Fabulous Fiction Firsts #221

William Ryan's The Holy Thief** opens in Moscow, 1936, when Stalin’s Great Terror is beginning.

In a deconsecrated church, a young woman is found dead, her mutilated body displayed on the altar for all to see. Captain Alexei Korolev, finally beginning to enjoy the benefits of his success with the Criminal Investigation Division of the Moscow Militia, is asked to investigate. But when he discovers that the victim is an American citizen, the NKVD—the most feared organization in Russia—becomes involved. Soon, Korolev’s every step is under close scrutiny and one false move will mean exile to The Zone, where enemies of the Soviet State, both real and imagined, meet their fate in the frozen camps of the far north.

Committed to uncovering the truth behind the gruesome murder, Korolev enters the realm of the Thieves, rulers of Moscow’s underworld. As more bodies are discovered and pressure from above builds, Korolev begins to question who he can trust and who, in a Russia where fear, uncertainty and hunger prevail, are the real criminals. Soon, Korolev will find not only his moral and political ideals threatened, but also his life.

With Captain Alexei Korolev, William Ryan has given us one of the most compelling detectives in modern literature. Readers will likely draw comparison to Leo Demidov, the hero in Tom Rob Smith's Child 44, another smashing debut when it was published in 2008.

Read Ryan's interview with 10 librarians and get a sense where the sequel will take us.

** = starred reviews

Author Birthdays: Parker & Bradbury

August 22nd marks the birthday of authors Dorothy Parker and Ray Bradbury.

Dorothy Parker was an American poet and satirist, noted for being a "wisecracker". She was a founding member of the famous Algonquin Round Table, and was even put on the Hollywood blacklist for being a suspected communist in the McCarthy era.

Parker's poems were published in magazines such as Vanity Fair and The New Yorker. The Nation said that her voice is, "caked with a salty humor, rough with splinters of disillusion, and tarred with a bright black authenticity." The New York Times published an obituary for her in 1967. In it, Alden Whitman wrote, "Miss Parker was a little woman with a dollish face and basset-hound eyes, in whose mouth butter hardly ever melted. It was a case, as Alexander Woollcott once put it, of 'so odd a blend of Little Nell and Lady Macbeth.'"

Ray Bradbury is an American novelist, best known for writing the dystopian Fahrenheit 451. In honor of his sci-fi greatness, Wikipedia notes that "an asteroid is named in his honor, "9766 Bradbury", along with a crater on the moon called "Dandelion Crater" (named after his novel, Dandelion Wine)."

However, Bradbury also wrote fantasies, horrors, and mysteries. Among the horrors is Something Wicked This Way Comes, which tells the story of a pair of 13-year-old boys who encounter a creepy traveling carnival. Bradbury's mysteries include a trilogy, narrated by an unnamed screenwriter. The first is Death is a Lonely Business, and it focuses on a string of murders in Venice, CA.

Hidden Gems: Books Unjustly Dusty #7

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The wildly popular series of books by Stieg Larsson reminded me of other mystery series set in foreign lands.

Janwillem van de Wetering wrote a series of 14 books with the characters Grijpstra and de Gier who are both detectives and amateur musicians in Amsterdam. Grijpstra is a family man and de Gier is not (although he does love his cat) and they both envy the other's situation. The first book in the series, Outsider in Amsterdam, chronicles the murder of a spiritual advisor (van de Wetering was a Buddhist) along with drug trafficking in 1970s Amsterdam.

The Corpse on the Dike takes the two detectives deep into the Dutch Underworld to solve the murder of a man no one seems to know.

Van de Wetering is a good writer who ably weaves an intricate plot while making the reader care about the quirky detectives. He was awarded the Grand Prix de Littérature Policière, the most prestigious award for crime and detective fiction in France in 1984.

Author Birthdays: Shelley, Winton, Lehane

Today marks the birthday of a few notable writers.

First, I'd like to mention Percy Bysshe Shelley, an English Romantic poet, famed for his idealism, as well as being a social radical. You may recognize the last name; he was married to Mary Shelley of Frankenstein fame. Shelley was known to be friends with fellow poet Lord Byron, and he was admired by many writers of the next generations, including Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, Upton Sinclair, and even Karl Marx.

Second, it is also the birthday of Australian Tim Winton. Winton has been acknowledged with the Man Booker Prize shortlist for his novels The Riders and Dirt Music, and also the Miles Franklin award for FOUR different novels: Shallows, Cloudstreet, Dirt Music, and Breath. Cloudstreet is often described as one of Australia's best-loved novels.

Third, I should also mention Dennis Lehane, the writer of the mystery novel Shutter Island, which was recently adapted into a film, as well as Mystic River and Gone, Baby, Gone, which were also made into motion pictures.

Lastly, though he isn't really a writer, we should wish a happy birthday to the 44th President of the United States, Barack Obama.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #217

Conor Fitzgerald's The Dogs of Rome introduces Commissario Alec Blume in a new projected contemporary police procedural with a smooth blending of a corrupt bureaucracy and a flawed, world-weary hero.

