Better the Blood
Maori screenwriter and director Michael Bennett’s first novel, Better the Blood begins with a flashback to a daguerreotype, an early type of photograph, being taken in 1863. The picture has a chilling subject: a small group of British soldiers posed alongside the hanged body of a Maori leader in the early days of New Zealand’s colonization. When the descendants of the soldiers in the daguerreotype begin to die violently, the case is assigned to Auckland police investigator Hana Westerman. Few investigators are better suited to the job than Hana, who possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of her Maori culture and history. As she gets closer and closer to identifying the perpetrator, she begins to see that the crimes are not so much a type of revenge as they are a flawed attempt to restore balance to a world gone awry. She is able to identify a couple of the potential targets, but the killer is always one step ahead. Then the unthinkable happens: Hana’s family is targeted. With plenty of suspense, sympathetically drawn characters and crisp dialogue, Better the Blood promises to be the start of a long and rewarding literary career for Bennett.
Blaze Me a Sun
On the same February night that Swedish Prime Minister Olaf Palme is assassinated in Stockholm in 1986, a woman is raped and murdered in the small town of Halland. Police receive an ominous phone call in which the anonymous killer says, “I’m going to do it again.” The investigation goes largely unnoticed by the media, as the attention of the nation is on the Palme assassination. For the rest of his career, and indeed for the rest of his life, police officer Sven Jörgensson is plagued by his failure to solve the crimes. In a parallel plot in the present day, a recently divorced writer whom the book refers to only by his nickname, “Moth,” has moved back to Halland, his childhood home. Somewhat at loose ends, he decides to interview some of the people who were central to the unsolved crime and possibly reanimate his muse in the process. Blaze Me a Sun, the American debut of author Christoffer Carlsson, is part police procedural, part modern inquiry into a very cold case and part sociological study of the evolution of Swedish society in the post-Palme years. The latest in a long streak of Swedish-language bestsellers for Carlsson, Blaze Me a Sun is further proof that he is a worthy heir to titans such as Henning Mankell, Stieg Larsson and Hakan Nesser.
★ The Motion Picture Teller
In 1996 Bangkok, Supot Yongjaiyut is a mail carrier who is “somewhat economical when it [comes] to facial expressions. . . . He had feelings as deep as any, but they rarely inconvenienced his face.” His best friend, Ali, runs a video store, which allows the two to fully pursue their obsession with cinema, a love so profound that they happily watch movies without subtitles and guess at plot and dialogue. When Ali buys a new box of VHS tapes, neither suspects that one of the films will turn out to be an obscure masterpiece, Bangkok 2010. Colin Cotterill’s The Motion Picture Teller follows Supot and Ali’s efforts to unearth the film’s history, creators and especially the identity and current whereabouts of its lissome female lead. There is no real crime to be solved, per se, but that doesn’t stop the pair of intrepid investigators from pursuing leads, interviewing persons of interest and trying to answer the burning question of why Bangkok 2010 was never released publicly. Supot ventures to Thailand’s far north, the mountainous region outside Chiang Rai, and when he is relieved of his only remaining copy of the film, he is nudged into the role of reluctant raconteur, capturing the essence of the film in narrative. A motion picture teller, if you will. By turns witty, warm, charming and poignant, The Motion Picture Teller is perhaps Cotterill’s finest novel thus far.
★ Everybody Knows
Jordan Harper’s Everybody Knows bounces between two protagonists. The first is Mae Pruett, known in Los Angeles as a “black bag publicist.” She keeps people out of public view, especially when they are in hot water of some sort. The second is ex-cop Chris Tamburro, whose current job title is “fist.” It could scarcely be more apropos: He roughs up whomever the rich deem deserving. When Mae’s boss is killed, ostensibly by a gangbanger, she suspects something much more complex, but the reality will be even worse. As she investigates, she uncovers a network of powerful Southern California elites pulling all the strings and pushing all the buttons in their pursuit of power. A missing pregnant teen holds the key to a conspiracy with tentacles reaching into the entertainment industry, the political arena and pretty much every law enforcement agency working the greater Los Angeles area. Fans of neo-noir will find a lot to like here, as Harper displays an encyclopedic knowledge of pop culture and Hollywood history as he spins a tale that isn’t just ripped from the headlines—it’s probably predicting them.