Tuesday, May 19, 2015

#24: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

A troubled young woman riding the London train glimpses something disturbing out of her window, sending her into a dramatic spiral in Paula Hawkins' The Girl on the Train.

This debut novel is frequently compared to Gone Girl, and in the way that they are both very cold-hearted thrillers I would agree; but I saw a lot more Rear Window.

Even more notable is the classic unreliable narrator, in this case an alcoholic protagonist with a failed marriage--but still stalking her ex-husband--who is prone to blackouts.

Two other point of views--flashbacks to a missing woman in the midst of a tumultuous affair, and the ex-husband's second wife--round out an interesting narrative.

A very tight thriller, frequently shocking.  I bought this in hardback and read it in a single day on a flight between Italy and the States--and saw several others on the plane doing the same.

Monday, May 18, 2015

#23: Uniform Justice by Donna Leon

A young man at a Venetian military academy appears to have hung himself; but veteran cop Guido Brunetti thinks differently, even as the boy's own family stands against him in Donna Leon's Uniform Justice.

Leon has written a very solid and well-acclaimed mystery series, set in Venice, a place which I had a chance to visit this summer for the first time (part of the reason I sought out a handful of these before I left).

Not only are the mysteries always compelling, but having spent part of the last several summers in Italy I find that her portrayal of Italian life and culture to be especially interesting.

Brunetti also has a very rich family life and cast of supporting characters, and the more of these I have read (this was my third) the more I have appreciated those elements.  Again this one has a slightly melancholy, but perhaps appropriate, conclusion.

I feel like I am the last mystery reader to have discovered Donna Leon, but nonetheless will continue to recommend the Brunetti series to friends, and will look for more.  I bought this one from a Goodwill and read while traveling in Italy.

Friday, May 15, 2015

#22: The Torso by Helene Tursten

When part of a corpse washes ashore, it's up to the dedicated cops of Goteborg, Sweden to hunt down the killer, a bloody trail that takes Irene Huss and her team to the seedy streets of Copenhagen in Helene Tursten's The Torso.

Strong, but grisly, police procedural for those looking for fresh names in the Scandinavian mystery market.  Tursten has created a complete, nuanced detective in Huss, and contrasts complex domestic scenes with vivid graphic violence.

Tursten truly pulls no punches as Huss crosses paths, and sometimes bullets, with organized crime lords, sex traffickers, and at least one serial killer; a killer who seems to be someone close to the investigation.

This is the second Tursten novel I have read recently and find her work to be right up there with some of my favorites in this genre, including Jo Nesbø, Arnaldur Indriðason, and Åsa Larsson.  Recommended for fans.

I read this in one sitting on a flight from Florence Italy to Indianapolis Indiana.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

#21: Thirteen White Tulips by Frances Crane

A young doctor's wife gets into a compromising situation (1950s-speak) with a handsome rogue and concludes the only way out is murder; but when she arrives at his San Francisco home she finds him already dead, just the beginning of a very tangled plot in Frances Crane's Thirteen White Tulips.

I really enjoyed this breezy--exceedingly breezy-- tale, as the young wife enlists the help of private eye Pat Abbott, his very handy wife Jean (the narrator, who also weighs in on fashion and society), and their preternaturally smart dog Pancho, in uncovering the cause of the murder.

Crane tries for a Nick and Nora Charles vibe, and succeeds, with a real sense of the time, place, and culture.

I bought this with no prior knowledge from a crate of Penguin paperbacks (with green covers) from in front of a little used bookstore in Rome, Italy.  Crane apparently wrote a number of mysteries featuring Jean Abbott, and I would definitely look for more.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

#20: Lady Killer by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding

A young woman marries an older man for his money, and soon learns this was an unhappy mistake; but on a cruise, she is distracted by another unhappy couple who seem more murderously inclined in Elisabeth Sanxay Holding's Lady Killer.

I see Holding's name a lot, but had never sought out any of her books until I made a vow to read only women authors in 2015, and found myself hungry for a good noir.

The protagonist, Honey, finds herself wound tighter and tighter in a dark web leading to a tense, ultimately downbeat conclusion; but what I enjoyed about Holding's writing was not only the crackling noir elements but the artfully rendered take on marriages, relationships, and friendships between men and women. I will definitely look for more of her work.

I found this for my beloved Kindle and read it quickly.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

#19: The Necessary Beggar by Susan Palwick

In a parallel world, a young man from a close family is accused of killing a noble beggar, and the entire family is exiled to a bleak, heartless place--our own world.

The Necessary Beggar is a fantasy/sci-fi novel with strong overtones of the immigrant experience in the United States, as this dramatically displaced family first appears in a refugee camp in a remote section of the United States, and tries to make their way from there.

Their trials and tribulations--compounded by the young man's suicide, and subsequent re-appearance as an unhappy ghost--are interesting throughout and certainly parallel contemporary experiences (minus the ghost).

Susan Palwick's novel is rewarding on many levels as a fantasy novel as well as a contemporary fable.

I found this book on a goodbye shelf at the local Hastings bookstore and read it in one day on my flight to Italy.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

#18: Death in a Strange Country by Donna Leon

When an American soldier from a nearby base dies under unusual circumstances, Venetian Commissario Guido Brunetti starts an investigation that crosses social, political, and international lines in Donna Leon's Death in a Strange Country.

This is the second Leon novel I have read in this popular, long-running series, and I enjoyed it as much for the slices of Italian life shown as the mystery itself.  After spending several weeks in Italy over the years--though never visiting Venice--I think the philosophical side of life in Italy rings true.

But it's still a good mystery, with Brunetti getting into several near-miss scrapes before wrapping the story up--not neatly, but perhaps as neatly as anything gets from such a tangled web.

I found this in a Goodwill store in Frankfurt, Indiana and read it quickly.