Reviwe: The Night of the Fire – Ann Lindell #11, #8 in English (Kjell Eriksson)

This is the eleventh book in the Ann Lindell series and the eighth to be translated to English for those of us (like me) who generally love Nordic noir.

The titular night of the fire is how this entry to the Ann Lindell series begins: an abandoned schoolhouse, used as temporary housing for immigrants goes up in flames, rapidly running out of control and decimating the building, killing several immigrants in the process. There are several characters introduced – one an immigrant, who ran from the building, one an old man who saw who set the blaze, but does not tell the authorities, etc.

My biggest gripe and level of disgust came when the story indicated Swedes from the area made no attempt to do anything about the fire. According to the man who saw the arsonists, they stood around “as if attending a bonfire”. I had to take a short break from the book at that point, and that was right after the opening chapter.

In the meantime, someone has called the police, wanting to speak to Ann Lindell, the detective attached to the local station. But she no longer works there, leaving after her mentor retires. She now lives in a cottage in the village, making cheese , while still acknowledging to herself that she misses the thrill of the chase.

Anyone who has ever lived in a small town knows that small town folk tend to be guarded, and small towns usually have tons off secrets. Ann is drawn into the investigation, feeding the information she susses out to a former colleague. When additional fires break out, she does the same. There are also bombs going off, in the village, and in Stockholm. Are all these things related? And where is the missing immigrant? Is he the one going around doing this? If so, why?

Many current issues are brought up in the book: immigration, xenophobia, racism, and so on. Ann fights through all of these things in addition to the tight-lipped nature of her village. Eventually, the mystery is solved, but while on vacation, Ann is approached by a man who works for the national police, and cryptically tells her perhaps they will meet again when she walks away. Will she be drawn back to the work permanently and officially? I suppose we’ll need to read the next book to find out.

Overall impression: it does go heavy on current events, as noted. On the plus side, the book works just fine as a standalone, so reading the previous books in the series, while informative, is not necessary. Ann is a complex, deep character, without some of the tics/schticks that some writers put in place to make their characters memorable for reasons other than whatever it is they do in the story. The story is good, the investigations are carried out competently, without anyone suddenly doing anything completely out of character.

On the downside, at times the narrative got a bit clunky, but this could be more about the translation than anything else, as is not always easy to translate something and have it retain the same flavor as the original. The pacing drags just a bit, and there are numerous characters the reader has to track throughout, and this may be an issue for some people. The issues that pop up in the story may be a tad depressing for some people, and at times threaten to overwhelm the entire narrative. if you’re looking for a fast-paced mystery, this is not the book for you.

I’m giving it a solid four out of five stars. Ann is what really carries this book through to the end.

Thanks to Minotaur/St. Martin’s Press and NetGalley for the review copy.

Review: Should Grace Fail – A Twin Cities Novel (Priscilla Paton)

Quick note: I know this was an uncorrected ebook, but the formatting of it was DREADFUL. Hopefully, they get it under control for the release.

Detective Deb Metzger, who was to speak briefly at an event hosted by Nancy Leclerc, scion of a hotel chain, is asked to take over the keynote speech, which was supposed to be given by Dan Routh, a former policeman, when Routh doesn’t show. She hesitantly agrees.

Routh, it turns out, has been murdered, his body found in a Dumpster. Detective Erik Janssen, Deb’s partner, is on the scene where the former policeman and now quasi-social worker has been found.

The duo are assigned to investigate, and the first person they wind up speaking to is Gordy, Routh’s sponsor in AA. Gordy’s one of the most delightful and funny characters in this book – clearly wanting to o good, and right by Routh, but he also clearly has a case of scattershot thinking. After collecting the information he has, they continue on, following Routh’s footsteps.

They find that Routh was lately working primarily with a girl named Luna – a fetal alcohol syndrome baby who grew up to be a talented musician. But she is in the wind, leaving Erik and Deb to start digging around in her life as well, trying to find her.

There’s a secondary plot involving Jaelyn, an accomplished pianist, who may or may not know Luna, but who is definitely seeing Ray, a drug dealer – and carrying cash and/or product around for him.

