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January 27 2024
January is getting old and tired but the year is still new and shiny enough for us to wish everyone a very happy 2024. We're back with the first issue of the year and it comes with a list of books that give evidence of the variety of approaches to crime fiction that can currently be found in the genre.
First out of the box is PAST LYING by veteran Val McDermid. Here DCI Karen Pirie is hampered by a Covid lockdown in her investigation of a cold murder case that may be connected to a literary murder mystery. Anne Corey concludes that book reminds us of how excellent a writer McDermid is.
Two continents away from McDermid's Edinburgh is Kotaro Isaka's Japan and his elderly professional assassin in THE MATRIX. After his death his son decides to look closely into his life the better to know the father he loved and Cathy Downs is not telling what he finds and how he feels about it, but suggests you should read the book to find out.
MY FAVORITE SCAR by Nicolas Ferraro is set in northern Argentina and is translated from the Spanish. It centres on the relationship between a teen-aged girl and the gangster who is her father. I felt that the translation perhaps did not do justice to the original as that was well-regarded in its homeland.
Rebecca Nesvet remarks that ANNA O. by Matthew Blake might sound like a case history but is indeed considerably more than that - a psychological, literary, and medical thriller that will keep you guessing until the end and leave you thinking about the urgent scientific and ethical questions Blake raises.
You won't be surprised to hear that THE LOST VAN GOGH by Jonathan Santlofer is rich with art history information. In this case the attempt to restore art work extorted by the Nazis from Jewish owners to their heirs is at the centre of the plot. While Sharon Mensing observes that the actual mystery element is a bit overshadowed by the art history, she does conclude that Santlofer is a writer who can convey that material effectively without becoming didactic. Sharon also paid a visit to a Louisiana bayou in Ashley Winstead's MIDNIGHT IS THE DARKEST HOUR, which she thought was somewhat overripe in its depictions of local evil.
As you are probably aware, Akashic publishers has produced a small mountain of collections of short fiction in its City Noir series. Written before October 7 but recently published are EAST JERUSALEM NOIR, edited by Rawya Jarjoura Burbara and WEST JERUSALEM NOIR, edited by Maayan Eitan. Rebecca is dubious about the degree to which either of these books is actually noir in content but suggests they might be useful in orienting readers to the geography of the region.
These two collections are set in a region in which history, sadly, is unfolding in bloody detail. DEATH OF A LESSER GOD by Vaseem Khan is genuine historical novel, set a couple of years after India gained independence from Britain in 1947. This is the fourth in the Malabar series and Barbara Fister assures us that while we do not need to read the lot, we won't find it a burden to do so.
A developing theme in crime fiction, the ageing detective, might include Leonie Swann's THE SUNSET YEARS OF AGNES SHARP. Here the author returns to her debut hit in which the murder was solved by a flock of sheep, except the flock this time is comprised of a flock of elderly people in various degrees of senile decay. I preferred the sheep.
Since J.D.Robb's detective, Eve Dallas, is making her 58th appearance in RANDOM IN DEATH, we might be forgiven for expecting that she would show some signs of wear and tear. But happily this does not seem to be the case as Ruth Castleberry reports that this installment is an outstanding addition to the series and should not be missed.
Despite appearing to be another entry in the list of mystery-fiction tropes, this time the AND THEN THERE WERE NONE syndrome, Tara Laskowski's THE WEEKEND RETREAT succeeds in engaging the reader despite the unpleasantness of its cast of characters. Lourdes Venard remarks that we may not like them but will be compelled to find out what happens to them in what is a rivetting read.
THE ROYAL WINDSOR SECRET, by Christine Wells is an historical romance that Meredith Frazier thought was rather light on the history. This might be a problem for some as the historical period is a twenty-year stretch extending on either side of World War II but it is therefore, Meredith says, an entertaining bit of escape reading if very light on the mystery content. On the other hand, PUBLIC ANCHOVY #1 by Mindy Quigley has it all when it comes to a cosy mystery: food, rare books, cats, and murder. She even manages to strand a few characters due to a storm. Ruth Castleberry enjoyed the imaginative red herrings and the narrative pace, and, of course, the cat.
And there you have it for this month's offerings. Our guest in the 60 Seconds...seat is Claire Coughlan. Do pay her a visit.
It is with deep sadness that we have to report that Dr James E. Napier, whom we all knew as Jim, passed away in late December of last year. He was a long-standing contributor to RTE, never failing to provide warm, intelligent, and generous critiques of the books he reviewed.He had the rare ability to centre on what was genuinely excellent in each book he discussed and, when relevant, to relate those elements to the author's other work. We miss him.
P.S. If you wish to submit a book for review, please check here before contacting us. Please note that we do not review self-published books.
Our mascot and masthead is Smokey the Cat. Smokey the cat went to the great playground in the sky on April 29, 2008, at 3:30 p.m. He was about 13 years old, had diabetes and only 11 teeth left. He is much happier now. He will remain as our masthead and mascot.
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