Monday, November 30, 2020

1222 by Anne Holt

Hanne Wilhelmsen is on her way to meet an American specialist about her back injury. Partially paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair since being shot on the job, the former police officer is hoping that some of the side effects of her condition can be lessened. 

But when the train crashes in a remote part of Norway, Hanne and the other passengers are rescued by locals and put up in an old off season hotel. They're lucky in multiple ways: the only fatality was that of the driver; the train was full of doctors on their way to a conference; and though the crash happened in a very remote portion of the country, they'd just left the station for the hotel. 

That, unfortunately, appears to be where their luck runs out. A snowstorm is barreling down on the region, cutting the survivors off from immediate rescue. And then the cell towers go down as well, leaving them with no way to communicate with the outside world. 

All that would be fine—they've got sturdy shelter and plenty of food to last, even a top quality chef to prepare their meals and hotel rooms aplenty to hole up in—but then a man is murdered. And the rest of the survivors soon find out about it, creating a panic that's hard to suppress. Hanne soon finds herself reluctantly drawn into investigating the murder, if only to try to keep the rest of the passengers calm. But then another man is killed, and it seems rescue may not come soon enough to save the rest of them!

This is the eighth book in the Hanne Wilhelmsen series, which kind of kills me. I mean it really does hurt my slight OCD not to start at the beginning! (It'll be ok, I checked out the first two books from the library!) What's interesting is that this particular book was released in the States in 2011 as, and I could be wrong her, her debut US title. 

So apparently Anne Holt is one of, according to Goodreads anyway, "the most successful crime novelist in Norway." She's also a former cop, former lawyer, and the former Minister of Justice. AND her series features a lesbian detective. I only point that out because her books have been in print since 1993 and that's a bit of an oddity even in the genre today! Jo Nesbo calls her the "godmother of modern Norwegian crime fiction." I mean...I can't believe I haven't read her before now!

Though this is the 8th book in the series, 1222 works well as a starting point for new readers. The book does allude to, and outright spell out, earlier incidents that are likely part of the previous books. Certainly the person behind Hanne's injury that landed her in a wheelchair in the first place. But, again, the book does stand on its own. 

A passenger train crashes in a remote area just before a massive storm hits. They're lucky in that only the driver is killed. But that night, someone is murdered. And although they do try to keep it a secret, the rest of the survivors holed up in the main building of the hotel do find out and it creates and understandable panic. 

Hanne definitely doesn't want to be pulled into the investigation. In fact, her mobility is such that she can't actually investigate anyway. But even she can't deny her own curiosity and her skills as an investigator are absolutely needed!

I loved the atmosphere in this one. The remote setting and the storm of course lend this to being a locked-room style murder mystery. All of which makes it a perfect read for the season or the year, whichever you're considering when picking your next read. I'm looking forward to reading more in the series and getting to know Hanne better!

Unfortunately, it does appear that 1222 may actually be out of print in the US (but still available on audio...). Sorry!

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Evil Things by Katja Ivar

Hella Mauzer's talents as an investigator are being wasted in the tiny town of Ivalo. Much of her time is spent on a drunk using the local doctor's doormat as a urinal! But it is 1952 and Hella is an oddity as a formally trained officer rather than a polissyster. 

When she hears of a report of a missing man in a northern town that sits near the Soviet border, she insists on being sent to investigate. The deal is that if it is indeed a criminal investigation, she'll get paid for her time. If not, then she got a little vacation time to see the remote northern town. 

Almost as soon as Hella arrives, a body is recovered from the nearby woods. And it seems Hella might be wrong in her hunch that something untoward has happened to the missing man. But the body is that of a woman and Hella finds evidence of murder rather than the bear mauling everyone believes it to be. 

As she investigates, it occurs to Hella that the people in the tiny town are hiding things from her. But does that make one of the townspeople a killer? Or is there something larger at play? And when she identifies the body of the dead woman, she knows without a doubt that this is one case that those in charge would rather leave unsolved. 

