Day of the Dead – Nicci French

Day of the Dead - Nicci FrenchThis is the 8th and final book in the Dr. Frieda Klein series, and so provides a powerful climax with respect to Klein’s arch-nemesis, the serial killer Dean Reeve. Klein remains an enigmatic figure, for sure. Radical plot changes occur to make this a very satisfying read. I look forward to what this husband/wife team write in the future. Thanks Joyce, for your original recommendation of this series and for your enthusiastic thumbs-up for this last book.

The Punishment She Deserves – Elizabeth George

The Punishment She Deserves - Elizabeth GeorgeThis may be the 20th Inspector Lynley mystery book and they are a continuing joy to read. At about 700 pages, the story is rich in detail. The portrait of the English countryside (Ludlow) is impeccable, as always. But the core of this novel is the unlikely partnership of the urbane and cultured Lynley with the impulsive Barbra Havers, his assistant. Their repartee as they investigate a crime is simply wonderful to read. And until 8 pages from the end, there is only a single death so a nice change from crime books about brutal serial killers with more detail than one would like about blood spatter analysis.

The Only Cafe – Linden MacIntyre

The Only cafe - Linden MacIntyre.jpgThis is a superb book, a mystery in the John LeCarre mold. Secrets abound: What will someone do to survive in a genocidal war? Was do we really know about a father when he goes missing? The setting is contemporary Toronto with topical issues like Jihadist recruitment. The back-story is the tragic conflict in Lebanon from 1976-83=2. Unanswered questions are rampant – this is just great writing, in part about journalism: can the truth ever be revealed.

Prussian Blue – Philip Kerr

Prussian Blue - Philip KerrKerr has written a number of novels about a German police detective, Bernie Gunther, and this is the best so far, in my view. Gunther is the epitome of the hard-boiled Philip Marlowe-like PI. The context of the BG plots is Nazi Germany; Prussian blue takes place in 1939. Gunther is a socialist and anyone not a member of the Nazi party will always be viewed with suspicion by Gunther’s superiors. Then add in the characteristic that Gunther is a Berliner, which makes him flippant, disrespectful, subversive, sarcastic – the list goes on! But he is a good cop in difficult times, and his deductive skills force the Nazi superiors to use him in difficult and sensitive investigations. The novel dwells on the existential crisis of investigating a murder in the Nazi context. This is mystery writing at its best.

The Temptation of Forgiveness – Donna Leon

The Temptation of Forgiveness - Donna LeonThis is the 27th Leon novel set in Venice with Commissario Brunetti solving crimes, and each one is a joy to read. The key is context. Venice is a delightful setting, and the crimes, although serious, are not desperate (no blood spatter analysis, for example). The pace of the investigation is relatively relaxed (Brunetti only seems toward on one case at a time), and Brunetti has a normal happy home life (unlike so many conflicted and tortured detectives like  Harry Hole and Wallender). Finally, the women in this story, specifically Ms. Elletra and colleague Griffoni, are becoming increasingly important to the story and plot. Importantly, this story centres on moral ambiguities when characters do something wrong (illegal) but for the right reason. As an example of fine writing, this is a description of a Brunetti encounter with his hapless superior (page 253): “Brunetti applied psychic botox to his smile and nodded while turning his attention to Saint Antonio, patron saint of lost things and lost causes”.

The Night Manager – John Le Carre

The Night Manager - John Le CarreReading mystery/thrillers is a guilty pleasure; for me, plot is less important than context. Two factors distinguish Le Carre’s novels. First, the writing is much better than most mystery writers. Here is a description of Ireland: “The day had been sullen and damp, an evening that began at breakfast”. And second, Le Carre’s plots are sublime in their complexity. In this novel, someone infiltrates a drug/arms dealer’s entourage so lots of danger and suspicion; the complementary plot of political intrigue for the spymasters is wonderfully suspenseful (really, who are the good guys and who are the villains). This is a very entertaining book which was made into a TV mini-series a few years ago.

The Historian – Elizabeth Kostova

The Historian - Elizabeth KostovaThis fascinating book has a Dan Brown-like plot (but with much better writing). Academics search for clues to find missing persons and to research Vlad Dracula’s life (is he still living?). This research is conducted in medieval libraries (yay!) with much travel: Oxford, Istanbul, Budapest and Bulgaria. Actions happen in three times: the 1930s, 1950s and 1970s, often with parallel stories so the complex plot with much historical detail requires the full attention of readers. This is a really enjoyable read; thanks Steph, for this recommendation.