Wednesday, January 30, 2013

R. I. P.

One of the signs that a person is getting older is that the obits are the first items perused after opening the morning paper. We seem to want to revel in the fact that our names are not among those listed. My name, not an uncommon one, has been listed there on at least one occasion and I have been happy to report––like others before me––that the reports of my death had been greatly exaggerated.

These days, of course, we get a  bunch of information online and I learn some sad news by surfing other mystery blogs. Recently, some of my favorite authors have moved their typewriters and word processors to a higher plane.

Jakob Arjouni (pseudonym of Jakob Bothe) was a German author to whom I was introduced a few short years ago by his book Happy Birthday, Turk!, which I mentioned here. Jakob was just 48 years old when he died less than two weeks ago, after a difficult struggle with pancreatic cancer.

Those books of Arjouni's with which I am familiar have a focus on contemporary problems, particularly those in his own environment. He was born in Frankfurt am Main and lived there much of his life. Detective Kemal Kayankaya is his PI protagonist, who was born in Turkey but was adopted and raised by German parents. Despite his fluency in the German language, he is subjected to racism due to his ethnic appearance. He counters this with glib and humorous wisecracking repartee.

In One Man, One Murder (also published as One Death to Die), Kayankaya is hired to find a young Thai woman who has been abducted. Like many female immigrants from the East, she worked in the sex trade in order to pay back the people who brought her to Germany. A nice German man paid off her debts in order to keep her in his life, but deportation proceedings had begun when thugs, who had plans to extort a large ransom from her golden goose, took the girl. This goose hires Kemal instead.

Kayakaya realizes that someone in the immigration office may be involved when he hears of other disappearances, so he heads to the immigration office. A cake-eating woman interrupted her snack to ask him his name:
'Kemal Kayankaya.'  
 'Pretty good mostly. I have a little trouble with those foreign words.'
After this she refuses to accept that he is a German citizen. He couldn't be.

As the case progresses, the detective follows the clues to the seamy underbelly of Frankfurt life. He prides himself on solving cases no matter how sordid the affairs seem to be, but the unstoppable, unshockable Kayankaya gets a few surprises before he can put this case into the old files.

Arjouni won the 1992 German Crime Fiction Prize for this book.

Arjouni wrote seven books of fiction and his prose is terse and to the point, very much like Ken Bruen, Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett.

Margaret Yorke, who was 88 years old when she died late last year, was nearly twice Arjouni’s age, and she was also a very prolific author as well as another favorite of mine. I liked her small gem of a series of five books featuring her sleuth, Dr. Patrick Grant, who was an Oxford don with a Ph.D. in English literature and a fondness for Shakespeare, and who used his powers of logic and deduction to solve cases.

Yorke was born in Dublin, but spent much of her adult life in the UK. She began writing in her thirties, but it was in her fifties that she turned to crime. In Dead in the Morning, Grant is staying with his sister to help out with her infant. Written in 1970, Yorke portrayed Grant as the sensitive male. Even today, most men don't rush to help with their neonate nieces or nephews.

Before Grant has a chance to get bored, the housekeeper of a mean, grumpy old woman is found murdered. Patrick knows one of the possible suspects from St. Mark's College, where he is Dean, and he decides to seek out the murderer himself, since he feels the police are on the wrong track. The theme of murder in a country village makes this a classical mystery, and the clues are all there for the reader to find the killer before Patrick does. The stories in this series have recently been republished by House of Stratus in very nice trade paperback, and I am enjoying becoming reacquainted with the interesting Dr. Grant.

When I read the obituary written about James D. Doss, who also died in the past year, I was astounded to learn that his day job was that of an electrical engineer who worked on particle accelerators in Los Alamos, New Mexico. What a far cry this is from his mystery stories featuring police detective Charlie Moon, who is a rancher and sometime tribal police investigator on the southern Colorado Ute reservation.

Moon investigates crimes with the help of his aunt Daisy Perika, a tribal shaman who has prophetic dreams when trouble is brewing. In the first book, The Shaman Sings, the story begins with the brutal death of a young woman who is a brilliant physics student at a local university. Granite Creek Police Chief Scott Parris is warned by Daisy of more trouble to come, and he begins having disturbing dreams of his own.  The easy answer would be to charge the nearest foreigner––who in this case happens to be a janitor with an unsavory past and who is now on the run. It helps that his tools were used in the crime. But Parris believes that there is an evil force at work around the campus.

