Thursday, May 23, 2019

Fatherhood Is Rare Trait for Fictional Detectives

With Father's Day ahead, I began to think about fatherhood in mystery fiction. It's easy to find murderous or dysfunctional fathers and stepfathers, but what about crime-solving protagonist dads? Alas, research showed that most well-known male sleuths are either eccentric singles a la Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot; hardboiled loners like Philip Marlowe and Mike Hammer; or cerebral commitment-phobes like British inspectors Adam Dalgliesh and Endeavor Morse. Although even the most obsessive detective heroes may indulge in humanizing romance, fatherhood's responsibilities seem to be a plot distraction that authors prefer to avoid! But there are a few famous detectives whose fatherly roles play a part in their character arcs. In the police procedural space, there's Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch series. Bosch's parentless childhood and difficulties in forming relationships inform and give weight to his edgy yet emotional bond with daughter Maddie, who initially lives with Bosch's ex-wife but takes a more important role in later books when she comes to live with him in Los Angeles and starts to emulate her father's police career. In the thriller genre, Tom Clancy's Dr. Jack Ryan—PhD., former Marine, CIA operative extraordinaire and heroic two-term President—also finds time to raise four children, including Jack Ryan Jr., who follows in his father's footsteps and enters the "Ryanverse" book series as an analyst for "the Campus," an off-the-books intelligence agency, where he is a great ally of Ryan Sr., of course. For those who long for a British gentleman as pater familias, there is Ngaio Marsh's Roderick Alleyn of Scotland Yard, who starts out single in the series debut A Man Lay Dead but marries in later novels and fathers a son Ricky, who plays major roles as a child in Spinsters in Jeopardy and as a young man in Last Ditch.  For dark-humor American fare, check out Slim and Anci, the father-daughter duo in Jason Miller's Little Egypt series set in southern Illinois coal country. Self-styled "redneck detective" and single-father Slim is teamed with his brilliant young daughter Anci, starting with Down Don't Bother Me about a mine owner who pays Slim to unravel the mystery of a dead reporter and missing photographer (sans police and press), and Red Dog, in which Slim tracks a missing pitbull only to find a dognapper with his head blown off. And if you want fatherly care without the blood ties, there is always Father Brown, the insightful Roman Catholic priest and amateur sleuth of 53 short stories by G.K. Chesterton (and a TV series).

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

2019 Thrillers With a Timely Political Edge

As I follow the news, I sometimes feel that I am entangled in a series of political thriller plots, but ones less satisfying than fiction. In a novel, I can get to a cathartic climax in days; reality is frustratingly slow moving and full of loose ends and conflicting plot lines. So I started looking at this year's crop of political thrillers to satisfy my thirst for truth, justice, and a satisfying finalenovels in line with classics like The Manchurian Candidate, Day of the Jackal or The Hunt for Red October. I'll note five well-reviewed 2019 releases, starting with Daughter of War by Brad Taylor, a former Special Forces officer and a New York Times bestselling author. This entry in Taylor's Pike Logan series has the hero hot on the trail of a North Korean trying to sell sensitive U.S. intelligence to the Syrian regime when he stumbles on plots and counter-plots by both the Syrians and North Koreans to create mass mayhem using a lethal substance called Red Mercury. What about those pesky Russians? Matthew Quirk's The Night Agent answers with an idealistic young FBI agent who sets out to find and stop a Russian mole, only to realize that anyone in the White House may be the traitor! Of course, writers need to include China among their nemeses.  In Killer Thriller by Lee Goldberg, protagonist Ian Ludlow, an action novel author, is in Hong Kong to research his wildest story yet—a deadly global conspiracy by Chinese intelligence to topple the United Statesonly to find that his horrifying scenario is actually in the works and the Chinese believe he’s a super-spy. Trapped in his own thriller, Ian must dodge assassins as he races to prevent disaster. If you harbor dark suspicions of the President, Out of the Dark will be your cup of tea; it's the latest entry in Gregg Hurwitz's Orphan X series featuring Evan Smoak, trained from age 12 as a deadly assassin by the Orphan Program, an off-the-books, deniable-assets operation that he has fled. Evan realizes the government is now killing all the remaining Orphans and their trainers, so he decides to strike back by taking on the program founder, the U.S. President! But the President is not only surrounded by traditional security, he is guarded by Orphan A, the first Orphan Program recruit, setting up a deadly battle for the fate of the country. Finally, for some feminine spycraft, try The Paris Diversion by Chris Pavone. In Paris, American expat Kate Moore, head of a clandestine cadre of operatives behind her homemaker cover, is confronted by a massive terrorist attack only to find that it is not what it seems and that it involves her own family. For more choices, see Amazon's best-seller list at https://www.amazon.com/Best-Sellers-Kindle-Store-Political-Thrillers-Suspense/zgbs/digital-text/6190490011

