Booked and Printed
Robert C. Hahn
Syndicate Books is undertaking a major project in reprinting the oeuvre of MWA Grand Master Margaret Millar in seven volumes beginning with Collected Millar: The Master at Her Zenith (Soho, $17.99). The volume includes five nonseries novels, including Best Novel Edgar winner Beast in View, Vanish in an Instant, Wives and Lovers, An Air That Kills, and The Listening Walls. All were originally published between 1952 and 1959.
Still to come over the next six months are the Legendary Novels of Suspense comprised of A Stranger in My Grave, How Like an Angel, The Fiend, and Beyond This Point Are Monsters. The Tom Aragon Novels contains three novels featuring the Hispanic lawyer. Her earliest novels are collected in Dawn of Domestic Suspense. Her other two series detectives, psychiatrist Paul Pyre and Canadian Police Inspector Sands, are part of The First Detectives, while a couple of late novels and her short fiction are brought together in First Things, Last Things. The final volume The Birds and Beasts Were There includes a memoir as well as her nature writings.
Tony Parsons’s third Max Wolfe thriller should send new readers scurrying to find the first two in the series: The Murder Man and The Slaughter Man. The Hanging Club (Minotaur, $26.99) finds Detective Constable Max Wolfe and other members of London’s murder investigation team at Homicide and Serious Crime Command scrambling as vigilantes take punishment—death by hanging—into their own hands.
The first victim is Mahmud Irani whose crime was complicity in the sexual abuse of young girls; he is taken from his taxicab, shown photos of his victims, then hanged while the whole thing is filmed. Wolfe and his colleagues watch in amazement when the event is posted online with the hashtag #bringitback. Even more publicity follows when Irani’s body is discovered in the middle of Hyde Park, the one-time location of Tyburn, the public gallows where executions were held for almost a thousand years.
It doesn’t take long for a second victim to follow. Hector Welles killed a boy on a bicycle and served two years of a five-year sentence before being released. Apparently that wasn’t sufficient punishment.
Meanwhile, growing sympathy with the aims of the vigilantes hits a new high when the third victim, who had robbed, beaten, and killed an old WWII vet, is hung.
Parsons does a brilliant job of bringing Britain’s history of public executions into focus with statistics and examples. Wolfe’s investigation reveals the flaws of a justice system that is sometimes unable or unwilling to mete out the kind of punishment heinous crimes deserve—flaws the vigilantes believe they are correcting in their own way. Parsons ratchets up the tension as Wolfe digs deep into London’s long history to root out the Hanging Club. If you haven’t yet met Max Wolfe, now is the time. He’s one of the best to come along in a great while.
Laura Joh Rowland is best known for her novels featuring seventeenth-century samurai and private investigator Sano Ichiro (The Iris Fan). She has also crafted a couple of mysteries featuring Charlotte Brontë (Bedlam: The Further Secret Adventures of Charlotte Brontë). Now she ventures into new territory with The Ripper’s Shadow (Crooked Lane, $25.99), a novel of Jack the Ripper featuring Whitechapel photographer Sarah Bain.
Bain operates a photography business begun by her absent father. To make ends meet, she started taking “boudoir pictures,” suggestively posed photos of prostitutes, which are then sold to select customers in bookstores. When Bain happens to see the brutalized body of Polly Nichols, one of her models, she realizes that she is the second of her models to be slain in the same manner.
Bain worries that her other models may also be targeted by the killer and sets out to warn them about the danger. Bain is a solitary young woman leery of friendships in general and men in particular, but a series of incidents introduces her to the odd collection of people whom she will learn to rely on for help.
A twelve-year-old thief, Mick O’Reilly, steals the satchel containing her valuable camera, but when she catches up to him and doesn’t rat him out to a nearby constable, his gratitude leads him to trust her. A Jewish couple, Abraham Lipsky and his wife, Rachel, hire her to take a remembrance photo of their dead young daughter, Yulia, and that creates an unexpected bond. The beautiful and naïve young actress Catherine Price, another of Bain’s models, introduces her to Lord Hugh Staunton, who will eventually become the last member of her makeshift squad of detectives.
Rowland excels at fashioning the historical background that underpins her story from the noxious fog and smog of the crowded city to the terrible grinding poverty of the poor. The vulnerable status of women; prejudice against foreigners, Jews, and homosexuals; and the untrammeled power of the police all combine to work against her detectives as they strive to protect Bain’s models and uncover the killer.
It is probably impossible for any author to really solve the identity of the killer called Jack the Ripper, but Rowland certainly captures the era he operated in and the hysteria he caused—and she offers a solution that is both plausible and entertaining.
Another indication of the fascination of Jack the Ripper to both authors and readers is the publication of The Big Book of Jack the Ripper (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, $25), an immense compendium of stories selected by editor Otto Penzler. Some of the stories are new, including ones by Jeffery Deaver and Anne Perry, while classic stories are penned by horror writers such as Robert Bloch and Harlan Ellison, literary giants such as George Bernard Shaw and Isak Dinesen, and mystery icons Anthony Boucher, Ellery Queen, and Loren D. Estleman.
Alan Bradley struck the mother lode with his first Flavia de Luce novel The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie in 2009. That first novel featuring the precocious eleven-year-old girl won enough awards to merit its own trophy cabinet: Macavity, Barry, Agatha, Dilys, Arthur Ellis, Spotted Owl, and the CWA Debut Dagger awards!
That remarkable success has been followed by seven more novels, including the recently published Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d (Delacorte, $26), which finds Flavia back (from a stay in Canada) at the family home Buckshaw in the small village of Bishop’s Lacey, England in the 1950s.
Sadly her beloved father is seriously ill, and Flavia is left with her snippy older sisters Feely (Ophelia) and Daffy (Daphne) and younger cousin (and pest) Undine. Only her father’s faithful retainer Dogger is there to provide solace.
But Flavia, running an errand for Cynthia Richardson, the vicar’s wife, agrees to carry a message to woodcarver Mr. Sambridge’s remote home and when she gets there discovers his body hanging upside down and shackled to the back of his bedroom door.
For most people her age that discovery would be a terrific shock, but not for Flavia, who notes: “It’s amazing what the discovery of a corpse can do for one’s spirits.” And that starts Flavia on another case that will test her sleuthing skills and her ability to navigate the adult world that doesn’t seem to recognize her abilities. Bradley’s heroine is one of the most delightful, and one of the sharpest, sleuths to come along in a long, long time.