Crime and mystery fiction is often labeled “escapist entertainment.” There’s some truth to that, and there is nothing wrong with it. But quality crime fiction goes deeper. When I read the novels of Michael Connelly, Ruth Rendell, or James Lee Burke, I don’t turn the pages for escape. Crime fiction has the capacity to give us a glimpse into human evil so that we come away from the experience with a higher sense of our humanity. This month, a large number of novels featuring child abductions have landed on the doorsteps of The Jury Box. There is nothing remotely entertaining about kidnapped children. Perhaps there’s a cathartic benefit of experiencing this kind of trauma and grief. Perhaps, especially when the story is told with honesty, it makes us more sympathetic and sensitive.
Hideo Yokoyama, Six Four, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $27.00. Six Four was a cultural-literary phenomenon when it was first published in Japan in 2012. It spawned a television series and a two-part feature film, and was discussed in every coffeehouse and salon in Japan. The novel is set fourteen years after a 1989 kidnapping of a seven-year-old girl. Detective Yoshinobu Mikami was on the task force. The ransom was paid, but the girl killed, and the killer never found. The incident is eclipsed by the death of Emperor Hirohito, but the embarrassment has stayed with Mikami and the Tokyo police. The action of Six Four takes place fourteen years later. Mikami is now press director for the Tokyo’s Prefecture D police precinct. Most of the book’s 566 pages concern interdepartmental squabbles, rising tension between the police and the press, and Mikami’s struggle to maintain his grip because his own daughter is now missing. Six Four is a massive and complicated book. Some readers will get mired in the bureaucracy. The real detective work doesn’t get into gear until the final hundred pages. But throughout, Six Four is a tautly and honestly told, emotionally profound story.
Stefanie Pintoff, City on Edge, Bantam, $27.00. During pre-parade festivities on the eve before the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, what appears at first to be an assassination attempt on the police commissioner turns out to be a cover for the kidnapping of his teenage daughter. To find the girl and avert a possible terrorist incident, the FBI calls on Special Agent Eve Rossi and her ragtag team of former outlaws who form the covert Vidocq team (named for the reformed ex-convict who established France’s Sûreté). But the commissioner may have secrets of his own. This book is a thrilling read which provides an inside look at the famous parade, but doesn’t deal with abduction and grief with the same honesty as Yokoyama’s work.
Kristina Ohlsson, The Chosen, Washington Square Press, $17.00. Swedish author Ohlsson is no stranger to abduction stories. Previous titles in her Bergman and Recht series include Silenced, The Disappeared, and Hostage. The Stockholm police are called to investigate the shooting of a preschool teacher outside of a Jewish community center, and within hours two ten-year-old boys from the same community are abducted. The novel is full of tragedy and genuine anguish, but the focus often seems more on the interpersonal relationships of various law-enforcement personnel.
Amanda Panitch, Never Missing, Never Found, Random House, $17.99. Scarlett was kidnapped as a child and held as a virtual slave until her escape. Now in her late teens, she’s working at a theme park, trying to make friends and put her past behind her, until she learns that another of the park’s employees is missing. Never Missing, Never Found is a young-adult novel that asks questions about identity, sanity, and family. It’s dark and cleverly plotted with some shocking twists.
Other worthwhile recent titles feature abductions, but space constraints preclude full reviews here. In Child Not Found by Ray Daniel (Midnight Ink, $15.99), Boston-based hacker Aloysius Tucker’s nine-year-old niece is snatched while they are on a winter sledding outing, and Tucker finds himself negotiating mob territory to get her back. Lotte and Søren Hammer’s The Vanished (Bloomsbury, $28.00) opens with a sixteen-year-old boy shooting his drug-dealing substitute teacher. The same day, Copenhagen police detective Konrad Simonsen investigates the death of a postman who fell down a flight of stairs. DS Simonsen discovers a dark connection between the postman and the dead teacher.
Doug Allyn, The Jukebox Kings, Stark House, $17.95. Regular EQMM readers will be familiar with Doug Allyn’s thoughtful, dark crime stories, which have earned him multiple awards (including eleven EQMM Readers Awards). In The Jukebox Kings, down-on-his-luck boxer “Irish” Mick Shannon finds himself beholden to a Michigan mobster named Moishe, running collections for his small empire, and ultimately running the old man’s recording studio. Allyn’s style is classic pulp noir with a brilliant jazz twist.
John Darnielle, Universal Harvester, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $25.00. A clerk at an Iowa video store discovers strange scenes that have been added to rentals, and begins a journey to find the meaning behind the unsettling scenes. Darnielle tells the story in a style that is equal parts Garrison Keillor and Blair Witch Project. The story is genuinely engaging, and the narrative style unique, but satisfying suspense was missing.
There is a corollary of Murphy’s Law that says “Whatever you are seeking will not appear until it’s no longer needed.” As soon as our Sherlockian issue went to press, three new Sherlockian volumes arrived on my desk.
Michael Sims, Arthur and Sherlock: Conan Doyle and the Creation of Holmes, Bloomsbury, $27.00. You may think the world doesn’t need another biography of Arthur Conan Doyle. This volume may tread a well-trod path, but it does so with fresh eyes. Sims combines his talents as a science writer and a literary critic as he traces the career of Conan Doyle under the tutelage of Dr. Joseph Bell, and traces the influence of Poe, Gaboriau, Dickens, and Collins.
Christopher Redmond, editor, About Sixty, Wildside Press, $14.99. The title is borrowed from Inspector Lestrade’s description of a character in “The Boscombe Valley Mystery.” The editor applies the phrase to the sixty stories and novels in the Sherlock Holmes canon. Sixty essays in this volume each describe one of the Holmes stories with a twist: each essay, written by a different Sherlockian expert, purports to explain why that particular story is the best in the canon.
Lyndsay Faye, The Whole Art of Detection, Mysterious Press, $25.00. Faye’s name has been associated with Sherlock Holmes since the well-received publication of her first novel, Dust and Shadow in 2009. Collected here are fifteen of her Holmes pastiches, set at various times throughout Holmes’s career. All the tales are narrated by Dr. Watson, faithful to Doyle’s style, including the moving “An Empty House” set during the “Great Hiatus” when a mourning Watson believed his friend dead.
Laura Caldwell and Leslie S. Klinger, Anatomy of Innocence: Testimonies of the Wrongfully Convicted, W.W. Norton, $26.95. Klinger and Caldwell devised a unique medium to rally the cause of the wrongly convicted and to benefit Life After Innocence, an organization (founded by Caldwell) which serves exonerated former prisoners. Fourteen former convicts have teamed up with fourteen crime writers—including Sara Paretsky, Lee Child, Phillip Margolin, and Laurie R. King—to tell their stories. The book also includes a previously unpublished essay by Arthur Miller about exoneree Peter Reilly.