Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Foreign Crime Roundup

It's time once again to review the latest in foreign crime novels--as Rhian mentioned, we're at the shore, and so I had Amazon (sorry, independent bookstore supporters--if you can find somebody else who can get my the British books I crave, I will switch in a heartbeat) send me a few new ones for perusal on the beach.

(And let me say first that I am not actually reading these on the beach. I love the ocean, but I hate the beach--my skin is the color of an oak desk even in January and I don't need a tan. So it's off to the beach for swimming, and back to the air-conditioned rental for books.)

Anyway, I'm reading four new novels, two of which I'll discuss in this post--Hakan Nesser's The Return and The New Ruth Rendell, Not In The Flesh. The Rendell first--this book is the latest Chief Inspector Wexford mystery, and I am sad to say that, while it's pretty entertaining, it does not quite measure up to her best. The supporting cast of this long-running series has become rather cartoonish in this installment, and--in a very, very un-Rendellian mistake--an obvious clue appears halfway through that gives it all away. There are other Wexford books in which this seems to happen, but it's always a trick--the real answer is tucked away somewhere you would never have thought to look. This time, however, it's the real thing, and is something of a disappointment, though I'd pick middling Rendell over a lot of crime writers' best, any day. In addition, I'm not saying Rendell has lost her touch--the last Barbara Vine book was one of my favorites ever. If it's Wexford you want, though, go check out Kissing The Gunner's Daughter or Road Rage.

More satisfying is the Nesser, which I'd had no particular expectation for--the first of this Swede's novels to be translated, Borkmann's Point, was pretty decent, but not among my favorite recent Scandanavian mysteries. This new one is terrific, though. Inspector Van Veeteren, the series' gruff protagonist, is in the hospital having a length of intestine removed, and takes it upon himself to solve the crime from his bed. A man convicted of two murders is released from prison and is soon murdered himself; the subsequent investigation uncovers information that leads Van Veeteren to suspect that the man might be innocent of the first two killings. The book is smart, philosophical, and dryly written, and I was utterly blindsided by the shocking ending.

I just cracked the new Arnaldur Indridason, and have the latest Karin Fossum on deck--the latter is one of my favorite writers currently and I've saved her for last. I'll post about them in the coming days.


aos said...

Fossum is remarkable. Also would recommend Colin Cotterill's mysteries if you haven't come across them. Utterly unique. Set in communist Lao in the 70s. I've read the first two and they were exceptional. Our protagonist is an aged coroner who has no patience with the politics and appears to get advice from the dead. I usually have steer clear of mysteries with obvious supernatural elements (excepting Michael Gruber, or when James Lee Burke strays) but here it works beautifully.

jrlennon said...

Oh wow, thanks for the recommendation! Fossum's last book (I think it has at least three titles so far: Beloved Poona, Calling Out For You, and The Indian Bride) convinced me she's basically a literary writer who is interested in crime. It was just superb, even in translation.

I will check out Cotterill.

5 Red Pandas said...

My husband sent me this link to 10 great Asian crime novels- I've already picked up two- Death of a Red Heroine, and All She was Worth...,,2143319,00.html

There is a great mystery/crime store in the village you should check out if you're ever in New York. My husband found two of the books on the list there.

Here's their website:

aos said...

And thanks for pointing me to Nesser. I had not heard of him.

Agree with your assessment of Fossum. I can't locate my copy of Wolf. I was hoping to post that moment where the detective suddenly realizes his own loneliness and someone who might be some kind of an answer to that...a beautiful poetic evocation of a desolate shore (very moving as I recall).

One other series I just recalled....much more high profile that these is John Burdett's Bangkok novel with a half western half eastern policeman, the only incorruptible policeman in Thailand but with a very Buddhist sense of how to deal with things rather than a black and white western morality. Great cultural commentaries.