I found this debut intriguing because the characters are so well drawn that I wanted more of them––and I was fortunate enough to have my wish granted. The trio of Moon, Parris and Perika has adventures covering 17 volumes, the last of which, The Old Gray Wolf, was completed shortly before Doss's death. Charlie Moon has the misfortune of killing a young man in the course of his duties. It was a second unpleasant surprise to find that the young man had connections to the mob and retribution was on its way. There were several plot twists, but there was quite a bit of digression and verbal meandering to deal with as well. Overall, I believe Doss was good to the last drop.

I often wonder how I can justify keeping all the books that I have collected. But then I think of times like these, when I can turn to my treasures and reread the books and stories of those who have passed on and be comforted that the words written are still here to be enjoyed and to enrich our lives.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Review of Michael Connelly's The Closers

The Closers by Michael Connelly
Like the prodigal son returning, he knew he was back in his place now. He was baptized again in the waters of the one true church. The church of the blue religion. And he knew that he would find his salvation in those who were long lost, that he would find it in these musty bibles where the dead lined up in columns and there were ghosts on every page.
Yep, Hieronymous "Harry" Bosch is back at the Los Angeles Police Department in Michael Connelly's 2005 book, The Closers. During his three years of retirement, Bosch found himself limping because his body was unbalanced without his holstered gun. Bosch doesn't return to the same old LAPD, however; a new chief is reforming the department after an FBI investigation found widespread corruption, violence, and civil rights violations within the LAPD ranks. He assigns Bosch to the Open-Unsolved Unit, where "the chorus of forgotten voices" of victims and their survivors sing.

Closer Goose Gossage is in baseball's Hall of Fame
Abel Pratt, who's in charge, calls his unit the most noble in the department and likens his officers to pitchers brought into a baseball game in the bottom of the ninth inning to win or lose the game––the closers. If they can't do it, nobody can. While Bosch and old partner, Kiz Rider, find new techniques and technology crucial, they'd get nowhere without the old-fashioned methods of interviewing witnesses, examining evidence, and following a good cop's instincts.

Author Connelly channels Hillary Waugh in this police procedural, in which a cold-hit match of DNA allows Bosch and Rider to re-open the 1988 murder investigation of 16-year-old Rebecca Verloren, who was taken from her Chatsworth bedroom several days before her dead body was found, off a trail on Oat Mountain, behind her family's home. Following the determined Bosch through Los Angeles reminded me of tagging along with Waugh's Homicide Lt. Frank Sessions as he goes about his day in Manhattan North. The attention to detail is remarkable; only the lint in the detectives' pockets goes unreported.

After a couple of series books that seemed phoned in, Connelly delivers a solid fifteenth that deals with the toll of violence over time. Rebecca's murder was "like a stone thrown into a lake," creating ripples that affected many lives. Her mother turns her slain daughter's room into a museum and can't bear the thought of moving; her father, a talented chef, can't tolerate staying. A plaque in her memory at Hillside Prep is worn smooth by all the touching. Rebecca's best friends can't forget her. The unsolved case cast a shadow over its original investigating officers, and it grips Rider and Bosch.

Bosch is a terrific fictional character, and this book features his picks in music, movies, and Los Angeles spots that Bosch fans have come to expect. The former Vietnam tunnel rat remains both the driven cop of the past––although some of his skills are a little rusty––and the solitary guy who hooks up with the occasional woman and longs for his young daughter, who is out of the country with her mother. As usual, Bosch runs up against a superior with a grudge and risks his badge––this time, in a cold case with "high jingo," meaning it involves departmental politics and possible corruption and cover-up. Back at the LAPD's Parker Center, he settles down at his desk across from Rider and opens the murder book with a sigh of relief. At the end of The Closers, Bosch resolves "to carry on the mission" and promises "always to speak for the dead." I'm glad he's back.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Island Dreaming

Just when we were congratulating ourselves on surviving the holidays and all those adorable little family germ factories without mishap, I came down with That Nasty Bug that's been going around. After a week of assiduous nursing, including the very best in take-out and TV dinners and canned soup, my poor husband caught it. Now we're both coughing and sneezing, so comfort foods, comfort reads, and lots of rest are on the menu for the foreseeable future, or at least until the frigid weather breaks. I even ordered a new bread machine; the homey smells of baking bread and browning onions can always bring the poor man up from his sickbed with an appetite. Reading also needs to be upbeat and not too heavy, so I have been spending some quality time in the lovely lowland islands of the American Southeast.

