OK, call me an optimist, but I’m looking forward to sun. Lots of it. And soon. This last winter has provided a great opportunity to hunker down beneath blankets, with coffee in hand, and engage in serious digestion of criminal yarns both fresh and famous. However, I have missed my front porch and the languid hours I am prone to spend there on warmer days, ignoring every passing neighbor and dilatory butterfly as I stretch out in an Adirondack chair and wait for death to come. In the pages of the latest books, that is.
Below, I’ve gathered together half a dozen crime, mystery and thriller works, all awaiting release in the States, that deserve your attention over these next three months. Adirondack chair not required.
Helsinki Blood, by James Thompson (March):
Author Thompson was born in Kentucky, but he’s lived in Finland long enough to assimilate the Nordic fondness for bleak, emotionally riveting crime stories. His protagonist, homicide inspector Kari Vaara—introduced in Snow Angels (2009)—has suffered physical and mental anguish enough to break most men. Following the violent turns in last year’s Helsinki White, he’s taken unwisely to self-medicating, while trying to cope with his wife’s desertion and the need to care for their baby. Vaara’s desire for redemption is answered by the approach of a woman from Estonia. She pleads for his help in finding her teenage daughter, Loviise, who has Down syndrome and has vanished after being promised a better life in Helsinki. The detective’s search for Loviise takes him from ritzy clubs to the rank depths of his country’s white-slave trade, and leaves him vulnerable to enemies with even fewer scruples than he can still claim. The vigor of Thompson’s storytelling is a thing to behold.
Pale Horses, by Jassy Mackenzie (April):
One minute, Sonet Meintjies was standing atop a skyscraper in Johannesburg, South Africa, preparing for a parachute jump. The next, she was tumbling to her death, her chute flapping impotently behind her. It looks like a terrible accident, but Sonet’s thrill-seeking partner isn’t convinced. So he recruits private investigator Jade de Jong—still recovering from her last assignment, in 2012’s The Fallen—to probe this tragedy. She learns that Sonet had been working with a charity helping poor tribal communities to establish self-supporting farms. When Jade tries to visit one such site, though, she finds it leveled and rumors lingering of a lethal disease. Soon to disappear, too, is Sonet’s sister, a journalist who’d been searching for a widow and her son, the only two people who might be able to supply answers to this mystery—if they can be kept alive long enough to reveal them.
A Man Without Breath, by Philip Kerr (April):
Nine novels into his series about congenitally cynical Berlin ex-cop Bernie Gunther, Kerr deserves every plaudit he receives for exploring the horrors of World War II through the lens of thriller fiction. A Man Without Breath has Gunther—now attached to the Wehrmacht War Crimes Bureau—being sent, in 1943, to Smolensk, southwest of Moscow, where the mass graves of Polish officers have been reported. In the aftermath of Germany’s disastrous defeat at Stalingrad, Nazi propagandist Josef Goebbels wants Gunther to ensure that blame for those atrocities is pinned on the Soviets. However, the former detective finds something more worrisome than cold corpses: a killer who’s infiltrated the ranks of German soldiers, and is sacrificing them one by one. Kerr pairs knowledge of the war’s moral complexities with an appreciation for nuanced characterizations that makes his stories, despite their brutality, entrancing as hell.
After producing a dozen novels about cab driver-shamus Carlotta Carlyle (Lie Down with the Devil), Barnes shifts gears in this suspenseful standalone. Em Moore is a bashful and agoraphobic author who, with her more extroverted partner, Teddy Blake, earned success penning celebrity biographies. Now Blake is gone—killed in a car crash—and she’s left to continue their latest project alone: a book about screenwriter and director Garrett Malcolm. Initially fearful of stepping out from behind her computer, Em develops self-confidence by winning Malcolm’s respect. Her research interviews, though, hint at secrets in her subject’s past, as well as bad blood between him and a former leading man. And when police inquire more deeply into Blake’s accident, Em realizes she’s neither as perceptive nor as in control of her life as she’d hoped. Reciting this yarn through Em’s one-sided conversation with her late partner heightens both its intimacy and impact.
When the Devil Drives, by Christopher Brookmyre (May):
On the heels of Where the Bodies Are Buried (2012), Scotsman Brookmyre transports readers back into the company of Jasmine Sharp, an out-of-her-depth actress turned Glasgow gumshoe, who in these pages goes to work for a woman hoping to learn the fate of her younger sister, Tessa Garrion. It’s a chance for Jasmine to revisit the realm of greasepaint and footlights, since Tessa had last worked, in 1981, for a “popular and flamboyant” producer, Hamish Queen. Not long after Jasmine quizzes the cagey Queen, though, he’s shot at a Highlands castle. That homicide draws the attention of Detective Superintendent Catherine McLeod, who’d been a vital player in Bodies, and who pursues one end of a mystery that will eventually intersect with Jasmine’s investigation. Hints of a scheme involving intoxicants, lust and altered identities, together with the author’s trenchant social observations, propel this story nicely, though McLeod’s reduced involvement here is keenly felt.
Robert B. Parker’s Wonderland, by Ace Atkins (May):
Having been surprised and pleased to see Southern writer Ace Atkins reinvigorate the late Mr. Parker’s long-running Spenser P.I. series, in Robert B. Parker’s Lullaby (2012), I now look forward to discovering whether he can exercise similar magic in his follow-up novel. Wonderland finds the literary-minded peeper coming to the aid of Henry Cimoli, the owner of the Boston gym where Spenser and his regular sidekick, Hawk, first met. Cimoli faces mounting pressure and threats from a commercial developer who wants to purchase his condo at Revere Beach, once the site of an oceanfront amusement park and dog-racing track. As Spenser and sometime associate Zebulon “Z” Sixkill investigate, they unearth plans to build a mega-casino north of Boston, run afoul of moneyed Vegas interests and stir ire among local politicians. Oh, and there’s an enigmatic woman in the mix here, which can only kindle more trouble.
Also worth a look: The Good Cop, by Brad Parks (March); Criminal Enterprise, by Owen Laukkanen (March); The Tooth Tattoo, by Peter Lovesey (April); Onion Street, by Reed Farrel Coleman (April); One for Our Baby, by John Sandrolini (April); Good People, by Ewart Hutton (April); Another Son, by Timothy Williams (April); A Conspiracy of Faith, by Jussi Adler-Olsen (May); Shotgun Lullaby, by Steve Ulfelder (May); The Last Girl, by Jane Casey (May); and Complex 90, by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins (May).