William Boyle – City of Margins

William Boyle – City of Margins

New York in the 1990s isn’t an easy place to live. Several people’s paths cross but fate has decided not to grant them a lucky end. Ex-cop Donnie Parascandolo saves Ava Bifulco when her car breaks down. Ava’s grown-up son and teacher Nick wonders how his mother could so easily trust a stranger when he believed her still to mourn his father’s death. Donnie’s ex-wife, on the contrary, is still mourning since she didn’t get over the suicide of their son Gabe whose suicide note is found by another lost soul, Mikey, a college dropout without any plans or future. Unexpectedly, their lives are linked, yet not only by the encounters, but also by the blood that some of them have on their hands.

“City of Margins” is a perfectly pitched genre mix. On the one hand, Boyle meticulously studies and portrays the inhabitants of Brooklyn, a borough which could hardly have been in a worse state than it was at the beginning of the 1990s. On the other hand, it is a cleverly constructed crime novel which admittedly seems a bit outdated in its style but nevertheless is quite tempting. He creates a lively and gripping atmosphere which makes it easy to enter the plot.

The most fascinating was how Boyle links the different characters. Their stories are narrated alternatingly and only slowly is revealed what connects them. None of them has an easy life, nothing is granted, the need to fight every single day, but they know that this fight will not necessarily end in better times. There is a certain melancholy quite close to a depressive mood, but sometimes, this is just how the world works.

A great read with real depth in the character development.

Anthony Horowitz – Moonflower Murders

Anthony Horowitz – Moonflower Murders

Former editor Susan Ryeland is running a hotel on Crete with her partner when one day she is contacted by the Trehearnes who themselves also run a hotel in England. On their premises, a dreadful murder had taken place years ago which was used by writer Alan Conway as the basis for a successful novel. Since Susan edited Conway’s novels before he died, she might help them because their daughter Cecily has vanished. Immediately before her disappearance, she had read Conway’s novel and obviously was come across some important information related to the crime. As his editor, Susan must know the novel very well so she might be the one to help solve the case. Since she is rather short of money, she consents to come to Suffolk to investigate the circumstances.

After the “Magpie Murders”, “Moonflower Murders” is the second instalment in the Susan Ryeland series featuring the literary detective Atticus Pünd invented by the deceased novelist Alan Conway. Just like in the first novel, we have a novel within a novel which helps to solve a mystery and links two lines of narration. As a reader, you really have to pay attention not to mix up everything since you have a bunch of fictional characters who are represented in the second narration.

Over the last couple of years, Anthony Horowitz has become one of my favourite authors who never disappoints me. He most certainly is a master of complex plots which pay homage to the great crime writers and the Golden Age of crime fiction by respecting Ronald Knox’ “Ten Commandments” of mysteries.

Just as expected, masterly crafted and even though I liked “Magpie Murders” a bit more, an enjoyable read I can only recommend.

Akwaeke Emezi – The Death of Vivek Oji

akwaeke emezi the death of vivek oji
Akwaeke Emezi – The Death of Vivek Oji

When they hear some noise outside, Kavita opens the door and finds her son Vivek dead on the porch. There was some commotion at the local market and Vivek had wanted to go there where he obviously was killed. But who would ever want to do something to her beloved son? Yes, he had always been different, a bit strange which also made it hard for his cousin and childhood best friend Osita who witnessed strange occurrences such as Vivek’s mind wandering away and making him believe being a different person. And that’s just what he was, secretly, without his parents’ knowledge. But Osita, too, has some secrets he keeps from his and Vivek’s family, some just because they do not fit in their village’s idea of a young man’s life, others because they would be impossible to endure for anybody.

Just like in her novel “Freshwater”, “The Death of Vivek Oji” centres around a young protagonist who differs, whose mind works in a very singular way, yet, Vivek’s is less extraordinary than Ada’s. Nevertheless, the main conflict is placed between the individual and society: a person who does not comply with general expectations and cannot really reveal his emotions and most certainly cannot live the way he would prefer since this simply does not work in the place he lives.

“We can’t keep insisting he was who we thought he was, when he wanted to be someone else and he died being that person, Chicka. We failed, don’t you see?”

The story is told in flashbacks to describe the long road that lead to Vivek’s death. Alternately, Vivek and Osita narrate from their point of view what they experienced and how they felt. Both are trapped somehow since there are things they cannot talk about to anybody except for each other, at the same time, it is difficult for Osita to support Vivek’s otherness. The struggles they go through are very well established and easy to relate to. From a western perspective, it is incredible what is done to Vivek, especially the exorcism performed on him, but there are still places where binary thinking is the rule.

