist who scandalously dramatized the 1811 Ratcliffe Highway murders in a postscript to his essay "On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts."
In Murder as a Fine Art, it has been 43 years since the Ratcliffe Highway murders, and someone has begun to recreate them. De Quincey is naturally a suspect and, as he quickly realizes, a target, but he is also the only man who can stop the killer.
Read our interview with David Morrell for Murder as a Fine Art, where I picked his brain about 19th-century novels, murder as an art form, drug use and more.
• • • • • • • • •
Midnight at Marble Arch by Anne Perry
Fans of Victorian-era mysteries are probably already familiar with Perry's Charlotte and Thomas Pitt series—or at least they should be. This is the 28th in the series (whew!), and what makes this one special is its "unexpected and in-depth treatment of the subject of rape. . . . The descriptions and language may be straight out of 1896, but the attitudes and arguments are still relevant today." Read our review of this book.
A Study in Revenge by Kiernan Shields
The second sleuthing adventure for police deputy Archie Lean and private detective Perceval Grey is like an Occult-heavy American Sherlock mystery. Set in Portland, Maine, in 1893, this one's got all the underground tunnels, rooftop chases, risings from the dead, treasure searches and historical detail you'd ever want. Read our review of this book.
The Sound of Broken Glass by Deborah Crombie
Crombie's 15th adventure starring Scotland Yard detectives Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James probably doesn't really count as a historical mystery as it moves between past and present. However, history fans will love the setting of the Crystal Palace neighborhood in southeast London where the famous glass Crystal Palace building stood until it burned to the ground in 1936. Read our review of this book.
What's your favorite historical mystery you've read this year? Will you check any of these out?
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?
Becky Masterman's suspense debut, Rage Against the Dying (Minotaur), has been drawing rave reviews from early readers. What sets this thriller apart from the crowd? Its heroine, Brigid Quinn, a retired FBI agent whose best years, it seems, are still ahead of her. Not since Mrs. Pollifax have readers seen a retiree with Brigid's savvy. We asked Masterman to talk about the origins of her boundary-breaking character.
Guest post by Becky Masterman
You could say that Rage Against the Dying has taken me 20 years to write. That includes the six novels I wrote just for practice, and that never sold. What makes this latest different, I’m told, is not the thriller plot, though it is fast-paced and has a truly heinous serial killer in it. The difference is the heroine, Brigid Quinn, an older woman who is retired from the FBI and not fitting very well into the world she always sought to protect for others.
People ask where I found this character. Is it me? No. Brigid is an unlikely combination of two real people: One is the retired commander at Fort Apache, The Bronx, who after getting about eight thousand cases under his belt, literally wrote the book on homicide investigation. He’s a tough guy, but at his own insistence, also "the last boy scout." It is said that the character of Kojak was based on him.
The other person is a woman in my book club. She has lived all over the world, hikes, plays golf twice a week. When we left a restaurant one night she wrote a note on a napkin and slipped it to a lone male diner. She’s 80 years old.
In their own ways, both these people, the homicide detective and the elderly friend, "rage against the dying." Through my stories, I can be like them.
Thanks Becky! Rage Against the Dying is on sale today. For more on the book and Becky, visit St. Martin's website.
Number 11 in the Charlie Parker series, John Connolly's latest novel begins with an ominous discovery: a plane has crashed in Maine's Great North Woods containing a list of those who have struck a deal with the devil. Is Charlie Parker's name on the list? And where is the crash's only survivor hiding?
Our mystery reviewer says Connolly's Charlie Parker books "push the limits of the whodunit genre... where evil becomes palpable—and ever so believable." I can't think of a better description for The Wrath of Angels.
Check out this creepy interview-style trailer by Hodder books:
Are you hooked on the Charlie Parker series? What other mystery series do you love?
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?
Series fans are a devoted bunch, following their favorite characters through adventure after adventure and sending new installments to the top of bestseller lists. But what to do while you're waiting for the next book?
In the spirit of book fortunes, here are mystery series recommendations based on taste, from cozies to police procedurals to Nordic noir. In each case, we take a wildly popular series and offer a few suggestions for series that are newer or lesser known.
If you like the forensic technology in Patricia Cornwell's Kay Scarpetta series, try . . .
• The Dr. Claire Waters series by Neal Baer and Jonathan Green, starring forensic psychiatrist Claire Waters and NYPD detective Nick Lawler. Book #1, Kill Switch, is a break-neck story about a serial killer's rampage.
