If you like John le Carré…

  • Recommendations from bookseller and mystery blogger Molly Odintz

I’ve always enjoyed tales of espionage, whether they be the glamorous exploits of international men of mystery, the paranoid ramblings of an everyman caught as a pawn between spies, or the delicate and devastating critiques of washed-up bureaucrats tired of destroying nations from their armchairs.

The latter two categories, in particular, drew me to the work of John le Carré. Along with Graham Greene, in such classic works as The Quiet American and Our Man in Havana, le Carré’s clear analysis of the Cold War, bitter condemnation of corrupt and uncaring nations, and compassionate insight into its unwilling victims have hugely influenced portrayals of the Cold War since the early 1960s.

Le Carré’s work since the fall of the Berlin Wall has shifted to a critique of unregulated capitalism and its devastating environmental and health effects. Meanwhile,  declassified documents on both sides of the pond and access to Soviet sources have led to a flowering of historical scholarship covering topics which, at the start of le Carré’s time, found a home only fiction. Below, you’ll find recommendations (both fiction and non-fiction) for the fan of le Carré’s work. 
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Molly’s Top Ten International Crime Novels of 2014

Post by Molly

I have always loved international crime fiction – something about crimes on other shores sparks the imagination in a way that a news bulletin from across town can’t quite mimic. 2014 has been a fantastic year for international crime fiction, with great new releases from all my favorite crime fiction publishers. I celebrated International Crime Fiction Month (known to the layman as June) at the store by launching a new blog series profiling mysteries set across the globe, and now it’s time to pick my top ten international crime fiction novels of 2014.


williammcilvanneylaidlaw1. Laidlaw, by William McIlvanney – This reissue from Europa Editions’ World Noir Imprint takes place in a dismal 1970s Edinburgh, as a dour detective races to find a murder suspect before vigilantes get there first. Scotland’s miserable weather and, in this novel, even more miserable denizens are a perfect fit for noir.

 


in the morning2. In The Morning I’ll Be Gone, by Adrian McKinty – McKinty finished up his Belfast-set Troubles Trilogy earlier this year with an explosive conclusion. Detective Sean Duffy, catholic policeman, punk aficionado, and all-around smartass, is hired by MI5 to track down an old schoolmate-turned-terrorist in what turns into a fascinating retelling of the closest Margaret Thatcher ever got to being assassinated.

 


last winter we parted3. Last Winter, We Parted, by Fuminori Nakamura – Not all Japanese detective novels are poetic explorations of alienation in modern society, but this novel certainly is. Last Winter We Parted follows a young journalist’s interviews with a photographer convicted of burning two of his models alive in a quixotic attempt to capture their essence. As the journalist becomes closer to the photographer and his sister, he begins to lose his own self.


ghostmonth4. Ghost Month, by Ed LinGhost Month is Ed Lin’s first novel set abroad; his previous novels, set in New York City, have centered around the Chinese and Taiwanese-American community, and now Lin has voyaged to Taiwan itself. Ghost Month, takes place in the vibrant Night Market of Taipei, following a Joy Division-obsessed dropout as he tries to discover who killed his ex-girlfriend.

 


minotaurshead5. The Minotaur’s Head, by Marek Krajewski – Set in Poland and Prussia on the eve of the Second World War, The Minotaur’s Head follows two detectives; one a straight laced family man, the other a drunken aesthete of the Belle Époque; as they try to solve a crime that quickly entangles them in larger politics. Marek Krajewski, perhaps because he is Polish, and clearly because he is a good writer, has a perfect handle on the the dialogue and sensibilities of the time period.


the secret place6. The Secret Place, by Tana French – In each of French’s novels, a different character from the Dublin Murder Squad becomes the protagonist for an intense psychological exploration into human nature and crime. French’s latest installment of the series stars Detective Stephen Moran, previously introduced in Faithful Place, who teams up with a colleague’s teenage daughter to investigate a murder at an elite private school.