I loved this first in the Hella Mauzer series! I know nothing about the history of Finland. And this is set in the aftermath of WWII, largely based in a town that is so close to the Soviet border that it's citizens often cross over to do their shopping. In fact, there's plenty of suspicion with regards to the townspeople and their loyalties throughout the book. 

The time period is definitely something that makes this a stand out. Ivar includes a bit of history in the afterword of the book, pointing out that Finland did indeed have female officers in the first half of the twentieth century, but they were as rare as Hella herself. 

And Hella comes up against a lot of barriers as a woman. She's not taken seriously as an officer. She's transferred from her first position for being too emotional. And she's all too aware that she needs more to back up her theories than her male colleagues. 

Hella is excellent! She's a little surly (understandably) and very clever. She's the daughter of a spy and she dropped out of medical school before becoming a cop. She's also nursing something of a broken heart from her time in Helsinki. She's got her own quirks and her own deep-set ideas. In short, she's a perfect lead for a series and I absolutely can't wait to read more!

Order a copy from your favorite indie via Bookshop!

Monday, November 23, 2020

The Tenant by Katrine Engberg

An elderly man stumbles upon his dead neighbor. Literally. Kicking off an investigation into a truly twisted series of crimes. 

Partners Jeppe Korner and Annette Werner are two of the officers assigned to the investigation. And at first it seems fairly clear cut. They believe the woman, who shared the apartment with a friend who was confirmed to be out of town, was killed by a spurned lover. 

But the case takes an odd turn when Korner and Werner learn that the murder is a real life copy of a fictionalized on in an as yet unpublished novel being written by the girl's own landlord. 

By the time a second body is discovered, the police are no longer certain who their prime suspect should be: the retired professor with a drinking problem whose novel seems to be the killer's template? Someone from the girl's past? Or someone with a connection to her well-heeled father? What they are certain of is the fact that the killer has only just begun. 

What did I say? More Nordic Noir reviews to come :)

This Danish-set mystery is the first in a new series featuring Korner and Werner (and there are jokes within the book about the similarity in their names). 

I loved the bookish aspect of this one. A killer who somehow has access to an unpublished manuscript and is using it as inspiration for the murders? That's right up my alley! 

Of course this seems to narrow Korner's and Werner's list of suspects and they do have a few theories, some of which are incredibly frustrating considering they're what the police even acknowledge as the easy way out. And yet, each time they come close, something throws them off the trail. 

There's a nice twist in this one even if it was one that I saw coming when it was finally revealed. I also loved getting to know Korner in particular. Considering, though, that this is billed as the Korner and Werner series, I really didn't think that we got much from Werner in this first outing. I'll be interested to see what Engberg does with her in the follow up title, due out in Jan. 

All in all, this is a fun first in a new series and one that I hope will draw more readers into the Nordic Noir subgenre!

Order a copy from your favorite indie via Bookshop!

Friday, November 20, 2020

Eva's Eye by Karin Fossum

Eva and her daughter discover the body of a man washed ashore. Eva says she's going to call the police, but calls her father instead. She never mentions the dead man. 

Rather, it's another witness who reports the body. And Inspector Konrad Sejer is assigned the case. 

The dead man is no stranger to Sejer. In fact, he'd been reported missing months ago. And it's not the only case that's been nagging at Sejer either. A prostitute was murdered just a few weeks before the man went missing. And the one thing both cases turn out to have in common: Eva. 

Fair warning, there's going to be a lot more Nordic Noir to come! As I mentioned in my post on social distancing, the genre has been largely responsible for getting me through some pretty gnarly reading ruts this year. And there's been a ton of new releases this year alone. Which is why when I learned that there were two separate Nordic Noir readathons going on through November, I hopped into both with a fervor bordering on a reading obsession!

Eva's Eye is the first book in Fossum's Konrad Sejer series, which now includes a total of 15 titles (only 13 of which are currently available here). 

Sejer is our narrator for only about half the book. The other half is told from Eva's perspective, which is interesting but a strange way to set up a series featuring Sejer as the protagonist, in my opinion. As a stand alone, however, it is an interesting choice. 