There is some mystery to solve, yet, it is much more about young people who are trying to figure out who they are and how they can live in a place where fixed rules and high expectations do not go well together with who they are. Even though it is, in the end, a rather sad story in many ways, I’d consider it a great and noteworthy read.

Heidi Perks – Three Perfect Liars

heidi perks three perfect liars
Heidi Perks – Three Perfect Liars

When Laura returns to her job after six month of maternity leave, she expects Mia, who substituted her in this time, to be gone. Yet, the young woman is still there, at Laura’s desk and with Laura’s most valuable customer and: she got a permanent contract. Laura is furious and soon convinced that there is something wrong with that seemingly sympathetic colleague who makes friends with everybody easily. The more Laura digs into it, the more paranoid she gets, neglecting her husband and young son, her mind only circulating around how to dethrone the enemy. Mia actually has something to hide and yes, there was a reason why she rushed to this rural area and wanted explicitly to work in this company. Janie, Laura and Mia’s boss Harry’s wife, on the contrary, is a full time mom and at the moment totally frustrated. It is not just that she has given up a splendid career, something is nagging on her and slowly destroying her marriage. When one evening, the offices burn down, all three of them seem to have had good reasons to destroy the company. But, did they also count on killing somebody inside the building?

Heidi Perks’s mystery is a marvellous story which hooked me immediately and keep me reading on as soon as I had started. Three female protagonists are very different from each other and hard to see through at the beginning. But the more you see them interact with each other, the more suspicious you get and while I was reading, I was constantly shifting sympathies since every piece of information added to the picture and slightly changed it.

At first, I felt compassionate for Laura. Coming back after months at home now struggling with her new role as mother and having a career at the same time. Her husband’s constant criticism – even though completely justified – and having somebody younger and attractive stealing her post while her boss lacked supporting her: I could easily understand why she felt like losing all confidence in herself and increasingly getting obsessed with Mia. I didn’t really like the later at first, mainly due to the fact that she was presented through Laura’s point of view, she seemed like an intruder with evil intentions. Yet, there was also another side which she kept from the office and which told an entirely different story. I didn’t know what to do with Janie, was it just lamenting at a very high level? Having a wonderful family and lots of money, what did she have to complain about? It was herself who suggested giving up her career. She was certainly the character least tangible of the three and her motives of ending her marriage remained quite blurry until the end.

A brilliantly crafted plot with a very female and perfidious fight between the three. There was also something really tragic about the story when the motives were finally revealed which kept me pondering about the fact that how easily you put together an allegedly coherent picture of a person or a situation while you might be totally wrong.

William Shaw – Grave’s End

william shaw graves end
William Shaw – Grave’s End

An unoccupied house which is for sale becomes a crime scene when a body is found in a freezer. This is just the first of a couple of bodies that DS Alexandra Cupidi has to deal with. They do not seem to be connected in any way, but the deeper she digs, the more apparent it becomes that all is somehow linked to the housing project September Homes which causes fierce protests among locals. One of them is the victim in the freezer, Vincent Gibbons, who had been observing badgers in the area and feared that the new houses would kill them or drive them away. Alex Cupidi’s daughter Zoë and their neighbour and ex policeman Bill South also protest against the destruction of the habitat, but quite soon, all three of them have to realise that powerful enemies are willing to do everything to stop them from interfering with the project.

The third instalment of the DS Alexandra Cupidi series so far is the best in my opinion. A single body with no obvious links to anything is the starting point of a highly complex murder investigation which expands from chapter to chapter. What I totally adored were the chapters the old badger is given a voice, thus, the topic of building houses without considering the impact on wildlife becomes a lot more important and interesting and one can only agree with the badger when it concludes, “People stink.”

The plot is perfectly crafted, first moving at a slower pace but then accelerating and also raising suspense. The connections between the different dots are all but obvious and it was a great fun puzzling over it. In the end, the case is solved without leaving any questions unanswered. What I liked most this time was how the characters developed, especially the relationship between Alexandra and her daughter. Bill also becomes more and more a close friend of the two while remaining a bit stubborn but he has the heart in the right place. Alexandra’s partner Jill also becomes more remarkable providing just glimpses of her past where a lot seems to remain to be uncovered.

A series which I absolutely adore and would like to read more of.