By this point, we have a good reading of the two detectives’ personalities: divorced Erik, quiet, and prone to going off to do something without telling Deb. Deb, single after breaking up with her last girlfriend, but seeing a possible new love interest in Jude, right hand to the imperious Nancy Leclerc.

As the story progresses, the overall investigation gets both broader but also more intently smaller, focused on Jaelyn’s drug dealing boyfriend, another young man who seems to be ready to spill his guts, and someone within Nancy’s inner circle.

Erik and Deb doggedly follow the clues, resulting in the arrest of the killer and a rather satisfying ending.

While there were a couple of draggy spots – the neighbors and voles/gophers, for instance – overall the book is quite readable and there weren’t any gigantic plot holes to run trucks though en route to all the pieces of the investigation dovetailing quite nicely at the end.

A solid four out of five stars.

Thanks to Coffeetown Press and NetGalley for the review copy.

Review: Absence of Mercy – Lightner and Law #1 (S. M. Goodwin)

Absence of Mercy is the first of what I hope will be a very long string of books featuring Jasper Lightner, son of a duke sent to pre-Civil War America and Hieronymus Law, a former New York City policeman Lightner rescues from the Tombs, NYC’s notorious prison.

Lightner is a veteran of the Crimean War, having taken part in the charge of the Light Brigade and is the best Inspector the Metropolitan Police have. Police reformers in NYC have requested his assistance in solving a string of murders of wealthy men, all found outside brothels. The Home Secretary prefers that he go, but his father – horrified that the son of a duke is working at all – gives him a choice between two positions, neither of which he really wants: go to America for a year to assist them, or take a position that involves being a figurehead and nothing else. Lightner, stubborn, chooses to go to America for a year.

He lands not only in the period just prior to the American Civil War, but in a city already at war with itself, and corruption at every turn. The captain to whom he reports doesn’t want him, the rank and file resent him, and the Alderman he first meets seems to have his finger in every pie.

He begins his first case immediately: a wealthy man, killed in the same fashion two others were. As he susses out the case and finds out details of previous cases, he tracks down Law. Lightner’s boss has said he can have anyone he wants to assist him, so he basically jailbreaks Law in order to get the information Law has on the first two cases, as the case files for those have been conveniently lost at the precinct.

Together, they go through the mean streets of New York, into the bleakest, hellish basements of the poorest residents, to the posh and spotless homes of the very wealthy – including the widows of the men who had been killed.

As they continue to turn over every rock and put together evidence, they find men with disgusting predilections, men who claim to be reformers, men who actually are reformers helping free blacks flee to Canada (if you have seen 12 Years a Slave (and if you have not, you should) you will have seen at least one story of a free black man captured and sold into slavery; it is the same here in 1857 New York), women who know more than they tell, a plot involving guns, slaves, and money, and corrupt cops looking to get ahead by any means.

Lightner and Law’s investigation finally puts them on the trail to determining the culprit, but other factors are at work in the shadowy world of actors behind even the corrupt governing forces of New York. The real truth, when Lightner finally comes to it, is a punch to the gut.

This story takes no time at all to get moving – in fact, on the first page, we are with Lightner as he looks over a grisly murder scene. Lightner has sharp mind, an superb control of his emotions. Unfortunately, he also has a good chunk of his memory missing, a bum knee, gets headaches, and smokes opium-loaded cigars to treat his ailments. Law, for his part, turns out to be a fair detective himself, and tries to follow Lightner’s lead – asking questions people don’t want to answer, tracking down clues, so he can become a good detective rather than a fair one.

This is an excellent book, although there are a lot of characters, both dead and alive, and with differing loyalties, to keep straight. However, this does not detract from the book at all. The pace is quick when it needs to be, slower when it is appropriate. Overall, a superb read.

Five out of five stars.

Thanks to Crooked Lane Books and NetGalley for the review copy.

Review: All Your Little Lies (Marianne Holmes)

Annie is a quiet, socially awkward young woman in love with her boss Paul, and thinks Paul feels something for her in return. After having a bit too much to drink at a company function, she talks just a tad too loudly about he relationship she sees between them, and is escorted to the door by am embarrassed Paul.

