Movie Review: “Murder on the Orient Express”
Oline H. Cogdill



One of my favorite moments in the 1974 version of Murder on the Orient Express comes near the end—and I am not giving away any spoilers here—when the array of passengers are by themselves in the train car.

The investigation is over and as the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot (Albert Finney) looks back, everyone begins to click champagne glasses.

The way each passenger clicks his or her glass with another is indicative of their character—a strong click, a confident click, a meek click, a shy one. It all comes together as Poirot, ever the outsider but also ever the observer, looks on, pleased yet also a bit shaken at how things turned out.

Murder on the Orient Express—the 1974 version, the 2001 remake with Alfred Molina as Poirot, the 2006 version with David Suchet as Poirot and now the 2017 one with Kenneth Branagh—are based on the 1934 novel by Agatha Christie.

Murder on the Orient Express is one of Christie’s best-known novels—mainly, I think, because it is constantly remade.

If you don’t know the plot by now, don’t expect me to give it away.

Let’s just say, Murder on the Orient Express is about:

A murder

That happens on the Orient Express train

During winter

then the train gets stuck.

The cast is big.

It has Hercule Poirot.

And that leads me to this latest incarnation of Murder on the Orient Express.

All of the above happens in the 2017 version of this Christie classic, in which Kenneth Branagh directs and stars.

And just like the 1974 version directed by Sidney Lumet, Branagh uses an all-star cast.

But how films are made and also viewed by audiences have changed drastically in 43 years. The clever casting in 1974 gave us a tight ensemble that included Lauren Bacall, Michael York, Wendy Hiller, Anthony Perkins, Vanessa Redgrave, Sean Connery, John Gielgud, Ingrid Bergman, Jacqueline Bisset, and Rachel Roberts, among others.

But the 2017 cast seems more like a gimmick—how many popular actors can we cram into one movie. These established and up-and-coming actors include Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Judi Dench, Willem Dafoe, Penélope Cruz, Derek Jacobi, Olivia Colman, Josh Gad, Daisy Ridley, and Leslie Odom Jr., among others.

The plot, of course, hasn’t changed. A murder of a mysterious passenger occurs in the middle of the night, shortly before the train stalls—this time on a cliff-side rail. The view is breathtaking—CGI special effects weren’t high on the list in 1974. Because there is nowhere to go, the murderer must be one of the passengers on the lushly appointed train.

CGI also allows Branagh to open up the movie by staging an elaborate foot race. While this gives Murder on the Orient Express some extra action, it also takes away from the story. One reason the other versions worked so well is that by keeping the story on the train the sense of claustrophobia was heightened and the menace that the killer “may be among us” added to the tension.

As Poirot, Branagh never quite rises to the level of the other actors who have portrayed him. Branagh adds a bit of compassion to the character while also showing his fussy quirks, which are both irritating and charming. But his leaps to conclusion about the case seem rather far-fetched here.

I also worried that at any moment Branagh’s mammoth mustache would attack him. In the books and other films, Poirot’s mustache is his pride and joy—a tidy, crisp line that he lovingly waxes and even sleeps with a special mask to protect. But that mustache has never been this huge, and the sleeping mask he wears to protect it looks like a forerunner of those CPAP machines people use for sleeping. The ‘stache is kind of like David Caruso’s sunglasses in CSI: Miami. All you can see when Caruso’s Horatio Caine takes those sunglasses on or off are those darned shades.

And as good an actor as Branagh is—his Hamlet and the film Dead Again showcase this—he is outshined by some of his cast, especially Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Judi Dench, Olivia Colman, Daisy Ridley, and Leslie Odom Jr.

This new incarnation of Murder on the Orient Express is entertaining, but never really soars, nor touches with quite the emotion we need. Christie was a master at looking at class systems and what motivated people. This comes through in Branagh’s film, especially in the relationship between Daisy Ridley and Leslie Odom Jr., which gives us another view of the couple who were portrayed by Connery and Redgrave in 1974.

But Branagh’s Murder on the Orient Express devolves when he gives us unnecessary action scenes. We don’t need this cerebral man who relies on his “little grey cells” to be running around in the snow, chasing someone. Nor does he need to have a gun pulled on him—twice—or get into a physical fight. And a scene toward the end is pure hysteria and so jarring. These scenes seem to take too many liberties with the Christie text and work against the film. It is one thing to show a different side of the story with an interracial couple that enhances the story. It’s another thing to cheapen the story with silly asides.

And, do we need a new Murder on the Orient Express? The other versions were much more satisfying. There are tons of terrific modern mysteries that would make involving films or TV series. I want new ideas, new stories, not remake after remake. And there are plenty of works by Christie or other crime-fiction masters that would make terrific films. And one spoiler, the end seems to suggest that Death on the Nile will be Branagh’s next project. I hope he sees the 1978 version with Peter Ustinov as Poirot and Bette Davis, Angela Lansbury, Maggie Smith, and Lois Chiles.

As for that last scene with the champagne toasts, well, you’ll have to wait a long time.

This scene now seems to be a Last Supper-like approach. I just kept thinking how cold everyone must be.

Murder on the Orient Express: Rated PG-13 for murder. Running time: 1 hour, 54 minutes.

PHOTOS: Top, Kenneth Branagh, center, Daisy Ridley, Michelle Pfeiffer, Leslie Odom Jr. Photos courtesy 20th Century Fox.

Oline Cogdill
2017-11-19 15:12:09
MWA Announces 2018 Grand Master, Raven & Ellery Queen Award Recipients

Jane Langton, William Link, and Peter Lovesey have been chosen as the 2018 Grand Masters by Mystery Writers of America (MWA).

MWA’s Grand Master Award represents the pinnacle of achievement in mystery writing and was established to acknowledge important contributions to this genre, as well as for a body of work that is both significant and of consistent high quality. They will receive their awards at the 72nd Annual Edgar Awards Banquet, which will be held at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York City on April 26, 2018.

Here's what MWA has to say about these very deserving Grand Masters:

In a writing career that spanned over four decades, Jane Langton, left, has not only written multiple mystery series, but also illustrated them. Her first children’s book, The Majesty of Grace, was published by Harper in 1961. The first book of her Hall Family Chronicles series, The Diamond in the Window, was nominated for the Edgar for Best Juvenile. The Fledgling, fourth in the series, is a Newbery Honor Book. Langton has written 18 books in the Homer (and Mary) Kelly series, published between 1964 and 2005. The fifth in the series, Emily Dickinson Is Dead, was an Edgar nominee and received a Nero Wolfe award.