Stefan Ahnhem – X Ways to Die

stefan ahnhem x ways to die
Stefan Ahnhem – X Ways to Die

Detective Fabian Risk actually could do with some free time to get his family together after the awful events that nearly killed his wife and daughter. Yet, he and his colleagues still have a serial killer on the loose and the killing of people does not stop. Even though the cases could hardly be more different, he senses that there must be some connection. They are finally getting closer to him, but while the Swedish seaside town of Helsingborg is gripped in fear, Fabian also has to complete his very own mission: His former colleague Elvin did not die from suicide, it was forensic scientist Ingvar Molander and obviously, Elvin had put the clues together correctly. Yet, there are still some missing pieces that Fabian needs to uncover before he can finally arrest him, knowing that he has not only a very clever nemesis who knows the rules of the game, but also one who is totally reckless and ready to do everything to get away with much more than one murder.

Stefan Ahnhem continues the story exactly where it ended in “Motive X” and does not waste any time but plunges directly into the plot. Just as in the novel before, “X Ways to Dies” moves at an extremely high pace and cleverly combines the different plot lines that finally tie the knot together. For me, Ahnhem is a worthy successor and heir of Stieg Larsson who set new milestones with his Millennium series; Ahnhem follows his footsteps in many respects by delivering a demanding plot full of suspense.

The latest instalment answers many questions which remained open in the one before thus completing the story and bringing it to a convincing end. What I totally adored was the fight between Risk and Molander, both very clever and certainly belonging to the best in their jobs thus fighting at eye level and giving a lot of insight into police work.  Several setbacks make Risk an authentic and credible protagonist who also shows his weak and vulnerable sides.

The only question left to be answered: does and if so how can the story go on?

Amy Engel – The Familiar Dark

amy engel the familiar dark
Amy Engel – The Familiar Dark

Two 12-year-old girls have been murdered, but except for their parents, nobody really seems to care about it. Maybe they had it coming, that’s how it is with girls their age, they should have paid more attention to whom they mingle with. Eve Taggert is not willing to simply accept that her daughter Junie has gone and nobody is hold responsible for the senseless death. What did she and her friend Izzy do in the park at that time and bad weather? She starts to ask questions even though her brother Cal, a policeman and close to the investigation, tries to keep her away and out of trouble which her private research soon causes. The more Eve learns, the closer she also gets to her own family and especially her mother with whom she had cut all contact before Junie was born because she never wanted to be like her. But in the course of the events, Eve must realise that she shares more traits with her mother than she ever expected.

Amy Engel’s mystery novel deals with the greatest horror that parents could ever go through: learning about the death of their beloved child and having the impression that nobody bothers to find the culprit and to bring him or her to justice. However, it is also about life in small and remote community where poverty and precarious standards of living are a daily occurrence. Growing up in trailer homes or small, run-down apartments where children only get a nook for themselves and see the adults drink alcohol or being addicted to drugs of all kinds – this is not the childhood one could ever wish for. Even if some want the best for their children, just like Eve, getting out of this isn’t as easy as it seems.

The story is narrated from Eve’s point of view which gives you a deep insight in the emotions she goes through. Not just losing her daughter and thus the sense of life, but she also falls back into old patterns she had given up and totally loses her footing. Even though she could not offer Junie much, she put an effort in her daughter’s education and she lead a decent life and loved her – more than she herself had experienced as a kid. To see such a woman being hit by fate is especially bitter.

Amy Engel does a great job in showing the development of Eve, going from being totally blinded by mourning and anger to gaining strength – even if she becomes a bit too reckless and headless at times – and in the end, fearlessly doing what she needs to do.

Notwithstanding that a lot is going wrong in the small town of Barren Springs, what I liked a lot is that the author did not paint the characters in black and white. The greatest villains do also show their positive and human sides – just as the “good” ones suddenly are capable of quite some crime.  Albeit a murder investigation is at the centre of the novel, for me it was much more a psychological study of small town life and people who struggle in life. It does not lack suspense though and several unexpected twists and turns keep you reading on.

Jussi Adler-Olsen – Victim 2117

Jussi adler-olsen victim 2117
Jussi Adler-Olsen – Victim 2117

This could be his last chance for a break-through as a journalist. When Barcelona based Joan Aiguader decides to write about a victim, the 2117th refugees who dies on the dangerous way across the Mediterranean Sea, he cannot anticipate that his article will shake Department Q, Copenhagen’s cold case unit, or that he himself will soon fall in the hands of reckless terrorists. The poor woman who found death on Greek shores is well known to Assad, member of the famous and most successful unit within the Danish police. Lely Kababi once saved his life when his family had fled Iraq and now, so many years without the least information about her whereabouts, he sees her on a picture and next to her is his wife Marwa whom he has neither seen nor spoken for 16 years. Assad needs to get in touch, but he knows just from looking at the picture that this will not be easy since there is another person to be seen: his worst enemy who obviously is seeking revenge.

