Thursday, December 13, 2018

Favorite Crime Fiction of 2018,
Part I: Jim Napier

Jim Napier is a crime-fiction critic based in Quebec, Canada. Since 2005, his reviews and interviews have appeared in several Canadian newspapers and on various crime-fiction and literary Web sites, including January Magazine and his own award-winning review site, Deadly Diversions. His debut crime novel, Legacy, was published in the spring of 2017, and the second book in that series, Ridley’s War, is scheduled for release in the spring of 2019.

The Witch Elm, by Tana French (Viking):
Dubliner Toby Hennessy—who’d previously believed himself to be a fortunate, happy man—is attacked in his flat by two burglars. He suffers a massive beating. Days later, he awakens to find himself in a hospital bed, barely able to function. His balance is iffy, his coordination and speech are impaired, and his memory of the violence recently visited upon him is fragmentary, at best. Now flash forward two months: Toby is only marginally better. Anxious to put his apartment and its bleak memories behind him, he looks forward to moving, if only for a few months, to Ivy House, the domain of his uncle Hugo. When Toby learns that Hugo has cancer and is dying, he is determined to make the most of things, to be useful in caring for his relative. Toby’s thoughts also turn to the nexus of friends dating back to his youth. As the group of them had often spent their summers at Ivy House, Toby invites them to return for a weekend visit. They do, and for a moment it seems that things are taking a turn for the better in Toby’s life. But the casual closeness of this group masks important underlying tensions. Envy and suspicion, along with secrets and slights, rise to the surface, where their long friendships will be put to the test. Then a human skull is discovered in Ivy House’s backyard, and Toby is left to reassess everything he thought he understood about his life and family. Told in the first-person, this standalone yarn from the author of the Dublin Murder Squad series (The Trespasser) provides an intriguing exploration of the human psyche. French forces readers to confront the issue of who we are, individually, and what we are capable of doing under extreme conditions. Like some of her earlier works, The Witch Elm violates cardinal rules of writing, but she manages to hold readers firmly in her grasp. A superb story, destined to become a classic.

Two Kinds of Truth, by Michael Connelly
(Grand Central Publishing):

Like so many other people nowadays, Harry Bosch finds himself still working after nominally retiring. Yet it’s not for the money; he’s driven by his crime-breaking labors, the satisfaction they give him. After being ousted from the Los Angeles Police Department, he’s now volunteering with Southern California’s San Fernando PD, operating out of a repurposed office that was formerly a drunk tank, and poring over old files, looking to bring justice to the victims of unsolved crimes—and closure to their families and friends. But his day doesn’t get off to the best start when he learns that Preston Borders, a man he put on Death Row three decades ago, is seeking to have his conviction overturned on the basis of previously unexamined DNA evidence, claiming that Bosch planted damning “proof” of his guilt at trial. Bosch knows it’s BS, but he’s stumped to prove it. And before he can make any headway in ensuring Borders’ continued incarceration, he’s called out to the scene of a double homicide: father and son pharmacists have been brutally gunned down in their place of business, in what looks more like an execution than a robbery gone wrong. As Bosch dives into this fresh case, he’s drawn into the shadowy world of prescription painkillers and the organized criminals who traffic in them. Bosch agrees to go undercover—a risky role that he has largely avoided during his long career—and as a consequence, is compelled to fight not only for his reputation, but also for his life. Meticulously researched and packed with sordid ambience, Two Kinds of Truth is a grim and gritty exposé of a major scourge of modern-day America, wrapped up in a compelling drama that reaffirms Connelly’s place as quite simply his country’s finest crime writer. This 20th Bosch novel was originally published in late 2017, but the release of a paperback edition in 2018 qualifies it (barely) for The Rap Sheet’s list.

