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Category Archive for 'Mystery, Thriller, Noir'

The title sets the tone of this novel, referring to the physical cold of a bleak winter, matched by the cold, alienated mood of current officers at the Pizzofalcone precinct in Naples. Major officers here were recently purged from the department for corruption and possible connections to the Neapolitan Mafia after they tried to sell a shipment of narcotics which had been confiscated in a raid. These crooked officers, most of them veterans, were put on trial for obvious crimes or forced to resign. A whole new crew, many of them old-timers who had never achieved recognition by the department, along with a few “outsiders” with personal difficulties and few friends within the department, have been put in charge of the precinct. These new officers must also deal with the insulting sobriquet of “bastards,” which is applied to them regularly by the veteran police throughout the rest of Naples. Worst of all, the Pizzofalcone station is on temporary status and can be closed at any moment by the higher-ups if the officers do not do an effective job – or if they create further problems for the police hierarchy. Working there is like living on the edge. What begins as a murder mystery gradually becomes a study of characters who gradually begins to trust each other and open themselves to friendship and even love.

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How many novels have you seen from the Kamchatka Peninsula? Here Russian scholar Julia Phillips creates an involving and very human story about Kamchatka’s women, while highlighting the various ethnic groups on the peninsula, their past histories, and the life styles they take for granted. Four families and an assortment of local employees, including a customs officer, a major general, a police assistant, and a volcanologist, reflect everyday life in a series of episodes which sometimes overlap. In its isolation and its relatively sparse population, Kamchatka often feels more like an island than a part of greater Russia here, and any dramatic event which occurs is likely to remain within the community in which it occurs, very much in the style of a “closed room” mystery story. Two mysteries involving crimes against women lurk at the heart of this novel, but they are the inspiration for a dramatic portrait of daily life on Kamchatka, developed month by month over the course of a calendar year, and not simply as an end in themselves. Ultimately, author Phillips inspires readers to supply their own interpretations of what is happening within her carefully crafted concluding scenes, thereby creating far more realistic drama than what one finds in the typical suspense novel. Unforgettable!

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Throw Me to the Wolves is a book which inevitably will be called a “murder mystery,” though that so underestimates McGuinness’s literary performance that it is almost an insult to limit it that way. Here the author uses the real murder of a young woman and its aftermath in the small British community in which she and the suspect both live as the starting point for a comprehensive study of the town’s various social groups, their values, their history, and the extent to which the citizens will force their wills on others to protect their own vision of what a community is and should be. What begins as a “detective story” quickly becomes an enthralling story of social interaction and reaction, a story of deep conflicts and divides, one which, ultimately, treads that narrow line between protecting social values and protecting one’s own sense of self. The novel, set in the 1980s, is based on a real murder and the teacher who becomes a suspect. A brilliant and lively study of the power of rumor and the press, and the state of the news media today. A big favorite for the year so far.

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Written in 1936 and out of print for thirty years, A Puzzle for Fools has now been resurrected as part of Otto Penzler’s American Mystery Classics series – and what a classic it is, with one of best and most surprising conclusions ever. The novel – hugely successful when it was initially published – established “Patrick Quentin” as a popular writer, quite different from some of his contemporaries in that he was more interested in the psychology of his characters than many of his contemporaries, who were still following a predictable formula for their plots. For Quentin, a pseudonym for Hugh Callingham Wheeler, in collaboration with Richard Wilson Webb, this is the first of nine novels featuring main character Peter Duluth, a Broadway director whose wife died in a fire at the theatre, and who became an alcoholic as a result. Admitting himself to a sanitarium to dry out, he becomes involved in the search for a patient who has been tormenting other patients in their sleep. Eventually, he is involved in searching for a murderer. One of the best and most surprising conclusions ever.

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Erle Stanley Gardner, a man who found his metier early in life, bridged the gap between pulp and literary fiction during the 1940s and 1950s, and THE CASE OF THE CARELESS KITTEN is one of his best. A lawyer for fifteen years, he has said that while he enjoyed litigation and the development of trial strategy, that he was bored by the day-to-day work in the office. He soon began writing stories for pulp magazines, setting as his writing goal over a million words per year, and using some of his cases as inspiration. Beginning in 1933 with his first novel, he eventually developed the Perry Mason series, which, alone, consists of eighty novels. Gardner quickly developed a style which fit his legal experience and interests, and modern readers discovering him for the first time, and older readers who have not read him in years, will be intrigued by the obvious formula which governs his work. In every case, the characters are introduced briefly, and their upcoming roles in the book are quickly established. Gardner is interested in the facts and has no interest in developing personal psychologies or complex motives. He keeps the character list simple and the action moving quickly. Ultimately he creates a puzzle, rather than a plot: Something terrible happens, and the reader is supplied with every piece of information s/he needs, along with a few red herrings, leading to a grand climax in which the evil-doer is revealed as a surprise. The reader’s objective is to figure out the guilty party ahead of the author’s revelation.

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