Jussi Adler-Olsen continues his Department Q series with a suspenseful and highly political instalment which combines current events with the story around the very special unit of the Danish law enforcement authorities. When I read the first novel, I immediately fell for the very peculiar characters Adler-Olsen created. They seemed to be quite a unique assortment of individuals who nevertheless managed to work well together and were highly successful due to their distinctive and diverse skills. All of them had a story which only slowly has been revealed throughout the different books, now it is time for Assad’s story, the most secretive of all.

I am not quite sure if I find Assad’s backstory totally convincing, but I grant it to literature to extent the borders of plausibility at times. Additionally, I am also not in the position to judge on what can happen in Middle East countries in times of war. Setting aside this aspect, I found the characters’ motivation very convincing – Assad’s as well as his opponent’s. I was quite happy to finally get an idea of his life before joining Department! Q which has always been quite blurry. And I totally adored how Adler-Olsen managed to combine this with current affairs that have been central to European politics for quite some time now. Especially the role of journalists – unfortunately only crucial at the very beginning – has been quite authentically portrayed.

The different points of view accelerate the action and lead to a high pace. It does not take long to be totally captured by the novel and again, the author has demonstrated that among the multitude of great Scandinavian crime writers, he surely is at the very top.

Olen Steinhauer – The Last Tourist

olen-steinhauer-the-last-tourist
Olen Steinhauer – The Last Tourist

When CIA analyst Abdul Ghali is sent to Africa due to his family background and language knowledge, he expects a lot but surely not what his trip will turn into. He quickly finds Milo Weaver who runs the so-called “Library”, an organisation with its very own agenda between governments, international conglomerates and high ideals. A number of suspicious murders of members of the “Library” have triggered questions at home and it does not take too long for Ghali to become a target himself. He can flee with Weaver who then reveals what has been going on in the last couple of months: an incredible international conspiracy.

The final part of the Milo Weaver series is a highly complex spy novel linking political and economic interests with current events. There are not many global stakeholders missing and Olen Steinhauer‘s concept will be hard to surpass since it combines fast-paced suspense and authenticity concerning international politics and economics.

For me personally, the sheer number of characters and their individual agenda was a bit too much in order to simply enjoy the novel. I had to re-read several parts and take notes not to get lost. On the one hand, I enjoy demanding plots, on the other hand, this results also in demanding a bit less enjoyable reads. It definitely is also advisable to read the other novels of the “Tourism” series. The atmosphere created is convincing even so it was at times a bit over the top. All in all, a demanding espionage novel which takes some time to digest.

Mads Peder Nordbo – Cold Fear

mads-peder-nordbo-cold-fear
Mads Peder Nordbo – Cold Fear

After his first investigation in Greenland, Matthew Cave has remained on the Danish island. There are still a lot of questions around his family he would like to have answered. Now, the story goes back to the year 1990 when Matt’s father Tom was stationed at an American military base on Greenland to carry out revolutionary medical tests. They managed to develop a pill which could make the body support cold temperatures much longer – a definite advantage in the cold north. Yet, this did not come without side effects and then something went totally wrong. Matt thought his father had died in that spring but he has already figured out that he must have survived somehow since Matt unexpectedly has found out that he has a younger sister. When he starts to investigate what happened on that military base almost 25 years before, he suddenly hits a hornet’s nest and puts himself and his sister in danger.

I already liked the first book in the series about the Danish journalist where the basis for this second novel was laid. Where I found “The Girl Without Skin” a bit creepier and more spine-chilling, “Cold Fear” is much more a spy novel which convinced me with a complex plot and repeated moments of highest suspense. Additionally, again, Nordbo provides insight in the Greenland culture and traditions of which I hardly know anything and which I found as disturbing as interesting.

It is not easy to sum up or briefly retell what “Cold Fear” is all about, there simply is too much and this really demands all your attention while reading. The plot certainly is strongest when political and societal aspects are touched – not just since we have seen the USA repeat their claims of the island this year. As Greenland is located so far away, we are highly ignorant about the different people who settled there and especially their mutual regard or rather disregard which becomes a lot clearer while reading.

However, what enchanted me most were the characters. From a psychological point of view, it is easy to comprehend why they act the way they do and how they developed into the person we meet in the novel. Most powerful are the female characters for me since all of them grow-up under the harshest circumstances and what they have to go through does not remain without trace.

Among the masses of Scandinavian crime novel, undoubtedly one that stands out.