Ragnar Jonasson’s second Hulda Hermannsdóttir novel, The Island, finds the 50-ish Reykjavík detective investigating the connections between two murders. One was supposedly solved 10 years past, and the second, a modern-day killing, appears to have been an accidental fall—until ligature marks characteristic of strangling are identified on the victim’s throat. The story of the first death is simple enough. In 1987, a girl and her soon-to-be lover go off to the fjords for a romantic weekend. It begins blissfully and ends with the girl lying dead on the floor of their summer home and the boy fleeing the scene. Her father is arrested for the crime and commits suicide while in custody. Open and shut, but there are some nagging suspicions. More than one person is aware that the presiding officer, something of a climber in the police department, tampered ever so slightly with the evidence. Fast-forward 10 years to 1997, and the dead girl’s friends, including the aforementioned lover, go off to a remote island together for a reunion. One will not survive the outing, and Detective Inspector Hermannsdóttir will investigate, uncovering layer after layer of deceit. The Island was short-listed for Crime Novel of the Year Award in Iceland. Read it, and you will see why.
I read a lot of suspense novels, and Martin Walker’s Bruno Courreges (aka Bruno, Chief of Police) ranks near the top of my list of fictional characters I would like to be friends with—for his kindness and good humor, as well as his exemplary culinary skills, the fruits of which I would dearly love to sample and which are tantalizingly detailed in each installment of the series. The opening of his latest adventure, The Body in the Castle Well, finds him halfway down a cistern, peering downward into the dark toward an agitated kitten perched atop a floating entity that appears to be a body. The body turns out to be that of Claudia, a young American art student who was conducting a quiet investigation of noted art scholar and collector Monsieur de Bourdeille. The extensive fortune of well-regarded, elderly and reclusive Bourdeille may have been built on the shaky foundations of deliberate false attributions, a scandal that Claudia was on the verge of revealing. As always, Walker deftly weaves disparate storylines into the narrative, this time incorporating the wartime French Resistance, chanteuse Josephine Baker and a brief history of falconry as a pastime of noblemen. As is the case with all the Bruno novels, The Body in the Castle Well is not to be missed.
Mark Billingham’s Detective Inspector Tom Thorne is akin to Ian Rankin’s John Rebus and Jo Nesbø’s Harry Hole: a deeply flawed character with a plethora of personal and professional problems, but a damned fine investigator in his own way. In Their Little Secret, Thorne delves deeper than warranted into the seemingly clear-cut suicide of Philippa Goodwin, a woman who threw herself in front of a train. The victim had ample reason, having been bilked of her life savings by an enterprising con man who preys upon middle-aged women. Although it isn’t strictly in Thorne’s purview, he cannot help but put some effort into the “why” of the suicide, and he quickly discovers that there is a lot hiding beneath the tip of that iceberg. The murder of a young man at a nearby beach yields DNA that matches the unidentified con man, but then another, seemingly unrelated killing strongly suggests that there are two murderers at work in tandem, perhaps with the unwitting help of one or more outsiders. With lots of surprises and some very crisp, staccato storytelling, it’s impossible to put down Their Little Secret.
On one level, Owen Laukkanen’s Deception Cove is the story of a man and his dog. But let’s not confuse this with a feel-good narrative, because the man, Mason Burke, is an ex-con recently released from prison for first-degree murder, and his dog, Lucy, is a frightened yet aggressive pit bull mix rescue. Deception Cove is also the story of Jess Winslow, a female ex-Marine whose demons grew too strong for her to control, resulting in her being shipped back from Afghanistan to her home in America to deal with her PTSD as best she could. Mason trained Lucy while he was in prison, and Jess received the dog as a service animal to help her deal with her condition. Little did any of them—least of all Lucy—realize how their lives would become inextricably intertwined via a drug deal gone bad, a small-town police station full to the brim with corrupt cops and a Nigerian mercenary with a very itchy trigger finger. Mason and Jess are well fleshed-out characters with backstory galore. Their interactions are at first laced with distrust, but then the two guarded individuals gel in unexpected ways, hustling them toward an exceptionally intense climax. Here’s hoping we meet them again, and soon.