I can’t help feeling a bit sorry this month for writers whose last names aren’t Horowitz, Lagercrantz, or Child. While putting together a list recently of what I figure will be the most interesting new crime, mystery, and thriller novels to be released in the States between now and the closing days of 2015, I came up with almost 100 titles in September alone. Yet just three of those are likely to dominate review space and reader attention.
The first, of course, is British author Anthony Horowitz’s much-publicized Trigger Mortis. Not to be confused with Frank Kane’s 1958 private eye novel of the same name, Horowitz’s high-revving thriller is the latest in a long line of James Bond espionage novels penned by somebody other than Agent 007 creator Ian Fleming. Set in 1957—more than a decade prior to the last new Bond escapade, William Boyd’s Solo (2013)—Trigger Mortis is supposed to be a sequel to Fleming’s Goldfinger. It has the U.K.’s most successful spy being summoned away from a dalliance with Pussy Galore, the criminal gang leader and unreliably lesbian trapeze performer he met in Goldfinger, in order to foil a merciless Korean tycoon’s plot to ensure that the Soviet Union dominates the Cold War “space race.” Meanwhile, David Lagercrantz resurrects another familiar protagonist, Stieg Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander, in The Girl in the Spider’s Web, which finds our favorite misfit computer hacker reuniting with investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist to probe a homicide that leads them both into a larger mystery involving Eastern European gangsters and America’s notorious National Security Agency. Finally, Lee Child is out this month with Make Me, his 20th Jack Reacher adventure, in which the itinerant former military policeman explores the barely fathomable depths of the Internet in order to expose the secrets behind a town called Mother’s Rest.
With all of these works on offer, it will be hard for other new books worthy of attention—including Stuart Neville’s Those We Left Behind, Camilla Läckberg’s The Drowning, Ray Celestin’s The Axeman, Peter May’s Entry Island and editor Sarah Weinman’s Women Crime Writers: Eight Suspense Novels of the 1940s and ’50s—to win room in the spotlight. And we’re talking here only about September! There are dozens of other crime-fiction releases scheduled to appear on U.S. bookstore shelves in the run-up to Christmas. None of us can hope to enjoy them all, but below are eight that I’m particularly looking forward to scrutinizing this season.
Robert B. Parker’s The Devil Wins, by Reed Farrel Coleman (September):
I began reading Robert B. Parker’s novels about witty Boston private investigator Spenser way back in college, and despite having had to tolerate a clunker here and there, continue to follow the series, even as it’s been handed off to Ace Atkins (Robert B. Parker’s Kickback) in the wake of Parker’s demise. I have no such loyalty to his books starring troubled Paradise, Massachusetts, police chief Jesse Stone. I read the first one, 1997’s Night Passage, but quickly lost interest because the protagonist wasn’t sufficiently distinct from Spenser. Parker went on to pen eight additional Stone yarns, before Michael Brandman, who’d produced TV movies around the character, was given the series’ helm. Last year, though, brought another switch: Reed Farrel Coleman, best known for his books concerning sometime PI Moe Prager, replaced Brandman to fashion the 13th Stone mystery, Robert B. Parker’s Blind Spot. With a more intricate plot and enhanced attention to character exploration, Blind Spot established a different tenor for the series, which irked some readers but that Coleman maintains in The Devil Wins. Stone is called out here to a derelict factory, where the body of a newly slain but unidentified male has been found near the corpses of two 16-year-old girls, both of whom went missing during an Independence Day celebration 25 years ago—and one of whom was the best friend of Stone’s able subordinate, Officer Molly Crane. The later “suicide” of one of the dead girls’ colorful mother convinces Stone that something’s not right with this case, that the townspeople he thought he had grown to know are withholding information, confidences in urgent need of revealing.