Lowcountry Boil, Susan M. Boyer's first novel, packs a bewildering number of story lines and characters into its 400 or so pages. Liz Talbot grew up on Stella Maris Island, a coastal island near Charleston, South Carolina, accessible only by ferry or private boat. In the Carolina Low Country where "Protecting the land is a religion," the half dozen families who have owned most of Stella Maris since colonial times have jealously guarded it from the overdevelopment that plagues so many of the Atlantic barrier islands. Liz, who had left the island after her fiancé jilted her for her cousin, opened a private detective agency with her brother-in-law, Nate. While her marriage on the rebound to fellow islander Scott Taylor failed, the agency has prospered.

A startling midnight visit from Colleen Taylor (a childhood friend who drowned years earlier) urging Liz to go home is followed almost immediately by a call from her brother Blake, telling her that their grandmother has died in a fall.

When the will is read, Liz learns to her dismay that her grandmother has left her home and 300 acres of pristine island forest and beach to her. Afterwards Blake, who is police chief for the island, confides to Liz that their grandmother was actually murdered and her body posed at the bottom of a flight of steps. He is working on solving the case, but has no detective experience or staff––drunk driving and minor vandalism are the island's most common crimes. He wants Liz to go back to the city, but she is determined to stay and help find her grandmother's murderer, so she and her dog Rhett move into her newly inherited house.

When her sister Merry, a social worker, calls to tell Liz that she is joining an organization that plans to build a camp for young urban gang members convicted of violent crimes on the island––in hope that the tranquility and lack of city temptations will mellow their attitudes––the horrified Liz realizes the extent to which she has been trapped by her inheritance. She must now become one of the island's protectors against ill-thought-out development.

This is a real Southern story; a little supernatural, a dash of romance, quite a bit of low-key humor, and a decent mystery with a few surprises. Everyone knows and has history with everyone else in the small close-knit community, and the ancestral land must be protected at all costs. I had some difficulty keeping the players straight, despite the author's thoughtfully provided cast of characters. After the extensive build-up in this first book, I hope for a series set on this unspoiled coastal island, where the smells of surf and pine mingle with the coppery scent of bloody murder.

In contrast to Lowcountry Boil's cast of dozens of cousins, the protagonist in Mary Anna Evans' Artifacts: A Faye Longchamp Mystery is alone in the world. Faye Longchamp is the last in a long line of owners of Joyeuse, a plantation house on an island of the same name in the Florida Panhandle. She is descended not only from the owners of the island, but also from the slaves who built the mansion and farmed the rich land. While most of the remaining family money went during the last illnesses of her mother and grandmother, Faye is determined to restore her ancestral home, although at present she can barely pay the taxes.

Much to the dismay of both Faye and her mentor, archaeologist Magda Stockard, Faye had to leave college to nurse her mother through her last illness. After the funeral, she sold her mother's small house and secretly moved out to her abandoned ancestral home. No power, phone, or running water, but she figures the rent is free and she can work on making the house habitable. The only other occupant of the island is Joe Wolf Mantooth, a stunning young Creek Indian who came to fish and stayed to help. While Joe can barely read, his bow hunting and fishing skills keep them well fed, and he can repair or manufacture almost anything non-electronic.

Faye earns a meager living as Field Supervisor on Magda's archaeological digs in the area, but to fund the repairs and pay the taxes on Joyeuse she had to turn to pot hunting, the illegal digging and sale of artifacts from public lands. One day, digging on an island that had been separated from her land by a hurricane, and taken by the National Park Service, she finds a skeleton, and next to it an expensive and distinctive earring. She is at a loss. If she notifies the police of the discovery she risks arrest; if not, a murderer goes free.