William Link's love of writing began with the cartoons he drew as a very young boy. When he learned to write, he immediately created stories for them.

The first day of middle school, he would meet a classmate, Richard Levinson. They went home and started writing together that afternoon. The partnership of these two creative minds would change television history and the format of the crime drama forever with shows like Columbo, Ellery Queen, Mannix, And Murder She Wrote to name a few. They even wrote a Broadway musical, Merlin. After the death of his best friend and writing partner he continued on alone.

Bill has received numerous awards for excellence including 2 Emmys, 2 Golden Globes, 4 Edgar Awards, The Ellery Queen, The Marlowe, The Poirot, the George Foster Peabody, and The Paddy Chayefsky Laurel award. He was inducted into The Television Academy Hall of Fame.

Peter (Harmer) Lovesey, left, also known by his pen name Peter Lear, is a British writer of historical and contemporary detective novels and short stories. His best-known series characters are Sergeant Cribb, a Victorian-era police detective based in London, and Peter Diamond, a modern-day police detective in Bath. Peter Lovesey has won awards for his fiction, including Gold and Silver Daggers from the British Crime Writers’ Association, the Cartier Diamond Dagger for Lifetime Achievement, the French Grand Prix de Littérature Policière and first place in the MWA’s 50th Anniversary Short Story Contest.


Previous Grand Masters include Max Allan Collins, Ellen Hart, Walter Mosley, Lois Duncan, James Ellroy, Robert Crais, Carolyn Hart, Ken Follett, Margaret Maron, Martha Grimes, Sara Paretsky, James Lee Burke, Sue Grafton, Bill Pronzini, Stephen King, Marcia Muller, Dick Francis, Mary Higgins Clark, Lawrence Block, P.D. James, Ellery Queen, Daphne du Maurier, Alfred Hitchcock, Graham Greene, and Agatha Christie.

RAVEN AWARD

The Raven Award recognizes outstanding achievement in the mystery field outside the realm of creative writing. The Raven Bookstore and Kristopher Zgorski will receive the 2018 Raven Award.

The Raven Bookstore in Lawrence, Kansas, celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2017. The store was opened in 1987 by co-owners Pat Kehde and Mary Lou Wright. Kehde kept the store for 28 years, weathering the Borders storm with a plan to “stay the same size and cultivate [the] clients.” Heidi Raak took over the store in 2008. Current owner and poet Danny Caine took over in August of 2017; he is a longtime employee of the shop. The Raven has two store cats, Dashiell and Ngiao.

Upon hearing of the Raven Award, Raven Bookstore owner Danny Caine said, "I'm humbled and amazed to receive a Raven Award. Along with the Raven's staff, past and present, I'm delighted to join the company of such great bookstores, organizations, and people that have won the Raven in years past. Much credit belongs to previous Raven owners Pat Kehde, Mary Lou Wright, and Heidi Raak who did so much to build the store's mystery community. Thanks so much to the MWA for the award, which, aside from being a huge honor, has a pretty great name."

When told that he would receive the Raven Award, Zgorski said, “The crime fiction tribe represents my chosen family, so to receive this honor from an esteemed organization like Mystery Writers of America feels as much like encouragement from those closest to my heart as it does acknowledgement from the publishing industry at large. I appreciate MWA’s celebration of myself – and BOLO Books – not only on a personal level, but also as a vote of confidence for the contributions of book bloggers everywhere.”

Kristopher Zgorski is the founder of the crime fiction book review blog, BOLO Books (http://www.bolobooks.com). Kristopher also has a column called Central Booking in Deadly Pleasures Magazine. His reviews have also run in genre-specific publications such as Crimespree Magazine, Mystery Readers Journal, and the UK-based Shots Crime and Thriller Ezine. Kristopher is obviously an avid reader and regularly attends industry conventions such as Bouchercon, Malice Domestic, and BEA, in addition to smaller MD/DC/VA area book gatherings and signings.

Previous Raven winners include Dru Ann Love, Sisters in Crime, Margaret Kinsman, Kathryn Kennison, Jon and Ruth Jordan, Aunt Agatha’s Bookstore in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Oline Cogdill, Molly Weston, The Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego, Centuries & Sleuths Bookstore in Chicago, Once Upon a Crime Bookstore in Minneapolis, Mystery Lovers Bookstore in Oakmont, PA, Kate’s Mystery Books in Cambridge, MA, and The Poe House in Baltimore, MD.

THE ELLERY QUEEN AWARD

The Ellery Queen Award was established in 1983 to honor “outstanding writing teams and outstanding people in the mystery-publishing industry. This year the Board chose to honor Robert Pépin. Mr. Pépin began his literary career in 1964 as a translator of English-language novels. Since then he has been a translator, editor, and publisher of some of the most important authors of the past century including Lawrence Block, Alex Berenson, C.J. Box, Lee Child, Michael Connelly, James Church, Miles Corwin, Martin Cruz Smith, and Robert Crais.

In 1992, Pépin founded Le Seuil publishing company, which successfully introduced the finest American crime writers to the French public. In 2010, he established his own imprint, the eponymous “Robert Pépin présente…”at the venerable French publishing house Calmann-Levy Paris, a division of Hachette. There, he continues to bring great English language writers to France.

On learning he would receive the Ellery Queen Award, Pépin said, “I still can’t believe I won The Ellery Queen Award, but as it seems to be true, I want to thank all of you, my MWA friends, for conferring such an honor on me. It is indeed very generous of you. Publishing and translating American writers into French has always been a great pleasure for me. Go on writing, my friends!”

Previous Ellery Queen Award winners include Neil Nyren, Janet Rudolph, Charles Ardai, Joe Meyers, Barbara Peters and Robert Rosenwald, Brian Skupin and Kate Stine, Carolyn Marino, Ed Gorman, Janet Hutchings, Cathleen Jordan, Douglas G. Greene, Susanne Kirk, Sara Ann Freed, Hiroshi Hayakawa, Jacques Barzun, Martin Greenburg, Otto Penzler, Richard Levinson, William Link, Ruth Cavin, and Emma Lathen.



