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November 2, 2019
A funny thing happened here in Montreal on Halloween. The weather service issued a dire forecast, the city authorities were spooked, and trick or treating was officially postponed for a day when the weather would be better. As many expected, the weather was not so bad on the night and much worse the next day, but many kids managed to go out both nights and double-dip on the treats. I mention all this because this should have been our Halloween issue too, but it had to be postponed not a day but a week, with my apologies.
We'll start with a meagre handful of Halloween-appropriate books nevertheless. Agatha Christie may have passed on years ago, but she left behind scores of uncollected short stories that enterprising publishers are now releasing, often in seasonally-appropriate volumes. THE LAST SÉANCE with its haunted house cover is perfect for Halloween. Meredith Frazier enjoyed it a great deal and suggests that it may indeed not only please Agatha Christie fans but attract new admirers to the canon. THE SHAPE OF NIGHT, by Tess Gerritsen, is not a holiday-specific release, but it qualifies as relevant thanks to its setting, its ghost, and its terror. Susan Hoover admits she devoured this "sexy melodrama" in one sitting. Julie Anne Lindsey's APPLE CIDER SLAYING is not scary at all, but Ruth Castleberry tells us that both the well-drawn characters and the kittens are an attractive introduction to this new cosy series. And after all, a nice cold apple cider is a good way to end a Halloween night.
This is the time of year when followers of long-running series look for the next installment in their favourite set of books. Anne Corey has been reading about Jack Reacher for quite a while with great pleasure and reports that in the current release, BLUE MOON, by Lee Child, Jack performs in his usual and satisfactory fashion.
Now let's get down to the truly disturbing - current events. We can start with John Le Carré's first non-series spy novel in several years, AGENT RUNNING IN THE FIELD. Set now, in the political climate generated by Brexit and Trump, it is a brilliant handling of contentious material in a way that informs us that the old master has not lost a step, or so I thought.
Peter Robinson's Inspector Banks is getting on a bit in MANY RIVERS TO CROSS, but the crimes he has to deal with - sex trafficking, refugee-smuggling, illegal drugs in rural areas - are certainly of the moment. I thought that there may be an autumnal flavour about the book but that on the whole it succeeded very well. Yet another continuing social evil, racism, is at the heart of Steph Cha's YOUR HOUSE WILL PAY. Barbara Fister calls it "an extraordinary standalone novel that vaults the author of the Juniper Song series to a whole new level."
The environment is on all of our minds these days and the anxiety associated with the various assaults on it. Sharon Mensing reports that CHURCH OF THE GRAVEYARD SAINTS, by C. Joseph Greaves, deals with many of the conflicts over environmental protection while maintaining a balanced approach to the question and an interest in its personal consequences. The personal overwhelms the ecological in DRINK TO EVERY BEAST, a debut by Joel Burcat, says Keshena Hanson, who would have liked the emphasis to go the other way.
CURIOUS TOYS, by Elizabeth Hand is an historical novel set in a 1915 Chicago amusement park. Barbara Fister found it a "fascinating and imaginative novel that doesn't so much evoke the past as immerse us in a very strange, magical, somewhat sinister and disorienting place." Among other things, it deals with questions of gender fluidity, and in J.D. Robb's VENDETTA IN DEATH (the 49th appearance of Eve Dallas) gender issues are still a problem in 2061. Here Eve is trying to find the serial killer targeting powerful men who have abused women. Ruth Castleberry says the series remains strong and compelling.
I've been a fan of Fred Vargas and her series protagonist Commissaire Adamsberg for years. The most recent release in English, THE POISON WILL REMAIN, is for me a definite delight, but I had to admit that I can't recommend entering the series at this point - it's one that depends on previous novels to make sense.
Patricia Cornwell has said that she had grown tired of writing about Scarpetta and now she has begun a new series featuring Capt. Calli Chase, NASA pilot, quantum physicist and cybercrime investigator. QUANTUM is the first of the lot and Ruth Castleberry was not enthusiastic, finding it "a strange and somewhat exhausting read."
Finally, Meredith Frazier, who herself lives in Texas, enjoyed THE EYES OF TEXAS: PRIVATE EYES FROM THE PANHANDLE TO THE PINEY WOODS, edited by Michael Bracken, not least because these short stories all "give a realistic, unblinking view of modern-day Texas."
Our guest in the Sixty Seconds With... feature this week is Michael Nava, who has brought his detective Henry Rios out of a retirement that has lasted far too long.
If you'd like to know what's going on in crime fiction across the sea, our friends at CRIMEREVIEW have much to say on the subject.
We'll be back (barring extraordinary meteorological events) at the end of the month and you must come back if you're thinking of giving books as presents, as you should be. Do come and see if we've read anything that might suit.
In the meantime, please get in touch if there's anything you'd like to say to us. We'd love to hear from you.
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Our mascot and masthead is Smokey the Cat. Smokey the cat went to the great playground in the sky on April 29, 2008, at 3:30 p.m. He was about 13 years old, had diabetes and only 11 teeth left. He is much happier now. He will remain as our masthead and mascot.
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