What's new: Victorian cop scandal; Psychological thriller from Japan; Russian soldier's wartime mystery
I had such satisfying fun last month focusing on new crime fiction from outside America that I’ve done it again. Here are some favorites:
When historical mystery writer Anne Perry is on, she’s very good indeed, and “Long Spoon Lane” (Ballantine, 323 pp., $25.95) is one of her best. While hewing to the conventions of her Victorian-era novels, Perry’s given the new book some sharp analogies to modern life.
Thomas Pitt, Special Branch agent, is investigating anarchist bombings and related deaths, including the murder of an anarchist (the son of a prominent politician) whose anti-government colleagues say the police committed. Meanwhile, someone on the force is shaking down London shops, and Parliament’s passing a bill giving police unprecedented access to people’s lives. Police corruption, overwrought security concerns that threaten civil rights, unseen terrorists, strange political bedfellows — all this and more, back in the days when one could ride around in hansoms and present calling cards to butlers.
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The spirit of James M. Cain’s novels hovers over “Winter Sleep,” a bleak but compelling slice of deadpan noir from Japan’s Kenzo Kitakata, translated by Mark Schilling (Vertical, 282 pp., $14.95 paperback). Nakagi, a former felon and brilliant artist, maintains a Spartan life in his mountain hideaway. When a pushy art dealer, a young art student and another ex-con (who is also a promising artist) crash Nakagi’s hermetic world, some interesting couplings and psychodynamics ensue.
Peter Robinson, an Englishman living in Canada, is one of the most consistently rewarding writers around for police procedurals, British style. Robinson’s Yorkshireman hero, Detective Chief Inspector Alan Banks, is a full-blooded figure, and Robinson’s plotting and prose are always crisp and carefully considered. (His books also reveal a passion for music; the present title, for instance, honors the nonpareil Richard Thompson.)
“Strange Affair” (Morrow, 368 pp., $24.95) finds Banks adrift — forced from his home by fire and on leave in temporary digs. His estranged, ne’er-do-well brother, Roy, calls from London, clearly agitated, and by the time Banks reaches the city Roy has vanished. Meanwhile, Banks’ colleague and ex-lover, Detective Inspector Annie Cabbot, digs into the murder of a young woman who had Banks’ name and address on her. The cases mesh, leading to a melancholy conclusion involving bad things Roy was doing and worse things the young woman witnessed.
The flowery, perfumed language of Boris Akunin’s earlier novels about Erast Fandorin, a 19th-century Russian soldier-sleuth, has been toned down in “The Turkish Gambit” (Random House, 211 pp., $22.95, translated by Andrew Bromfield), and the book is better for it. Without the fussy sauce, what’s left is lean and tasty.
It’s 1877, and Russia’s in the middle of a bloody conflict with the Ottoman Empire. On the Bulgarian front, the cerebral Fandorin encounters Varya, a brave young Russian woman who has traveled far to join her fiancé. But the fiancé, a decoder in the Russian Army, has been accused of espionage … and it’s up to Fandorin to learn the truth.
“The Magdalen Martyrs” (St. Martin’s Minotaur, 274 pp., $22.95) is the third of Irishman Ken Bruen’s raw and fiercely funny books about Jack Taylor, former Galway cop turned full-time drunk and part-time private eye. Here, a rich thug named Cassell hires Taylor for a seemingly simple task: finding a woman who, long ago, made Cassell’s mother’s life a misery. Taylor’s not much of a detective and he’s a mess of a human being, but he’s also fabulous company — a two-fisted, garrulous intellectual, unafraid of festooning his narrative with digressions and apt quotes from favorite writers.
Awards Dept.: The Edgars, crime fiction’s most prestigious honor, will be announced in April. Two locals are finalists: in Best Fact Crime, Ann Rule for “Green River, Running Red: The Real Story of the Green River Killer — America’s Deadliest Serial Murderer” and, in Best Juvenile, Peg Kehret for “Abduction!”
Seattle writer Adam Woog’s column
on mystery and crime fiction appears
on the second Sunday of the month
in The Seattle Times.