Oline Cogdill
2017-11-20 14:46:39
MWA Announces 2018 Grand Master, Raven & Ellery Queen Award Recipients
Oline Cogdill



Jane Langton, William Link, and Peter Lovesey have been chosen as the 2018 Grand Masters by Mystery Writers of America (MWA).

MWA’s Grand Master Award represents the pinnacle of achievement in mystery writing and was established to acknowledge important contributions to this genre, as well as for a body of work that is both significant and of consistent high quality.

Langton, Link, and Mr. Lovesey will receive their awards at the 72nd Annual Edgar Awards Banquet, which will be held at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York City on April 26, 2018.

Here’s what MWA said in a press release about these deserving honorees.

In a writing career that spanned over four decades, Jane Langton, left, has not only written multiple mystery series, but also illustrated them. Her first children’s book, The Majesty of Grace, was published by Harper in 1961. The first book of her Hall Family Chronicles series, The Diamond in the Window, was nominated for the Edgar for Best Juvenile. The Fledgling, fourth in the series, is a Newbery Honor Book. Langton has written 18 books in the Homer (and Mary) Kelly series, published between 1964 and 2005. The fifth in the series, Emily Dickinson Is Dead, was an Edgar nominee and received a Nero Wolfe award.


William Link's love of writing began with the cartoons he drew as a very young boy. When he learned to write, he immediately created stories for them.

The first day of middle school, he would meet a classmate, Richard Levinson. They went home and started writing together that afternoon. The partnership of these two creative minds would change television history and the format of the crime drama forever with shows like Columbo, Ellery Queen, Mannix, And Murder She Wrote to name a few. They even wrote a Broadway musical, Merlin. After the death of his best friend and writing partner he continued on alone.

Bill has received numerous awards for excellence including 2 Emmys, 2 Golden Globes, 4 Edgar Awards, The Ellery Queen, The Marlowe, The Poirot, the George Foster Peabody, and The Paddy Chayefsky Laurel award. He was inducted into The Television Academy Hall of Fame.


Peter (Harmer) Lovesey, left, also known by his pen name Peter Lear, is a British writer of historical and contemporary detective novels and short stories. His best-known series characters are Sergeant Cribb, a Victorian-era police detective based in London, and Peter Diamond, a modern-day police detective in Bath. Peter Lovesey has won awards for his fiction, including Gold and Silver Daggers from the British Crime Writers’ Association, the Cartier Diamond Dagger for Lifetime Achievement, the French Grand Prix de Littérature Policière and first place in the MWA’s 50th Anniversary Short Story Contest.

Previous Grand Masters include Max Allan Collins, Ellen Hart, Walter Mosley, Lois Duncan, James Ellroy, Robert Crais, Carolyn Hart, Ken Follett, Margaret Maron, Martha Grimes, Sara Paretsky, James Lee Burke, Sue Grafton, Bill Pronzini, Stephen King, Marcia Muller, Dick Francis, Mary Higgins Clark, Lawrence Block, P.D. James, Ellery Queen, Daphne du Maurier, Alfred Hitchcock, Graham Greene, and Agatha Christie.

THE RAVEN AWARD

The Raven Award recognizes outstanding achievement in the mystery field outside the realm of creative writing.

The Raven bookstore and Kristopher Zgorski will receive the 2018 Raven Award.

The Raven Bookstore in Lawrence, Kansas, celebrated its 30thanniversary in 2017. The store was opened in 1987 by co-owners Pat Kehde and Mary Lou Wright. Kehde kept the store for 28 years, weathering the Borders storm with a plan to “stay the same size and cultivate [the] clients.” Heidi Raak took over the store in 2008. Current owner and poet Danny Caine took over in August of 2017; he is a longtime employee of the shop. The Raven has two store cats, Dashiell and Ngiao.


Kristopher Zgorski is the founder of the crime fiction book review blog, BOLO Books (http://www.bolobooks.com). Kristopher also has a column called Central Booking in Deadly Pleasures Magazine. His reviews have also run in genre-specific publications such as Crimespree Magazine, Mystery Readers Journal, and the UK-based Shots Crime and Thriller Ezine. Kristopher is obviously an avid reader and regularly attends industry conventions such as Bouchercon, Malice Domestic, and BEA, in addition to smaller MD/DC/VA area book gatherings and signings.

Previous Raven winners include Dru Ann Love, Sisters in Crime, Margaret Kinsman, Kathryn Kennison, Jon and Ruth Jordan, Aunt Agatha’s Bookstore in Ann Arbor, Michigan, Oline Cogdill, Molly Weston, The Mysterious Galaxy in San Diego, Centuries & Sleuths Bookstore in Chicago, Once Upon a Crime Bookstore in Minneapolis, Mystery Lovers Bookstore in Oakmont, PA, Kate’s Mystery Books in Cambridge, MA, and The Poe House in Baltimore, MD.

THE ELLERY QUEEN AWARD
The Ellery Queen Award was established in 1983 to honor “outstanding writing teams and outstanding people in the mystery-publishing industry. This year the Board chose to honor Robert Pépin. Mr. Pépin began his literary career in 1964 as a translator of English-language novels. Since then he has been a translator, editor, and publisher of some of the most important authors of the past century including Lawrence Block, Alex Berenson, C.J. Box, Lee Child, Michael Connelly, James Church, Miles Corwin, Martin Cruz Smith, and Robert Crais.

In 1992, Pépin founded Le Seuil publishing company, which successfully introduced the finest American crime writers to the French public. In 2010, he established his own imprint, the eponymous “Robert Pépin présente…”at the venerable French publishing house Calmann-Levy Paris, a division of Hachette. There, he continues to bring great English language writers to France.

Previous Ellery Queen Award winners include Neil Nyren, Janet Rudolph, Charles Ardai, Joe Meyers, Barbara Peters and Robert Rosenwald, Brian Skupin and Kate Stine, Carolyn Marino, Ed Gorman, Janet Hutchings, Cathleen Jordan, Douglas G. Greene, Susanne Kirk, Sara Ann Freed, Hiroshi Hayakawa, Jacques Barzun, Martin Greenburg, Otto Penzler, Richard Levinson, William Link, Ruth Cavin, and Emma Lathen.