A Killing in Zion, by Andrew Hunt (September):
Andrew Hunt currently lives and teaches history in Ontario, Canada, but he grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah, the setting for his sophomore novel featuring Mormon police detective Arthur Oveson. It’s 1934, and Oveson, a young husband, father and the junior member of a family of Mormon lawmen, has been recruited by crusading Mayor Bennett Cummings to lead an Anti-Polygamy Squad charged with ridding the town of extremists who continue to practice “plural marriage” (once common among Mormons, but officially terminated decades before). The generally strait-laced Overton, embarrassed by polygamy hanging in his own ancestral tree, takes enthusiastically to the task—only to become embroiled in the brutal slaying of a local “prophet,” whose end may have been hastened by a shock-silenced girl found at the scene, an adolescent who might also have been the prophet’s child bride. Overton’s struggle to make sense of this tragedy puts him at odds with polygamy true-believers, fanatics who’d rather skip legal niceties and exercise their own form of justice. Hunt won the 2011 Tony Hillerman Prize, and his first Art Overton tale, City of Saints, barely escaped inclusion in my 2012 list of favorite crime novels. I expect to be similarly impressed by A Killing in Zion.
In Bitter Chill, by Sarah Ward (September):
This initial police procedural by Sarah Ward, a British book reviewer/blogger, brings us the presumed suicide, in a Peak District village called Bampton, of elderly Yvonne Jenkins, whose only daughter, Sophie, was one of two Derbyshire schoolgirls abducted in 1978. Sophie Jenkins was never seen again, but the other student, Rachel Jones, subsequently turned up on a roadway, evidently unmolested but also unable to recall anything regarding her capture beyond the fact that she’d been taken by a woman. Following Yvonne Jenkins’ passing, a pair of cops, Detective Inspector Francis Sadler and Detective Constable Connie Childs, are tasked with re-examining the three-decades-old snatching to see if any new clues can be uncovered. They succeed in connecting Mrs. Jenkins’ demise not only to her daughter’s disappearance, but to the more recent strangling of a retired schoolteacher. Meanwhile, Rachel Jones, who has grown up to become a genealogist, wants to leave her childhood ordeal behind. But after she hears about her former teacher’s fate, and the media begin intruding on her previously quiet existence, she launches an investigation of her own, employing her professional training to smoke out a killer before any more ugly headlines are made. A very atmospheric and confidently executed first novel, which requires no suspension of disbelief.
Dark Corners, by Ruth Rendell (October):
When 85-year-old Ruth Rendell died in early May, less than five months after the passing of her friend and fellow “Queen of Crime,” P.D. James, it was obvious that her impressive productivity (she had composed more than 60 novels over a half-century career) was finally at an end. However, Rendell had finished one final book before being hospitalized with a stroke. That work, Dark Corners, propels us into the company of Carl Martin, who has lately inherited his father’s home in an up-and-coming corner of London. Starved for cash, Carl decides to take on a border, one Dermot McKinnon. He also makes the error of holding onto his dad’s odd cache of homeopathic remedies, among which are dubious diet pills. After he sells some of those pills to his friend Stacey, only to have Stacey perish in short order, Carl discovers himself in a still worse predicament: Dermott uses the knowledge of their transaction to blackmail his landlord, a turn that will lead to the unraveling of Carl’s life and relationships. Rendell’s focus here is on how guilt can push a person to extreme acts before destroying him or her. Dark Corners provides an imperfect but fitting end to Rendell’s oeuvre.
A Death in the Family, by Michael Stanley (October):
South Africans Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip, who publish mysteries under the joint nom de plume “Michael Stanley,” gained critical attention with their first novel, A Carrion Death (2008), which introduced David Bengu, aka “Kubu,” the assistant superintendent of Botswana’s Criminal Investigation Department. The authors have since extended their series to five books, the latest being A Death in the Family. Its plot kicks off with the lethal stabbing of Kubu’s father, Wilmon Bengu. He’s not the most likely of victims, given his dementia and reduced social contacts, so it is understandable that Kubu might suspect this assault was actually directed at him by some enemy he’s made over the years. Not that our hero is given much chance to ponder the possibilities; he’s instructed to steer clear of the case, and is soon dispatched to the pocket-edition town of Shoshong, where government mining official Goodman Kunene has met a premature end. Did Kunene do himself in, or can his doom be linked to Chinese mine owners whose plans for the town are creating generational rifts between its citizens? The Stanley novels deliver intricate plots and a cast of regulars well worth following.
