International Crime Fiction: Spotlight on Spain

  • Post by Director of Suspense Molly Odintz

2016’s been a prolific year for crime fiction set in Spain, ranging from tales of 16th century rebellion against the Inquisition to 1970s punk protests of Franco’s fascist regime. The volumes below remind us that, in Spanish history, just as in the Pyrenees, there are many highs and lows. All make for fascinating backdrops…to murder. 

9781101982730Devils of Cardona by Matthew Carr 

The Spanish king sends a trusted converso judge, Bernardo de Mendoza, to investigate a priest’s bloody murder in a region known for the tolerance of the local gentry and the suspicions of the local Inquisition. More murders have occurred by the time the investigating judge and his party arrive – the mutilated corpses of four drovers point a finger at the area’s former Muslim inhabitants, yet Mendoza suspects the murders stem from another force looking to persecute Moriscos, or Muslims forced to convert to Catholicism. This story speaks to the brutality of the 16th century and the rising xenophobia of our own day. With The Devils of Cardona, Matthew Carr has created a visceral historical mystery and a passionate plea for tolerance. You can find copies on our shelves or via bookpeople.com

9781616956288Blood Crime by Sebastia Alzamora

While I normally read about anarchist Barcelona from the other side, I thoroughly enjoyed this bizarre tale of bloody murder, told from the perspective of priests attempting to leave Republican Spain and join their brethren in the South of France. As they negotiate with an anarchist leader whose sister, herself a nun, has convinced him to aid in their escape, a vampire picks off priests and altar boys amidst the chaos. A strangely endearing mixture of gothic horror, murder mystery, and political commentary, originally published in Catalan and brought to US audiences by SoHo Press. Copies are available via special order in-store or via bookpeople.com

9781501131677The Sleeping World by Gabrielle Lucille Fuentes

This political thrill-ride of a novel follows a group of teens who attack a policeman at a protest in 1970s Spain, and must go on the run and hope that a regime change happens sooner, rather than later. Along the way, they discover lingering graffiti tags from the protagonist’s disappeared brother, mapping a path of mourning for the unnaturally lost across the landscape. Fuentes vividly recreates a time of massive shifts in Spanish politics and the rebellious power of a punk-rock lifestyle under a fascist regime. You can find copies on our shelves or via bookpeople.com

9781632061096The Winterlings by Cristina Sanchez-Andrade

After beguiling Spanish critics and winning the English Pen Award, The Winterlings, an eerie tale of lingering secrets from Cristina Sanchez-Andrade, now makes its way across the pond by our friends at Restless Books. The Winterlings tells the strange story of two sisters who return to their village after a long exile. Their initial reason for leaving? Their father’s brutal murder during the Spanish Civil War. Their reason for returning? A secret to the curious villagers, but not to the sisters… You can find copies on our shelves or via bookpeople.com

MysteryPeople Review: PRECIOUS & GRACE by Alexander McCall Smith

– Post by MysteryPeople Contributor Meike Alana

9781101871355Precious Ramotswe and her sidekick, Grace Makutsi, are back in Alexander McCall Smith’s latest (his 17th!) installment of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series. Titled simply Precious and Grace, our heroines’ latest adventures are told in McCall Smith’s signature charming and deceptively simple prose. I’ve been a fan of the series (indeed, of all McCall Smith’s work) since the series was introduced 13 years ago and the latest doesn’t disappoint.

Mma Ramotswe and Mma Makutsi (who has recently been promoted to agency co-director) are approached by a young Canadian woman who spent her early childhood in Botswana and wants the agency’s assistance in recovering important pieces of her life there. She can provide only a faded photograph, but Precious and Grace set out to find the house that the woman used to live in as well as the nanny who took care of her all those years ago. But as their detective work uncovers some unexpected developments, the ladies are forced to evaluate whether some truths may be better left uncovered.

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Communities, Prejudice and Housing Estates: MysteryPeople Q&A with Joanna Cannon

  • Interview and Review by MysteryPeople Contributor Scott Butki

 

The Trouble with Goats and Sheep eases slowly into its mystery. In a neighborhood where something is clearly amiss, two girls explore their community, asking questions. Grace, who is 10, serves as the narrator for the girls’ explorations.

As the book kicks off, the wife of Mr. Creasy, an important member of the community, has disappeared. As the townspeople navigate a British town during a heat wave in the summer of 1976, the girls and the reader wonder why the residents aren’t as concerned about this disappearance as you would suspect. It becomes clear the community is not a fan of Mr. Creasy, or his wife, for reasons not immediately made clear.

The mystery of Mrs. Creasy’s disappearance sparks the girls’ interest in understanding their community. They convince those on the block to let them come in their homes and visit and ask questions. Some of their questions are about finding God; others try to ascertain, essentially, What Happened.