Oline Cogdill
2017-11-20 10:13:09
Down & Out: The Magazine
Ben Boulden

The first issue of Down & Out: The Magazine is as promising as it is exciting. It’s a new digest-sized crime-fiction magazine with original stories from contemporary writers and, with its A Few Cents a Word segment, classic tales published after Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler moved from the pulps to novels and screenplays. This first issue’s classic is Frederick Nebel’s novelette “Rough Justice,” which appeared in the same 1930 issue of Black Mask Magazine as did Dashiell Hammett’s last Continental Op story. It’s an engaging hardboiled tale featuring “Tough Dick” Donahue trailing a suspect into an urban darkness where he finds the kind of trouble—murder and betrayal—that makes for great late-night reading.

The original stories tend to the hardboiled and most feature a series character. Reed Farrel Coleman’s “Breakage,” which brings Moe Prager back to the page in a vintage 1984 Brooklyn setting, is a missing-persons job. As a favor for his longtime friend Israel Roth, Moe agrees to find a survivor of Auschwitz. A nasty climactic twist makes for a satisfying tale. “Hit Me” by Rick Ollerman, who is also the editor of the magazine, is an ironic tale of matrimonial bliss and just desserts. The issue includes five additional stories, without a dud anywhere, from crime-writing stalwarts Eric Beetner, Terrence McCauley, Jen Conley, Michael A. Black, and Thomas Pluck.

Teri Duerr
2017-11-20 15:30:10
Holiday Issue #152
Admin
2017-11-20 20:17:55
Holiday Issue #152
Teri Duerr
2017-11-20 20:19:00
The Man Who Invented Christmas
Oline H. Cogdill

You might be wondering what The Man Who Invented Christmas has to do with mysteries.

The movie is about Charles Dickens and his effort to write A Christmas Carol, and there are no murders or even any crimes.

So here’s the link.

The film is based on a book written by Les Standiford, who in the 1990s wrote several solid mysteries about South Florida builder John Deal.

The John Deal novels looked at the construction industry in South Florida and showed the changing landscape.

One of the co-producers of The Man Who Invented Christmas is Mitchell Kaplan, owner of the terrific independent bookstores Books & Books in South Florida. Kaplan also was awarded the 2007 Raven Award from the Mystery Writers of America.

The Man Who Invented Christmas is directed by Bharat Nalluri, from a screenplay by Susan Coyne, and stars Christopher Plummer and Dan Stevens.

Oline Cogdill
2017-11-26 21:47:28
Wonder Valley
Kevin Burton Smith

DUDE!!! This ain’t La La Land—there’s a naked man running down the 110! Really!

Ivy Pochoda’s ambitious and amazing new novel, a swirling, kaleidoscopic riff on the City of Angels and Southern California, offers a rich assortment of characters who are definitely not angels. Even the few who try to be.

Oddballs. Misfits. Losers. Cruisers. Schemers. Dreamers. “The homeless and those who didn’t make it home.” And some who have just been out in the sun way too long? Sure.

But angels? Nah.

There’s the aforementioned nude man who decides to hit the pavement, cutting through a morning traffic jam on the 110 freeway that cuts right through downtown Los Angeles.

Ren, fresh out of juvie and driving a “borrowed” car, also caught in that jam, who’s traveled cross country to find his mother.

Laila, Ren’s mother, is in the backseat, in failing health. She’s been living on the street, homeless.

Tony, a successful but unhappy lawyer, also caught in traffic (and middle-aged ennui), who catches a glimpse of the runner and impulsively abandons his car to follow.

Meanwhile, out past Twentynine Palms in the Mojave desert there’s Britt, a former college tennis player turned runaway who ended up at the Howling Tree Ranch, a commune/organic chicken farm run by Patrick, a charismatic self-proclaimed healer who preaches a sort of New Agey gobbledegook to his disciples. Britt figures she’ll stay “one night” and then she’s out of there.

Patrick’s sons, James and Owen, are 15-year-old twins who live out in the same sun-fried desert commune, where just inhaling the air is enough to sear your lungs. They’re bored out of their gourds with faith healing and killing chickens, and plotting their own escape.

And finally Blake, a desert-rat drug dealer who’d just rather avoid everyone, holed up in an abandoned cabin in Wonder Valley, a failed “homestead community” a few miles away, while his dangerous and violenceprone partner in crime, Sam the Samoan, tries to recover from a busted leg.

You’ve read Day of the Locust. You’ve seen Crash. You know all these dysfunctional characters, cursed with bad choices and bad luck, will somehow eventually hook up.

But is it crime fiction? Maybe. Certainly there are crimes committed here—disturbing, violent crimes. And the underlying mystery of how—and why—these people will connect is definitely present.

I’m glad to report that the author doesn’t disappoint. She ties it all up with such wit and style, with passion and compassion, and even, just maybe, some sort of cockeyed redemption, in ways both disturbing and profound that will warm your heart (or tear it apart), but that you won’t soon forget.

Teri Duerr
2017-11-28 01:00:18
Insidious Intent
Craig Sisterson

Seven years after winning the Crime Writers’ Association of Great Britain’s Cartier Diamond Dagger for outstanding lifetime’s contribution to the mystery genre, Val McDermid shows no signs of slowing down or resting on her laurels. The modern-day Queen of Crime keeps vaulting at and over the incredibly high bar she’s set herself over the past three decades. She keeps pushing forward with her characters and stories, epitomized by Insidious Intent, the latest installment in the adventures of Chief Inspector Carol Jordan and eccentric profiler Tony Hill.

A charred skeleton in a burned-out car in the countryside poses plenty of challenges for Jordan and her handpicked new major incident team. It’s their first case, but the vultures are already circling, both in the media and within the police force itself. So when progress is slow, even Hill is stumped, and another burned body turns up, the thermostat is dialed high. Meanwhile DS Paula McIntyre is under family strain, and Hill dances a tricky two-step, as a psychologist and close friend, as Jordan battles her alcoholism.

McDermid puts both her characters and the reader through the emotional wringer with Insidious Intent. The tenth novel in a series spanning 22 years, it’s both a terrific individual read and a culmination of ongoing character arcs throughout the books. McDermid is a maestro still at the top of her game, and adroitly balances shock and inevitability as events for beloved characters take a dark turn.

