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Category Archive for 'Mystery, Thriller, Noir'

Kate Atkinson has rightfully developed a huge following with her impeccably crafted novels filled with ingenious plots, mysteries, and themes highlighted by unexpected ironies and dark humor. This, her twelfth novel, is the fifth in which she features Jackson Brodie, a detective who never seems to get his life together personally. The book requires patience, well rewarded at the end. The first plot, and Atkinson’s whole approach, is exemplified by the ironies involved with the arrival of two girls from Poland to work for a seemingly honest company, which is really a front for the sex trade operating from a small Yorkshire village. Jackson Brodie is busy with his son and working another case as a private eye and has little to do with this one until late in the novel. Many characters and complications illustrate life in this village, as murder and other horrors take place, but Atkinson plans and resolves every question, and the conclusion is a spectacular grand finale.

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Harry Hole, the main character of Knife (and of the series bearing his name), has long been known for his alcoholism, blackouts, and complete lack of control, which he continues to exhibit in his self-destructive rages against the world at large. While I am tired of Harry’s negative behavior after reading all twelve novels in which he exhibits this behavior, this new offering, Knife, is so well written that it has made me regard Nesbo’s work in a new light. The best of the best, it has beautifully developed themes, flawless pacing, intriguing and repeating subordinate characters, imaginative plotting, unrelenting dark atmosphere, and plot twists – one after another – after another – the likes of which I have never seen any other author even come close to duplicating. Most excitingly, Nesbo keeps all levels of his themes on point throughout the action, while adding a whole new level of thematic development.

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Shimada sets this newly translated 1982 “locked room” mystery, the second novel of his career, at the top of Japan’s northernmost island, Hokkaido, in a fictional building designed by the main character, Kozaburo Hamamoto. From the outset, the author stresses that Hamamoto’s house is a very special creation, with floors that are not level are not level and a tower with the same five degree tilt as the Tower of Pisa. This unique fictional residence is the setting for a celebration of Christmas, 1983, as owner Kozaburo Hamamoto, a widower, has invited eight guests to spend the holiday weekend with him at the Crooked House, also called the Ice Floe Mansion. The mysteries begin almost immediately. At breakfast time, one guest does not answer his door, and outside the room a dark figure is lying in the snow. As the guests go outside to get closer, they see that there are objects strewn around the figure. The “body,” however, turns out to be one of Hamamoto’s antique puppet dolls from Czechoslovakia – a Golem – with a missing head. When they return to the house, however, they find the body of a chauffeur who has come with one of the guests, stabbed to death with a hunting knife which has a white string attached. Additional crimes occur, and the mysteries become much more complex, eventually requiring the work of a fortune teller, psychic, and self-styled detective to help solve one of the most detailed and complex locked room mysteries ever.

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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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