- Post by Molly Odintz
MysteryPeople (in the corporeal form of Scott Montgomery, Crime Fiction Coordinator, and me, Molly, bookseller) will be joining Hopeton Hay for his radio show, KAZI Book Review, 88.7 FM, on the last Sunday of each month between 12:30-12:45 to talk about our favorite releases for the month. I had so much fun discussing my most anticipated picks for February, I’ve decided to put them up on our blog as well! Below, you’ll find three very different books, each and every one a gem of a crime novel.
Perfect Days by Raphael Montes
There’s not much I can say about this one without giving one of Montes’ myriad twists away. I can say that, early in the novel, Montes references the director Michael Haneke and the film Misery, and both of those references become increasingly relevant through this twisted novel. In other words, Perfect Days is the most disturbing novel that I also enjoyed reading since I was first terrified by Kathryn Dunn’s Geek Love.
Perfect Days follows a medical student as he develops an obsession with a young wannabe screenwriter named Clarice he briefly meets at a party. When his wheelchair-bound mother and “Gertrude,” the corpse he’s slowly been dissecting for school, fail to satisfy his need for female companionship, the student kidnaps Clarice, stashes her in a suitcase, and takes her across Brazil while attempting to brainwash her into falling in love with him.
The student defrays suspicion from the kidnapping by telling all of Clarice’s family and friends that she is working on her screenplay and has asked not to be disturbed. The novel vacillates between horrifying scenes of manipulation, gas-lighting and abuse, and darkly comical scenes in which the medical student justifies his behavior as necessary for both Clarice’s future happiness and the success of her Thelma and Louise style road-trip screenplay. The novel’s shocking denouement preserves the balance between dark humor and straight-up horror right to the end. You can find copies of Perfect Days on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.
Ausma Zehanat Khan’s debut, The Unquiet Dead, out last January, introduced her series protagonists, Esa Khattack and Rachel Getty. Khattack and Getty are the head and support staff respectively of Canada’s Community Policing Section, newly created to work on politically sensitive cases. As they tackle their first case, the murder of a fugitive war criminal with as many personal enemies as political, their own personal dramas, compromises and fears both interfere with and contribute to their solving of the case.
Khan has previously worked in international human rights law and was the editor of Muslim Girl magazine, the first Canadian magazine for young Muslim women. Khan is a responsible, empathetic, and nuanced writer who can also write one heck of a thriller. Her commitment to responsible representation of both Muslim characters and contemporary issues is present throughout both her first novel and her recently released follow-up, The Language of Secrets.
In Khan’s second novel, the shadow of historical trauma that defined her debut has been supplanted by the unease of the present. The Language of Secrets follows Esa Khattack as he reluctantly agrees to aid in the take-down of a terrorist plot, after a friend of his, Mohsin, is murdered by the cell while undercover. Khattack is recruited to solve the murder by a despised colleague who may have engineered Esa’s involvement just to sabotage Khattack’s career. His team refuses to share essential information with Khattack, including the fact that the leader of the terrorist cell has just become engaged to Khattack’s sister Ruksh.
Khattack fights back, sending his partner, Rachel Getty, unofficially undercover at the cell’s mosque as a convert to Islam, in the hopes that she can discover Mohsin’s murderer and get Ruksh away from her dangerously charismatic fiance. Esa works to solve Mohsin’s murder as the public face of Canada’s community-sensitive policing initiative, even as he feels increasingly threatened, framed, used and marginalized by his colleagues. You can find copies of The Language of Secrets on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.
The Girl in the Red Coat by Kate Hamer
As an independent child frequently labeled “spacey,” I wandered off from my family more times than I can remember, including one particularly memorable occasion at Disneyland. I always grumbled, after being found and scolded, what the danger was anyway. If The Girl in the Red Coat is any reference, I should have worried more about my meandering ways.
Beth, a single mother, struggles to raise Carmel, her wise yet distracted young daughter. Carmel has a tendency to disappear, we learn right from the start, and it doesn’t take long for Carmel’s wandering ways to land her in the hands of a bible-thumping kidnapper claiming to be her long-lost grandfather. Weak and vulnerable in their circumstances, Carmel and Beth must draw on deep inner reservoirs of strength to find each other and fight for survival.
Hamer switches her narrative between Beth, a mother searching for her missing daughter, and Carmel, Beth’s daughter, clinging to her identity and trying to find her way home. Her grasp on the psychology and style of each character is profound; she represents the desperate thoughts of a grieving mother as profoundly as she portrays the big thoughts and small actions of 8-year-old Carmel.
The Girl in the Red Coat strikes an unusual balance between thriller and fairy tale. Carmel’s story is a fractured take on “Little Red Riding Hood,” down to her bright red coat and her big bad wolf of a grandfather. Beth is a mother faced with a changeling daughter, with a constant fear that her child will disappear, back to the folk of fairy-tales. The Girl in the Red Coat is perfect for those who enjoyed the film Hanna, or those drawn to the violence and danger of folklore. You can find copies of The Girl in the Red Coat on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.