Teri Duerr
2017-11-28 01:05:19
The Shadow District
Jay Roberts

The first in his new Reykjavik Wartime Mystery series finds Arnaldur Indridason in fine form as he unspools two concurrent but intertwined tales (translation by Victoria Cribb) of Icelandic murder, one set in the present day and the other set just before the Allied forces invade Normandy in 1944. When the body of an elderly man is found in his apartment, it is quickly assumed he died of natural causes, but the fact that he was murdered is revealed soon after. Understaffed, the detective on the investigation lets Konrad, a retired detective, look into the case on his own. They need to discover who the man is and why someone would have wanted him dead. But once the man’s identity is established, Konrad learns he has a surprising connection to the victim and a related crime from decades earlier.

That case involved the body of a woman found dead near the National Theatre of Iceland. Flovent, a detective from the then-fledgling Criminal Investigation Division, aided by a military police liaison named Thorson, is tasked with solving the murder. Along the way, they uncover another similar murder in a different part of Iceland and events soon grow larger than either anticipated.

But how do the past and present combine together? Who is behind each murder and why? Will there be any real justice?

Konrad is a well-rounded and interesting protagonist whom readers will want to learn more about in future installments of the series. There’s his somewhat contentious relationship with his devoutly communist sister and the fact that he is haunted by the unsolved murder of his criminal father decades before. Not to mention that the detective has (for better or worse) a quirky affection for Icelandic pop music.

Indridason does a remarkably detailed yet thrilling job of enlightening the reader about Iceland’s wartime history. Readers learn about The Situation, which caused an uproar in Icelandic society as young women fell to the charms (and not necessarily for their betterment) of visiting British, then American soldiers. Themes of love and lust, honor and betrayal, power and corruption run deep and are intrinsic to everything taking place in the book. The steady progression of unearthing clues and witnesses to the mysteries is so riveting that while there isn’t a lot of action-packed drama, readers will not find the story lacking in any way.

Teri Duerr
2017-11-28 02:33:18
Artemis
Katrina Niidas Holm

Set in the near future, this engaging space caper from bestselling author Andy Weir (The Martian, 2014) stars Jasmine “Jazz” Bashara, a rebellious 26-year-old who was born in Saudi Arabia and moved to the lunar city of Artemis when she was six. Jazz barely scrapes by on the money that she earns as a delivery driver for the Kenya Space Corporation, so she supplements her income by selling contraband smuggled from Earth.

While Jazz is no stranger to trouble, she tries to steer clear of activities that could get her deported—until a businessman named Trond Landvik offers her a fortune to sabotage a rival company’s mining equipment. Jazz signs on, but things go sideways mid-job and she is forced to go into hiding. When Trond turns up dead, Jazz realizes that she is caught up in something much bigger than an attempted corporate takeover.

Weir has clearly put a great deal of thought into how humans might colonize the moon; his intricate world-building covers everything from manufacturing, banking, law enforcement, food, and oxygen, to the effect of decreased gravity upon firefighting, the taste of coffee, and sex. The crime elements of Weir’s tale are similarly complex in design and execution, from Jazz’s initial plan and the conspiracy she uncovers on down to the story’s high-tech MacGuffin. The pace occasionally lags under the weight of the details, but the back third of the book is action-packed, adrenaline-fueled, and features a healthy dose of Weir’s trademark cornball humor.

The cast is full of strong, smart, powerful women—a rarity among heist stories and hard science fiction novels. While Weir deserves no small measure of credit for his attempt at gender parity, though, not a one of his female characters rings true. This is especially jarring with respect to Jazz, whose narration is written in the first person and whose voice is virtually indistinguishable from that of Mark Watney, protagonist of The Martian. This ultimately has little impact on the plot’s main beats, but some readers may find it distracting nonetheless.

Teri Duerr
2017-11-28 02:37:40
Headbanger/Sad Bastard
Kevin Burton Smith

Caught somewhere between the cheeky humanity of Roddy Doyle and the raw heartbreak of Ken Bruen, with just a bit of the rude cynicism of Irvine Welsh and a gob of punk rock defiance to keep things tangy, Hugo Hamilton brings an earthy, dark giddiness to this twofer featuring a pair of his most beloved novels, long unavailable in the United States.

In Headbanger (1997), we meet middle-aged Garda Pat Coyne, a not-quite-right, low-level Irish copper with a serious stick up his arse. Pat (his coworkers call him “Mr. Suicide”) has seen the world—or at least Dublin—and found it extremely lacking. Determined to set things right, he takes aim at everything he sees as part of the problem: art, gentrification, cell phones, automobiles, real estate developers, pollution, golf, and public urination, among other things. And of course crime. He decides the best way to deal with the latter is to take down the notorious Cunningham drug gang, Dirty Harry-style, in his spare time.

Alas, Harry never had a pretty but possibly straying wife, a nasty mother-in-law, three small kids, and a swing set that needed assembling. The result is a blackly humorous romp that at times reaches almost Hiaasenesque proportions, raw and violent, but also plenty of fun.

Pat returns in Sad Bastard (1998), a little older but not particularly wiser, still at odds with the “new” Dublin. He’s still nursing the wounds he received in Headbanger and living alone, separated from his wife, Carmel, who’s become a sort of New Age “healer.” He’s also seeing a therapist—not that it seems to be helping. Never quite stable, Pat’s become even more obsessive and ready to explode, and when he’s charged with investigating a body that has washed up in Dublin’s harbor, he’s totally unprepared to discover that his eldest son, Jimmy, is the prime suspect. Oh, and in between attempts to clear his son, discover the real culprits, save his marriage, and rescue Jimmy (who may have been abducted by the real killers), Pat seems to have developed an unhealthy fetish for ladies’ undies. Watching Pat unravel is a complete and utter treat. A rich, darkly comic, and worthy sequel.

Anyone looking for any Lucky Charms-type sentimental nostalgia for the “auld country” should look elsewhere. This Hugo guy? He means it, man.

Teri Duerr
2017-11-28 02:42:11
Wolf’s Revenge
Jay Roberts

In author Lachlan Smith’s fifth Leo Maxwell legal thriller, the metaphorical noose around Maxwell’s family grows ever tighter. The entire family is under the thumb of the Aryan Brotherhood, a situation that grows more untenable when Leo’s young niece is kidnapped (then returned) at a baseball game in a show of intimidation—a lesson to show Leo’s family can be gotten to at any time.

You see, the Brotherhood sends Leo their criminal cases, and the latest one involves the killing of one of their members. But the logic of the case doesn’t seem to add up. The woman charged with the killing is black, so why is the Aryan Brotherhood paying for her defense? Why won’t his client tell anyone her real name? Why is the FBI involved in the case, yet doing nothing to help?