While she is agonizing over this decision, which could cost her career and freedom, two young students on a dig she is supervising are shot and buried near the dig site. A few days later, someone shoots at Faye herself; someone obviously anxious to keep anyone from digging or exploring on the island.

Fay has solicited the willing help of an environmentally friendly Congressman to help her regain possession of the separated island, before the government permits development of the land. But favors from politicians always come with a cost, and Faye has failed to reckon the reason for and price of his support. Joyeuse will survive the coming hurricane as it always has, but others may not be so lucky.

This story has a pleasant mix of genealogical and archaeological elements in addition to the murder mysteries. The family journal covering many generations that Faye discovers is a story in itself and gradually explains to both Faye and the reader how this mixed-race daughter of slaves came to inherit her plantation. Artifacts: A Faye Longchamp Mystery is the first in a series of now seven books, all with interesting and different archaeological and cultural settings throughout the Southeast.

For now, I think I'll continue my tropical theme with a couple of old Travis McGee mysteries (love his Busted Flush!) while the bread rises. Remember, if you're sick, stay home and cosset yourself. You deserve it, and besides, there's no need to share the wealth!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Review of Walter Mosley's All I Did Was Shoot My Man

All I Did Was Shoot My Man by Walter Mosley

Today is a national holiday. We pay respect to the memory of Martin Luther King, Jr., the American clergyman and Nobel Peace Prize winner who advocated nonviolent civil disobedience in the Civil Rights Movement. Dr. King was assassinated on April 4, 1968. I wish he were alive today to see Barack Obama sworn in for his second term as United States President.

Walter Mosley
photo by David Burnett
I think about the course of the Civil Rights Movement when I read books by Walter Mosley, whose characters deal with racism. Mosley is best known for his Easy Rawlins series, set in Los Angeles, but he has several other excellent series, stand-alone books about crime, and other fiction. The Mosley book I read most recently is All I Did Was Shoot My Man, fourth in the Leonid McGill series. It was published in 2012 by Riverhead Books/Penguin Group (USA) and is a 2013 Edgar Award for Best Mystery finalist.

The childhood of book narrator Leonid Trotter McGill was disrupted when his anarchist father abandoned his New York City family to fight in a South American revolution. LT's mother died of a broken heart. His brother Nikita took to crime and is now in prison for robbery. LT, an ex-boxer, was once an expert in altering evidence to contaminate a criminal investigation. He planted evidence, changed phone records or forged documents to direct suspicion to an innocent party. Sometimes the people LT framed went to prison, but most often he created enough doubt for the district attorney to drop the case. He is now trying to give up his bent life and is working as a private investigator for his own agency. He has valuable resources in both criminal circles and law enforcement. Before last year, he even had his own Javert in the form of Carson Kitteridge, a cop whose mission was to bring LT, suspected of "everything from contract murder to armed robbery, from kidnapping to white slavery," to justice. Kitteridge still has his eye on LT and gives him a hard time, but he and his colleagues have finally backed off.

When All I Did Was Shoot My Man begins, LT is trying to help Zella Grisham, freshly released from prison. One day, Zella had gone home sick from work to find her boyfriend Harry Tangelo in bed with her best friend, Minnie Lesser. Zella grabbed a gun and shot Harry three times. Harry survived and the court would probably have been lenient had someone not called the police to suggest they check Zella's journal in her padlocked storage unit. In the unit was evidence linking her to the $58 million robbery of Wall Street's Rutgers Assurance Corporation. Zella insisted she knew nothing about the robbery. LT knows she's innocent because he'd been hired to plant the evidence. LT felt bad framing the pregnant Zella, so he subtly altered the false evidence. Eight years later, LT got a windfall from a grateful client and called attorney Breland Lewis to suggest the planted evidence be reexamined. As a result, Zella left prison.

Zella's freedom rekindles the robbery investigation by the police and Rutgers Assurance. LT becomes involved when Zella asks him to find the baby she gave up for adoption and to track down Harry so she can apologize. Although LT doesn't know who masterminded the robbery, he and his own family are threatened when people peripherally connected to the crime begin dying.

