Booked and Printed
Robert C. Hahn
American audiences have been treated to an explosion of mysteries from Nordic countries, undoubtedly fueled by the immense popularity of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest) as well as by the high quality of works by Henning Mankell (Sweden), Karin Fossum (Norway), Peter Høeg (Denmark), Jo Nesbø (Norway), Vidar Sundstøl (Norway), and others.
This influx of authors and titles unfamiliar to Americans makes The Encyclopedia of Nordic Crime Fiction by Mitzi M. Brunsdale (McFarland, $65) a particularly timely, if expensive, reference, and one that libraries should be encouraged to add and readers to consult. Brunsdale concentrates on works and authors published since 1967 from Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden in this well-indexed and sensibly designed work. This is no mere bio-bibliographic listing but an attempt to provide the cultural context for Nordic crime fiction as well.
Awards, including lifetime achievement awards from Malice Domestic (the Agathas) and the Crime Writers Association (the Daggers), have already accrued to Peter Lovesey, but he isn’t resting on those laurels just yet; he continues to produce mysteries that are entertaining, insightful, and witty. Another One Goes Tonight (Soho, $27.95) is the sixteenth Peter Diamond Investigation, and it showcases the author’s clever plotting as a serial killer seems to be targeting elderly victims by means so subtle the deaths appear natural.
Diamond is unhappy when Assistant Chief Constable Georgina Dallymore assigns him to be the local investigator acting for the Professional Standards Department investigating a car crash involving police officers Lew Morgan and driver Aaron Green. Green is killed, and Morgan, asleep at the time of the crash, is seriously wounded and unable to say what happened.
Diamond is mollified a bit when Dallymore agrees to let him use two of his best officers to assist him—Keith Halliwell and Ingeborg Smith. The trio go to the crime site and while Ingeborg and Smith canvass the neighborhood for possible witnesses, Diamond examines the nearby hillside and discovers a wrecked adult tricycle and its injured rider in need of CPR. The discovery turns a crash investigation into an investigation of police conduct, since it appears their crash seriously injured, and perhaps killed, an elderly civilian.
The victim is identified as Igor Pellegrini. His house cleaner tells Diamond the eccentric train enthusiast has mostly been alone since his wife’s death, with only occasional visits from church ladies such as Elspeth Blake, who turns up while Diamond is still there.
Diamond, in one of the many amusing passages, invents a starving cat to wheedle Pellegrini’s house keys from an officious nurse. When he searches the house, he makes several disquieting discoveries, including printouts of a discussion forum focused on unsolved murders and ways to commit them, and three funeral urns bearing the names and dates of three elderly men. Even stranger is the discovery within the urns of three gorgeous and enormously expensive silk dresses.
Everything Diamond discovers about Pellegrini—his interest in murder, his late night tricycle ride, the urns and the three valuable designer gowns hidden in them—arouses his suspicions and leads him to investigate the victim instead of the accident.
While the trio track down information about Pellegrini’s possible victims—an expanding list—Lovesey intersperses tantalizing excerpts from the killer’s diary as one victim follows another. While Pellegrini remains comatose, the detectives delve into the arcane world of train enthusiasts, death records, and clues that lead them astray as often as they lead them forward in this brilliantly puzzling story.
For almost forty years Marcia Muller has been writing novels featuring private investigator Sharon McCone, introduced in 1977’s Edwin of the Iron Shoes. With McCone, Muller was one of the first American authors to feature a female private eye. Both author and detective have come a long way since 1977. Muller has earned numerous accolades for her fiction including lifetime achievement awards from both the Private Eye Writers of America and the Mystery Writers of America, as well as recognition for her groundbreaking character.
McCone, meanwhile, has evolved from the young single woman working for San Francisco’s All Souls Legal Cooperative in her debut to the owner, with husband Hy Ripinsky, of the imposing McCone & Ripinsky Building in San Francisco’s financial district, where she has foregone fieldwork in order to oversee a cadre of operatives in her detective agency.
Even so, events and McCone’s preference for a hands-on approach combine to place her in the heat of the action in Someone Always Knows (Grand Central, $26), her thirty-second appearance. The event is the reappearance of Gage Renshaw, a former business partner of Hy’s from way in the past and a man they thought, and hoped, was dead. Renshaw is a thoroughly disreputable character and one who has reason to resent both Hy and McCone and their successes.
The other is a case brought to her by investors Chad Kenyon and his brother Dick who had purchased a derelict house on Webster Street only to find their plans to renovate it thwarted by vandals and squatters who use the house as their own. McCone impulsively decides to look at the house and is attacked from behind while there.
Renshaw turns out to be elusive and uncomfortably knowledgeable about the activities and whereabouts of McCone, Ripinsky, and their closest friends, as he delivers veiled threats and keeps his own plans concealed. Normally Hy would play a major part in both strategizing and taking action, but Hy is involved in delicate hostage negotiations for the Feds and is out of town and completely out of touch, adding to the burden on McCone.
Muller displays remarkable writing skills as she transitions McCone from a single operator into an executive in charge of many operatives; from a single woman into a wife as concerned with her husband as with herself; and still credibly puts her squarely in the middle of suspenseful action where the grit and determination of her early adventures is still on display. Muller manages to do this in less than three hundred pages, which ought to be a lesson for some best-selling authors whose books have become more bloated and less compelling.
Readers have more options and more affordable options thanks to digital printing. For example, Open Road Integrated Media, a project of MysteriousPress.com, has made available e-book editions of many books that were not only out of print but prohibitively expensive on the used book market. Just a few examples of what you can find now:
Francis and Richard Lockridge’s The Norths Meet Murder originally published in 1940, was the first of twenty-six mysteries to feature book publisher Jerry North and his wife Pam. Open Road’s e-book is $9.99
Ellis Peters, author of the enormously successful Brother Cadfael series, also wrote some notable stand-alones such as 1959’s Death Mask. Open Road’s e-book edition is $9.99.
Sixteen titles from Lawrence Block’s backlist are now available as e-books through Lawrence Block Classic Crime Library at most e-book retailers; more are forthcoming.