 


final silence7. The Final Silence, by Stuart NevilleThe Final Silence, Neville’s latest installment in his DI Jack Lennon series, has the detective at a low point in his life when an ex-girlfriend comes knocking to tell him she found something rather disturbing in her dead uncle’s spare bedroom. Neville crafts a thrilling narrative that, like much of his work, also serves as a meditative reminder of Belfast’s haunting past.

 


murder at cape three points8. Murder at Cape Three Points, by Kwei Quartey – This is the third installment of Ghanaian-American Kwei Quartey’s Detective Darko Dawson series. In Murder at Cape Three Points, Ghanaian Detective Dawson is called in to solve the seemingly ritualistic murder of an affluent couple found dead near an oil rig. His investigation is quickly stymied in his efforts by corruption, bureaucracy, and nefarious oil companies, and he must use intuition and unorthodox means to solve the crime.


mad and the bad9. The Mad and the Bad, by Jean-Patrick Manchette – After reading Manchette’s novel The Mad and The Bad, recently reissued by New York Review of Books, I have yet another reason to love the folks at NYRB. The Mad and The Bad is a crazed romp through 1970s France. A spoiled heir to a fortune is kidnapped by an ulcer-ridden hit-man. The child’s nanny, only recently released from a mental institution, must try to keep him safe despite her increasingly fragile grasp on reality.


10. Singapore Noiredited by singapore noirCheryl Lu Tan – this impeccable collection of stories set in the glitzy high rises and seedy underbelly of Singapore is one of Akashic’s finest releases to date. You’ll get a vast array of characters from one of the worlds most diverse cities, including mafiosos, maids, and murderers of all kinds, and plenty of proof that Singapore can be as murderous a city-state as Rome ever was.

 


Copies of each book are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.

Texas Book Festival Wrap-up!

~post by Molly and Scott

MysteryPeople’s Molly Odintz and Scott Montgomery were invited to be moderators at the 19th Annual Texas Festival Of Books held at the state capitol last weekend. It was Scott’s fourth time moderating at the festival and Molly’s first time ever. They both survived to tell the tale to report back.


SCOTT

Crime fiction had its strongest presence yet at the festival with six panels and three one-on-one interviews with the likes of Walter Mosely and James Ellroy. Even before the actual festival got underway, I got to sped some time with the authors. Timothy Hallinan, author of the Junior Bender and Poke Rafferty series, shared some BBQ as we talked books and his time working with Katherine Hepburn. I also got to spend some time with friends Harry Hunsicker, Mark Pryor, and the three authors who make up the pseudonym Miles Arceneaux before they went to their panels. Then I had my own.

First up was an interview with Craig Johnson, who’s latest book, Wait For Signs, is a collection of all the short stories featuring his Wyoming sheriff hero, Walt Longmire. He told the audience that Walt’s last name came from James Longmire who opened up the trail near Washington’s Mount Rainer and had the area named after him. He felt the combination of the words “long” and “mire” expressed what his character had been through. He added it also passed the test for a western hero name in that it could easily be followed by the word “Steakhouse.”

My panel discussion, Risky Business, had Jeff Abbott and debut author Patrick Hoffman looking at the art of thriller writing. The discussion got interesting when when it got into the topic of being categorized in a genre. Jeff said he wanted to get pigeon holed, “That way I know I’m selling.” He added it has never interfered with the type of book he wanted to write. We also got into an interesting talk about use of location. Patrick Hoffman talked about how he would often use his company car to drive to the location of his San Fransisco centric, The White Van, and write there on his lunch hour. Jeff and I also had fun drawing as much attention we could to our friend, author Meg Gardiner, who was in the audience and should have known better.

By the time the festival was over my body dehydrated, my voice was shot, and my blood alcohol content was questionable. Can’t wait til’ next year.


MOLLY

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of moderating two mystery panels at the Texas Book Festival. This was my first try at moderating panels and I am so thankful to MysteryPeople and the Texas Book Festival for giving me the opportunity to channel an NPR interviewer.The first, a panel on International Crime, featured authors Kwei Quartey, on tour with his latest Darko Dawson novel, Murder at Cape Three Points, and Ed Lin, with his new novel Ghost Month. Kwei Quartey’s novels take place in Ghana and increasingly focus on the economic and social imbalances of modern day Ghanaian life. Ed Lin has previously written novels depicting the Asian-American experience, including his Detective Robert Chow trilogy, set in New York City, and Ghost Month is his first to take place outside of the country.

