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The Jury Box

 By Steve Steinbock

I’ve featured reviews of international mysteries many times in my column. What is remarkable about the first three titles in this month’s column isn’t the settings—however exotic they may be—rather it’s the exotic style in which all three stories are told.

Yiftach R. Atir, The English Teacher, Penguin, $16.00. When an undercover Mossad agent goes off the grid, it’s the job of her handler to search through the young woman’s past to track her down. The author, himself a retired Israeli intelligence agent, tells a story of lies, love, and relationships with the intensity of Homeland and the quiet reflection of LeCarré’s Smiley novels.


 


Fuminori Nakamura, The Kingdom, Soho Crime, $23.95. Nakamura’s darkly erotic style glows bright in this companion to his earlier novel, The Thief (published in Japanese in 2009 and translated in 2012 for Soho Crime). Yurika is a beautiful young woman who poses as a prostitute at the behest of her employer in order to seduce and entrap men, sometimes to steal from them, sometimes to take compromising photographs. But one night, after discovering that the man she was hired to seduce has been murdered, she receives a phone call. “Your world is about to get interesting,” the voice says, calling her by a name that she’d abandoned long ago. “Tell that to the man who sent you here.” Nakamura gives readers a fast-paced, dark novel of psychological suspense, told in a succinctly poetic style with edgy titillation.



Colin Cotterill, I Shot the Buddha, Soho Crime, $26.95. Laos after the 1975 Communist takeover might appear colorless and dreary. But this novel, set in 1979, is filled with magic and quirkiness. Retired coroner Dr. Siri Paiboun and his wife share their home with a variety of misfits. Three women are brutally murdered in seemingly unrelated crimes. Then Noo, a wandering Buddhist monk whom Dr. Siri has befriended, rides away on his bicycle, leaving a cryptic note, sending Siri and his friends on a madcap spiritual and international caper.

 



Mike Ripley, Mr Campion’s Fault, Severn House, $29.99. Carrying on the legacy of Margery Allingham, this is the third novel by Ripley featuring aristocratic sleuth Albert Campion. The Campions’ son and daughter-in-law have taken jobs at a boys’ school in a Yorkshire mining village where a previous English teacher had died of tragic and questionable causes. The young couple discovers that the town is suffering from petty crimes, union disputes, and a poltergeist, and soon the elder Campion arrives to assist. Ripley’s writing is charmingly witty and well matched to Allingham’s characters. Fitting with the chronology of the character, Ripley has set the novel in the late 1960s. I enjoyed reading about Mr. Campion in this time period, especially with his daughter-in-law directing a musical adaptation of Doctor Faustus.



Shaun Harris, The Hemingway Thief, Seventh Street Books, $15.95. While romance writer Henry Cooper debates killing off his pseudonym in a Tijuana village, a manuscript containing unpublished chapters from Ernest Hemingway’s last book falls into his possession. So begins a rollicking literary adventure. Hardboiled biblio-mysteries don’t come around all that often, and Shaun Harris’s debut novel is fun, edgy, and very well researched.

 



Kaitlyn Dunnett, Kilt at the Highland Games, Kensington Books, $25.00. In the town of Moosetookalook, Maine, a fire destroys the bookstore located across from Liss MacCrimmon’s Scottish Emporium gift shop, and Liss is concerned that the bookstore’s owner and her two children have gone missing. As Liss prepares for the town’s annual summer Scottish festival, she must contend with annoying tourists, town politics, and her missing friend. Kaitlyn Dunnett (a pseudonym of Kathy Lynn Emerson) writes a fun, energetic cozy.




Melodie Campbell, The Goddaughter Caper, Raven Books, $9.95. Hamilton, Ontario florist Gina Gallo tries to steer clear of her family’s questionable business dealings. But when she discovers the body of a local Peeping Tom in the alley behind her shop, fate forces her hand. She and various cousins find themselves in a topsy-turvy mess of missing bodies, a surplus of coffins, and geriatric misbehavior. Campbell’s writing is always funny. The Goddaughter series, of which this slender novella is the fourth volume, is part of Orca Books’ Rapid Read imprint, making it a fast, fun read.



Bill Crider, Survivors Will Be Shot Again, Minotaur, $25.99. Sheriff Dan Rhodes is at the Pak-a-Sak to pick up a loaf of bread. He’s thinking about how nice a Dr. Pepper would taste when a jittery man with a gun and a ski mask walks in. So begins another adventure for Dan Rhodes. Not much else is happening, aside from a string of thefts and a marijuana patch guarded by an alligator, until Rhodes stops by a ranch to look into a band of wild hogs vandalizing pasture and discovers a dead body in the barn. Bill Crider is one of my favorite people, as well as one of my favorite writers. His characters are vivid, unpredictable, and unforgettable, and his storytelling is devilish fun.

To round out this column, here are a couple of other titles worthy of recommendation. Rhythm and Clues (Midnight Ink, $14.95) is the eleventh book in Sue Ann Jaffarian’s delightful series. Odelia Grey, the plus-size paralegal heroine of the series, is investigating the disappearance of a rock musician whom she idolized in her youth. But along the way, Odelia’s mother is arrested for breaking into the rocker’s house where she incidentally stumbles across a dead body.     

The Question of the Felonious Friend (Midnight Ink, $14.95) by Jeff Cohen and E.J. Copperman is narrated entirely by its hero, Samuel Hoenig, a problem solver with Asperger’s Syndrome. The investigation (of the murder of a store clerk for which another man with Asperger’s is the suspect) is entertaining, but the cleverness of this book is its treatment of the personality disorder, which manages to be funny and at the same time accurate and respectful. In Shelley Costa’s A Killer’s Guide to Good Works (Henery Press, $15.95 TPB, $31.95 HC), book editor Val Cameron uncovers a religious conspiracy when her friend is killed after unwittingly transporting an ancient relic from England.

 © 2016 Steve Steinbock

 
 
 
 
 
 
 


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