McCall Smith’s great gift is making you shelve your genre-honed expectations and accept his people and stories as they are.

THE TALENTED MR. VARG

A second course of Nordic blanc for Ulf Varg and his colleagues in Malmö’s Department of Sensitive Crimes.

Now that uniformed officer Blomquist has been seconded to the DSC, Varg’s regulars—Anna Bengsdotter, whom Ulf secretly pines for; Carl Holgersson; and Erik, the clerk who fishes whenever he’s not maintaining the files—all appreciate his uncanny talent for intuiting the answers to the riddles that cross their desks. This time, Ulf will have his help in shadowing Anna’s husband, anesthetist Jo Asplund, whom she suspects of cheating on her (if only he were, thinks Ulf mournfully). It’s Ulf’s neighbor and dogsitter, Agnes Högfors, who has the honor of figuring out who’s blackmailing Nils Persson-Cederström, the Swedish Hemingway, whose partner Ulf has met in group therapy. Ulf thinks he’s the one who’ll have to decide what to do about a stolen Saab grille he’s been presented with by grateful Roma thief Viligot Danior, who thinks he owes Ulf for giving evidence against the Lutheran minister who punched Danior in the nose because he caught Danior’s son stealing his tires. But here again he’s given a miraculous bit of assistance that lets him off the hook. Fans of Ulf’s debut in The Department of Sensitive Crimes (2019) or the author’s other gently reflective franchises won’t be surprised or disappointed to learn that most of the crimes here aren’t really crimes, and Ulf’s crime-solving talents are highly questionable.

McCall Smith’s great gift is making you shelve your genre-honed expectations and accept his people and stories as they are.

Pub Date: April 28, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-4896-8

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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Top-drawer crime fiction. The authors are tough on the hero, but the hero is tough.

THE RED BOOK

Patterson and Ellis put their characters through hell in this hard-edged second installment of their Black Book series after The Black Book (2017).

A young girl is one of four people gunned down in a “very, very bad” K-Town drive-by shooting in Chicago. Police are under intense political pressure to solve it, so Detective Billy Harney is assigned to the Special Operations Section to put the brakes on the gang violence on the West Side. His new partner is Detective Carla Griffin, whom colleagues describe as “sober as an undertaker” and “as fun as a case of hemorrhoids.” And she looks like the last thing he needs, a pill popper. (But is she?) Department muckety-mucks want Harney to fail, and Griffin is supposed to spy on him. The poor guy already has a hell of a backstory: His daughter died and his wife committed suicide (or did she?) four years earlier, he’s been shot in the head, charged with murder (and exonerated), and helped put his own father in prison. (Nothing like a tormented hero!) Now the deaths still haunt him while he and Griffin begin to suspect they’re not looking at a simple turf war starring the Imperial Gangster Nation. Meanwhile, the captain in Internal Affairs is deep in the pocket of some bad guys who run an international human trafficking ring, and he loathes Harney. The protagonist is lucky to have Patti, his sister and fellow detective, as his one reliable friend who lets him know he’s being set up. The authors do masterful work creating flawed characters to root for or against, and they certainly pile up the troubles for Billy Harney. Abundant nasty twists will hold readers’ rapt attention in this dark, violent, and fast-moving thriller.

Top-drawer crime fiction. The authors are tough on the hero, but the hero is tough.

Pub Date: March 29, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-316-49940-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Dec. 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2021

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A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

THE MYSTERY OF MRS. CHRISTIE

In December 1926, mystery writer Agatha Christie really did disappear for 11 days. Was it a hoax? Or did her husband resort to foul play?

When Agatha meets Archie on a dance floor in 1912, the obscure yet handsome pilot quickly sweeps her off her feet with his daring. Archie seems smitten with her. Defying her family’s expectations, Agatha consents to marry Archie rather than her intended, the reliable yet boring Reggie Lucy. Although the war keeps them apart, straining their early marriage, Agatha finds meaningful work as a nurse and dispensary assistant, jobs that teach her a lot about poisons, knowledge that helps shape her early short stories and novels. While Agatha’s career flourishes after the war, Archie suffers setback after setback. Determined to keep her man happy, Agatha finds herself cooking elaborate meals, squelching her natural affections for their daughter (after all, Archie must always feel like the most important person in her life), and downplaying her own troubles, including her grief over her mother's death. Nonetheless, Archie grows increasingly morose. In fact, he is away from home the day Agatha disappears. By the time Detective Chief Constable Kenward arrives, Agatha has already been missing for a day. After discovering—and burning—a mysterious letter from Agatha, Archie is less than eager to help the police. His reluctance and arrogance work against him, and soon the police, the newspapers, the Christies’ staff, and even his daughter’s classmates suspect him of harming his wife. Benedict concocts a worthy mystery of her own, as chapters alternate between Archie’s negotiation of the investigation and Agatha’s recounting of their relationship. She keeps the reader guessing: Which narrator is reliable? Who is the real villain?

A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

Pub Date: Dec. 29, 2020

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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