Oh no, are there really only four months left in this year? I began 2013 with a list of books I wanted to read, and flexibility enough—I thought—to take on other recommended works as time passed. Yet here I am on the brink of autumn with stacks of unread crime and mystery novels shooting up from all over my desk, taunting me with their promising tales of felonies perpetrated, crooks unshackled and detectives perplexed by superfluous clues. And there are still so many more to come.
Between now and December 31, American publishers will plump bookstore shelves with fresh installments in some of the genre’s most reliable series, everything from Sue Grafton’s latest Kinsey Millhone novel (W Is for Wasted), Max Allan Collins’ 15th Nate Heller adventure (Ask Not) and Jeri Westerson’s new Crispin Guest whodunit (Shadow of the Alchemist) to Jo Nesbø’s Police, Lyndsay Faye’s second Timothy Wilde investigation (Seven for a Secret) and Ken Bruen’s 10th Jack Taylor outing (Purgatory). On top of those, expect to see new works by J. Sydney Jones (Ruin Value), Jim Fusilli (Billboard Man), Elizabeth Wilson (The Girl in Berlin), Jeffery Deaver (The October List), Laurie R. King (The Bones of Paris) and myriad others—enough books that no one lacking in superhuman powers could hope to read them all.
So I must prioritize. Below I’ve listed the U.S. releases I most look forward to tackling between now and when the final curtain rings down on 2013. Wish me luck.
Alex, by Pierre Lemaitre, translated by Frank Wynne (September):
After reading Jussi Adler-Olsen’s The Keeper of Lost Causes, I deliberately avoided other novels about kidnapped and tortured women. However, I couldn’t resist Alex, a horrific but irrefutably gripping yarn that earlier this year won an International Dagger award from the British Crime Writers’ Association. The first English-translated work by Frenchman Pierre Lemaitre, Alex finds a “truly stunning” young woman named Alex Prévost being seized from a Parisian thoroughfare by a stranger who then beats her, strips her naked and cages her in a chilly warehouse, all without explanation. That her snatching was witnessed is lucky; but the cop tasked with solving this crime, Commandant Camille Verhoeven, has nary a clue to her identity, and he’s still tormented by his own wife’s abduction and slaying. As the wee but pugnacious Verhoeven digs into Alex’s past and whereabouts, it becomes clear that she isn’t what she seems. Meticulous character construction and some inspired twists may earn Alex as much attention on this side of the Atlantic as it’s received in Europe.
A Commonplace Killing, by Siân Busby (September):
Busby died before finishing A Commonplace Killing, and her husband had to assemble its closing chapters from her notes. Were it not for his preface to the book, though, you couldn’t tell, for this quietly powerful, post–World War II tale of disillusionment, privations and homicide in bomb-ravaged London doesn’t lack for a lick of polish. It begins with the discovery, in 1946, of a woman’s strangled corpse. Presumptions of her having been a tart quickly fade for lack of evidence, forcing Divisional Det. Insp. Jim Cooper to search elsewhere for answers. Concurrently, we’re introduced to 43-year-old Lillian Frobisher, who spent the war years entertaining lonely soldiers, and finds it difficult coping with her middle-class hubby’s return from the battlefield. The account of Lillian’s route to an early grave and Cooper’s unearthing of the double life she’s led provide psychological dimension and suspense to this literary mystery.
The Double, by George Pelecanos (October):
Young combat veteran Spero Lucas, who debuted in 2011’s The Cut, specializes in retrieving stolen property, taking a 40-percent cut of the goods’ value for his efforts. This second outing puts him in the employ of a Washington, D.C., woman in her 40s, whose latest regrettable choice of lotharios has lost her some pricey artwork and a bleeding chunk of her self-esteem. The job merely looks straightforward; Spero’s quarry turns out to be a sociopath whose principal goal is to humiliate his victims, and whose determination to continue his campaign will lead Pelecanos’ sorta-detective into the kind of violence he claims to abhor. Pelecanos’ particular skills with dialogue and crafting believable characters lift his novels above the rabble.
Spider Woman’s Daughter, by Anne Hillerman (October):
It’s not uncommon for crime novelists to die, and for their children to carry on the “family business.” Dick Francis’ son Felix has perpetuated his father’s name with a trio of his own horse-racing related thrillers, including Dick Francis’s Refusal. After Elmore Leonard passed away last month, it was announced that his author son, Peter Leonard, would complete his father’s final novel. And now comes Anne Hillerman, the daughter of Tony Hillerman, who died in 2008 after winning acclaim for his mysteries featuring Navajo tribal cops Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee. Spider Woman’s Daughter puts Bernadette Manualito, Chee’s wife and fellow police officer, at center stage after she witnesses a shooting. Bucking protocol, Bernie insists on participating in the investigation, which may be linked to a cold case involving the retired Leaphorn.