She knows where Paul keeps his spare keys, though, so while Paul continues at the pub, she goes into his apartment to wander around, leaving her nametag in his bathroom and taking a tiny statuette f a baby she had given him from his mantel. There is a moment she believe she is caught, after hearing voices outside his apartment, and once the voices have faded, she leaves, returning Paul’s spare keys to their hiding place.

Flushed with the success of her mission, she drunkenly makes her way back to the train station and then to her car, sits there for an hour or so, and then heads home.

From there, everything seems to go downhill for Annie. While Paul does not directly accuse her of being in his apartment the next day, she thinks he knows she was. In addition, a girl has gone missing from Annie’s area, and from a CCTV that captured the last known movement of the girl, Annie knows it is her car Chloe passes in front of. But Annie did not see her: she was not paying attention to anything outside. Feeling badly, she joins in the searches for the girl, but the others in the group she’s assigned to find her both weird and a little creepy due to her awkwardness.

After some hesitation, Annie finally calls the police to tell them she may have been the last person to see Chloe, even though she didn’t actually see the girl. When the police visit, she tells them this. But there are questions about her timeline, and they want to know why she didn’t actually see the girl who passed right in front of her. She has no good answer, of course, other than she was drink, but she can’t tell them that.

When people find out Annie has been interviewed by the police, suddenly the shy, awkward girl is the center of attention in the office. She enjoys it for awhile, but finds that being unable to give up any real meat about the case returns her to her lonely world.

During the searches, Annie sees that Chloe’s two best friends are behaving oddly. She doesn’t mention this to the police, makes a few (awkward, of course) mentions of the friends to her search team, and it’s clear they wish she was anywhere except with them.

After Chloe goes missing, and between scenes of the present, we get flashbacks to Annie’s childhood. Known as Lottie then, one day two older girls want to include her in a secret club that involves pixies (fairies). creatures Lottie is fascinated by. The girls draw her in by setting trials she has to complete, which she does, and the last of those is a rather heinous one: sacrifice.

All of this informs Annie’s rather odd development and her awkwardness in her adult life. Eventually, Paul confronts her about being in his apartment, but doesn’t fire her. The searches are called off, and the press gets wind of Annie’s past, then police return to question her some more, and eventually, her lie is going off the rails and she considers that she may need to flee.

But then a shocking conclusion brings the entire case crashing down: more secrets are revealed, and we find that sometimes, those closest to you can be the worst for you.

It’s a great story, and Holmes captures the shy, awkward kid turning into a shy, awkward adult incredibly well. There are no major plot or character issues, and this one gets a 4.5 out of 5 stars from me, rounded up to five.

Thanks to Agora Books and NetGalley for the review copy.

Review: Sirocco – St. Nicholas Salvage & Wrecking #2 (Dana Haynes)

Sirocco is the second book in the St. Nicholas Salvage & Wrecking Series, and I have to say, it’s great fun.

The duo behind St. Nicholas Salvage & Wrecking – a sham company – an ex-cop named Finnegan and an ex-spy assassin named Fiero, work out of Cyprus as international bounty hunters. One day, the Paris Station Chief for the CIA, Annie Pryor, and Hugo Llorente, from the Spanish Central Intelligence (who also trained Fiero to be a killer) come to the office in Cyprus to hire them to track down the leadership of a jihadist group that has taken responsibility for bombings in various countries. The group follows up each bombing by releasing a video, with the usual death to the infidels sort of thing.Pryor and Llorente have dark money slush funds, so they’re paying an unspecified (tot he reader) but probably obscene amount of money, and promising that the two will have whatever support the can clandestinely give – a sort of blank check for a rollicking story that rolls through Switzerland, Spain, Germany, and France.

As Finnegan and Fiero dig around in the history of the bombings, a security company (think Blackwater) ALSO want to find the jihadis – and they want to get Finnegan and Fiero away from the trail because those two want to bring in the leader of the group for trial, but the security firm intends to kill him.

But as we learn through Finnegan and Fiero’s investigation, not everything is as it seems, and the truth of the reason for the bombings eventually reveals itself. A truth that brings danger right to their doorstep. To go deeper into it would be much too spoilery – and would take the fun out of reading it.

This is a fun, fast read. Some of the things that are done are not particularly believable, but beyond a couple of instances, the action was plausible, and the banter between Finnegan and Fiero was, at times, quite witty.

A solid four out of five stars.