The search for answers leads him into more conflict with those holding his leash. When a further tragedy occurs, it spurs Leo into looking for an endgame to get out from under those who seek to control him and his family. But when neither your criminal employers nor law enforcement can be trusted, how do you protect anyone from harm?

The book’s pacing moves along at a fast clip, with short time jumps that account for how fast the story gets to the criminal trial. While the trial feels more like a set piece designed to further the resolution to Maxwell’s personal issues, the humdrum of basic procedural as it moves to the fireworks of revelatory testimony is detailed rather well.

There aren’t a whole lot of innocents in Wolf’s Revenge, which does make it hard to root for any one particular character or outcome, but readers will find themselves inexorably drawn toward the book’s explosive conclusion. Readers looking for a clear-cut resolution to the story’s narrative will find that, despite some truths being exposed, there are no easy answers here. But this particular storytelling decision helps give the book that much more of a suspenseful draw.

Teri Duerr
2017-11-28 02:49:03
Nightblind
Matt Fowler

Ragnar Jonasson’s Nightblind is the latest entry in his Dark Iceland series that follows Ari Thor Arason in a quiet town that is turned upside down when a police officer is shot while investigating an abandoned house.

Jonasson’s novel is short and sleek, with various red herrings and plot twists that the reader will not see coming. Ari Thor’s investigation runs in conjunction with the diary of one of the characters we meet along the way, though the author of the diary is kept secret in an attempt to intensify the mystery. As the novel progresses, we see how the two separate narratives fuse and we’re given a broader scope of the people that exist in Ari Thor’s close-knit fishing village. Everyone is a suspect in the story, and Jonasson delights in playing with the expectations of his audience, pulling the carpet out from under us on more than one occasion.

From a plot perspective, the novel works on many levels. The mystery is engaging and characters’ actions are motivated. While occasionally it feels like we could spend more time getting to know Ari Thor and his wife, with whom he’s having marital problems, the plot-heavy novel never allows us to linger too long on minor shortcomings such as these. Nightblind is a page-turner that compels you to keep reading while giving yourself over completely to pure entertainment for the duration of the story.

Teri Duerr
2017-11-28 02:54:34
Little Broken Things
Vanessa Orr

Nora and Quinn are sisters, but they aren’t close. So when Nora drops off a six-year-old child with Quinn, with next to no explanation other than orders to keep her safe, Quinn is left wondering what type of trouble her sister has gotten into, and what kind of danger she and the child may be in.

On the surface, Little Broken Things is a mystery about the young girl’s identity and the circumstances that brought her to Quinn’s home. But far more than that, it is a story about the ever-changing course of female relationships—of sisters Nora and Quinn, their mother, Liz, Nora’s best friend, Tiffany, and Everlee, the little girl at the center of the plot.

One of the biggest strengths of the story is that each chapter is told from a different woman’s point of view, allowing the reader to get a much richer view of each character. While Nora seems rude and aloof, she is actually loving and loyal to a fault; Quinn, while taking care of Everlee, worries that she’ll never have children of her own; and Liz, who spent the girls’ lives acting as if everything was perfect, is finally realizing the damage that resulted from refusing to see the truth.

While there is a lot of opportunity for introspection, there is action as well as Nora tries to escape the trouble chasing her and Everlee, while risking the lives of everyone she loves. The story takes place over the course of four days, and the danger mounts with each passing moment. Little Broken Things kept me furiously turning pages until the end—and offered up one final surprise for this formidable family.

Teri Duerr
2017-11-28 02:57:47
The Midnight Line
Robin Agnew

Jack Reacher sets off with his toothbrush after bidding adieu to another woman who isn’t crazy about his wandering lifestyle, and gets on the first bus out of town, which is heading for South Dakota. In a little town north of Milwaukee, Reacher gets off at the “comfort stop” and wanders by a pawn shop.

In the window, he sees a West Point class ring, obviously belonging to a woman. Reacher, a West Point grad himself, knows what this woman—whoever she is—must have gone through to obtain the ring. For a few bucks he buys it, and pledges to track down the ring’s owner. He forgoes getting back on the bus in order to stay in town to track down his first lead.

Child is a great writer for a lot of reasons. One is his spare, lean storytelling style, laced with a fair amount of humor. Another is his absolute brilliance at writing action scenes. Reacher thinks tactically, and as a reader you are in on his thought process as he takes down a guy or six. If only I had Reacher’s reflexes! And finally, the big reason Child is so great: his books are not only thrillers, they are also traditional detective novels. Using the deductive reasoning favored by detectives from Sherlock Holmes forward, he traces a question or problem to its solution in a traditional manner. The Midnight Line is no different. Reacher starts with one lead and finds the next one and the next.

In this novel the center of things is the woman who belongs to the missing ring. Reacher’s quest takes him deep into Wyoming, where he’s eventually accompanied by a private detective and the missing woman’s sister. The setting—deserted, beautiful, lonely—is evocatively described, and Child always keeps things moving.

This is the third or fourth novel I’ve read so far this year that focuses on our national and international drug problem. Mystery writers as disparate as Louise Penny, William Kent Krueger, and Julia Keller are taking on this contemporary issue. The approach taken by all these authors differs, naturally, from intimate to epic in scale. Child manages to be both intimate and epic at the same time. By looking at a small slice of something he also gives readers a bigger picture.

Reacher is the purest distillation of the white knight in contemporary mystery fiction. This novel is a tightly plotted ride with characters who will break your heart and linger after you close the book.

Teri Duerr
2017-11-28 03:00:50
Old Scores
Joseph Scarpato, Jr.

It is 1890 in London, and Cyrus Barker, a battle-tested private enquiry agent (“don’t call me a detective!”) invites popular Japanese ambassador Toda and his delegation to visit his oriental garden during their first diplomatic mission to England. That very night, the ambassador is shot and killed in his embassy, and Barker, who happens to be in the area at the time, is initially suspected as the murderer.

When a confession cannot be beaten out of him by longtime enemy Trelawney Campbell-Ffinch of the Foreign Office, Barker is released and is soon hired by the new Japanese ambassador to find the real killer. Along with his young, feisty assistant Thomas Llewelyn, Barker uses his crafty detection techniques and his knowledge of the Far East, where he had lived for some time, to try to uncover the real assassin and the unusual motive behind the crime. This complex tale is told from the point of view of Llewelyn, who is quick with his fists, but not as quick with his wits as his boss.

