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Nordic Crime Fiction

Death of a NightingaleLene Kaaberbøl’s Death of a Nightingale begins with Olga and Oxana, two sisters growing up in the Ukraine during the time when Stalin was considered their uncle, whether they liked it or not. During that time, it was hard to tell what was right and what was wrong because regardless of what one did, there was someone who said it was wrong. Olga and Oxana‘s family did what it had to do to get by during famine, but it’s not until years later that the reader sees the ripples of the sisters’ actions.

 

In the current day, Nina, a Danish nurse with the Red Cross, has taken charge of looking after the asthmatic daughter of Natasha, a woman who was convicted of attempting to kill her abusive fiancé. When Nina agreed to take extra care of this young girl, she didn’t realize protecting her from harm could include keeping her safe from people trying to kill or kidnap her. She becomes entangled in a situation far more dangerous than she could have imagined.

 

The timing coincides with Natasha’s escape from custody as she sets off to find her daughter and right the wrongs of her past. It is after Natasha’s escape that her ex-fiancé is found tortured and killed in a similar fashion to her ex-husband’s. Although police suspect Natasha, Nina has suspicions that something more is going on. Now she becomes ensnared with keeping Katerina safe at all costs, even if that means saving her from her own mother.

 

It’s not until the end of this roller coaster of a novel that the reader sees how Olga and Oxana’s past actions have created this tense situation. Though this novel can be read as a stand-alone book, it’s the third in the Nina Borg series. Those who enjoy Nordic crime novels such as The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo are sure to find edge-of-your-seat satisfaction with this series as well.

Randalee

 
 

Lurid Epistles and a Doubtful Diary

RusticationCharles Palliser, in Rustication, unravels a late 19th century mystery through the uneasy journal entries penned by Richard Shenstone, a 17-year-old opium addict who struggles daily with carnal appetites. Richard, after an abrupt suspension from college, seeks out residency in the drearily neglected English mansion where his mother and older sister reside after the death of their debt-ridden father. However, to much surprise, his early homecoming is unpleasantly received. Not only does he feel unwelcomed, he is refused any information regarding the sudden death in the family or their lack of funds.

 

Coinciding with his arrival, livestock vivisection begins and vulgar letters are sent to several neighbors which accuse, damn and threaten their recipients. Richard soon crosses paths with peculiar characters that become cagier with every encounter, from vicious socialites to a brutish dogfighter. At the center of much gossip is an earl’s nephew who is both an eligible bachelor and next in line to receive his uncle’s fortune.

 

Alone in his attempts to make sense of the town’s secrets, Richard feverishly recounts his daily thoughts and conversations. However, his fickle opiate love affair interrupts his stream of recollections. As the crimes increase and worsen, he finds himself as the prime suspect and is determined to discover the identity of the true murderer.

 

Readers will recognize this marshy bleak town from Palliser’s other Victorian novel, The Quincunx, but will find themselves intrigued as the jarring plot peels away like sour onionskin.

Sarah Jane

 
 

A Family Affair

A Family Affair

posted by:
November 15, 2013 - 6:55am

Cover art for After HerThe Beltway Sniper. The Green River Killer. The Boston Strangler. Great unease prevails in a community when there is a cold-blooded killer on the loose. Police work tirelessly and civilians are extra cautious about venturing out. But what happens when the investigation drags on without anyone being apprehended and the number of victims continues to climb? This is the story in Joyce Maynard’s latest book, After Her, a novel as much about a serial killer as it is about the complicated relationships between parents, children and siblings. When sisters Rachel and Patty are teenagers, women begin turning up dead in the mountainous area just beyond their home in northern California. The killer, dubbed the “Sunset Strangler” because of his method and time of day he kills his victims, always seems to be one step ahead of law enforcement. The sisters’ father is the local detective assigned to solve the case, and his spirits and physical health decline as the killer continues to elude capture. Eventually, public opinion turns against him, and he is removed from the case, leaving an unfinished chapter in his career. Thirty years later, his daughter Rachel is still trying to make sense —  and make peace — with her now-deceased father’s professional and personal struggles.   

 

Maynard crafts a story that is family saga, history lesson and murder mystery melded together. There is suspense, but also poignant moments showcasing the lasting bonds of family. Ultimately, in order to find the missing piece of the puzzle, Rachel must confront unexpected secrets of her father’s past. Maynard based After Her on the real-life case of the Trailside Killer, and the investigating detective and his family. On her website you can watch a trailer for the book with interviews with the real-life sisters behind the story.

 

Melanie

 
 

Some Sweet Day

Some Sweet Day

posted by:
October 24, 2013 - 6:00am

Cover art ofr The Book of SomedayDianne Dixon’s second novel, The Book of Someday, links three seemingly unrelated characters in an intriguing story of betrayal, love, loss and maternal protection. Livvi is a successful author with an abusive past. She has recurring nightmares about a woman in a silver dress, but has no idea why or what the dreams mean. Recently, she has fallen in love for the first time but is confused by her boyfriend’s evasiveness and family secrets.

