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.
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.
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.
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.