For the Dignified Dead, by Michael Genelin (November):
It’s been four years since we last heard from Commander Jana Matinova of the Slovak Criminal Police. Following her much-lauded debut in Michael Genelin’s Siren of the Waters (2008), plus three further outings, this determined but fallible judge’s daughter turned cop seemed to vanish like so many other characters in her fictional world. Now, though, she’s back in a yarn that finds her analyzing the circumstances behind the dumping of an anonymous woman’s corpse in the frozen Danube at Bratislava. The deceased had been slain with an ice pick, much like another victim recently recovered in Vienna, Austria. It’s a murderous methodology that makes Jana believe she could be back on the trail of a thoroughly abhorrent adversary from her past, one she has no intention of letting get away again—even if it means chasing across Europe, unraveling a big-money scheme and making herself a target for remorseless hired guns. Lawyer-author Genelin once served with the U.S. Department of Justice in Central Europe, so he knows his turf well. Fans of Olen Steinhauer’s early Eastern Bloc thrillers (The Bridge of Sighs, etc.) should find similar delights in the Commander Matinova books.
Crucifixion Creek, by Barry Maitland (November):
Taking a break from his prize-collecting series about Scotland Yard sleuths David Brock and Kathy Kolla (The Raven’s Eye, 2013), Barry Maitland—who was born in Scotland, but has lived in Australia since the 1980s—inaugurates a new protagonist, Sydney Detective Sergeant Harry Belltree, who in Crucifixion Creek comes up against suburban transgressions aplenty. Bankstown, west of Sydney, has of late seen a woman shot by the meth-addled biker who took her hostage, an elderly couple commit suicide outside their favorite beachside café and a builder, Greg March, fatally stabbed in a thoroughfare. None of those incidents might have drawn Belltree’s notice, except that March was his brother-in-law, and the man’s passing makes little sense. By the time a journalist comes to the DS with the out-there theory that these crimes are connected to a dodgy businessman and the resurgence of a local biker gang, Belltree is primed to test the theory, especially since it could supply answers to the car “accident” that killed his parents and blinded his wife three years ago. Offering plenty of action and a rules-cutting principal, Crucifixion Creek is the first book in a trilogy.
Blood, Salt, Water, by Denise Mina (December):
Here we have the fifth of Denise Mina’s tales about Glasgow Detective Inspector Alex Morrow (following last year’s The Red Road). Morrow and the other members of her team have been tracking a Spanish woman named Roxanna Fuentecilla, who’s suspected of being mixed up in an extensive drug-smuggling and money-laundering operation. After Fuentecilla suddenly vanishes and her family turns evasive under questioning, the DI hopes that an odd call from Fuentecilla’s cell phone to a number in a parochial seaside community, Helensburgh, will help crack the case open. However, picturesque Helensburgh has secrets all its own, including those involving a small-time thug with blood on his hands, a corpse in a local lake and a former scout leader who has returned after many years away, supposedly to sort out the affairs of her recently deceased mother—even though the mother actually died long ago.
Also worth checking out: The White Ghost, by James R. Benn (September); No Hard Feelings, by Mark Coggins (September); Girl Waits with Gun, by Amy Stewart (September); The Scribe, by Matthew Guinn (September); Shakespeare No More, by Tony Hays (September); Art in the Blood, by Bonnie MacBird (October); Them That Lives by Their Guns: The Collected Hard-Boiled Stories of Race Williams, Volume 1, by Carroll John Daly (October); Icarus, by Deon Meyer (October); The Hot Countries, by Timothy Hallinan (October); The Big Book of Sherlock Holmes Stories, edited by Otto Penzler (October); The Promise, by Robert Crais (November); One Man’s Flag, by David Downing (November); The Mulberry Bush, by Charles McCarry (November); The Crossing, by Michael Connelly (November); Splinter the Silence, by Val McDermid (December); and House of the Rising Sun, by James Lee Burke (December).