• Jefferson Bass's Body Farm series, starring forensic anthropologist Dr. Bill Brockton. Whodunit columnist Bruce Tierney called the most recent installment, The Inquisitor's Key, "highly original."
• Andrea Kane's Forensic Instincts series, about a crew of experts "working just a smidgeon outside the law" who solve near-impossible crimes.
If you like Michael Connelly's police procedurals about LAPD detective Harry Bosch, try . . .
• The brand-new Bell Elkins series by Julia Keller, which focuses on the prosecuting attorney in a small town in West Virginia. We loved book #1, A Killing in the Hills, which starts with a bang when three men are murdered in a coffee shop.
• Owen Laukkanen's Stevens and Windermere series, about an FBI special agent and a Minnesota state investigator. Book #2, Criminal Investigator, comes out on March 21, 2013.
If you like Elizabeth George's series about Scotland Yard Inspector Thomas Lynley, try . . .
• Louise Penny's Canadian whodunits about Chief Inspector Gamache and his homicide department in Quebec. The latest installment, The Beautiful Mystery, is out this month.
• The excellent police procedurals about the Dublin Murder Squad by Tana French. We loved #4, Broken Harbor—our Top Pick in Fiction for August.
If you like Lilian Jackson Braun's lighthearted "The Cat Who" series of cozy mysteries, try . . .
If you like Sue Grafton's books starring feisty sleuth Kinsey Milhone, try . . .
• Laura Levine's series about wisecracking detective Jaine Austen. We liked Pampered to Death, a clever sendup of health spas. (The victim is strangled with spa-healthy kelp!) Look for Death of A Neighborhood Witch in September.
• Kate White's Bailey Weggins mysteries, about a "smart, savvy, sexy" amateur sleuth.
If you like Stieg Larsson's edgy Millennium Trilogy, try . . .
• Jo Nesbo's gritty series about Oslo investigator Harry Hole.
• Swedish author Hakan Nesser's Chief Inspector van Veeteren series, which Bruce Tierney calls an "absolute must."
• Lars Kepler's Detective Inspector Joona Linna series (also Swedish). Book #2, The Nightmare, came out in July. BookPage contributor Sukey Howard called it "crime fiction with real depth."
• Taylor Stevens' Vanessa Michael Munroe books, which have an assassin-heroine who will remind you more than a little of Lisbeth Salander.
If you like Elizabeth Peters' series about Egyptologist Amelia Peabody, try . . .
• Charles Finch’s atmospheric Victorian mystery series about Parliament member/amateur detective Charles Lenox. BookPage review Barbara Clark called A Burial at Sea an "expertly written adventure." Look for A Death in the Small Hours in November.
• Lauren Willig's Pink Carnation series, romantic stories about spies in 19th-century Britain.
• Tasha Alexander's historical mysteries about 19th-century English sleuth Lady Emily.
What series do you love?
By the way, if women's fiction series are more your thing, this week's Monday Contest highlights Susan Wiggs' Lakeshore Chronicles series. (You can enter to win 10 books!)
Here's what stuck out today. Notice any similarities?
Out September 4 from Forge, you can buy Hank Phillippi Ryan's The Other Woman, the first in a new series. This breakneck first installment features a possible serial killer, a fallen-from-grace TV reporter, a Senate candidate facing a sex scandal—and much more.
The latest Joe O'Loughlin thriller from Michael Robotham is out from Mulholland Books on October 2. A husband and wife are murdered in their London home. Is the suspect just a troubled young man . . . or does he have something more to hide? The last O'Loughlin book was our Top Pick in Mystery in March 2012.
Japanese bestseller Keigo Higashino's latest book to hit U.S. shores, Salvation of a Saint, is on sale October 2 from Minotaur. Think murdered husband + a widow/suspect + a detective who has a thing for the woman. Higashino's The Devotion of Suspect X was filled with terrific suspense and a complete twist ending. We expect no less from Salvation!
These are all thrillers set in cosmopolitan locales—Boston, London and Tokyo, respectively—and, of course, they all involve murder. But I'm grouping 'em together because of the book jackets. What is it about a long-haired woman wearing a red trench coat and running/walking away?
Have you noticed any funny trends on your book jackets lately? Is red going to be the big color for fall? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.