Friday, April 26, 2019

Weddings More Fatal than Fun in Mysteries

The spring-summer wedding season is gearing up, and mystery writers are ready with their own murderous takes on wedded bliss as deadly secrets surface, relatives and friends feud, and, of course, money is the eternal catalyst tilting marriage to mayhem. Happily, this spring's crop of wedding-inspired mysteries includes some New York Times best-selling authors, starting with one of my favorites, Jonathan Kellerman, with Southern California settings and the unique sleuthing pair of psychologist Alex Delaware and LAPD detective Milo Sturgis. In The Wedding Guest, Sturgis and Delaware must crash a rowdy "Saints and Sinners"-themed wedding reception where a woman has been found with her throat slashed. Hundreds of guests, and the bride and groom, all claim ignorance of the woman's identity and innocence of any crime as Delaware and Sturgis literally try to separate saints from sinners. Also this year, Alan Bradley adds to his amusing and genre-irreverent Flavia de Luce series with The Golden Tresses of the Dead. This time, British 12-year-old chemist/sleuth/busybody Flavia is attending her sister's wedding in a small English town when a human finger turns up in the wedding cake! Of course, more delicious shocks lie ahead to challenge Flavia's detecting skills. Or maybe you want something a little cozier, then check out The Truffle With Weddings, 2019's installment of Laura Durham's Annabelle Archer Wedding Planner series (series debut Better Off Wed won an Agatha for Best First Novel). In her latest caper, society wedding planner Annabelle is struggling to please a demanding bride when a colleague drops dead after eating a poisoned chocolate, and her best friend and caterer Richard Gerard is suspected. For more cozy mystery series with a wedding theme, check out http://cozy-mysteries-unlimited.com/party-event-planner-list

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Gay Detectives Come Out in Mystery Fiction

With the media giving special attention to presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, who is openly gay, I wondered if mystery fiction reflects a similar LGBTQ acceptance. Overall, mystery and crime fiction have been more hospitable to hard-boiled homicide hunters and old lady sleuths than gay detectives or even gay characters, with homosexuality used most often as a plot point about a hidden identity, a lying witness, a family secret/conflict, or a motive for murder. But there are some great mysteries featuring gay detectives out there, such as Jim Morgan Wilson's Benjamin Justice series. The first novel in the series, Simple Justice, which won an Edgar Award for Best First Novel, debuts journalist Justice, disgraced by a Pulitzer-story scandal and mourning the death of his lover, who is pulled out of alcoholic hiding to investigate a seemingly motiveless killing outside a gay bar, a crime with unexpectedly deep personal and political ramifications. Writer and retired attorney Michael Nava, winner of six Lambda Literary Awards for works exploring LGBT themes, offers a series featuring Henry Rios, a gay Latino criminal defense lawyer in Los Angeles. His Rios novels run from The Little Death in 1986 to 2016's Lay Your Sleeping Head. Many reviewers see one of the most seminal gay detectives as Joseph Hansen's insurance investigator Dave Brandstetter. In the 1970 debut novel of the Brandstetter series, Fadeout, an entertainer's car plunges off a bridge, but the body is missing, and Brandstetter's queries convince him the man is still alive and in danger. Another popular mystery series features Katherine V. Forrest's Kate Delafield, a lesbian L.A. homicide detective. Four books in the series have been Lambda Award winners, most recently 2013's High Desert, in which Delafield must confront truths about herself as, a few months into retirement, she obliges her old captain by taking up the hunt for a missing police partner. For more gay detectives, see this list from writer Kristen Lepionka: http://www.criminalelement.com/the-quiltbag-detective-queer-characters-in-crime-fiction-comment-sweepstakes/

Monday, April 8, 2019

Cure Spring Fever With a Mystery Trip Abroad

With California's hills and gardens splashed by a super-bloom of flowers, I must admit to a touch of spring fever. What better cure than armchair travel courtesy of some great new 2019 mysteries? Certainly, you can't beat Italy as a getaway from any lingering winter blahs. Join Donna Leon's soulful Venetian detective Guido Brunetti in Unto Us A Son Is Given, for a case triggered by a rich man's mysterious adoption. Meanwhile sunny Sicily hosts Andrea Camilleri's The Overnight Kidnapper, in which Inspector Montalbano faces a series of baffling abductions of women bank workers. Enjoy the heat and spices of the exotic East with Abir Mukherjee's Smoke and Ashes, set in colonial 1920s Calcutta, or The Suspect, by Fiona Barton, in which journalist Kate Waters investigates two missing girl tourists in Bangkok. To keep you appreciative of the spring thaw, crack an icy Scandanavian noir like the award-winning After She's Gone by Camilla Grebe, in which a psychological profiler who’s lost her memory and a teenage boy with a secret become unwitting partners in a race to stop a killer, or Hunting Game by Helene Tursten, introducing a new series heroine, Detective Inspector Embla Nyström, a sharp woman with a dark past who is tasked with solving a peer's murder during a routine hunting trip. Still, give me that special brand of British country house/gothic anytime. In The Missing Years by Lexie Elliott, coming in April, Alisa Calder inherits half of an eerie Scottish manor, with the other half left to her father, a man who disappeared 27 years earlier. Or roam the bleak moors with my favorite DCI Banks as he tries to connect the baffling deaths of a local female student and an older male stranger in an expensive suit in Careless Love by Peter Robinson. With The Smiling Man, Joseph Knox's damaged detective Aidan Waits of the Manchester PD goes on a dangerous, mind-bending journey as he tries to ID a smiling body found in an abandoned hotel. A gothic tangle of twin brother and sister, a mother who committed suicide at their birth, a missing au pair, and a Norfolk coast estate launch the mystery of The Au Pair by Emma Rous. But if you have to have Paris in April, pick The Book Artist by Mark Pryor, pitting a U.S. Embassy security head against a murderer at an art exhibition and an assassin with a grudge. For a list of more new mysteries out in early 2019, go to https://crimereads.com/the-most-anticipated-crime-books-of-2019-part-1/