Sejer is haunted by two unsolved cases. That of a dead brewery worker and another that involves the murder of a prostitute. 

Eva, as we soon learn, knows them both. 

The dead prostitute was Eva's childhood friend. They ran into each other serendipitously one afternoon while Eva, in desperate need of funds, is attempting to return an item for cash at a store. Sejer learns all of this when he questions Eva after the body is discovered. But it's Eva's part of the story that reveals more. 

I liked both Sejer and Eva. Sejer lives alone with his dog and skydives in his spare time. He has a grandson he loves dearly and shows tenderness to witnesses, like the son of the dead man. Eva, an artist, is struggling to make ends meet. A divorced mom with an elderly father, both of whom she provides for as best as she can. She's desperate when she runs into her long lost friend. A little less so when she crosses paths with Sejer.  

Again, this one reads a bit odd as the kick off to a series. But I did enjoy the story and am planning to read further. Fossum's latest release here, last year's The Whisperer, is one I've heard very good things about. I have a hard time bringing myself to starting a series at the end, however!

Order a copy from your favorite indie via Bookshop!

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

The Children of Red Peak by Craig DiLouie

Fifteen years have passed since David, Deacon, Beth, Angela, and Emily escaped the Family of the Living Spirit. Just five children, out of a group of over 100, survived what happened at Red Peak on that final day. And they've never told anyone about it. 

But now Emily is dead, bringing the group—minus Angela—together once more to mourn her loss. As David, Deacon, and Beth recount their final days, it becomes clear that they should return to Red Peak and face those final hours once again. But each of them has a different recollection of the events of that last day. And each of them has been haunted by it ever since. Emily was just the first to succumb.

This latest by Craig DiLouie is a little hard to sum up. It's also one I'm still mulling over how I feel about. 

There seem to be an absolute bevy of cult books on the market of late. Given DiLouie's backlist, I went into this one expecting a horror novel about a cult. And it is that, but only in part. 

David and Angela, siblings whose mother joined the Family of the Living Spirit when they were children, have grown up to be a counselor focused on cult extractions and a cop, respectively. Deacon, whose mother was in love with their leader, is trying to make it as the lead in a band. And Beth, whose parents also found solace in the group when she was young, is a therapist. 

All of them are struggling with the fallout of their time with the Family. In fact, all of them share their own POV, with the exception of Angela (who I found to be quite interesting, maybe because we never really get her story). 

The Family of the Living Spirit was, as they can all agree, a safe and trusting environment to grow up in for a time. Led by a charismatic, if narcissistic, man who believed joy in life was just as important as faith, it was more a commune than a cult at the start. And the story unfolds with each character telling their piece of the tale as it led to its tragic end. 

As each of them examines their internal struggles and their memories of the final days with the Family, they each have their own revelations about those days. I don't want to spoil anything by giving too much away, but I thought the book took a turn that didn't feel as satisfying as I had hoped. And I really think that it's because beyond David and the build up to what really happened at Red Peak, I wasn't as interested in Deacon and Beth. I wanted Angela's story (which we don't get). 

Ultimately, I wanted more resolution. And more horror. 

The Children of Red Peak is a weird book that will inevitably appeal to different readers for different reasons. Those who come at it with the mindset that I did are likely to have the same take away that I did. But those who are a little more open to gray endings are probably going to get more out of the read. 

It is a book that sticks with you because it asks the reader, as well as the characters, to draw their own conclusions. I admit, though, that I'm not always the best audience for those stories. (Or, a better way to say it is, it depends what mood I'm in when I read it. Given the things going on this year, I've certainly been gravitating towards easier reads.)

Order a copy from your favorite indie via Bookshop!

Monday, November 16, 2020

Her Father's Secret by Sara Blaedel

Ilka Jensen is trying to make it work with her father's funeral home, but with creditors calling and even the IRS hounding them, it's not been easy. 

When a local woman is killed in what appears to be a run of the mill home invasion, her husband reaches out to Ilka to handle the funeral. It doesn't take long for Ilka to discover that the woman had a connection to Ilka's father. And that connection is enough for Ilka to wonder about the woman's death. But Ilka's digging into that mystery is complicated when she becomes entangled in her father's other family's drama! 

