To Kill a Troubadour
Everyone’s favorite French police chief Benoît Courrèges—aka, Bruno, Chief of Police—faces a new threat to his usually bucolic Périgord existence: Spanish terrorists protesting the Catalonia separatist movement. As Martin Walker’s To Kill a Troubadour opens, controversy swirls around “Song for Catalonia,” a wildly popular song that, because of its tacit support for the separatists, has recently been banned by the Spanish government. Les Troubadours, the music group that popularized the song, are gearing up for a free concert in Périgord that promises to be the best-attended event of the summer. Meanwhile, Spanish nationalist extremists have been observed crossing the border into France, intent on inflicting mayhem—or worse—on the assembled music lovers who have given voice to the separatist movement. Then a bullet is found in the wreckage of a recently stolen car, a bullet designed for a high-powered sniper rifle that can kill from several kilometers away. Bruno fears snipers will set their crosshairs on the crowd, on the band or on the songwriter, who openly sympathizes with the Catalonia movement, but the real scheme is much, much worse. But do not fear—despite the tenser-than-usual plot, all of Walker’s fan-favorite characters are present and accounted for, as well as all of Bruno’s treasured pastimes: sports competitions, gourmet cooking and, of course, his engaging basset hound, Balzac.
★ The Shadow Lily
Swedish author Johanna Mo returns with The Shadow Lily, the suspense-laden second book in her series featuring police detective Hanna Duncker, who, after years of working in Stockholm’s urban center, has returned to her small island homeland of Öland. Both Hanna and the other islanders have mixed feelings about her return, as her father was convicted of one of the most brutal murders the community has ever seen. In her latest case, Hanna is tasked with locating a missing man and his infant son, knowing that as the hours tick by, the chances of finding them alive grow smaller and smaller. Mo employs alternating perspectives to great effect, using them to deepen the reader’s understanding of the events and the characters involved. One arc covers the final day of a character who is killed off relatively early in the narrative; in the second, we observe the day-to-day police procedural; in the third, Mo reveals the backstory of the victim from the first arc and the decisions that led to his untimely end. But most compelling of all, The Shadow Lily sheds further light on what drove Hanna back home: the visceral need to know the whole story about her father.
Death Doesn’t Forget
Jing-nan, a dumpling stall operator in a Taipei night market, is not your typical food dude. He is a tech-savvy social media influencer, a born marketer—and an inadvertent sleuth. While Jing-nan is cursed with nefarious family members and cronies, Death Doesn’t Forget starts out with some good fortune: Jing-nan’s girlfriend’s mother, Siu-lien, wins half of a sizable lottery, which she must share with her ne’er-do-well boyfriend. But by the very next day, the good fortune has all dried up. The boyfriend has been killed, the winnings are in the wind and Jing-nan is on the hook for finding, if not the murderer, at least the missing money. Complicating matters further is the fact that Jing-nan’s girlfriend, Nancy, wants to get married. Barring that, she wants a proposal that she can consider, so that “the egg timer would be set . . . a countdown to either getting married or breaking up for good.” Siu-lien looks on this union with disfavor, but successfully returning her money would go a long way toward warming her chill toward Jing-nan. Author Ed Lin recounts all this cultural and familial interplay with good humor, peppering the text with Taiwanese bromides both old and new. (My favorite is this gem regarding prison terms: “Sentences handed down were longer than the gaps between Ang Lee films.”) With its great suspense and plot development, Death Doesn’t Forget is good fun all-round.
★ The Murder Book
Mark Billingham’s Detective Inspector Tom Thorne books are consistently excellent, but his 18th entry in the popular series, The Murder Book, raises the bar considerably. In a twist that will thrill longtime fans of the series, arch villain Stuart Nicklin, described as “the most dangerous psychopath [Thorne] has ever put behind bars,” is back for a return engagement. This time, Nicklin is serving as Svengali for Rebecca Driver, a female serial killer who mutilates her victims a la the dictates of the three wise monkeys: see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. For bonus points, she even honors a fourth monkey that is sometimes included in the traditional crew, along with the maxim “Do no evil.” (I will leave the details of Rebecca’s gruesome methodology to your imagination.) Nicklin’s own bad deeds were well chronicled in Thorne’s 12th adventure, The Bones Beneath, and suffice it to say that the intervening years have done nothing to mellow his penchant for brutality. Thorne turns to the ubiquitous British camera surveillance system to bring Rebecca to justice, but as Billingham takes pains to point out, surveillance cameras can be employed with devastating results on either side of the thin blue line. How, exactly? Thorne, and the reader, will soon find out.