★ Shadows Reel
I have been a fan of C.J. Box’s Joe Pickett mysteries since the outset of the series. The 22nd offering, Shadows Reel, narrows in on Pickett’s pal, outlaw falconer Nate Romanowski, as he hunts down the thieves who killed some of his prized raptors and stole the rest of them. Romanowski is a sidekick in the mold of Spenser’s Hawk or Elvis Cole’s Joe Pike: hardboiled, loyal to a fault and probably tougher than the nominal hero of the tale. That said, Romanowski’s quarry is easily as well trained as he, and younger and stronger to boot, which is a potentially lethal combination for the aging warrior. Meanwhile, a Nazi relic creates quite a buzz in the town of Saddlestring, Wyoming—especially after its owner, a crusty old fishing guide, gets murdered most gruesomely. It will not be the last relic-related murder, as the killer has instructions to let nothing stand in his way, and he takes these instructions very literally. A recurring theme in these books is Pickett’s struggle with his deep-seated “cowboy code” morality, which is juxtaposed against the often frustrating legalities of the situations he comes up against. This time out, that conflict will give Pickett’s conscience a world-class workout.
★ The Harbor
Katrine Engberg’s third mystery featuring Copenhagen cops Anette Werner and Jeppe Kørner perfectly balances a mysterious disappearance with the no less intriguing domestic concerns of its two investigators. At the start of The Harbor, Oscar Dreyer-Hoff, the teenage son of a wealthy family, has gone missing, perhaps kidnapped, and clues are thin on the ground. The family boat is missing, and Oscar’s backpack has turned up near the vessel’s harbor mooring. His girlfriend says she has no idea where he is and in general acts very unconcerned about the whole thing. Some time back, scandal rocked the Dreyer-Hoff family, triggering some threatening letters that must be reconsidered in light of Oscar’s disappearance. In the background, home life in the Werner and Kørner households has become less than optimal. Anette is considering an affair with a person of interest in the case, and Jeppe struggles to balance the demands of work and his new lover, whose children are none too happy about their mom’s beau. Engberg is a must read for fans of Nordic noir, and two more books starring Anette and Jeppe will soon be translated into English.
★ Girl in Ice
Erica Ferencik’s Girl in Ice is an excellent, thrilling mystery set against a quasi-science fiction backdrop. Linguist Valerie “Val” Chesterfield has accepted an unusual assignment: She’s traveling to Greenland to meet a girl rescued from an ice field who initially appeared to have frozen to death but has somehow survived. The girl speaks no known language, and Chesterfield is one of only a few scholars with sufficient knowledge of archaic Northern European languages to try and communicate with her. But there is a more pressing connection for Val: Her twin brother, Andy, died at the same Arctic outpost not so long ago, and try as she might, she cannot make any sense of his death. The novel veers into speculative territory as Wyatt, the team leader, begins to entertain the idea that the girl is not a recent freezing victim but rather is from another epoch entirely, having been cryogenically preserved using technology lost to the ages. With its fascinating science and compelling characters (one or more of whom may be a murderer), Girl in Ice demands to be read in one sitting.
★ The Berlin Exchange
It’s rare for an espionage novel’s protagonist to be a traitor, but author Joseph Kanon quite successfully breaks that unwritten rule in his 10th novel, The Berlin Exchange. As a physicist on the controversial Manhattan Project, the U.S. military program that introduced the world to atomic warfare, Martin Keller was privy to top-secret design and implementation information. Motivated by dubious idealism, Keller shared some intelligence with the opposing team and received a lengthy sentence when his subterfuge was found out. Fast forward to 1963: A prisoner exchange has been arranged, and Keller finds himself set free in East Berlin. It is a freedom that is fraught with terror from the get-go. As he passes the checkpoint, he narrowly escapes being killed by a sniper, and it will take all the resources at his disposal to stay one step ahead of whoever is trying to kill him in this chilly, elegant and consistently excellent espionage thriller.