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January 19 2019
January, as you know, takes its name from the god Janus, who is depicted with two faces - one looking back, the other forward. This first issue of RTE for 2019 does a fair amount of looking back into history, and not so much looking forward, though some of the books we read this time take a hard look at the present. And, further down the page, some of our reviewers take a look back at the books they found most memorable in 2018.
After a serious issue with his health, C.J.Samson happily returns with his lawyer detective, Shardlake, in TOMBLAND, a monumental account of the peasant uprising in Norfolk in the 16th century. It weighs in at over 800 pages, and I wouldn't have skipped a page of it.
UNEASY LIES THE CROWN, by Tasha Alexander, is decidedly Janus-like, as it skips back and forth between various British monarchs of the 15th century and a "present" king, Edward VII in 1901. Cathy Downs thought that though this might not be Tasha Alexander at her absolute best, it is still very good indeed. To make an historical leap forward, Lourdes Venard reports on Iona Whishaw's A SORROWFUL SANCTUARY, set in 1947 in British Columbia. She says that Whishaw is not reluctant to raise issues from that immediate post-war period that still resonate today.
Tim Leach's SMILE OF THE WOLF really goes back in time - to 10th century Iceland, to be precise. Meg Westley says that despite its harsh winters and brutal blood feuds, it is "a brilliant re-imagining of that time and place" and a most satisfying read. But 21st Iceland is also on the menu this week. Anne Corey reports that although Yrsa Sigurdardóttir's descriptions of how victims meet their ends are hard to read, nevertheless THE LEGACY is a "complex, well-written, and engrossing mystery." And I paid a visit, thanks to Ragnar Jónasson's current entry in the Arí Thor series RUPTURE, to small-town northern Iceland. This is neither grim nor wintry but simply a successful mystery with its roots in Iceland's past and a nuanced look at its present.
There's snow and ice in Stephen Mack Jones' LIVES LAID AWAY, but capitalization makes a difference. His detective is Augustus Snow and he is among other things trying to protect some undocumented refugees in his Detroit neighbourhood from ICE. Susan Hoover much enjoyed this high action thriller.
OK, enough with winter already (though we are expecting a blizzard). It's summer in Australia in Chris Hammer's SCRUBLANDS, set in a small town. Meredith Frazier found it "thrilling, thought-provoking, and at times deeply unsettling." Anna Snoekstra's THE SPITE GAME takes place in Melbourne. Keshena Hanson found that this story of revenge taken by the victim of a highschool group of mean girls stayed pretty much on the surface, but did think that readers who have been bullied themselves might enjoy seeing tormentors get what they deserve.
It doesn't snow in James Lee Burke's Cajun Louisiana, but that country is threatened by the impact of humans on its landscape and may be doomed. Or so Dave Robicheaux feels in his 22nd appearance in THE NEW IBERIA BLUES. Anne Corey says the sometimes poetic contemplation of life and loss tends to overshadow the mystery of who is doing a series of killings and leads the reader into broader realms of thought.
Jim Napier would like to commend Stephen Booth's Cooper & Fry police procedurals set in the Peak District to those in North America who might have overlooked them. The present entry, FALL DOWN DEAD, is essentially a locked-room mystery set in contemporary terms and "its taut atmospheric settings combined with convincing characters" makes for compelling reading.
Another police procedural, this one set in Boston, is Joanna Schaffhausen's NO MERCY. Susan Hoover reports that it is the elegance of the author's prose as well as the delicacy of the suggested menace in the atmosphere that makes this one of the most satisfying mysteries she has read in years.
Sharon Mensing has a fondness for national parks and this time she travels to British Columbia's Yoho National Park in Dave Butler's NO PLACE FOR WOLVERINES. Sharon applauded the depiction of the Canadian natural scene and the portrayal of the main character, but says the series is still in the process of development.
PJ Coldren enjoys themed cosies and a little bit of the paranormal from time to time and she found both in Molly MacRae's CREWEL AND UNUSUAL, which she enjoyed both for the well-developed characters (even the ghost) and the stunning setting of Blue Plum Tennessee. This is the sixth in the series, while ONE TASTE TOO MANY, by Debra H. Goldstein is a debut. PJ found this culinary mystery interesting, though we doubt she will try the 1955 recipe for Jell-O® in a Can any time soon.
In the "Sixty Seconds..." spot this week, we once again turn back the clock to an early interview, this time with Stephen Booth, whose most recent Cooper & Fry is reviewed in this issue.
Our friends at CRIMEREVIEW are continuing to survey the UK crime fiction scene and you should drop by to see what they are saying about it.
