There is never a lack of books. For each volume I pick to review in this column, there are a dozen I had not planned to review books with any common theme this month. But early on I noticed that two titles feature Sherlock Holmes in Japan. Soon I discovered multiple pairs of interlocking themes. Two of this month’s titles are ecclesiastical mysteries. Two are set in Ireland during the Troubles. Two open with the apparent murder-suicide of an entire family, and three books serve as prequels to established mystery series.
Charles Todd, A Fine Summer’s Day, William Morrow, $26.99. Readers of Todd’s award-winning Ian Rutledge series are already familiar with the tormented Scotland Yard inspector who carries with him the ghost of the soldier killed during the First World War for whose death he feels responsible. The latest book is set in 1914, on the eve of the Great War, before the rest of the books in the series. The mystery involves a series of murders and the apparently unrelated desecration of tombstones in various church-yards in southern England. Echoes of a dark past and an even darker future cast deep and ominous shadows on Rutledge and his world.
Laurie R. King, Dreaming Spies, Bantam Books, $27.00. In the March/April issue I mentioned the two books that place Sherlock Holmes in Japan. I’ve finally had a chance to read them. Both are filled with sea voyages, poetry, and exotic cultural landscapes, and both are well worth the read. On an ocean voyage to Japan, Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes meet several curious fellow passengers including an aristocratic blackmailer and a young woman from a family of acrobats. The plot involves a priceless volume of Bashÿ’s poetry, and international intrigue. Holmes and Russell meet a young Emperor Hirohito and cross paths with a real ninja. King provides original haiku, relevant to the story, as epigraphs to each chapter.
Vasudev Murthy, Sherlock Holmes: The Missing Years, Japan, Poisoned Pen Press, $24.95. Two years after the tragic events at Reichenbach Falls where Holmes fell to his apparent death, Dr. John Watson receives a note summoning him to Japan. “And bring my violin,” it says. With a light but distinctly cerebral touch, Watson describes the details of his voyage to Japan by way of Alexandria and Bombay. Interwoven with Watson’s narrative are memos, letters, and journal entries from both Holmes and Moriarty shedding light on what transpired after Reichenbach. The book is eloquent, realistically re-searched, and amusingly entertaining.
Kate Charles, False Tongues, Poisoned Pen Press, $24.95 HC, $14.95 TPB. For a quarter-century, Kate Charles has been writing ecclesiastical mysteries set around the Anglican Church. Her series featuring Reverend Callie Anson has a decidedly twenty-first-century edge. The body of a gifted high-school student is found behind the Paddington police station, stabbed and with his tongue split. While Callie is dealing with rumors and politics at a theological college reunion, her lover, policeman Marco Lombardi, enters the world of Facebook, cyberbullying, and SIM cards to help understand the teen’s death.
Anne Emery, Ruined Abbey, ECW, $24.95. It’s 1989, when the Troubles in Northern Ireland were at their height and one year before the previous seven books in the series begin. In New York, Father Brennan Burke gets a call from his sister in London. She’s been arrested for involvement with a terrorist organization. Soon after Brennan arrives in London, his cousin is charged with plotting to blow up Westminster Abbey. Emery is a top-notch storyteller whose books, like the best of ecclesiastical crime fiction, tread the fine line between sacred and profane.
Adrian McKinty, Gun Street Girl, Seventh Street Books, $15.95. McKinty’s work is poetic paradox: the stories manage to be hyper-realistic at the same time they’re over the top, with prose that is both vulgar and eloquent. The hero of Gun Street Girl, Sean Duffy, is a Catholic cop working for the Protestant Northern Irish police during the Troubles of the 1980s. His superiors call on him for his finesse and diplomacy, which he wields like a bull in a china shop. Duffy handles several disasters before investigating an apparent double murder and suicide with international implications.
Martin Edwards, The Dungeon House, Poisoned Pen Press, $26.95 (HC), $15.95 (TPB). Twenty years ago, police detective Ben Kind attended a barbeque at the magnificent home of Malcolm Whiteley. Later that night Whiteley apparently shot his wife, then killed his daughter and himself. Detective Kind never lived to find the truth, but now his historian son Daniel, along with DCI Hannah Scarlett, wonder if a series of disappearances of teenage girls might be connected to the case. The first fifty pages introduced enough characters that I needed a scorecard, but the final fifty pages had more thrills and twists than a mountain road on the Cumbrian coast. An excellent entry in a reliably good series.
Josh Pachter, The Tree of Life, Wildside Press, $14.99 TPB, $.99 e-book. Josh Pachter’s first published short story appeared in EQMM in 1968, when he was sixteen years old. In addition to seventy stories in print, Pachter has translated fourteen stories from Dutch and Flemish for publication in EQMM. Pachter has lived in nine countries, including Bahrain, the setting of these ten stories about Mahboob Chaudri, a Pakistani working as a policeman there. The stories, six of which originally appeared in EQMM, reflect the culture, history, and language of Bahrain, and feature clever cases whose solutions will remind readers of the works of Edward D. Hoch.
Susan Froetschel, Allure of Deceit, Seventh Street Books, $15.95. Honesty, good intentions, and selfish betrayal are at the heart of this book set in Afghan villages and multi-national boardrooms. Simply written but with complex morality, it tells the story of Lydia Sendry, a Michigan woman managing the charitable foundation established by her son, a victim of a bombing. This thriller deals with big issues, primarily how good intentions can go awry. But at its heart, it’s a very human novel about families and tragedy.
Robert Lopresti, Greenfellas, Oak Tree Press, $17.95. If Carl Hiaasen and Al Gore had collaborated on Reservoir Dogs, it might have come out something like Greenfellas. Then again, it probably wouldn’t. Robert Lopresti, whose stories have appeared in EQMM, AHMM, and The Strand, among others, has penned a comic crime novel in which a New Jersey mobster with a bad comb-over decides to use his resources to save the environment for future generations. The dialogue is crisp and the situations darkly funny.
Sometimes I think that Max Allan Collins writes as many books as I write reviews in a year. His style runs the gamut from cozy to historical to the most edgy of hardboiled. At last look, his two most recent titles were Quarry’s Choice (Hard Case Crime, $9.95) and Kill Me, Darling (Titan Books, $25.99), both based on manuscript notes by Mickey Spillane. Quarry’s Choice is set in 1972, chronicling one of the early cases of hit man John Quarry. Its conversational tone, peppered with cultural references and punctuated with profanity, makes it easy to forget you’re reading a novel. Kill Me, Darling takes rough-hewn P.I. Mike Hammer to Florida to rescue Velda from the clutches of a mobster.