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Murder in the Afternoon Book Club to Discuss: SMALLER AND SMALLER CIRCLES by F. H. Batacan

 

– Post by Director of Suspense Molly Odintz

9781616956639What do Tom Rob Smith’s Child 44 (Soviet Union), Philip Kerr’s The Pale Criminal (Nazi Germany), and F. H. Batacan’s Smaller and Smaller Circles (Philippines) have in common? They are all superb examples of serial killer narratives where political agendas worm their way into an investigation, and they all  feature serial killers allowed by state authorities to run amok. This, to me is an essential quality in any plausible crime novel about serial killers, but I wanted to provide some real world examples.

Child 44 features a based-on-real-life serial  killer allowed to get away with innumerable murders because the Soviet authorities believed there could be no such thing as a serial killer in such a revolutionary utopia. The Pale Criminal showcases how scapegoating can lead an investigation off-track, as a detective seeks a serial killer while the Nazis use a series of murders for propaganda purposes.

In Smaller and Smaller Circles, set in the late 90s, two Jesuit priests, stunned by the failure of local police to solve a series of brutal murders of young boys in their community, decide to track down the killers themselves.  Unlike Child 44 or The Pale Criminal, however, Smaller and Smaller Circles has been hailed as the first Filipino crime novel, and by extension the first to use the genre for a social critique of inequality in Manila.

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MysteryPeople Review: THE BLOOD WHISPERER by Zoë Sharp

Zoë Sharp will be reading at our next Noir at the Bar event. Noir at the Bar meets at Threadgills South off of Riverside, and starts at 7 PM. Sharp will be joined by John Lawton, Rick Ollerman, Mike McCrary and Jesse Sublett. Copies of each author’s latest will be available for sale at the event. Below, you’ll find a review of The Blood Whisperer,  Sharp’s latest book to make its way across the pond.

Post by MysteryPeople Contributor Meike Alana

9781631940828Zoë Sharp may be known for her Charlie Fox series, but her latest stand-alone, The Blood Whisperer, is killer. At one time, Kelly Jacks worked in law enforcement as one of the best CSI’s in the business.  Nicknamed “The Blood Whisperer” for her seeming ability to coax the most incriminating details out of every crime scene, she had only to read the evidence carefully to find the truth—the evidence never lied.  So when she wakes up next to a mutilated body with a bloody knife in her hand, she knows she’s been framed and trusts that the evidence will clear her.  But this time the evidence lets her down—she is convicted and serves a 6-year prison term for manslaughter.

Now she is free and working as a crime scene cleaner.  In her former life she spent 10 years as the first on the scene, ready to investigate the evidence and uncover the circumstances of the crime.  Now she is the last one in, charged with erasing all evidence that a crime even took place.  It’s not a bad life and she’s making a go at returning to a sense of normalcy.

Until the day she notices something amiss at the site of an apparent suicide.  Something about the blood spatter pattern suggests that the victim may have had some help in pulling the trigger.  Kelly alerts her boss, Ray McCarron, of her suspicions but he tells her to move forward with the cleanup.  The next day Ray is beaten to within an inch of his life.

Kelly doesn’t think the two events are connected at first.  But when she wakes up next to the mutilated body of her coworker Tyrone, with a bloody knife in her hands, she realizes that she’s been set up again.  This time, she doesn’t trust law enforcement to clear her name and goes on the run to find the real killer herself.  And she uses some special skills she picked up in prison to take no prisoners.

Zoë Sharp is the author of the Charlie Fox series, which includes 10 novels, a short-story collection, and a novella.  In Kelly Jacks, Sharp has created another kick-ass female character with an intriguing background.  In this stand-alone novel (that one desperately hopes may become the first in a new series), Sharp has crafted a complex, twisting plot including Russian gangsters and the elite world of thoroughbred horse racing.  As the suspense mounts and the body count rises, the reader is left to race breathlessly to the last page.

Noir at the Bar meets at Threadgills South off of Riverside, and starts at 7 PM. Sharp will be joined by John Lawton, Rick Ollerman, Mike McCrary and Jesse Sublett. Copies of each author’s latest will be available for sale at the event. Find out more about Noir at the Bar! 

MysteryPeople Q&A with Martin Limon

  • Interview by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

In Ping-Pong Heart, Martin Limón’s latest case for his South-Korea-stationed 1970s Army CID cops, Sueño and Bascom, the two try to save a woman from a murder charge, yet soon get involved in the underworld of North-South Korean espionage. Martin was kind enough to talk with us about the book.

MysteryPeople Scott: What drew you to an espionage story?

Martin Limón: Remember that the George Sueño and Ernie Bascom stories are set in the early to mid-seventies, right in the heart of the Cold War. The North Koreans had plenty of spies in South Korea (and probably still do). The U.S. Army took counter-intelligence (the art of stopping spies) very seriously, not only by having plenty of CI agents around but also by constantly inspecting the security needed to protect classified information. Still, I often wondered how effective those measures were. GIs are notorious blabbermouths, not only when they’re sober but especially after a couple of drinks out in the ville.