Mosley is a fine writer and storyteller who uses the backdrop of crime to examine his fully-realized characters. LT is compassionate and capable of self-scrutiny. His struggles with his temper and the past, and his attempts to do the right thing by others, are woven into his investigation. Even before this new danger, his family was unraveling. His wife has tried time and again to find another man so she can leave him. Currently, she drinks herself into a stupor. His oldest son, gentle Dimitri, has moved out to live with the dangerous Tatyana Baranovich. Daughter Shelly is dating a much older man. LT has talked his hip youngest son, Twill, into joining his detective agency, and sets him to work on an investigation involving a rich man's son who has fallen in with bad companions. A lover who left LT wants to return, and there's a chance his father didn't die in that South American revolution after all. There are many balls for LT to juggle in All I Did Was Shoot My Man.

On the day that we remember Martin Luther King, Jr., I wish we could say racism was a thing of the past. Unfortunately, we can't but I like what LT says about it:
I'm a twenty-first-century New Yorker and therefore have little time to contemplate race. It's not that racism doesn't exist. Lots of people in New York, and elsewhere, hate because of color and gender, religion and national origin. It's just that I rarely worry about those things because there's a real world underneath all that nonsense; a world that demands my attention almost every moment of every day. 
Racism is a luxury in a world where resources are scarce, where economic competition is an armed sport, in a world where even the atmosphere is plotting against you. In an arena like that racism is more a halftime entertainment, a favorite sitcom when the day is done.
This book, with its complex story line and memorable characters, is a very satisfying read.

Friday, January 18, 2013

When Past Is Present

Cheaply-made pistols, an old pamphlet headlined Libération, a leather suitcase with a striped prisoner's uniform and photographs of prisoner-number tattoos inside. These are objects that open the door into a painful past for characters in two new World War II novels of mystery and suspense.

Book Review of Peter Steiner's The Resistance

We begin in the Nixon era, with CIA agent Louis Morgon suddenly being axed from his job. Knocked for a loop, he leaves his life behind and moves to a small village, Saint-Léon-sur-Dême, in France. While fixing up the decrepit cottage he's purchased, he finds a cache of weapons and French Resistance pamphlets. He takes them to Saint-Léon's lone gendarme, young Jean Renard. Renard has lived in Saint-Léon all his life, and his father, Yves, was the village's gendarme during World War II.

Yves Renard, like many other villagers, won't talk about the war. Jean Renard has heard rumors that Yves was a collaborator; that, as a gendarme, he did the bidding of the occupiers. Helping Louis investigate the cache provides Jean with an opportunity to delve into the history of Saint-Léon in wartime, and a present-day murder breaches the villagers' wall of silence about the war.

After a brief couple of chapters introducing us to Louis Morgon, Jean Renard and the finding of the cache, we are transported back to the war and the story of Saint-Léon's residents. We meet the village's mayor and councilmen, Yves Renard, young farmers Onesime and Jean, and their mother Anne-Marie, the widow Troppard, Count Maurice de Beaumont and his wife Alexandre, and many other locals, as well as a shadowy Resistance organizer code-named Simon. The villagers take sides in a secret and deadly game of chess; one where a player can't be sure whether the others are playing black or white––or maybe both.

The Resistance's subtitle, "A Thriller," is a little misleading and may do this book a disservice. Although there is plenty of intrigue and tension in the plot, it's no bang-bang, action-driven story. The focus is on the secrets and lies forced upon the villagers by the occupation, the moral compromises they must make, and the effect these have on their relationships with their neighbors and loved ones. The pace is measured and deliberate. We have time to watch the seasons pass; to see birth, death and rebirth.

From a historical viewpoint, this is an insightful treatment of the development of resistance. After France was so quickly defeated, most hoped that life could go on as before. Many were eager to cooperate with the occupiers; at least the occupation ensured that the Communists would not take over, they thought. Others had political and moral convictions that led them to resist from the start. The immediate resisters-from-conviction, and the unreflective collaborators, are not Steiner's focus. He shows us, instead, ordinary people and the difficult individual choices they make. This is a subtle and sympathetic treatment of the moral complexities of life under occupation.