 

Micah is a talented photographer who has recently found out she has breast cancer. As a result, she is on a cross-country journey to try to make amends for past wrongs.

 

AnnaLee is a housewife with a young daughter. Her husband loves her, but he is a disappointment to her career-wise and their financial struggles have further strained their marriage.

 

Told from the alternating perspectives of these three characters, Dixon slowly peels back the layers of the story to reveal the interconnectedness. There is also introspection and self-discovery as each woman matures and better understands the gray areas of their past and present relationships with others.

 

Dixon is a screenwriter and employs brisk writing, succinct dialogue and concise descriptions to create context and keep the story moving forward. The complex characters and plot twists contribute to a dramatic tale which will keep readers up late at night to unravel the mystery. Fans of Jodi Picoult or Kristin Hannah will appreciate the unique ending, which answers some questions but doesn’t tie everything up too neatly. Highly recommended as a book club selection, or as a good couch read on a chilly fall day.
 

Melanie

 
 

Suburban Waywardness

Suburban Waywardness

posted by:
October 4, 2013 - 6:00am

The Longings of Wayward GirlsA cozy New England hamlet definitely needs some mystery and dark secrets to make life interesting, and Karen Brown delivers with The Longings of Wayward Girls. In the summer of 1979, Sadie is a 12-year-old girl with a big imagination, a flair for the dramatic and just enough boredom to lead her into trouble. She also physically resembles another neighborhood girl who disappeared five years prior, a coincidence that will continue to haunt her into adulthood. Sadie and her best friend play a trick on Francie, a younger neighbor, leaving her a series of letters supposedly written by a boy from an earlier era. Francie’s letters back to the imaginary person become darker and more telling of trouble at home, but Sadie and her friend are not mature enough to understand this. Soon after, Francie becomes the second girl in the neighborhood to disappear, and Sadie and her friend harbor guilt over her disappearance. Twenty-four years later, Sadie is living the quintessential stay-at-home mother existence in her hometown. Yet she remains haunted by her dysfunctional family history, a recent stillbirth and her own lack of professional accomplishments, not to mention the long-ago unsolved disappearances of the two girls.

 

In some ways, this is a typical suburban drama about families with underlying issues: Sadie’s alcoholic, suicidal mother; Francie’s abusive father; another neighbor’s odd obsession with Christmas displays. Yet Brown fine tunes the characters and brings enough details about suburban living into the writing to authenticate the scenes. The characters are not always likeable, but their past traumas and upbringings do provide a modicum of explanation for their current actions and personalities. Those who enjoy authors like Jennifer McMahon or Heather Gudenkauf will become intrigued with this community brimming with past and present secrets.

Melanie

 
 

Amusing Murder Mystery

Amusing Murder Mystery

posted by:
September 26, 2013 - 6:55am

Cover art for Cloche and DaggerJenn McKinlay has come out with a new series, Hat Shop Mystery. The first installment of this series is Cloche and Dagger. The novel follows Scarlett Parker as she uproots her life and travels to the U.K. to help her cousin Vivian run the hat shop that they inherited from their grandmother.

 

Scarlett’s move isn’t so much voluntary as necessary, since her boyfriend turned out to be a married man. Scarlett discovered this when she stumbled upon him throwing an anniversary party for his “beloved” wife. Though she prides herself on being a people person who can handle any sticky situation, she lost it and began hurling anniversary cake at her boyfriend. The whole act is caught on camera and posted online where it goes viral. Everyone pesters Scarlett for the inside scoop on the cake throwing debacle, from the average Joe on the street to members of the media.  

 

To avoid the fallout, Scarlett escapes to London. When she arrives in London she discovers that her cousin has neglected to pick her up, and the mystery begins. Where is Viv? Why is a person associated with the hat shop dead?  Scarlett finds herself the subject of the investigation and must discover who the real culprit is in order to clear her name.

 

This quick and quirky read is like Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series with a little less grit. Cloche and Dagger has an endearing amateur detective trying to get by, and a dash of love and intrigue to keep the reader engrossed.

Randalee

 
 

Mommy Not-So Dearest

Mommy Not-So Dearest

posted by:
September 19, 2013 - 6:00am

Cover art for Mother, MotherIf you’re looking for a bold new page-turner, Koren Zailckas, memoirist of Smashed and Fury, delivers with her shocking fiction debut Mother, Mother. This physiological thriller provides two alternating narrators: that of the volatile younger sister, Violet, and the delicate yet determined mamma’s boy, William.
 

