The New and the Not So New: Yet More Crime Reads!

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The new and not so new in the title refers to the fact that two of the four authors I include in this post are new to me, in fact first time authors, but not so the other two. The not so new are Denmark's Jussi Adler-Olsen and Norway's big gun, Jo Nesbo. To them in a moment. But first the debutants, France's Bernard Minier and Norway's Thomas Enger.

The Frozen Dead'The Frozen Dead' 3.5 stars, a first novel from French thriller writer Bernard Minier, is a tale of murder and revenge set amidst the harshness of a Pyrenees winter. The wilderness, the snow, the bleakness of the landscape, all in fact contribute as much to the book's atmosphere as the events taking place. The decapitated body of a horse found hanging from a frozen cliff triggers the involvement of Toulouse police Commandant Martin Servaz, but it isn't long before human bodies start turning up. The killings are taking place in close proximity to a secure institution for the criminally insane where a Swiss psychologist taking up her new post is immediately faced with suspicious happenings. A link between the killings and the asylum soon becomes apparent when one inmate’s DNA shows up at a crime scene. Throw in the involvement of one of France’s wealthiest men and the suicide of several teenagers some years before and you have here a nicely formed and intricate plotline, to which can be added some interesting and complex characters who I think will attract your interest every bit as much as the storyline.

I have to venture, mind you, that the antics of the young psychologist in satisfying her curiosity, and in so doing putting herself in harms-way, do beggar belief a little. The author does however make a good fist of building the suspense and creating an atmospheric novel. Without giving too much away, it is fitting that the harsh environment has a role to play right to the end. As to the ending, some good thrillers I find struggle to deliver an ending to match the rest of the book, and while the ending here is not a let-down, it is not the books strongest point.

This book was published in France in 2011 (English translation 2013) where it proved to be a bestseller. Minier has since written a second novel featuring the same police commandant (not yet in translation), and based on this debut thriller I look forward to that in time.

Burned'Burned3.5 stars is the debut novel of Norwegian Thomas Enger and the first in a series starring Oslo-based investigative journalist Henning Juul. Juul returns to work for an online newspaper two years after a fire took his young son's life, destroyed his apartment and left Henning himself physically and emotionally scarred. Upon his return he is immediately involved in the reporting of the murder of a young female film student who met her gruesome death in a tent in an Oslo park. It has all the hallmarks of a radical Islamic sharia-type killing, and the young woman's Muslim boyfriend quickly becomes the main police suspect, a development that Juul seems quite sceptical about. He proceeds to dig into the dead student's life and the lives of her Muslim boyfriend and her college friends in an effort to get to the truth.

There are a number of different aspects to this book: Juul's personal life, the immigrant Muslim community in Oslo, the characters of certain police officers, and the crime itself. Juul has acquired some obsessive behaviours as a result of the fire that claimed his son's life: he constantly changes the batteries in the smoke detectors in his home and he is extra cautious as to where he sits in public places. His mother is a drunk and his ex-wife is now, awkwardly enough, the partner of a colleague he has to work closely with. Enger can be well applauded for giving the main character a background that makes him all the more interesting as a person. Regarding the Muslim angle, you never quite know one way or the other as to its purpose - is it integral to the crime, a sub-plot or a red herring? Is the Muslim angle merely there to portray a certain element of the Muslim community and how the community is perceived in Norway?

This is a story with twists and turns and something of a surprise ending, which by and large works. Yet one or two aspects seem a little convoluted and call for a slight stretch of the imagination, case in point being the student film-making angle. The storyline around Juul's police contact and his infatuation with a female colleague seems underdeveloped to the point where you wonder about its inclusion at all. Of course the fact that 'Burned' is the first in a series does leave open the possibility of any unanswered questions or underdeveloped storylines that you might feel exist being addressed in the follow-up books.

Overall, a promising enough first novel that I can well recommend, and I will certainly be reading the second in the series, 'Pierced', in due course.

RedemptionHaving read and enjoyed two previous books by Jussi Adler-Olsen (Mercy, Disgrace) I looked forward to 'Redemption' 4.5 stars with equal glee. This is the third novel in the Department Q series featuring cold case detective Carl Mørck. While Adler-Olsen's books tend to be on the long side (this one runs to 632 pages), I never felt this to be excessively long and I pretty much enjoyed it from start to finish. In fact it is one of those books that builds nicely, culminating in a tense race-against-time-type finish. He is a quality writer and a good storyteller who can comfortably mix suspense, mystery and humour, pleasing the reader on several fronts all at once. The plot here is well thought out and developed, and centres on the disappearance of a number of children over time, the investigation of which is triggered by a message in a bottle washed up on foreign shores. And while you the reader know that the killer is still active, the investigating team do not and for some time are not even sure if a crime has in fact taken place. Being privy to the present day activities of the killer, you wonder when and if the investigating team will ever make the necessary breakthrough and if they will in time to stop the killer adding to the number of his victims. You, meanwhile, will spend a lot of time in the company of the killer, and your fascination with him will grow accordingly, rest assured. Add to the story mix a troubled childhood and religious sects mindful of their privacy and you begin to see how a serial killer is born and can thrive while remaining largely anonymous. Some scenes border on harrowing, the subject matter of harm to children never being an easy one to digest, but the book is, thankfully, not overly graphic. As the story develops and builds, so does the action and the pace, and I felt it harder and harder to put the book down the further I progressed.

The humour meanwhile, and indeed much of the mystery in the book, concerns the members of the Department Q investigating team, two of whom are civilians but who themselves are quite mysterious, quirky and colourful characters. Enough said, I can well recommend, so get reading!

PoliceHaving bagged my signed copy of 'Police' 4 stars, Jo Nesbo’s latest in the Harry Hole series, back in mid-September when the author visited Dublin, I had to curb my eagerness to start it for a few days while I finished reading Adler-Olsen's 'Redemption'. But once into it, it was the old familiar Nesbo, if not quite the old familiar Hole. The old familiar Nesbo in that the story was as gripping as ever, the plot well-formed, the tension ever present and the outcome ever uncertain. But the Harry Hole of this story was less familiar, when he eventually appeared that is! This is the follow up to 'Phantom', and if you’ve read it you will be all the more interested in knowing what happened to Harry in the 'Phantom' and how is it he is still with us. As regards to what happened and the less familiar Harry, I can say no more, it begs your reading of it.

The primary plot is based around the murders of police officers associated in one way or another with unsolved crimes they were investigating. Some familiar names from previous stories make a return here, forming as they do part of the investigating team. Also too there are sub-plots involving some less savoury members of the force, some of whom we first met in 'Phantom'. Nesbo is not adverse to throwing the odd red herring, or developing a storyline the purpose of which you are not at all certain. All to keep your attention no doubt, and rest assured your attention will not flag here. Aside from the question as to whether or not you will like the Harry of this story as much as the previous (my jury is still out), the one cause for trepidation you may have with this book I suspect will be the extent of the violence involved in some of the murders. Now Nesbo is not known for shirking the topic, as you will know if having read any one of his previous, but I am reminded of the views expressed by British crime writer Ann Cleeves that Nordic crime writers seem to want to outdo one another in graphically depicting violence. Be warned, but be certain you have to read this latest from Jo Nesbo!

Enjoy your reading! 

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