So unless we remain buried in snow, we'll be back next month to talk about what we've been reading. Please come back to see what we've been up to.
And do drop us a line if you feel the urge.
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LOOKING BACK AT 2018
Here are the books the reviewers remembered best from 2018:
Barbara Fister: I'll play. Looking back at my favorite reads of 2018, including ones I reviewed for RTE, I especially enjoyed Sebastian Rotella's RIP CREW. It does an entertaining job of combining globe-trotting adventure with serious ethical questions about immigration in a world where capital can cross borders but people cannot. I always like my crime fiction to be rooted in the world and its problems.
Susan Hoover: It's a tie between COBRA CLUTCH and AMERICAN HEROIN, but AMERICAN HEROIN hasn't been published yet.COBRA CLUTCH is Devlin's first novel, set in Vancouver. I loved the ex-wrestler hero and the scene on the Lion's Gate Bridge was unforgettable.
Rebecca Nesvet: It's Sujata Massey's The Widows of Malabar Hill.
PJ Coldren: THE CLINCHER - I read it years ago as a Malice Domestic Contest manuscript and enjoyed it then. I was delighted to see that she has found a traditional publisher. I as also delighted to enjoy it all over again - it was at least as good as I remembered, and (probably) better. I'm hoping to read the second in the series when it becomes available. And I SO love promoting a newbie . . .
Ruth Castleberry: I began reading thrillers in the 70's so I've read a lot of different authors, not to mention plots. In 2018, Brad Metzler's THE ESCAPE ARTIST was a simply breathtaking read. I've recommended it to friends, I've gifted it to readers who've loved it.
And best of all, it is the beginning of a new series.
Lourdes Venard:I enjoyed Lori Rader-Day's UNDER A DARK SKY. Rader-Day writes compelling psychological mysteries involving women whose pasts haunt them. Her protagonist in this book is emotionally frail and has real fears that are often paralyzing, but little by little she begins to face truths that she hid from herself -- as she also tries to solve a murder.
Meredith Frazier: This year, I have to choose two favorites. SEE ALSO PROOF by Larry Sweazy was the latest in an ongoing series, and watching how he sustains the world of 1965 and his established characters without losing his readers' interest is fun. Equally fun was the way Diane Stuckart flipped my expectations on their head: I began reading FOOL'S MOON with a huge amount of skepticism but was completely won over by the end and now have a new series to look forward to seeing more of.
(I know that's cheating, and if I have to choose just one, I'd go with FOOL'S MOON just for the surprise factor of how much I liked it.)
Jim Napier: A very tough call, but on balance I’d go with Martin Edward’s GALLOWS COURT. Here are my key thoughts:
GALLOWS COURT is a homage to gothic suspense, written by a master of his craft. It is destined to become a true classic.
Cathy Downs: My "topmost" favorite is probably Donna Leon’s THE TEMPTATION OF FORGIVENESS. The temptation mentioned concerns committing crimes for the right reasons, and whether police officers pledged to protect the public should feel the urge to forgive.
ELEVEN MILES TO OSHKOSH includes such incisive and lively portraits of those aching years of high school, of one's vows to do good, of one's pimply first attempts at love, that I cannot but mention it here. Like OSHKOSH, GENTLEMEN FORMERLY DRESSED refers to a past that exists in a kind of golden light. GENTLEMEN is filled with tongue-in-cheek references to those gracious times when gentlemen dressed as gentlemen and how those times covered over bodies and minds which were still human. THE STORM KING, like Oshkosh, is about high school passions and the earnestness with which those can be carried out—leading to death and ruin in a small town.
Diana Borse: My favorite review of 2018 was my favorite in both a hindsight and an anticipatory way. Perhaps I’m cheating here but I will explain: In 2017 I reviewed Elena Hartwell’s novel, TWO HEADS ARE DEADER THAN ONE, the second in her Eddie Shoes mystery series and I found it very good indeed. That alone made me happy to take a look at her third entry, THREE STRIKES, YOU’RE DEAD which came to me a year later. However, what really surprised and delighted me was that when I opened the 2018 novel mine was the first review quoted in a group of nine covering Two Heads, s clear indication that somebody thought highly of what I’d had to say. Feedback from authors or editors about the reviews I write is pretty rare – I write them and send them off and never hear of them again except from my own editor so this was a treat.
As for myself, there are three books I found memorable because of the interesting spins they put on classic crime and historical conventions.
TRANSCRIPTION by Kate Atkinson, NOVEMBER ROAD by Lou Berney and LULLABY ROAD all do just that in their own inventive ways.
Contact: Yvonne Klein (email@example.com)
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