While I enjoyed the mystery and the investigation, the real bonus for me was learning about the history and background of Japan during the period: how the arrival of Commodore Perry in 1853, demanding a trade agreement, demoralized the country and soon led to an internal struggle between the samurai and the trade-based aristocracy, where samurai swords were no match for newly acquired firearms. Of nearly equal interest is the description of the Asian underworld in London that increases the danger to the enquiry agents, but eventually helps solve the complex case.

This is the ninth mystery in the Barker and Llewelyn series, and it is well worth the read for historical mystery fans.

Teri Duerr
2017-11-28 03:03:57
A Place in the Wind
Sharon Magee

Puerto Rican county detective Jimmy Vega is going stir-crazy. On leave from his job after shooting and killing an unarmed man, he’s itching to get back to work. So when Catherine Archer, a blonde, blue-eyed high school girl from Lake Holly, New York, disappears after her volunteer shift at La Casa, the outreach center for undocumented immigrants run by Vega’s girlfriend, Adele Figueroa, Vega can’t help but get involved. A tape is uncovered showing a girl, who appears to be Archer, walking with one of the center’s Guatemalan clients, Rolando Benitez, making Benitez the No. 1 suspect, and putting the center under fire.

With help on the sly from a few of his fellow officers, Vega begins an investigation, but when the brass discover Vega’s involvement, he is put on grunt duty, driving for a county supervisor who has grandiose political aspirations. Although officially out of the investigation, he persists, and soon finds his career and family in jeopardy.

The fourth in the Jimmy Vega mystery series is a page-turning thriller set in upstate New York. Award-winning author Suzanne Chazin works with immigrant workers and knows the issues firsthand—the crosscurrents and tensions, often overheated, that run through a multicultural town, along with less desirable emotions that lay buried in peoples’ souls. Another amazing outing for Chazin and Jimmy Vega.

Teri Duerr
2017-11-28 03:36:49
The Moscow Code
Jay Roberts

In Nick Wilkshire’s second A Foreign Affairs Mystery series, following the events of the first book in the series (Escape to Havana), Canadian consular officer Charlie Hillier is two months into a new diplomatic posting in Moscow. He’s still finding his footing, but is on his way to settling into the new job when a chance encounter and a night of clubbing with an old acquaintance lands them both a temporary stay in a Russian jail cell.

While waiting to be released (thanks to his diplomatic status), Hillier meets Steve Liepa, a fellow Canadian claiming to be held in jail on trumped-up drug charges. After promising to look into Liepa’s case, Hillier finds himself stymied by authorities in getting answers. Then Liepa is reported to have committed suicide, and Charlie’s work takes on a different dimension when he meets Liepa’s sister Sophie, a surgeon, who examines the body and claims that her brother was murdered. This sets off a chain reaction of events starting with the “accidental” cremation of the body by the Russians.

When Charlie’s further investigation finds more bodies piling up, he and Sophie work together to uncover what really happened to her brother. Hopscotching across Europe from Moscow to Berlin and France, Charlie finds himself wanted in questioning for the death of one potential witness while both he and Sophie find themselves fending off kidnapping and murder attempts.

The Moscow Code is a highly energetic read with a brisk storytelling pace that gives readers little time to relax. Charlie Hillier has his foibles, but he is an immensely likable character. The fast sense of camaraderie between Charlie and Sophie feels natural rather than forced, and readers will quickly find themselves attached to the pair. Nick Wilkshire has done what might have seemed impossible—he makes diplomatic work seem fast-paced, exciting, and a little unnerving. I can’t wait to see what he and Charlie Hillier do next.

Teri Duerr
2017-11-28 03:43:13
Close to Me
Sharon Magee

In this psychological domestic thriller, Jo Harding is a 55-year-old woman, happily married to handsome and attentive Rob. They have two children, both of whom have left home under less than desirable circumstances. At loose ends, Jo decides, against Rob’s wishes, to volunteer at a walk-in job clinic for the homeless and unemployed.

As the story begins, Jo finds herself lying at the bottom of the stairs in their converted barn with Rob kneeling next to her. She lapses into unconsciousness and wakes in hospital where she learns she’s lost all memory of the past year. Even more distressing, she can’t stand to have Rob near her, let alone touch her. This puzzles her—she remembers their marriage as being happy—but as time passes and flashes of memories come to her, her aversion to him grows and she begins to wonder just what happened during that lost year culminating at the top of that staircase.

Was she having an affair? Was he? Why do their children seem to hate them both? Why won’t any of them tell Jo what happened during her lost year? Why does even the thought of the walk-in clinic, which at first she can’t remember, disturb her? The story is told from Jo’s point of view in alternating chapters—before the fall and after the fall—and she proves to be the quintessential unreliable narrator due to her amnesia.

As each chapter marches toward the stormy climax, the family dynamics that led Jo and Rob to this time and place are parceled out bit by tantalizing bit. The flawed characters ring true, and sometimes are not so likable. Close to Me is English author Amanda Reynolds’ debut novel. Based on this outing, she has a bright career ahead of her.

Teri Duerr
2017-11-28 03:45:40
Reconciliation for the Dead
Craig Sisterson

This is a brutal, brilliant piece of thriller writing. Paul Hardisty’s series starring South African paratrooper turned oil company contractor Clay Straker straddles the border between popular thrillers and weighty literature, and this third installment is simply outstanding and deserves to make “best of year” lists.

After traumatic adventures in Yemen and Cyprus in the first two books, Straker returns to a new, post-apartheid South Africa to face inquisition from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Via his testimony on actions his special forces unit took during the brutal war in Angola in 1980, we uncover the things Straker saw as a young solider that so affected who he’d become in the first two books, and made him question everything he thought he knew about his country, compatriots, and himself.

While patrolling across the border in Angola, Straker and his best friend, Eben, find themselves entangled in secretive actions that upend their sense of honor and what they thought they were fighting for.

It’s a richly evoked exposé of what made Straker who he is, the horrors of a largely forgotten war, and the way concerns over power and money can play a terrible part in people getting divided into groups, some seen as “lesser,” as obstacles or acceptable collateral damage in the fight for what’s touted to the public as “right.” Like Southeast Asia in earlier decades, struggles around post colonialism, control of resources, and fears about the spread of Communism resulted in brutal civil wars in southern Africa.

