Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Winter Preview 2014-2015: Part Six

I haven't actually started holiday shopping because I'm still in that wracking-the-brain stage, trying to come up with brilliant gift ideas. I'm all out of whatever brilliance I ever had, and it's a relief to put the question of gifts aside and turn to the fun of thinking about upcoming books this winter.

I'm scratching my head about how much to expect from Joakim Zander's The Swimmer (translated from the Swedish by Elizabeth Clark Wessel; Harper, February 10). On the one hand, Harper bought this first novel for seven figures and publishing rights have now been sold in 28 countries. On the other hand, this big-bucks deal is no guarantee that the book is terrific, as Sister Mary has testified about Joel Dicker's Harry Québert book. Happily, early reviews of The Swimmer are largely positive and cite its strong sense of place, suspenseful pacing, believable characters and excellent translation.  

Zander's novel differs from most Scandinavian crime novels in that it isn't a police procedural, but a spy thriller set all over Europe, Washington DC and the Middle East. It's told from several perspectives, which sometimes change chapter to chapter, in two story lines that travel back and forth between past and present and eventually connect. The action centers around a young Swedish woman named Klara Walldéen, a beautiful political aide in Brussels, who sees something she shouldn't have. Klara begins to run for her life on Christmas Eve, perfect timing for readers looking for an atmospheric spy thriller to read next February.

The foggy streets of Victorian London are the perfect place for crime. A reader can cozy up with pickpockets (Charles Dickens) or a teenage prostitute (Michel Faber's The Crimson Petal and the White) or follow Sherlock Holmes chasing Moriarty (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle). Or one can meet opium-eater Thomas De Quincey and his daughter while a murderer recreates an earlier series of deaths in David Morrell's Murder as a Fine Art (reviewed here).

Like David Morrell, Sarah Pinborough uses historical events and characters, but her Mayhem books are much more graphically violent and unsettling than Murder as a Fine Art. Her protagonist is Dr. Thomas Bond, the real-life police surgeon who had the unhappy job of investigating both the Whitechapel killings and the Thames torso murders in late-1880s London. No wonder Dr. Bond took solace in the city's opium dens. Pinborough's horror-infused Mayhem (Jo Fletcher/Quercus, January 2014) uses actual newspaper accounts to portray the Thames torso murderer, whose beheaded and dismembered female victims were originally attributed to Jack the Ripper. This book is excellent in its characterization and description of socially stratified London. Its grisly depiction of violence against women makes it not for everyone and perhaps not for reading right before bedtime.

Murder (Jo Fletcher/Quercus, January 6) is Pinborough's sequel to Mayhem. It is now 1896, and the Thames torso case has apparently been closed. Yet Dr. Bond still dreads walking London's dark streets. And with good reason, because reputedly this book is even more disturbing than Mayhem. Ai yi yi! The cover alone gives me the creeps. For horror/crime fiction fans. You know who you are.

While we're walking on Quercus's dark side of crime fiction, I need to mention French crime writer Pierre Lemaître. In general, I'm not a fan of books about serial killers and I can take only so much gore and brutality. Lemaître's books are exceedingly violent. I read them because his tiny but relentless Commandant Camille Verhoeven is a memorable character and they're clever and very well written.

People who read last year's Alex, the twisting and gruesome story of an abduction, will already be familiar with Verhoeven. Alex is not the first book in the French series but it's the first to appear in English translation. That's a shame, because if you've read Alex, you'll be familiar with the resolution of the first book, Irène (translated from the French by Frank Wynne; MacLehose/Quercus), to be published on December 9. This time, Verhoeven pursues a serial killer called "the Novelist." While some of the suspense will undoubtedly be lost for Alex readers, Irène still sounds worth reading. Lemaître uses this book to pay homage to some of crime fiction's best-known novels.

Let's change pace and turn to a book Publishers Weekly review editors call one of the most notable mysteries/thrillers to be published this fall/winter, Mette Ivie Harrison's The Bishop's Wife (Soho Crime, December 30). It's set in the predominantly Mormon community of Draper, Utah, where narrator Linda Wallheim lives with her husband, Kurt, an LDS bishop. The Wallheims have raised five sons. In the middle of a winter night, they are awakened by Jared Helm and his 5-year-old daughter, Kelly. Helm states that his wife, Carrie, has walked out on him and their daughter. Linda has a hard time accepting this is true and comes to believe that Jared killed Carrie. Kurt asks Linda not to investigate but Linda, an independent thinker, doesn't listen.

I like novels in which a character defies a tightly-knit community in pursuit of the truth. I don't know much about Mormon beliefs and culture, so I'm hopeful that reading The Bishop's Wife, based on a real-life crime, will help solve that mystery for me.

Shortly after the Boston Marathon bombing, Read Me Deadly looked at some crime fiction set in that city. Coming up is a book that early reviewers say creates a vivid noir portrait of 1951 Boston, Serpents in the Cold (Mulholland, January 20), by Thomas O'Malley and Douglas Graham Purdy.

It's a bad winter, a year after the Great Brink's Robbery, and Dante Cooper, a widowed down-and-outer with a heroin habit, is struggling to survive. Then he learns his sister-in-law, Sheila Anderson, has been murdered, presumably by a serial killer called "the Butcher." (I am gulping at this name but the book sounds too good to pass up.) Dante asks his friend, Cal, to help him. Cal is a former cop, now doing private security and self-medicating pain from World War II with booze. They go to work investigating with a vengeance, following clues through Boston's various neighborhoods and taking on gangsters and a corrupt political system in a way that the Kirkus reviewer calls "bone-crunching . . . noir fiction like we always want it to be."

Descent (Algonquin, January 6) is the first novel by awards-winning short-story writer Tim Johnston. It's received so much pre-publication buzz for the beauty of Johnston's writing and its riveting suspense I have to read it, even though its subject is heartrending. It involves the disappearance of 18-year-old Caitlin Courtland, who vacations in the Rockies with her family before heading to college on a track scholarship. One morning she goes for a run, accompanied by her 15-year-old brother Sean on a rented mountain bike. Only Sean returns, and the Courtlands are plunged into a nightmare of unimaginable anxiety and recrimination.

Two years later, Caitlin is still missing and her family has fallen apart. Her mother, Angela, is back in Wisconsin, trying to reconstitute her life. Her father, Grant, remains in the Rockies, while brother Sean drifts aimlessly around the country. A coincidence sends the novel off into an unexpected direction.

That's it for today but we'll have another Winter Preview tomorrow, here at Read Me Deadly.


  1. These posts are so awful for my TBR progress. Not that it's the posts at all - there are ALWAYS going to be new books that I must have! THE SWIMMER, IRENE, and DESCENT are in my plans already. I need to read MAYHEM so I can get on to MURDER as well.

    1. I've added what I hope is a crucial step to my bedtime routine. After brushing my teeth, I look in the mirror and say in a firm voice, "You will read faster in the New Year." Now I can look at my pile of books waiting to be read and worry it won't last me through March 2015.

      Reading MAYHEM before MURDER is a very good idea. I think you'll like Pinborough.