Saturday, February 16, 2019

The Special Charms of Indian Detectives

In India to visit friends and relatives for a few weeks, I naturally brought mysteries for travel days and hotel stays, and this time I chose Indian mystery authors--and I don't mean books by English writers with Indian heroes, such as H.R.F. Keating's Inspector Ganesh Ghote or Tarquin Hall's PI Vish Puri. I mean mysteries by authors who are Indian (or at least of Indian origin) and use an Indian setting. Best known internationally as a filmmaker, no list of Indian mystery writers is complete without the late Satyajit Ray. His 35 short mystery stories, featuring Bengali sleuth Prodosh Chandra Mitra a.k.a. Feluda, form a two-volume set, The Complete Adventures of Feluda, and follow Feluda's development from amateur to skilled investigator. However, fans of Agatha Christie may prefer Madhumita Bhattacharya's private investigator Reema Ray in The Masala MurderDead In A Mumbai Minute or Goa Undercover. Although technically not an Indian author since she was born in England and raised in the U.S., it's hard to leave out Sujata Massey because she has won both an Agatha Award for Best First Novel and a Macavity Award for Best Mystery Novel. She launched a new mystery series in 2018 with The Widows of Malabar Hill, in which Perveen Mistry, the first female lawyer in 1920s Bombay, investigates a suspicious will on behalf of three Muslim widows and soon is embroiled in murder. If you're a "Jewel in the Crown" fan, then go for Arjun Raj Gaind's series about the detecting skills of Maharaja Sikander Singh of Rajpore, a Sherlock Holmes fan; the 2018 paperback Death at the Durbar has the Maharaja under pressure to help the British solve a murder before it upends their George V coronation celebration in 1911 Delhi. Back in modern times, murder is less romantically silk-draped and bejeweled; for example, Ankush Saikia just added More Bodies Will Fall, a 2018 paperback, to his detective Arjun Arora series. This time Arora investigates the Delhi murder of a girl from Northeast India, a tribal area facing violent unrest and outside prejudice. Another dark take on today's India is Fraudster by R.V. Raman. Critically praised in India, the story drags the reader into a corporate world where the employees of a bank are murdered one-by-one as soon as they get too close to large-scale financial fraud. For more Indian mystery recommendations, see https://www.thecuriousreader.in/bookrack/mystery-novels/

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Weather Turns Witness in Forensic Meteorology

It's a rainy day in Southern California, and, as a mystery fanatic cozy indoors with a good who-done-it, it started me thinking about weather and murder--and the interesting role of "forensic meteorology" in investigations. I'm clearly not alone because The Weather Channel debuted its own true-crime series "Storm of Suspicion" last year, highlighting the role played by weather science in solving murders. For example, in one case, a husband claims that his wife was murdered, and he was knocked unconscious, by an intruder. Yet forensic meteorological analysis showed the lawn around the house would have been so soggy with dew at the time of the murder that an intruder would have left clear footprints. Lack of any footprints helped clinch the husband's arrest. In another case, footprints betrayed a murder-as-accident scheme: A woman is found dead at the wheel of her crashed SUV after apparently skidding off an icy road--until footprints in the snow are spotted walking away from the wreck. Yet another example hinges on lack of snow: An accused murderer claims he sustained a scratch on his hand while snowboarding and not during the attack--only it was raining at the time of the alleged snowboarding, melting a slight snowpack and leaving slopes too bare for the sport. The weather is such a common factor in tragic events that forensic meteorologists have been used as expert witnesses in murders, suicides, bombings, vehicle accidents, bad aircraft landings, property insurance disputes, hurricane and flood damage claims, building collapses, slip-and-fall insurance scams, and much more. Unfortunately, as global warming leads to more extreme and dangerous weather events, forensic meteorologists will be keeping busy! For an interesting article on how weather-related forensics contribute to solving crimes and settling legal disputes, see https://gizmodo.com/forensic-meteorologists-solve-crimes-youve-never-though-1586035339