This is a hard-hitting page-turner told in atmospheric prose that’s overflowing with substance.

Teri Duerr
2017-11-28 03:49:57
The Prague Sonata
Ben Boulden

Bradford Morrow is the founder and editor of the biannual literary journal Conjunctions and a professor of literature at Bard College. His eighth novel, The Prague Sonata, is a beautifully written literary work with a charming, but low-key mystery. The protagonist Meta Taverner, a former performing pianist whose career was derailed when her hand was injured in an accident, is a freshly credentialed musicologist.

An elderly Czech immigrant entrusts Meta with what appears to be a copyist’s manuscript for the second movement of an unknown sonata. The elderly woman, Irena, was given the manuscript days after Germany invaded Prague in 1939. Its owner, Otylie, tore the sonata into three sections to make it less appealing to the Nazis. She kept the first movement, gave Irena the second, and her husband, Jakub, the third. Irena never saw Otylie or her husband again, and her final wish is for the manuscript to be returned to Otylie.

The music has the hallmarks of a master’s hand. To Meta it sounds like a young Beethoven—if true, a discovery that would be the gem of Meta’s professional career. But the music, and the story that goes with it, is more important to Meta than any accolades it may bring. She travels to Prague without a clear path to the manuscript’s still missing pieces and few resources at her disposal: a list of musicologists that may have some insight on the piece, but nothing else.

The Prague Sonata is a love poem to music and the city and peoples of Prague. It is a sorrowful tale of hate and love, discovery and secrets. It is as much Otylie’s story as it is Meta’s. The mystery is light, but fulfilling in an organic, realistic manner. Its discourse on music is enlightening and the connections made between music, its creators, and audiences are wonderfully rendered. Its only flaw—and it is nothing really—is the length, at 528 pages, but the narrative’s beauty carries the reader to the final note.

Teri Duerr
2017-11-28 03:54:54
Murder in the Manuscript Room
Ben Boulden

Murder in the Manuscript Room is Con Lehane’s busy second entry in the 42nd Street Library Mystery series set in New York City and featuring crime fiction librarian Raymond Ambler. The decades-old murder of trucking union president Richard Wright isn’t something Raymond thinks about often, but when Raymond’s childhood friend Devon Thomas, the man convicted for the crime, proclaims his innocence after years in prison, Raymond believes him.

In short order, Paul Higgins, a retired NYPD intelligence officer turned thriller writer, donates his papers to the library. Higgins once worked the Richard Wright murder and the papers presumably have copies of his on-the-job case notes—but Higgins wants his papers sealed until after his death. However, when new library employee Leila Stone is found murdered in Raymond’s office near Higgins’ papers, the sealing tape on one of the boxes broken and something obviously missing, finding out an old truth takes on new urgency.

The murder investigation is hijacked from the NYPD by a private intelligence consulting firm working its own agenda. An agenda that seems to be less about solving the murder than linking it with a suspected terrorist, an Islamic scholar, who has been using the library for his research.

Murder in the Manuscript Room is a nicely constructed murder mystery with an air of espionage. Its genesis is in the murky 1980s when communism and drug gangs were the social bugaboos, and its conclusion is in the now, when terror, racism, and bigotry trumps all. The mystery, Richard Wright’s and Leila’s murders, and the how and why of the connection between Higgins and the consulting firm are more than enough to keep the reader turning the pages. The past and present are nimbly woven into an intriguing tapestry that makes Murder in the Manuscript Room as much about our culture as it is about murder.

Teri Duerr
2017-11-28 03:57:51
Odd Child Out
Matt Fowler

In Odd Child Out, New York Times bestselling author Gilly Macmillan fashions a story through multiple perspectives about cultural biases and a potential murder. Noah Sadler is in a coma following an attack, and the chief suspect is his best friend, Abdi Mahad. Detective Jim Clemo is on the case, a case that his boss gave the detective to ease him back into work after some compulsory time off. It was supposed to be an open-and-shut investigation, but very quickly Detective Clemo learns things might not be as straightforward as his superior had hoped for him.

Macmillan does a good job blending the main mystery with an extended group of characters. Grieving mothers, laid-back fathers, and a whole cast of individuals occupy space in the story, allowing for the world Detective Clemo negotiates to feel worn in and true to life. The multiple voices the reader is treated to are a welcome addition to this story, as it aspires through great character-building to be more than an ordinary detective story.

With the stakes high enough so that readers feel like they need to continue turning the pages, Macmillan makes a bold move. She thrusts the story in an unexpected direction that highlights Abdi as more than just a typical side character, excavating his familial history for a more complete picture of him. It’s a welcome risk and the book is better because of it.

Teri Duerr
2017-11-28 04:01:14
Killing Pace
Eileen Brady

Agent Laura Pace takes no prisoners. From the Florida Everglades to the streets of Sicily, Customs and Border Protection Officer Laura (using the identity Sarah Lockhart) is tough and focused—a very welcome strong and complex female character. Working deep undercover for Homeland Security, she’s investigating the international maritime trade, focusing on container ships and the smuggling of Syrian refugees into Europe. But UN representative Renate Richter and a rogue priest named Gaetano Giardini surreptitiously contact her with an especially horrifying smuggling tale—they’ve discovered a baby-laundering ring, a multitiered international group that steals babies from refugees and sells them to wealthy American couples.

Killing Pace is one of those rare action-spy books whose lead character doesn’t need any help from the guys. She can break jaws and karate-kick with the best of them. Raised by her Italian grandmother, who was a survivor of the Nazi and Fascist violence of World War II, she uses her fluency in Italian to her advantage.

The layers of research that author Douglas Schofield fills the book with are fascinating as well as entertaining, as Laura learns the hard way whom she can trust. Many of the secondary characters are well-drawn, particularly Detective Scott Jardine, who isn’t sure who is telling the truth; Italian Guardia Major Marco Sinatra (no relation to Frank), who is quick to welcome Laura into his home; and creepy Roland Lewis, who gets taught a painful lesson in manners. Two warring Mafia groups also weave their way in and out of the plot. This was an interesting and fun read. I’m looking forward to another Laura Pace adventure.

Teri Duerr
2017-11-28 04:03:39