What's new: Eerie tales from Japan; Swedish inspector passes the torch; Crime-solving Don Juan in Rio; and New paperback releases from Bitter Lemon Press.
Some of crime fiction’s most compelling voices come from outside America. Here’s a sample:
Forget the cherry blossoms and compliant geishas — the Tokyo of Natsuo Kirino’s “Out” (Vintage, 340 pp., $12.95 paperback, translated by Stephen Snyder) is a world of sleazy nightclubs and soul-killing blue-collar labor.
A factory worker kills her no-good husband, and three co-workers gruesomely dispose of the body — but not out of altruism; they’re in it for shares of insurance money. Then the four start sniping at each other, outsiders get wind of the killing, and things get really creepy. Author Kirino is a best-seller in Japan, but this is her first book in English — a story as clammily compelling as anything Patricia Highsmith ever devised.
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The publishers of “Fleshmarket Close” retitled it “Fleshmarket Alley” (Little, Brown, 420 pp., $22.95), apparently believing that Ian Rankin’s American readers won’t know what a close is. Don’t let the dumbing-down fool you; Rankin and his creations, Edinburgh homicide detectives John Rebus and Siobhan Clarke, are as canny as ever. Showing us as usual a gritty side of Scotland not on the tourist maps, they investigate the death of a political refugee, the traffic in smuggled humans, and a young woman’s apparent disappearance into the sex-market trade.
“Watcher in the Pine” (Soho Press, 320 pp., $24) is the third historical mystery by Rebecca Pawel (an American) about Carlos Tejada, an officer in the Spanish Guardia. Shortly after the Spanish Civil War, Tejada takes his first command, the police garrison in a remote mountain village. It’s bleak and suspicious territory; everyone lost someone in the war, guerrillas killed Tejada’s predecessor, and no one trusts the new commander and his left-leaning wife. Pawel’s low-key, bare-bones prose belies the complex layers of her story.
Henning Mankell’s hero, Swedish police detective Kurt Wallander, is passing the torch. In “Before the Frost” (New Press, 383 pp., $24.95, translated by Ebba Segerberg), Wallander’s daughter Linda, just out of the police academy, sets out to locate a missing friend while Wallander, nearing the end of his career, investigates a grisly murder in a remote forest. What connects the cases involves, among other things, bizarre religious fervor. Linda Wallander is a fine protagonist, less grumpy but (this being Sweden) nearly as melancholy as her father.
“Excursion to Tindari” (Penguin, 286 pp., $12 paperback) finds Andrea Camilleri’s beleaguered Sicilian cop, Inspector Montalbano, delving into the murder of a young ne’er-do-well. Meanwhile, an elderly couple (who lived in the same building as the dead man) have disappeared while on an a seniors’ bus excursion.
Despite pauses for excellent-sounding food, Montalbano solves the mysteries while navigating his rugged island’s eccentricities, from his own slapstick-prone underlings to an implacable crime boss. Translator Stephen Sartarelli provides helpful notes to slang and other Sicilian obscurities.
Down in sunny Rio, someone is killing corrupt cops and their mistresses. Fortunately, Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza’s pensive Inspector Espinosa is on the case in “A Window in Copacabana” (Holt, 243 pp., $23), smoothly translated by Benjamin Moser. When not contemplating his work, Espinosa is given to long walks, takeout food and fantasizing about owning a bookstore. He also indulges in another penchant — pretty women, in this case not only his girlfriend but two who are involved in the murders.
Bitter Lemon Press, a British house specializing in crime novels from Europe and Latin America, has started releasing paperback originals in this country. Newly out: “Tequila Blue” by Rolo Diez ($13.95, 168 pp., translated by Nick Caistor), in which Carlos Hernandez, a randy Mexico City cop, is knee-deep in arms smuggling and other dubious stuff to keep wife, mistress and children happy. “The Snowman” by Jörg Fauser ($13.95, 249 pp., translated by Anthea Bell) is a swift and brutal tale concerning Blum, a seedy German who careens around Europe trading in everything from vintage porno to high-grade cocaine.
Distant Warning Department: Left Coast Crime, the West Coast’s premiere crime convention, will be held in Seattle in February 2007. More details forthcoming.
Seattle writer Adam Woog’s column on mystery and crime fiction appears on the second Sunday
of the month in The Seattle Times.