“The main effect though was that—because of anti-war demonstrations—the Nixon Administration switched to an all-volunteer force. Deprived of the draft for the first time in memory, the Army panicked. Sub-standard recruits such as felons and men with long rap sheets and people with only a few years of education were allowed to enlist. The crime rate shot up, although as best as I can tell this information was kept hidden from the public. I saw the effects. As did George and Ernie. They had to deal with it.”

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MysteryPeople Review: RAIN DOGS by Adrian McKinty

9781633881303– Review by Molly Odintz

A drian McKinty’s latest, Rain Dogsis a strong continuation of his Sean Duffy series. As Rain Dogs opens, Muhammad Ali makes a peace visit to Northern Ireland, and Duffy gets assigned to Ali’s security detail. Those readers not used to seeing Sean Duffy in any state other than abject misery will enjoy this brief respite. Ali’s visit to Northern Ireland heralds Rain Dogs complex context – paramilitaries, civil rights activists, spies, and economists all compete to transform Northern Ireland, blasted by the mid-eighties into a blank palate on which to play international games and stage social and economic experiments.

While Duffy enjoys his escort duties to the max, even securing a framed photograph of his place next to the great boxer in Ali’s security entourage, his next assignment is less fun. Duffy gets called to a hotel room to find the missing wallet of a Finnish diplomat evaluating Northern Ireland’s potential for electronics manufacturing. While Duffy quickly settles on the delegation’s clearly connected interns as the merry pranksters who’ve stolen the wallet, he suspects the delegates of a more sinister agenda to their visit.

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MysteryPeople Q&A with Barry Lancet

Interview by MysteryPeople contributor Scott Butki

 

Pacific BurnBarry Lancet’s latest thriller, and his third in his Jim Brodie series, at least for me, departed from the traditional detective story from the start – yet the more I read, the more I got into it…. and grew to love it.

Why is it a departure? Well, let me set the stage for you. As the book begins, a character who soon becomes the protagonist is interrupted from his work liaising between the U.S. and Japan, and his second job, selling high priced classic Japanese art to wealthy Americans, to go to a crime scene, where someone has been asking to talk to him. Immediately, I think, OK, I am pretty ignorant about both Japan and most classic art, so I may have trouble connecting and relating. Through the eyes of Lancet’s protagonist, however, the reader easily becomes immersed in the criminal underworld’s lust for high-priced art.

One major plot thread was inspired by real life: the Fukushima nuclear meltdown after a disastrous earthquake and tsunami hit Japan. I live in Tokyo, and at talks for my first two books, people often asked me about the leaking radiation and why so little was known about this major disaster that obliterated entire towns and did God-knows-what to the environment. Reports indicated that a lot had been hidden from the public by Japan’s so-called “nuclear mafia.” It was a story just waiting to be told.

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MysteryPeople Q&A with Denise Mina

  • Interview by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery

Denise Mina’s latest Alex Morrow novel, intriguingly titled Blood, Salt, Water, is more of a ‘why done it’ than a ‘who done it.’ The detective inspector looks into what she initially suspects to be a mob killing, but the case proves both knottier in resolution and in morality when her investigation leads her to Helensburg, a small tourist town. Denise was kind enough to take enough to take some questions from us across the pond.

“It was a strange year, when I was writing this book. We had a referendum about whether Scotland wanted to leave the UK and become an independent country so EVERYTHING became about identity politics. It was like we all became teenagers again, the way teens are working out their identity obsessively and see everything as a statement about themselves. Even now, the Syrian War is discussed in terms of ‘what does this say about us’?”

MysteryPeople Scott:  Many of your novels are based on a true crime. Was this one?

Denise Mina: It was. Helensburgh is a beautiful town on the west coast of Scotland but there was a horrible house fire there and it turned out it was arson. The story that came out was that there had been a series of fires out there, caused by a gang of drugs dealers in the area. The town seemed to be waiting for permission to name the arsonist. Then there was a TV appeal featuring a reconstruction of the setting of the fire. A policeman played the part of the arsonist and the public were informed that CCTV was available. A lot of people called from the town, naming the same guy responsible, saying they recognised the guy in the film. I went to the court case when the guys were finally charged. It was bizarre.

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Molly’s Top 10 International Crime Novels of 2015

  • Post by Molly Odintz

 Last year, I posted a list of my top international crime novels, and a list of my top novels of the year, foreign and domestic. This year, as part of my life-long attempt to destroy all hierarchies and question all assumptions, I have decided to include my top international crime fiction as one list, and my top domestic crime picks as another.

Below, you’ll find an eclectic group of novels, united only by the scattered and distant nature of their geography. Next week, I’ll be posting my list of top picks for US-based fiction – more concentrated geographically, but just as diverse in subject matter


innocence or murder on steep street1. Innocence, or, Murder on Steep Street by Heda Margolius-Kovály, Translated by Alex Zucker

Explore the world of 1950s Prague, where the men are either Russian occupiers or in the gulag, and the women who try hardest to do the right thing are the ones most morally compromised by the Soviet system. This darkly atmospheric novel was written by a woman who had worked to translate Raymond Chandler into Czech, and functions as a perfect Soviet noir. Available in English for the first time!Read More »