The Resistance was published in 2012 by Minotaur Books. I recommend it for readers who enjoyed Martin Walker's Bruno, Chief of Police and Sebastian Faulks's Charlotte Gray.

* * * * *

Book Review of Greg Dinallo's The German Suitcase

Stacey Dutton, a young go-getter at a New York ad agency, spots an old, high-end leather suitcase among the discarded storeroom belongings from a grand Manhattan apartment building being converted to condos. Her agency represents Steinbach & Co., the maker of the suitcase, and Stacey is inspired to grab the suitcase for use in an ad campaign. When it's found that the suitcase belongs to a prominent doctor and pillar of New York philanthropy, who is also a Holocaust survivor, the suitcase becomes much more than a prop in an ad campaign. But when Stacey's boyfriend, a New York Times reporter, finds discrepancies between the doctor's story and the artifacts found in the suitcase, a mystery tale begins.

In alternating chapters, we travel between contemporary New York, and Munich during the last year of World War II, where three friends are surgeons in a hospital, treating military and civilian victims of war wounds. This is an unlikely friendship, considering that one, Max Kleist, is an officer in the Waffen-SS, while Eva Rosenberg and Jacob Epstein are Jews working under an extremely rare exemption from the Nazi state's laws that forbade Jewish doctors to treat Aryan patients. This exemption is abruptly yanked, and Jake and Eva must go on the run to avoid falling into the Nazis' genocidal machine. Max, whose close relationship with his Jewish colleagues is known, and whose prominent family is suspected of working underground to help victims of Nazi persecution, is sent to serve as a medical officer at the Dachau extermination camp.

For Germany during World War II, Nazism and the cult of Hitler supplanted all other loyalties and beliefs. Soldiers swore fealty not to the Fatherland, but to Adolf Hitler personally. Formerly devout Catholics and Protestants converted to a faith in Nazism's confused melding of Nordic mythology and racial destiny. Even scientific truths were corrupted by Germany's new dogma of racialism, with its virulent anti-Semitism and belief in the superiority of Aryans. At Dachau, Max finds himself in an environment where he is expected to pervert his Hippocratic oath in the service of these twisted beliefs and aims. His family and his own destiny are held hostage to his choices.

There are some weaknesses in the book. The present-day characters lack the dimensionality of the World War II characters. The conclusion doesn't live up the promise of the rest of the book. A plot twist is obvious (to die-hard mystery readers, anyway) almost from the get-go. The writing in the early part of the book is overburdened with adjectives and adverbs, which bogs down the pace and makes it feel like the author is trying too hard. Fortunately, he snaps out of this and the writing becomes clean and assured. Despite its flaws, I recommend this book to the readers of World War II-era novels. Author Greg Dinallo poses difficult questions about moral choices in impossible circumstances, and challenges our black-and-white views of World War II survivors. The topic of doctors in Nazi Germany is particularly interesting, and one that is not often the focus of World War II fiction. Above all, the stories of Max, Jake and Eva are gripping.

Greg Dinallo is a former filmmaker and television and movie writer. He turned to novel writing 20 years ago and, before The German Suitcase, published five thrillers, including Red Ink, which was named a New York Times Notable Book. The German Suitcase is Dinallo's first digital-only title, published in 2012 by Premier Digital Publishing.

Disclosure: I received a free publisher's review copy of The German Suitcase.

Note: Versions of these reviews may appear on Amazon and other reviewing sites under my user names there.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Dead Time

We are very comfortable these days with the 12-month Gregorian calendar that keeps us synchronized with the weather, but there was a time when the calendar of the Roman Empire only covered 10 months. Those sybaritic Romans began their year in March––known as Martius––and the two winter months before then were known as "dead time." These months were unnamed. There were probably a lot of good reasons for that, not the least of which was the climate, which prevented much of the pleasurable social activities. Even the murder of Julius Caesar did not take place until after the Ides of March. I wonder if there were even over toga coats? Aside from that, we all have our own opinion about what is "too" cold.

Even though in some things, the more things change the more they stay the same, in the case of modern mid-winter months, a definition of "dead time" could easily be "a good time for murder."