Critical Mass, by Sara Paretsky (October):
As Sara Paretsky’s series about Chicago private eye V.I. Warshawski has matured over the last 30 years, it’s also become more socially and politically relevant, blending real-life controversies into its plots. Critical Mass is rooted in the story of a woman scientist in 1930s Vienna, who vanished into the World War II slave labor camps, but whose daughter, Kitty, fled to Chicago. Eight decades later, when Kitty’s life appears endangered, she seeks help from another Viennese refugee, Dr. Lotty Herschel. Lotty in turn draws her friend Warshawski into the case—a mystery destined to expose lies propagated during the wartime rush to build the first atom bomb, and put the PI’s own future at risk from the guardians of some very dusty secrets.
Moscow investigator Arkady Renko has never been disappointed in his low expectations of the New Russia; corrupt and violent, it’s just as in need of his services as its Soviet predecessor. In this yarn, he probes the demise of journalist Tatiana Petrovna, who plummeted from a sixth-floor window. Curiously, that happened around the same time a deep-pocketed mobster was exterminated. Are these incidents connected? Renko’s struggle to find out sends him to a “secret” Cold War city, compels him to listen to tapes left behind by Tatiana—recordings that expose crimes absent from official histories, and bring him closer to the deceased—and presents him with a code-filled notebook that might only be deciphered by his chess-hustling teenage associate, Zhenya. Smith’s nuanced portrait of modern Russia is equally tragic and seductive.
Taking a break from penning espionage novels (Young Philby, etc.), Littell delivers this amusing, energetic and digression-suffused tale about Lemuel Gunn, a cynical ex-CIA agent currently scratching out a private sleuth’s living in the New Mexico desert. He’s just been hired by Ornella Neppi, whose bail bonds business is threatened by a cokehead, Emilio Gava, anxious to flee and leave her on the hook for $125,000. Gunn agrees to help the woman, but with few clues and seeming no photographs of Gava available, he’s starting to wonder whether his quarry even exists.
The Good Boy, by Theresa Schwegel (November):
Schwegel earned her crime-fiction cred with hard-boiled police thrillers such as Last Known Address (2009). The Good Boy, however, broadens her storytelling focus and potential reader appeal. It gives us Chicago K9 cop Pete Murphy, whose career is jeopardized by a wrongful-arrest lawsuit. It also introduces his 11-year-old son, Joel, who’s feeling abandoned by both his parents and his teenage sister, McKenna. Fortunately, he finds comfort and friendship with his father’s canine partner, Butchie. But one night, Joel and Butchie follow McKenna to a party in a dodgy neighborhood. Drugs materialize, a gun is pulled and suddenly Butchie goes into action. Fearful that the dog’s trained response will lead to his being taken away—or worse—Joel and Butchie flee, navigating Chicago’s hazardous depths in quest of aid from a judge friend of Pete Murphy’s, and trying simultaneously to steer clear of men bent on making Joel a target of their revenge against his dad.
The Black Life, by Paul Johnston (December):
Half-Greek, half-Scottish missing-persons investigator Alex Mavros, building nicely on his comeback in 2012's The Silver Stain, launches here into a search for a man who’s been dead for 60 years. Mavros’ uncle Aron Samuel supposedly perished in an Auschwitz concentration camp. Yet a wealthy jeweler alleges Aron was spotted recently in a northern Greek town. To settle this discrepancy, Mavros and the jeweler’s mystifying daughter travel out to question the witness—an elderly woman who only muddies the waters further by claiming Aron had been a Nazi collaborator. With a narrative that alternates between Mavros’ exploits and disturbing first-person recollections of concentration camp life, Johnston’s novel shows how raking up the past can cause more than a little trouble in the present.
Chilled to the Bone, by Quentin Bates (December):
Did you really think you could escape without hearing about another Nordic thriller? Hah! Chilled to the Bone, the third entry (after Cold Comfort) in Bates’ series about Sgt. Gunnhildur Gísladóttir of Reykjavík, Iceland’s Serious Crimes Unit, confronts the determined, intelligent “Gunna” with the mystery of a ship owner found dead and tied up in a fashionable hotel. Indications of foul play are scarce; yet as Gunna probes further, she stumbles upon what is apparently a local bondage ring. Meanwhile, government types pressure her to track down a wayward laptop full of politically sensitive information. As she helps bring to light some nasty confidences, Gunna realizes she has sinister competition for that computer, and may not retrieve it in time. In addition to Bates’ well-paced plots, it’s his protagonist—dealing in these pages not only with professional responsibilities, but with a personal one (handling a woman left pregnant by her footloose son)—who makes this procedural series a standout.