Though the Heavens Fall, by Anne
Emery (ECW Press):

1995: When Halifax, Nova Scotia, lawyer Monty Collins travels to Northern Ireland to perform some work on behalf of his firm, his good friend Father Brennan Burke takes advantage of the opportunity, and tags along. Much of Burke’s family remained in Northern Ireland during the euphemistically termed “Troubles.” Now, however, events are inching toward reconciliation, and a compromise solution seems to be on the horizon. Father Brennan’s cousin Ronan Burke spent some time behind bars during the decades of conflict, but he’s now a free man, hugely popular among the Republicans and an odds-on favorite to play a leading part in the proposed joint political assembly, once it’s established. Lurking not far beneath the surface of all this, though, are age-old enmities, and deeds gone unpunished on both sides of the turmoil. Brennan is drawn into the intrigue, and when his involvement is discovered, he’s thrown into prison, there to await trial in a courtroom where the customary safeguards of rights for the accused no longer apply, and under threat that he could spend the the rest of his days in a place of unspeakable degradation. Though the Heavens Fall chronicles the times leading up to a ceasefire between opposing forces in Northern Ireland, and the eventual Good Friday Agreement. With its many harrowing tales based on fact, this is a dark novel, by far the darkest yet in Emery’s 10-book series, guaranteed to leave even the most casual reader deeply disturbed that these sorts of things could be allowed to happen in a nation that regards itself as civilized. Though the Heavens Fall is a fine example of how, in the hands of a skilled and dedicated writer, a novel can enlarge our understanding of complex issues in the real world. Clearly one of the finest reads of 2018.

Chasing the Wind, by C.C. Humphreys
(Library and Archives Canada):

Roxy Loewen is a feisty, indefatigable, yet refreshingly fallible aviatrix in the America of the 1930s. Friends with Amelia Earhart no less, she will, before this story ends, match wits with Nazi leader Hermann Göring in a bid to prevent him from possessing a previously unknown, yet priceless, painting—not because of her political views, but because she needs that work of art, or rather the wealth it represents, to extricate herself from crippling family debts and secure her independence. Roxy is aided in her quest by fellow pilot Jocco Zomack, who couldn’t be more different from her. Jocco is an idealist, with sympathies for communist causes and the rebels fighting a civil war in Spain. Theirs is an uneasy alliance, and one which will come back to haunt the intrepid Roxy before this book’s final page. Together, the pair face a truly sinister adversary named Sidney Munroe. He’s responsible, at least indirectly, for Roxy’s father’s death, and he too wants the painting, together with all of Roxy’s family inheritance. Munroe is also a friend of Herr Göring. Not an easy man to like, then. Deftly combining the politics of the day, art history, and the catastrophic fate of the airship Hindenburg, Chasing the Wind blends escapist fun into an action-packed yarn that begs for a film treatment to do it justice.

Insidious Intent, by Val McDermid (Atlantic Monthly Press):
Barely squeaking onto this list with a December 2017 publication date, Insidious Intent is one of the best crime novels of this or any other year. In Bonny Scotland, the bodies of young women are being found in burned-out cars, all apparently unconnected with one another, and Detective Chief Inspector Carol Jordan (last seen in 2015’s Splinter the Silence) is certain there is a serial killer on the loose. The culprit is cunning, though, and even with his formidable skills, profiler Tony Hill has nothing to work with. Maddeningly, just as the team does move toward identifying a suspect, it seems that person—aided by a formidable lawyer—will walk free with the chance to murder again. As always, Jordon’s turbulent personal life lurks not far beneath the surface of this plot. After a night of drinking, she’d been involved in a traffic accident. Members of her team had derailed the resulting inquiry by claiming that the breathalyzer used to establish the DCI’s alcohol level had been faulty. The resulting acquittal, bad enough in it’s own right, had led to similar verdicts for several other drunk-driver defendants, and one of them had gone free only to kill himself and others in yet another incident. Now an energetic reporter, aided by a disgruntled police officer who is nursing his own grudge, is on the trail of the cover-up, and it seems to be only a matter of time before Jordan’s professional life—as well as those of several officers involved in the cover-up—are in tatters. Reading one of Val McDermid’s novels is like taking a master class in creative writing, her nuanced characters and layered back-stories encompassing profound moral themes wrapped in a gripping story line. Her body of work firmly establishes her as one of our age’s foremost crime fictionists.

1 comment:

pattinase (abbott) said...

I am always so happy to see men reading books written by women. Thanks for making it a good day.