Friday, December 11, 2015

Favorite Crime Fiction of 2015,
Part V: Ali Karim

Ali Karim is The Rap Sheet’s longtime British correspondent, a contributing editor of January Magazine, and the assistant editor of Shots. In addition, he writes for Deadly Pleasures Mystery Magazine, Crimespree, and Mystery Readers International.

After the Crash, by Michel Bussi (Weidenfeld & Nicolson UK):
A sensation in France, and a bestseller in the UK, Michel Bussi’s After the Crash (French title Un avion sans elle) is a remarkable narrative, a look at how an unknown past can impinge on an uncertain future. In 1980 (before DNA testing became commonplace), a passenger plane crashes in the French-Swiss Jura Mountains, instantly killing and cremating more than 160 people. The sole survivor is a three-month-old baby, nicknamed Dragonfly, whose identity is the intriguing plot device powering this page-turner. Close to two decades on, questions still remain, as a pair of families--representing two different sets of parents on that flight from Turkey--battle for “ownership” of the child. Is she Lyse-Rose de Carville or actually Emilie Vitral? The Carville family have wealth, while the Vitrals most definitely do not, which adds a socio-political dimension to Bussi’s yarn. Private investigator Crédule Grand-Duc, who has been hired by one of the grandparents to solve this mystery, contemplates suicide, despairing that he will never be able to complete his assignment. But before speeding off into oblivion, the sleuth notices a clue, one he hopes will finally reveal the truth behind the identity of Lylie, as the now teenage survivor has come to be known (that name being a hybrid of her two possible real identities). This realization comes too late, though, for Grand-Duc is then murdered … or so it seems. Told largely through excerpts from Grand-Duc’s journals, After the Crash achieves a conscientious unpacking of this mystery, delving into the ways that uncertainty over the girl’s heritage affects not only her relationship to the world but also her potential siblings’ relationships to Lylie. Now available in 26 languages worldwide, Bussi’s engaging yarn is perfect for a winter’s evening, and one of the best English-translated crime novels of 2015.

The Crossing, by Michael Connelly (Little, Brown):
The title of this novel refers to forcibly retired Los Angeles police detective Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch “crossing the line” to help his half-brother, so-called Lincoln Lawyer Mickey Haller, on a defense case that at first appears to be a slam-dunk. Alexandra “Lexi” Parks, a respected city official, has been savagely slain in her bed and the evidence seems to point unequivocally at Haller’s client, Da’Quan Foster, a gangbanger turned family man. Bosch doesn’t really want to become involved in this tragic affair; he’s quite content rebuilding an old Harley-Davidson motorcycle. However, after Haller’s usual investigator is involved in a hit-and-run incident, the attorney turns to our favorite detective for assistance. Bosch isn’t so easily swayed as others are by signs pointing to a home invasion with a sexual motive, all gone wrong. He thinks Foster just might be as innocent as he claims. As he pursues the case, though, Bosch must not only overcome the guilt inflicted upon him by his former colleagues (who see him as a “traitor” for aiding a criminal defendant), but negotiate around roadblocks thrown up by someone who’s determined to alter the path of justice. Connelly’s journalistic background is much in evidence here, as he keeps a tight rein on an eclectic array of supporting characters and mutiple plot twists, and imbues his narrative with the atmospherics of the complex U.S. legal system as well as the techniques of modern police procedure. Written in a terse and urgent style, The Crossing is the sixth Connelly novel to feature Mickey Haller and the 20th investigation for Harry Bosch. So far, Bosch shows no signs of stagnation, despite evidence of age dogging his heels. Like the Harley in Bosch’s garage, this protagonist charges on untarnished. Thank goodness.

Dust and Desire, by Conrad Williams (Titan):
Better known to readers of horror fiction than those attuned toward mysteries, Conrad Williams here begins a P.I. series that’s rooted in the seedier side of London. His protagonist is Joel Sorrell, a melancholic, sometimes self-destructive former cop haunted by the murder of his wife and the disappearance of his daughter--years-ago crimes that still bleed inside his mind. In Dust and Desire, Sorrell is hired by the mysterious Kara Geenan to track down her missing 18-year-old brother, Jason Pythian. Along the way our hero falls victim to several visceral assaults, but he always manages to lick his wounds and return to the chase. It appears that a serial killer may be involved in Jason’s disappearance, one who has succeeded thus far in remaining under the radar. Monsters beget monsters as Williams provides context to the destructive capabilities of his repeat killer, known as “Wire.” There’s also a goodly amount of witty but black-edged dialogue here, and introspective ruminations that make Sorrell sound like a Cockney Philip Marlowe. It should be noted that one of the more memorable players in Dust and Desire is London itself, though a version of the British capital that you won’t find in TripAdvisor or Expedia. Sorrell’s city is more of the hellish variety, with the gumshoe filling a Job-like role. Readers who enjoy the nihilistic tales of Derek Raymond will find similarly engaging (and terrifying) treats in Williams’ story.

Life or Death, by Michael Robotham (Mulholland):
The winner of this year’s Gold Dagger, given out by the British Crime Writers’ Association, Life or Death unravels the yarn of Audie Palmer, a convicted armed robber who, just one day shy of being released after spending 10 years in a Texas maximum security prison, suddenly breaks out. Why would anyone do such a foolish thing? As the Bard said, “thereby hangs the tale”--and it’s a damn good one. It seems the armored truck robbery that landed him behind bars, led to the deaths of four other people, and left Audie in a coma also left behind many unanswered questions. Such as, whatever became of Audie’s brother and the $7 million that truck had been carrying? As Audie flees, determined to keep a promise he made long ago, he’s pursued by a motley assortment of federal authorities and more nefarious figures, including his old cell compatriot, Moss Webster, and tenacious FBI Special Agent Desiree Furness. Relentless in its pacing, with a storytelling style that is almost elegiac and a conclusion guaranteed to satisfy the reader’s every curiosity, Life or Death is a twisted, brooding thriller that makes us question what we think we know of the past and its links to the future.

Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe, by Thomas Ligotti (Penguin Classics):
Thanks to the first season of HBO-TV’s True Detective, there’s been a marked resurgence of interest in the work of American horror-fictionist Thomas Ligotti. The same themes of philosophical pessimism, cosmic horror, and antinatalism that can be found in Ligotti’s work also peppered True Detective. This Penguin Classics paperback edition gathers together the first two collections of Ligotti’s short stories. While not “crime fiction” per se, there is mystery here, and certainly crime. This newly released volume opens with a thought-provoking essay by Jeff VanderMeer, award-winning co-editor of The Weird, and features a number of standout tales. One of the best is “The Frolic,” a distressing episode about a psychiatrist, his family, and the touch of a madman who may well extend his insanity to other layers of reality that cloak our own. No less engaging is “Drink to Me Only with Labyrinthine Eyes,” in which a magician’s act turns out to be far more sinister than it initially appeared to his distracted audience, raising questions about how our senses interpret what we experience--which may or may not be real. Special mention must be made of Ligotti’s highly acclaimed homage to H.P. Lovecraft, “The Last Feast of Harlequin,” which gives us an unreliable narrator in an unreliable world. Although they may not be to everyone’s taste, these stories will be a revelation to lovers of mystery fiction as well as to people who were puzzled by allegations that True Detective’s writer had committed plagiarism by borrowing from Ligotti’s work.

1 comment:

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Thumbs up to you. Well described.