Crime Reads Roundup.
Three books I recommend from my personal reading in May:
This Poison Will Remain Fred Vargas.
This is the ninth Inspector Adamsberg mystery and I’m pretty sure hell will freeze over before I get tired of this original and inventive crime series – subversive, surreal and very French. The term left field was invented for Vargas’s fiction. Adamsberg is (tongue in cheek) Sherlockian and the cases are just bizarre. Here we have murder by spider, or do we? Adamsberg’s department specialise in the weird and wonderful that perplex other police departments. In fact Adamsberg has a nose for a case where no one else even realises a crime has been committed. For all the humour these novels are thrilling and totally intriguing.
Vargas couldn’t wrote a boring line to save her life and, honestly, if she decided to publish her shopping lists I’d probably take a gander, I am the proverbial converted, but I dare you to read this book and not have fun with the strangeness, the quirky darkness, the game afoot – all delivered with wit and aplomb.
The death of three old men barely raises an eyebrow, even the fact that it is put down to spider bites from a typically non-deadly species doesn’t really register with the authorities. But first, Adamsberg is recalled from a holiday in Iceland to deliver the judgement of Solomon. To decide whether her husband or her lover, (he denies knowing the victim), are responsible for the murder for a Parisian woman. Adamsberg will define the truth but he soon becomes distracted by the demise of the old men. He has a theory but his team take some convincing that a diabolically clever serial killer is at work. The investigation leads to La Miséricorde orphanage in southern France and long buried resentments. The mystery is satisfying but spending time with Adamsberg and his team is just a joyous experience. Don’t believe me? Here’s Ann Cleeves:
‘I so enjoyed This poison Will Remain. Real vintage Vargas: playful, thought-provoking, a total delight.’
Harvill Secker out in hardback, paperback August.
Nunslinger Stark Holborn
Still in the realm of humour and comic thrills but Holborn transports us back in time to the Wild West. I was fascinated by Max Jakubowski’s review of Starks’s new novel Triggernometry ‘Highly Recommended’ on Crime Time,
I was reminded I have Holborn’s 2014 novel Nunslinger is sitting on my shelves. Nunslinger is not quite as radical as Triggernometry sounds but this is nonetheless a rip-roaring ride across the dusty plains of the wild west with every kind of shoot up you can imagine and plenty of twists you can’t see coming. Nunslinger is the complete collection, all twelve volumes, six hundred plus action packed pages; chills, thrills and spills. It’s a fantastic piece of story telling that just grips. Inventive, subversive and riotously good.
Sister Thomas Josephine of St. Louis, Missouri is making the trek across the West to Sacramento, California. Her wagon train has been attacked. Next day as Sister Thomas Josephine opens her eyes she sees a beautiful face with piercing blue eyes and long flowing hair staring at her, in her delirium she mistakes the stranger/rescuer for our Lord.
‘Since I happen to be a Bride of Christ, this presented itself as no small matter.’
Her party were attacked at dawn, the men slaughtered, the horses stolen and the wagons fired. Only eight of them survived, four army wives, a widow, a boy, a man who looked like a prospector and a nun. Her saviour, not “Our Saviour”, is actually first lieutenant Theodore F. Carthy of the US cavalry. It was a day after the attack that the troop of soldiers spotted the smoke and came to the belated rescue. Fort Laramie is four days ride but as they set out Carthy recognises the surviving man as a deserter, before he can be arrested Abraham C Wood take Sister Thomas Josephine, the narrator, hostage. Wood is a desperado, with not the slightest qualm harming a nun and threating her if the soldiers follow their escape. The new pairing ride up a dangerous path to a ridge. The nun eager to get back to her saviour but Abe Wood warns of the man – he ain’t all he seems, don’t let them looks fool you. In the morning she finds a stone to serve as an alter for prayer. ‘Mourning sister’, Wood quips, it’s a Sioux shrine. I thought to read this book in volumes (50 page blocks) but the ending to volume one was so good I had to go on.
The inversion of characters is superb, and who could resist a gun toting nun? Rammed with action; massacres, frame-ups, duplicity, revenge, a jaunt to Mexico, murder, misunderstanding, a posse and a hunt for a nun with a price on her head. Stylish and captivating – very, very, very loosely based on some real events, I wonder if this comes from the same origins as Two Mules for Sister Sara? (Clint Eastwood, Shirley MacLaine, 1970).
Hodder and Stoughton paperback, 2014.
And, as they say, last but not least:
Broken Don Winslow
Winslow is a consummate storyteller. Everything he writes is imbued with an emotional intensity that haunts the reader long after finishing the book. He understands and gets people. He has an unerring nerve when it comes to unearthing dark human stories and a respect for the honest men and women doing dangerous jobs in law enforcement. His blockbuster stories are magnificent in so many ways, breath-taking reads. With Broken he proves he can handle shorter fiction too. There are six novellas here that recreate the tension and passion of the blockbusters.
“You ain’t gotta tell Eva the world is a broken place.”
Eva McNabb is a New Orleans 911 despatcher so she’s familiar with every kind of crime, every kind of pain, every kind of brokenness. She sends her ‘boys’, and girls, out to the broken places. She wife to a cop, and the mother of two serving officers.
Jimmy McNabb eyes the river, dirty river, dirty town, he loves it. He was brought up in Irish Channel. He’s tough like his dad, Big John McNabb, he loves adrenalin. Now he’s in an unmarked van in a car park on the First Street Wharf with his team, all tooled up. SWAT and Harbor police are excluded from this one. The team is ready, Wilmer is a Honduran, the target is Honduran, a cargo boat. Oscar Diaz is bringing in large quantities of methamphetamines. Let the good times roll.
Eva gets a domestic violence call, she knows all about DV, she tells the kid to get to safety, puts the call out, hears the sirens and then the shot…
The San Diego Zoo
‘No one knows how the chimp got the revolver only that it’s a problem.’
When Chris Shea gets the call to attend he tells them to get Animal Control. The problem is the chimp appears to be armed, Chris thinks a stick but we’re talking revolver. He’s on Prado right in Central Division territory, he as to attend. When Chris arrives Grasskopf is shouting at the chimp to drop the weapon and come down…
Duke Kasnmajian is on the house deck overlooking the beach. The sand is no good for a guy who weighs 287lbs, has dodgy knees, and is the wrong side of retirement age. On the plus side he’s got a mean taste in jazz, on the flip side he smokes cigars and drinks and no heart attack or doctor is going to stop him. Don’t be fooled by the kindly looks, this man is a predator, a bail bondsman.
‘You take off on one of the Duke’s bonds, he’ll track you until he finds you or one of you dies.’
This collection is entertaining, varied, stylish, and gritty, a wry humour underpins the stories. This is an homage to noir and hardboiled – vengeance, loss, corruption, betrayal, guilt, atonement. Set across the states, heroes and villains in all manner. Broken sees a master at work.
Harper Collins, out in hardback now