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Category Archive for 'Mystery, Thriller, Noir'

Young Once, published originally in 1981, when Modiano was thirty-six, came as a huge and thrilling surprise to me, after I had already read eighteen of Modiano’s other autobiographical novels. Here, in what publisher New York Review Books describes as “his breakthrough novel,” Modiano “strips away the difficulties of his earlier work and finds a clear, mysteriously moving voice for his haunting stories of love, nostalgia, and grief.” The fact that main character Louis Memling, is twenty immediately captured my own attention because that is the one stage of author Modiano’s life which had been a total blank for me in his novels. Incomplete but ominous references to this period in Sleep of Memory, published in France in 2017, and which I had just read, added to a sense of mystery. Here two young people, Louis and Odile, are “adopted” by two older men who help them in their lives and offer them work but also take advantage of their naivete´. Soon they discover that they are being used for a criminal enterprise by their “friends.” One of Modiano’s very best.

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A novel written by James Sallis is always a cause for celebration, if you enjoy high-powered surprises and compressed and insightful writing representing several different genres of crime writing. In all his novels, Sallis’s characters must come to terms with a troubled past and grow beyond the difficulties and sometimes horrors which have dominated their inner lives to date. His people face life’s big questions on their own as they explore ideas of innocence and guilt, strength and weakness, and the past and its effects on the present and future within their own lives. Sarah Jane continues these same themes, but here Sallis becomes almost invisible. The novel is the journal of Sarah Jane Pullman from her childhood until she is well into middle age, and though the reader quickly gets to share her life, Sarah Jane steadfastly avoids dealing with problems which often feel much bigger to the reader than they do to her. She hints at events from the past but often prevents the reader from knowing more about the mysteries they create, which soon dominate most of the action – and, in fact, most of Sarah Jane’s life. Though it is presented as the journal of Sarah Jane – and it works as a disorganized journal filled with memories from changing time periods – author Sallis’s own presentation and organization of Sarah Jane’s issues are so effective, and the conclusion so filled with ironies, that many readers will gasp when they reach the ending.

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Three strikingly similar murders have taken place in Glasgow during 1969, and police have made no progress apprehending the killer, nicknamed The Quaker. Detective Inspector Duncan McCormack has been sent from the Flying Squad in Glasgow to the Murder Room at the Marine Police Station in Partick, assigned to review the evidence, the investigation, and the abilities of the local police. McCormack has been treated with cold disdain, if not outright hostility, however, by the entire local crew. As Goldie, one of the more outspoken local detectives, puts it, “You cannae be the brass’s mark and do good police work. Know why? Because good police work doesnae get done on its own. You need your neighbors to help you. And who’s gonna help you after this?” While McCormack is working on these murders, a major jewel robbery takes place, and the two plot lines, which alternate, will keep readers totally occupied. The enormous suspense McInvanney creates eventually leads to one of the grandest finales ever, as surprise after genuine surprise is revealed, corrected, changed and eventually resolved.

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In the sixth of the Swedish Millenium series of mysteries begun by Swedish author Stieg Larsson and continued by David Lagercrantz, all the familiar characters and secret organizations reappear. Fourteen years have passed since THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO was published, and even Lisbeth Salander, a sociopathic but brilliant computer hacker, and Mikael Blomqvist, an admired journalist who cares for her, have changed with time. Lisbeth is on her own most of the time now, and she has no financial worries so she can come and go and pursue her twin sister, who has threatened her life. Her sister will never forgive her for her attacks on her father and brother who were determined to kill her – but failed. Sister Camillia is now associated with the highest eschelons of Russian intelligence, as was her father, and is out to finish her off. While this is going on, Blomqvist is asked to help with the investigation of the mysterious death of a beggar, who is eventually discovered to have been a Sherpa guide for a group of Swedish officials who wanted to climb Mount Everest. Much of the book is concerned with Mt. Everest. Deaths occurred there, and the guide knows more than participants are comfortable with. Less tightly organized and less focused on Salander and Blomqvist than in the past, this one has a multitude of characters and action scenes which don’t always connect tightly but show Salander and Blomqvist as they settle into their lives more fully.

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Though all Martin Clark’s books have an analytical approach to right and wrong, The Substitution Order is, by far, the most “legalistic” of his novels so far, focusing on Kevin Moore, a brilliant lawyer who, for three months of his life, lost control, made some terrible choices, and now must pay the penalty. Almost no one believes in his innocence. Through flashbacks, the author brings disgraced lawyer Kevin Clark fully to life. Now living in a small, unincorporated community in rural Patrick County, near the North Carolina border, Kevin has fully recovered from a three-month addiction to cocaine and alcohol and has stayed clean, though he is disbarred, with another court appearance and jail sentence still pending. When a slick scammer approaches him to participate in a plan to bilk an insurance company, he refuses, then finds out the real meaning of someone “making an offer he cannot refuse.” Things go from worse to worst as Kevin takes things into his own hands.

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