Let me tell you how much I thoroughly enjoyed this trilogy! I read the first on audio and physical, the second solely on audio, and dove immediately into the physical copy of the third installment, which I managed to finish in just one day! (It's been so long!)

This second in the series finds Ilka in a whole heap of trouble. She blew it when it came to selling the funeral home in the first book and now it appears she's made enemies in the industry. Everywhere she turns there are unpaid debts, making it increasingly difficult to keep the business going. And even though her father abandoned her and her mother so many years ago, she feels it's her responsibility to try and keep the business afloat, if for no reason other than to help the two employees she now feels an obligation to. 

In spite of their situation, she agrees to take the body of a recently murdered woman after the husband pleads his case. And it's somewhat fortuitous because it leads Ilka to a pretty big discovery about her father's past. 

But, as mentioned, she has new family drama to deal with as well. Her father's wife and his two daughters have been anything but welcoming to Ilka. But that doesn't stop her from wanting to offer support when she finds out they're in trouble. Little does she know, her reaching out to them upends just about everything she thought she knew about her father!

Ilka's main goal as the books progress is to learn about her dad. To understand, in some way, why he left his family behind to start over in Racine. Her Father's Secret brings Ilka multiple steps closer to that goal! 

It's pretty important that you start this series with the first book. They don't really stand on their own very well considering the entire trilogy arc is Ilka's family's drama. But the series as a whole is an absolutely perfect binge read! 

Quick shout out to Libro.fm who has all three books availble on audio. The narrator, Molly Parker Myers, really does a phenomenal job of giving voice to Ilka, making these truly enjoyable to listen to!

Order it from your favorite indie via Bookshop!

Monday, November 9, 2020

We Hear Voices by Evie Green

Billy was on the brink of death, one of many to catch J5X, the virus ripping its way through the population. But just when all hope is lost, Billy recovers. And that's when Delfy appears. Or rather, doesn't. 

Rachel believes Delfy is Billy's new imaginary friend adopted, she thinks, as a response to having been close to death. But what Rachel doesn't know is that Delfy isn't the only imaginary friend to have appeared after a recovery from the "flu." In fact, a local doctor has begun focusing exclusively on such cases. And he knows that it's only a matter of time before Delfy starts to have increased influence over Billy's behavior. 

As Rachel struggles to support her family and deal with Billy's increasingly disturbing acts, his sister Nina, one of a handful of students accepted into an elite space program, has started her own investigation into Billy's new friend. Soon it becomes clear to all of them that there is nothing normal about Delfy at all. 

We Hear Voices is a near future science fiction with some great horror undertones. It's also a weird one to read in this current climate, but don't let Covid deter you!

Rachel, her partner, and her three children live in a London that is similar to today's except for a few things. First, a mega corporation has bought up most of the city's land and housing and a good portion of the city is employed by said company. Second, the world is on the literal brink of sending people to live in space. 

People refer to J5X as a flu, but it's nothing of the kind. There's no cure and it's killing swaths of people across the world. And yet some people do recover. Billy is one of the lucky few. Which is why Rachel doesn't see what Nina sees from the start, that Billy's new "friend" isn't an innocent response to isolation and loneliness. 

We Hear Voices is not without flaws. I was somewhat underwhelmed by the ending, especially considering the momentum that drives the plot up to that point. But I did love Rachel and Nina and the world-building involved in this particular story. And even with Covid running as background noise throughout my reading, I found this to be excellent escapism. I'm actually kind of hoping that there'll be a sequel, but I'm not at all sure if that's in the plans (the deal announcement is only for the one book, sadly).

If you're not necessarily a fan of science fiction or horror, I should point out that this is more in line with a thriller that has a lot of family drama components. The main thrust of the novel is Rachel's concern about her family. The genre elements definitely take a backseat to this, making the novel one that I think will appeal to a very broad audience. 

We Hear Voices is out December 1 from Berkley!

Preorder a copy from your favorite indie via Bookshop!