Friday, December 16, 2016

Favorite Crime Fiction of 2016,
Part V: Jacques Filippi

Jacques Filippi started his career as a journalist, but has been working in the book world since 2001 as a bookseller, translator, sales representative, events coordinator, and editor. In 2011, he started his blog, The House of Crime and Mystery, and co-founded the now-defunct QuébeCrime Writers Festival. His blog will soon be re-created as a Web site. Filippi is the co-editor (with John McFetridge) of the 2017 short-story collection, Montréal Noir (Akashic Press). When not working, Filippi loves hiding behind his Canon camera. He lives with his family in Châteauguay, Quebec.

Before the Fall,
by Noah Hawley (Grand Central):

A multimillionaire’s private plane plummets into the Atlantic Ocean with 11 people on board. Only two of those passengers survive: Scott Burroughs, a painter looking for one more chance (maybe his last) to become the artist he believes he can be; and the multimillionaire’s 4-year-old son, J.J. Bateman. Burroughs saves the boy by pulling him onto his back and swimming for hours in almost complete darkness and tumultuous waters. Hawley’s description of that long night is incredibly intense and claustrophobic. The subsequent investigation of the crash starts, and it is immediately followed by a media frenzy that captivates the public. Hailed as a hero, Burroughs only wants to hide and take some time to process all of what’s happened. Meanwhile, J.J.—under tremendous psychological shock—has stopped talking. The news media, impatient for answers that investigators can’t find quickly enough, start to make up their own scenarios involving here a group of terrorists, there a government plot, and everywhere else a new theory. Until one last option emerges: what about Scott Burroughs? With Before the Fall, Noah Hawley (creator of the TV series Fargo) has given us a suspenseful story that also delivers insights into how today’s media exert power—sometimes inadvertently, but much too often deliberately—over public perceptions of events, without sufficient consideration for veracity or decency. Hawley details the lives—before the fall—of each person on that doomed aircraft, and a few become suspects in the reader’s mind. Then the author examines the common mind of a public that fears the unknown and hates ambiguity. It wants quick, simple solutions, and is unwilling to think for itself; it needs heroes and villains, and is all too willing to accept whoever the media offer.

Brighton, by Michael Harvey (Ecco):
Kevin Pearce is an investigative reporter with The Boston Globe, who has recently won a Pulitzer Prize for a series of articles he wrote about a black man wrongly convicted of murder. Now, thanks to inside information passed along by his eager district attorney girlfriend, Kevin learns about another case of homicide, perhaps linked to one of his childhood pals, Bobby Scales, whom he hasn’t seen in more than a quarter-century. Deciding to probe further, Kevin heads back to Brighton, the violent Boston neighborhood from which Bobby once saved him, giving Kevin a chance to make a better life for himself. Now it’s Kevin’s turn to save Bobby, for better or worse. Every character in Brighton is multifaceted, draped with layers of secrets and regrets, but no one seems to have more to lose than Kevin Pearce. While investigating a series of murders, he rediscovers the streets and venues of his boyhood, meets old friends and family members he hasn’t seen in decades, and feels the pull of the painful past entering his brain like the blade of a knife. The different points of view in this narrative give it a haunting atmosphere. As the complexity of the truth is slowly revealed, we discover each character’s true intentions. There is also plenty of blame to be distributed in a world that revolves around its own sets of rules. Many players here are compelled to revisit the mistakes of the past, but not everyone is willing to face the consequences. For Kevin Pearce and Bobby Scales, the question is who will be left standing. If you’ve never read the works of Chicago journalist Michael Harvey (The Governor’s Wife, The Fifth Floor), you’ve been missing out on a fine writer who pulls you into his world and convinces you to stay put until the end. Evocative prose, even better dialogue, and sharp descriptions make Boston come alive in Brighton.

Close Your Eyes,
by Michael Robotham (Mulholland):

