Saturday, December 16, 2017

Favorite Crime Fiction of 2017,
Part III: Linda L. Richards

Linda L. Richards is a journalist, photographer, and the author of 15 books, including three series of novels featuring strong female protagonists. She is the former publisher of Self-Counsel Press and the founder and publisher of award-winning January Magazine. Richards is currently based in Vancouver, Canada, but you can find her wherever her laptop decides to rest for awhile.

Every Breath You Take, by Mary Higgins Clark and
Alafair Burke (Simon & Schuster):

While on the surface of things, this fourth entry in the Higgins Clarke/Burke partnership might seem like an outlier in a best-of-the-year round-up, I just can’t help but love these books that much. Their Under Suspicion series is high-end candy for suspense lovers. Or maybe top-of-the-line caviar. The good stuff, anyway. In Every Breath You Take, Higgins Clark and Burke have us again spending time with TV producer Laurie Moran as she goes about solving another cold case. This time it’s the Met Gala Murder, and the goal is to discover who shoved wealthy widow Virginia Wakeling to her death from atop Manhattan’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Although Wakeling’s much-younger boyfriend seems like a ready-made guilty party, as Laurie begins to probe the crime, she discovers that the victim’s super-rich family has a lot to hide … and they might even prove dangerous to Laurie herself, if provoked. Higgins Clark and Burke are both master plotters in their own rights. But get them together? This is the kind of novel for which the term “unputdownable” was created. The only thing I don’t like: the authors are going to make me wait a while for the next entry in their series.

Invisible Dead, by Sam Wiebe (Quercus):
Sam Wiebe is one of the few writers I would read no matter the topic or genre or day of the week. Margaret Atwood is another. Stephen King. Salman Rushdie. A mixed bag, certainly, but good company, any way you figure it. This young author’s second novel (after 2014’s Last of the Independents) is a stunning accomplishment. Wiebe here grabs at a whole bunch of the tropes of crime fiction and turns them around, pulling them masterfully beyond the cliché. Dave Wakeland is an ex-cop turned private eye. In Invisible Dead he’s hired by a terminally ill woman to find her adopted daughter, who vanished a decade earlier. Like Sheena Kamal’s debut yarn, highlighted below, Wiebe’s tale deals at its core with the disappearance and loss of indigenous Canadian women from Vancouver, British Columbia’s Downtown East Side, and the horror and travesty of the fact that not more has been made of their loss. Both books are brilliant, though in starkly different ways. Wiebe navigates crime fiction’s mean streets in a manner that absolutely honors the heritage of his subgenre, yet pushes it towards sharp new directions. Ever wanted to find the perfect P.I. novel? This is it.

The Lost Ones (aka Eyes Like Mine), by Sheena Kamal (Morrow):
The thing I like least about Sheena Kamal’s debut work is that it was published under different titles in North America and in the UK. This may confuse readers who are trying to figure out which of her books they’ve already picked up. Relax: until sometime in mid-2018, there is only one. Like Sam Wiebe’s Invisible Dead, the action in these pages focuses around an indigenous Canadian woman gone missing from Vancouver’s Downtown East Side. And while, on the surface of things, that would seem to make them very similar books, they just could not be more different. Both are magnificent in their own right. A lot of the tension and, in fact, the success of The Lost Ones comes to us through Nora, Kamal’s damaged and world-weary narrator. In reviews, this story has often been compared to Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo—and not without reason. There is an equivalent darkness and edge to the two novels, and thanks to the British Columbia backdrop of The Lost Ones, even some shared feeling of spiritual and emotional overcast. There is an unexpected virtuosity in Kamal’s pen. This is the first installment in a promised trilogy, and though the story concludes solidly, The Lost Ones leaves us, quite appropriately, wanting more.

Montreal Noir, edited by John McFetridge and
Jacques Filippi (Akashic):

Montreal, Quebec, isn’t like other places. It’s a holdout from old Europe, nestled in a traditionally largely Anglo country. That juxtaposition hasn’t always been entirely comfortable. Montreal is not like the rest of Canada, that’s what I’m saying. Culturally, physically, and emotionally, Montreal is not like any other place at all. The totality of its differences play a part in the melting-pot soup that is Montreal Noir. This diverse collection of short fiction, like the city itself, is not always easy or even. It’s not always comfortable. The 15 stories gathered here were written originally in English and French, the latter having been translated for this latest volume in Akashic Books’ Noir series. The writers contributing to this work will mostly be unfamiliar to readers outside (and possibly even within) Canada: Samuel Archibald, Michel Basilières, Arjun Basu, Tess Fragoulis, Peter Kirby, Robert Pobi, Patrick Senécal, Geneviève Lefebvre, Ian Truman, Johanne Seymour, Howard Shrier, Martin Michaud, Melissa Yi, Catherine McKenzie, and Brad Smith. In their introduction, editors McFetridge and Filippi say that “Today, the city has its own language: Franglais (or Frenglish). Maybe the first word spoken in that language was noir …” Appropriate, then, to have it said here in so many ways. For me, this was an eye-opening collection, showing off parts of my country that I didn’t know existed, in ways that I won’t easily forget.

The Seagull, by Ann Cleeves (Minotaur):
During a recent interview, bestselling author Ann Cleeves told me that The Seagull is her most personal book to date. That’s because it is set in the English seaside town where she has lived for many years. But it also may be because Cleeves’ best-known and best-loved creation, Vera Stanhope, is dealing here with a case that has deeply personal roots, leading back to Detective Inspector Stanhope’s very own late father and some of his cronies. There is something of a British Columbo about Vera Stanhope. She has a sort of bumbling energy, is the furthest thing one can imagine from a fashion plate, and occasionally seems to solve crimes despite herself. Even so, Vera is no fool and there is no element of comedy—except as it is naturally found in life—about either her or the action in The Seagull. The fictional nightclub that gives this book its title looms over the story, even though it was destroyed many years before the book’s present day. It was a luxury establishment, run by the son of a Scottish mobster, and the illegal goings-on that took place there were always suspected though never proven. The themes in this story are the family ties that bind and how old secrets can eat through the heart of a community. This is Cleeves’ eighth outing for Vera Stanhope, in a book series that has received a great deal of attention, not only because of the excellent BBC-TV production based on it, but also because of Shetland, which is based on Cleeves’ newer series featuring Inspector Jimmy Perez. In both series the writing—and also the television!—is top-notch. Anne Cleeves has always been a fantastic writer. It’s good to see her getting the attention she deserves.

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