The plot has already thickened at the beginning of the novel when it’s revealed that the eldest and most cherished child, Rose, has fled the family for an undisclosed location. The remaining and less “perfect” children, Violet and Will, are left under the calculated and cunning reign of the matriarch, Josephine. And then there’s distracted and weak-willed father.
 

From an outsider’s view, the Hurst family has achieved all upper middle class aspirations. However, when an unexpected act of violence takes place in the picturesque home, the secrets surrounding the absentee Rose steadily unravel through Violet and Will’s dueling accounts; the effects of which rival the circular layers of an onion being stripped away. As tensions build, the book gets creepier and creepier. As Josephine’s tight control begins to slip, small daily activities at home prove that her and William’s relationship makes for one of the most unnerving mother and son pairs in recent history.
 

For those who cannot get enough of the current trope of Mother as Narcissist, as seen in Wendy Lawless’ Chanel Bonfire: A Memoir and in Cate Blanchett’s performance in the film Blue Jasmine. When you start this book, make sure you have enough time to finish it because you won’t be able to put it down.

Sarah Jane

 
 

Conspiracy Theorists’ Delight

The Ludwig ConspiracyThe Ludwig Conspiracy by Oliver Pötzsch is a fascinating voyage through time to the historic death of King Ludwig II. King Ludwig II, also known as the Fairy Tale King, the Swan King or Mad King Ludwig, was the King of Bavaria starting in 1864. His fairy tale castles have inspired many, and one is even the inspiration for the Walt Disney World logo. Ludwig’s death was under extremely suspicious circumstances and, to this day, sparks debates among theorists.
 

Pötzsch mixes fact with fiction in this novel that, though set in modern day Munich, depicts the final months of the king and unravels a story about what may have happened that led to his downfall and death. Steven Lukas is an antique book seller who stumbles upon a treasure chest containing photos, a lock of hair and, most importantly, the diary of Theodore Marot. Marot is the assistant to the king’s personal physician and friend to the king himself. Marot’s account of Ludwig’s final months is highly sought after, and Lukas finds himself rushing to uncover the diary’s secrets before he meets a fate similar to the king.
 

This novel is a race against time to discover the truth and rewrite history. The tale will motivate you to do your own research to find out where the fiction ends and the truth begins. If you liked Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon series you will not want to miss this stand-alone book by Pötzsch.

Randalee

 
 

A Cry for Help

A Cry for Help

posted by:
August 29, 2013 - 6:00am

A Conspiracy of Faith cover artA bottle is discovered off of the coast of Scotland. Inside is a message written in blood. Once it's determined that note is written in Icelandic, the case becomes another mystery for Department Q. A Conspiracy of Faith is the third Department Q novel written by Jussi Adler-Olsen and is the winner of the Nordic crime-writing honor The Glass Key Award. He is in excellent company as previous winners have included Stieg Larsson, Jo Nesbo and Henning Mankell. Readers who enjoy these authors won’t want to miss out on this thrilling story.
 

A Conspiracy of Faith follows two primary storylines. Detective Carl Morck and his team work to decipher the damaged and decaying note found in the bottle and determine the identity of the author. Simultaneously, the reader follows a serial killer as he methodically plans to take his next victims. Although the message is determined to be several years old, Department Q works to find its origin, completely unaware that a similar crime is about to occur at the same location.
 

Jussi Adler-Olsen creates a cast of characters that are as real as they are complex. He establishes an authentic police environment as well as interesting interpersonal relationships, which draw the reader into the story. The novel moves along at an exciting pace and builds in intensity towards the dynamic conclusion.

Jeanne

 
 

Manor House Murder Mystery

Rules of MurderThis murder mystery is a true whodunit with murder served up as the main course, while romance and comedy are definitely delectable side dishes in this new series, Rules of Murder, by Julianna Deering. Deering takes a foray into the past with Rules of Murder, which takes place in 1932 and is set in a quaint countryside town in Hampshire, U.K.

 

The novel opens to Drew Farthering returning to his extravagant manor house after a long vacation with his friend Nick. Drew returns home to find that his mother and stepfather are entertaining guests for this weekend including his stepfather’s beautiful niece, Madeline. It’s during the festivities that they find two people dead on the property.

 

Drew, being a fan of murder mystery books, is eager to see if he can uncover the plot behind the murders using Ronald Knox’s “Ten Commandments for Mystery Writers.” He soon discovers that he isn’t the only one interested in deciphering the mystery as Madeline inserts herself into the investigation. The two “detectives” make a connection at the party that blossoms as they work together to uncover the murderer.

 

This book felt like a combination of The Great Gatsby and a Sherlock Holmes mystery. The mystery will keep you guessing until the end though; the reader is given enough information to take a stab at uncovering the murderer, if they read carefully. There are touches of fact mixed in with the fiction that add to the realism of the book. If you enjoy Agatha Christie, this book may be for you.

Randalee