We talked about what it means to write international crime fiction, the place of food in the detective novel, fiction as a method of dealing with historical and current societal trauma, and how to escape from a crashing helicopter. Both authors are published by SoHo and you can find their books on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.

The second panel, looking at crime noir, brought together authors Rod Davis, with his latest, South, America, and Harry Hunsicker, with his new novel The Contractors. South, America follows a Dallas native living in New Orleans as he finds a dead body, gets tangled up with the dead man’s sister, and must go on the run from mobsters. The novel reaches deep into the twisted Louisiana web of racism and poverty to write a lyrical portrait of two desperate people.

Harry Hunsicker is the author of many previous novels, and his latest, The Contractors, explores the blurred lines between public and private when it comes to law enforcement. His two protagonists are private sector contractors working for the DEA and paid a percentage of the value of any recovered substances. They get more than they bargained for when they agree to escort a state’s witness from Dallas to Marfa with two cartels, a rogue DEA agent, and a corrupt ex-cop following them.

We talked about the meaning of noir, the craft of writing mysteries, the purpose of violence in fiction, and stand-alones versus series. South, America and The Contractors  are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com.

MysteryPeople International Crime Fiction Review: MURDER AT CAPE THREE POINTS, by Kwei Quartey

murder at cape three points

Post by Molly


 

For October’s International Crime Fiction pic, I’ve chosen Kwei Quartey‘s latest novel, Murder at Cape Three Points. This is Quartey’s third novel to star Detective Inspector Darko Dawson of Accra and his unique mixture of deductive brilliance and synesthesia-based lie detection (his left hand tingles whenever he hears an untruth, making him excellent at interrogations).

As the novel opens, workers on an oil rig off the Ghanaian coast spot a canoe traveling a bit too close to sensitive underwater equipment. Their initial annoyance quickly turns to horror as the contents of the boat become clear. A man and a woman lie dead in the canoe. The woman has been shot, and the man has been both beheaded and shot, his head stuck onto a pole. The occupants turn out to be Charles and Fiona Smith-Aidoo, a wealthy middle-aged couple with as many enemies as friends. When the local police fail to solve the crime in a timely manner, the dead couple’s relatives file a petition to reopen the case, and Detective Inspector Darko Dawson, with his particular mixture of intuition and detection, gets his next assignment.

Dawson accepts the case with reluctance – his son has just had open-heart surgery, and he would much rather stay home during his son’s recovery than travel to the other side of the country. However, after listening to the couple’s heart-broken neice and realizing how badly the local detectives have mishandled the case, Darko sets out to solve the murders with grim determination. As Dawson first begins the investigation, he looks into numerous avenues, including the possibility of a ritualistic killing by a fetish priest. He quickly realizes that the way to a solution requires stepping on a whole lot of toes, particularly in the oil industry. As he delves deeper into government cover-ups and corruption, the question becomes not can he solve the murder, but will he be allowed to solve the murder, and if so, what consequences will the criminals actually face.

Kwei Quartey was raised in Ghana, then moved to the United States as a teenager, and his crime novels thus far have all taken place in Ghana. Quartey travels to Ghana regularly to research his novels, and the smells, sounds, tastes, conflicts, and diversity of Ghana are present throughout the novel. Murder at Cape Three Points highlights the stark contrast between old and new, between the struggle for basic services and the privileges of the wealthy, between the modern medical technology and animist healing practices, and, in particular, between economic development versus environmental protection. In the context of a world still working on cleaning up the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, and where oil companies’ main hope of expansion comes from high-risk deep water drilling, Quartey’s message could not be more timely.


Kwei Quartey comes to the Texas Book Festival this Saturday, October 25. Check out their website for more details! Copies of Murder at Cape Three Points are available via bookpeople.com.