Characters, characters, characters. It’s all about the characters in Michael Robotham’s novels, even more so in Close Your Eyes. Don’t get me wrong—his plots are multilayered, tightly written, darkly complex, and always nerve-wracking. What draws you back to this Australian author’s works, though, are the attachments you develop to his fictional players. From clinical psychologist Joseph O’Loughlin (a Parkinson’s disease sufferer) and his estranged wife (currently battling cancer) to their two daughters, ex-police detective Vincent Ruiz, and various cops, detectives, and the necessary slew of “ordinary” people and suspects, Robotham presents us in Close Your Eyes with a better-than-one-dimensional cast. Even his criminals are intricate humans, given their own belief systems and rules, their own emotional scars and unexpected capacities for empathy. In Close Your Eyes, a double-murder investigation is complicated by the intervention of one of Joe’s former students, who wins the attention of the media and general public by revealing inside information about the crime. Joe and Ruiz are brought in to help, and they soon link a series of homicides in the area to the present investigation. Their list of suspects grows longer and longer, but they’re aware that their timeframe to catch the killer is very short. As Joe becomes more involved in the investigation, he realizes that his world, and the people who inhabit it, could be at great risk. In the second part of this novel, the intensity increases sharply as the route toward a possible resolution narrows. Just don’t be too quick to think you’ve figured it all out. Close Your Eyes delivers one of the most emotionally charged and poignant endings I’ve read in a long time. A few years ago, Canadian thriller writer Linwood Barclay said that “Michael Robotham doesn’t just make me scared for his characters, he makes my heart ache for them.” That’s never been so true as it is with Close Your Eyes.

Wilde Lake, by Laura Lippman (Morrow):
Luisa “Lu” Brant, a young widow and the mother of twins, has recently been elected as the state’s attorney for Howard County, Maryland—following in her eminent father’s footsteps—and is looking for a case that will justify voters’ faith in her abilities. However, her decision to prosecute a seemingly unbalanced African-American man charged with fatally assaulting a woman in her own residence will bring back personal memories both challenging and dubious, involving her father’s own first investigation. It will push Lu toward people she knew many years before, while revealing how much they’ve changed in the interim, and why. More importantly, her work will lead her to view her parent and his long career with greater scrutiny … and even doubt. She will question some of his decisions, which will destabilize her as well as draw a dark cloud of uncertainty over her judgment. Lippman’s narrative lulls you in slowly, seductively, enticing you with a compelling plot and absorbing details. Her wide range of beautifully flawed and true characters adds to one’s enjoyment of the experience. And like any good story should, this one stops but doesn’t abandon you immediately. For many readers, it would be sacrilegious to compare a recent work of fiction to a beloved classic; but for various reasons, mostly because of their shared compassion and authenticity, Wilde Lake often reminded me of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. If you read Lippman’s latest standalone, you’ll realize why. Because it’s that good, and you shouldn’t miss it.

You Will Know Me,
by Megan Abbott (Little, Brown):

This novel’s official plot description begins with the provocative question, “How far will you go to achieve a dream?” You might think that only people who harbor dreams of their own advancement would ever go to great lengths to reach them. But that neglects the fact that many men and women—having been denied their own sense of significant achievement, thanks to a lack of passion, or an injury or sickness, or myriad other obstacles—seek it through others, instead. In many cases they’re parents with aspirations for their children, or friends of the family willing to lend a hand, or sponsors who can provide financial assistance to young achievers, or strangers who would like to be part of a possible success. The potential prodigies might be hockey players, football sensations, incredible violinists, natural comedians, or as Megan Abbott imagines in her eighth novel, You Will Know Me, a diamond-in-the-rough gymnast. The talent and the will are already present in Devon Knox, a 15-year-old athletic marvel being determinedly groomed for Olympics renown. But when tragedy befalls her tight community in the form of a hit-and-run incident that takes the life of handsome teenager Ryan Beck, Devon’s bright future might have to be put on hold indefinitely. That’s tough, because as her parents, her coach, and everyone else who’s backing her rise to the top realizes, a gymnast has only a slender path toward victory. Time can be the determinant between reaching the highest level … or being stuck right behind a champion. In Devon’s case, though, there’s an additional roadblock: many of the people who have placed their fervent hopes and dreams in Devon are also suspects in Ryan’s killing. Author Abbott rolls out her story in fairly straightforward fashion, helping you understand her ambitious, imperfect players and judge for yourself whether any of them might be willing to go too far in pursuit of their goals. The results are as emotional as driving past an accident on the road: you feel for the people involved, but you’re happy you are not one of them.


pattinase (abbott) said...

This list would be nearly mirror mine. A good year.

Craig Sisterson said...

I have WILDE LAKE on my list too, fantastic book. The other four all sound excellent too. Robotham is a superb writer, I've enjoyed Harvey in the past, and heard terrific things about the Hawley and Abbott, though I haven't read them. Been a good year for crime novels - I've seen so many different lists, with much less cross-over this year than I'm used to seeing. Thanks for sharing all these critics' choices Jeff.