In their second outing, British Columbia police officers, crusty Sgt. John Winters and beguiling Constable Molly Smith, once again investigate murder in their tranquil valley community of Trafalgar. A young woman is found dead of an apparent heroin overdose, an infant at her side. The probe into her death, however, leads police to suspect a more brutal demise. Moreover, it is Molly's mom who both discovered the victim in the woods and rescued the child. To her daughter's dismay, she insists on keeping the baby in her care in defiance of the children services authorities. All the traditional village mystery factors are in play here, and rampant gossip tops the list, as the two intrepid police officers dig in to determine both the identity of the dead woman and the reason for her gruesome death. A subplot involves Winters' wife, who has been offered a job to promote plans for a controversial resort, a project that has divided the small town's residents. This is a nice cozy for readers fond of the village genre and the police who are entrusted with keeping the peace. Young Molly in particular is nicely characterized as a rookie police officer. For those who want more of the characters in this village, I'd also recommend Delany's first book in the series, In the Shadow of the Glacier.
Kate Shugak, her half-wolf dog Mutt, her 16-year-old foster son Johnny Morgan, and Alaska state trooper "Chopper Jim" Chopin are back in another wonderful adventure set in a fictional Alaska national park. In what might appear to be uninhabited wilderness to most outsiders, there is plenty going on: Global Harvest Resources, Inc., a Canadian mining firm has big plans to mine more gold than was found in the Alaskan gold rush, not to mention copper and molybdenum; and the "Park Rats" who inhabit the area are torn between the desire for the high-paying jobs promised by the company and the fear that changes brought by the mine will destroy their ancestral hunting and fishing grounds. Four elderly "aunties" who appear to spend most of their time quilting, but who are, in fact, traditional area power figures, arrange for a reluctant Kate to chair the board of the Niniltna Native Association. Chopper Jim is troubled by a cold case, which heats up as new violence and murder complicate the scene. The novel presents a sensitive and sensible approach to the environmental problems and threats to the traditional order. The author brings to life even the most minor characters with dialogue that is simple, often humorous, and invariably just right. Mystery, action, and suspense are enhanced by the background of the unforgiving Alaskan winter. Stabenow does her usual excellent job in this superb tale of the Alaskan Bush. This is one of the best books I've read in a long time.
It doesn't reveal any plot points to mention right away that Maxine, the adorable eight-pound miniature dachshund who is the companion, comfort, and sometimes partner to ex-cop Sean O'Brien makes it through A False Dawn unscathed. Despite living on the edge of the alligator-ridden St. Johns near the Ocala National Forest in Florida, Max is just fine and even becomes a heroine in Lowe's flawed, but ultimately satisfying, debut.
After the death of his wife, Sean takes an early retirement from the Miami Police Department for a simpler existence with his dog along the St. Johns. But he is drawn back into police work when he finds the body of a young woman in the woods near his home. Although he no longer carries a badge, his sleuthing skills are on high alert, especially when he becomes the target of one cop's investigation. Finding two allies among the sheriff's deputies, Sean discovers a market for human trafficking in rural Florida, and an old enemy.
Although A False Dawn succumbs to several genre cliches--a burned-out ex-cop, a police detective who seems determined to railroad him, and a tendency to pack the plot--Lowe's enthusiasm for his story makes him a regional author to watch. The author, a documentary writer and director, brings a breathtakingly cinematic feel to his atmospheric view of rural central Florida, an area oddly neglected by the state's cadre of mystery writers. Angst-filled Sean O'Brien makes for a realistic hero that readers will want to spend time with and the hardboiled plot reaches an intriguing conclusion.
If you think that skinhead with a swastika tattoo at the mall is just some harmless dork "acting out," think again. Scottish author Philip Kerr's belated follow-up (two books in three years, after a 15-year gap) to the now-classic Berlin Noir trilogy finds Bernie Gunther, ex-cop, former Berlin private detective and (reluctant) SS officer, emigrating to Argentina under an assumed name, just another German fleeing justice post-WWII. That Bernie was never a Nazi is really what makes this series so compelling. His unflinching eyewitness account of the rise and fall of the Third Reich is disturbing and ugly--there's no spin here, no trying to play nice with the past. What saves this book from being an excursion into black-and-white finger pointing (or a cartoonish wallow like Jerry Stahl's recent Pain Killers) is that Bernie is no superman. He's all too recognizably human: alternately weak, horny, stupid, brave, honorable and cowardly, and prone to startling lapses in judgment--his running stream of wisecracks comes off as a sort of Chandleresque version of Tourette's Syndrome. It certainly does him no favors in Peron's Nazi-friendly Argentina, where his past catches up with him and is used to pressure him into investigating the rape and murder of a young girl whose mutilated corpse bears disturbing similarities to a case Bernie once worked on in prewar Berlin. Could a fellow German refugee be responsible? The prolonged flashbacks that intersperse this taut, masterfully plotted book serve as a sort of microcosm of the entire series, whipsawing the reader back and forth in time between the two cases, allowing readers to bear witness once more to the horrors of the regime and its aftermath--and to question the complicity and indifference of numerous other nations that allowed or even encouraged it to happen. Sharply drawn characters and an in-your-face history lesson make this one required reading.
In her debut novel, Cantrell evokes a vivid picture of Berlin in 1931, where the economy is in shambles and the Nazi party is on the rise. Journalist Hannah Vogel makes a visit to the Alexanderplatz police station in search of a story, and finds a familiar face among the photographs in the Hall of the Unnamed Dead: that of her brother, Ernst, pulled from the water a couple of days earlier, stabbed through the heart. But she can't help the police with their inquiries because she previously coaxed Ernst's identity papers from him to help Jewish friends escape the country. Though the police can't identify the body, Hannah sets out to find out who was responsible for her brother's murder.
Ernst was a transvestite singer with a beautiful voice and an entourage of lovers, including a jealous rival, and a young Nazi whose sexual identity puts him at odds with his family and the party. Hannah's quest is complicated when a small boy, who has internalized the popular Karl May adventure stories and insists on talking like an Indian brave, shows up at her apartment door and claims she is his mother.
Hannah and the boy who adopts her are compelling enough, but the real star of the book is Berlin. Hannah's quest takes the reader on a tour of the dark side of German society at a critical moment, and though Cantrell, who studied in Germany, loves her research enough to include a glossary, it's not intrusive. It's immersive and compelling.