This is true in Arctic Chill by Arnaldur Indridason. On a bitter cold January day a 10-year-old boy is found dead and frozen to the ground not far from the schoolyard where he spent his days, and not far from the apartment he called home. He was the second son of a Thai woman, who had come from her native land in marriage to a local man in Reykjavik, Iceland. The boy was a happy child, for the most part, who did well in school, made friends easily, and whose life should not have ended in a pool of blood.

Immigrants to Iceland were becoming more numerous––as they are in many parts of the world where there are available jobs. Similarly, in Iceland the natives of the country have mixed feeling about the influx of foreign languages and cultures. Could this crime be racially motivated? This is the question asked again and again without much result. If not, how else could this death be explained?

Detective Erlendur and his team have to scratch the surface of a seemingly polite society to see what is not so obvious. Meanwhile, dealing with this death of a young boy, a second son, reminds Erlendur of the death of his own brother as a child, lost in a blizzard, for which he still has not forgiven himself. This haunts him throughout the case, as it also keeps reminding him of all his relationship failures.

This mystery is billed as a thriller, but I found the pace and the police-procedural aspect of the unveiling of the facts to be slow and steady. The story is sensitively done and a very nice glimpse of the realities of life in Iceland.

Meanwhile, things are no different in the current-day Italy. Marshall Browne tells the tale of The Wooden Leg of Inspector Anders.

Inspector D. P. Anders had been retired from the Rome police for several years when he is asked him to return to the force to help clear up some cold cases. He was a decorated national hero who had been instrumental in bringing down an anarchist group 10 years before. It was during this effort that he lost his leg––as well as his desire to be a policeman.

Now Inspector Anders is being sent from the ministry in Rome to a southern city (unnamed in the book) because a few months before, the Ministry's agent, Investigating Magistrate Fabri, and his two bodyguards were blown to pieces while sitting in a piazza café. Fabri had been sent to investigate the assassination of Judge de Angelis, who was presiding over a case of local corruption that involved many powerful local people.

The Commissioner of Police in this southern city cannot understand why he is being sent an aging policeman of no particular rank and who, additionally, is disabled. Anders himself is not sure why he was chosen for this commission. But, locally, the ripples are already being felt and almost immediately another undercover cop from Rome is killed.

These recent deaths of public figures in the city are ascribed to anarchists. This is the story that the powers that be have agreed upon. Anders is well aware of the fact that most, if not all, of the groups of anarchists that had Italy terrorized at one time were either disbanded or are deep underground. He knows that the real people involved in these crimes are involved with a different criminal society, one that has been the power behind the scenes for decades in southern cities. The governing principle keeping the criminals in charge of the city is fear. Everyone who dares to stand up for the ideal of a free society places his own life, as well of those of his family, at risk. The methods used in the murders of anyone who would rock the boat are brutal and sadistic. The populace knows that even an innocent gesture or look may bring down danger.

What Anders is beginning to suspect is that this may be a case of dishonor among thieves. Things that don't add up one way make sense if there is a renegade faction in the Mafia who are bringing more attention on themselves by some of these deaths. But, in any case, can one man––or even groups of people together––fight such insidious, widespread and deeply-entrenched corruption?

The detective questions if truth and justice can ever be stronger than the Mafia and the politicians and bureaucrats in their pockets. In this excellent novel by Marshall Browne, you will find a beautiful recounting of the classic paradox of the irresistible force meeting an immovable object. One realizes that if there is such a thing as an immovable object, there cannot be an unstoppable force. Both cannot be true at once. In this particular story, one is given hope that evil cannot triumph forever; there will be forces of good that will win the day. Browne tells the tale with a rapid pace, the suspense building to the point that you are gripping the book with both hands. Everything that happens has such a feeling of reality that my sense of disbelief was completely shut down. There is an intense feeling of the despair for the characters in this city, but where there is life there is hope.

Browne is a native Australian, but he has convinced me he has an Italian soul. His series of three Inspector Anders books is very short, but this debut was fantastic.

There is something about this time of year that brings many of us to the brink of hibernation; our own personal dead times. It is a great time for reading, though. Still, I am amazed by those hardy individuals who thrive in the dead of January.