Seattle born expat. Alec Blume, the proverbial outsider and loner, is now police chief commissioner in Rome. When someone brutally murders Arturo Clemente, an animal-rights activist married to a prominent politician, Blume is called late to the scene. It is immediately clear that he must negotiate his way through a labyrinthine minefield that includes crooked cops, unscrupulous politicians, and an ancient city whose very history is steeped in the corruption associated with organized crime.

This promising debut is reminiscent of the early Aurelio Zen series by Michael Dibdin, gritty crime thrillers with an European setting. A personal favorite is still Cabal (1993).

For fans of another American expatriate police procedural - the Urbino McIntyre series by Edward Sklepowich, and the excellent The Commissario Guido Brunetti series by Donna Leon, both set in Venice.

Summer: Pseudoscience

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Many of us are fascinated by aliens, Atlantis, the Bermuda Triangle, fortune telling, ghosts and things that go bump in the night. Summer and your front porch swing seem like the best combination to indulge in this guilty pleasure.

Plato probably didn't know he started a legend and an industry about Atlantis in The Dialogues Of Plato when he wrote "There was an island opposite the strait which you call the Pillars of Hercules, an island larger than Libya and Asia combined..." Gateway to Atlantis is an interesting account that somehow makes the case for Atlantis being located in the Caribbean, most likely Cuba. No matter, Andrew Collins writes an entertaining book with some wonderful illustrations. The same may be said for Imagining Atlantis which really is a fascinating historical and archaeological detective story.

Bizarre Beliefs allows you to cover UFOs, crop circles, Nostradamus, ghosts, Tutankhamun and more all in one book! Ancient Mysteries is another compendium covering Stonehenge, the Sphinx, the Somerset Zodiac, Easter Island, Druids and Schliemann's Treasure.

Finally, Loch Ness Monsters and Raining Frogs claims to solve various mysteries such as who killed Marilyn Monroe, does Bigfoot exist, what really makes crop circles and why it rains frogs.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #215

The Ice Princess** is economist-turned-novelist Camilla Lackberg's #1 bestseller in Sweden (pub. 2003) and the winner of 2008 Grand Prix de Littérature Policière for Best International Crime Novel . Ice Princess is the first of her novels to reach the US market.

Set in winter in the coastal town of Fjallbacka, Erica, a thirtysomething biographer returns to her hometown to deal with her parents' untimely death. On a whim, she visits her childhood friend Alex only to find her dead in the bathtub, in an apparent suicide. Alex's grieving parents and Erica's curiosity compel her to delve deep into Alex's past as well as her relationships. Working with a local police officer, Patrik, they uncover secrets and sordidness that the town folks would have preferred to stay buried under their glossy lifestyle and pristine landscape.

This will appeal to fans of Nordic crime fiction and psychological thrillers who prefer a strong female presence, especially those of Asa Larsson and other notable female writers such as Karin Alvtegen Karin Fossum, Mari Jungsted, and Helene Tursten.

** = starred reviews

Reading about 'Making it Happen' with Crafty Mysteries!

Considering the theme for our 2010 Summer Reading Game: Make it Happen, it would be prudent to mention that crafts are great! Creating something with your own two hands is very satisfying, especially if it turns out better than you planned! Unfortunately for me, I was not born with the DIY gene and my crafting skills do not pay the bills. Instead of crying into my hot glue sticks, I found that I prefer reading about people who do have the skills that I do not possess. Here are some great crafting themed cozies for all of you DIY loving people out there:

Cozy Winners

Anybody who loves a good cozy mystery should check out the Agatha Award fiction winners!

The Agatha Awards celebrate mysteries written in the traditional style. This translates to more atmosphere and less of the graphic scenes you may find in a Noir or True Crime novel.

Fiction Winners (written in 2009):

Best Novel: A Brutal Telling by Louise Penny (Minotaur Books)

Best First Novel: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley (Delacorte Press)

Recent Fiction Award Winners

In the past month or so, a few big awards have been announced in fiction in various genres. Paul Harding’s debut novel Tinkers won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. A New England clock repairer lies on his deathbed. The novel intertwines his final thoughts, with the memories of the death of his father, with an intricate look at life and death. Many star reviews for this eloquently written work. Apparently the book was rejected several times from publishers before being picked up.

John Hart’s The Last Child, won the 2010 Edgar Award for best novel, presented by the Mystery Writers of America. (This is the second Edgar in a row for Hart, as he also won it in 2008 for Down River.) In The Last Child, 12 year old Alyssa goes missing in rural North Carolina, and her twin brother Johnny is determined to find her. His family fell apart after the disappearance, a local officer is trying to solve the case, a year later another girl goes missing, and Johnny is convinced it was the same perpetrator. A well written stunner of a case.

The Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America awarded the 2009 Nebula Award for best novel to Paolo Bacigalupi for The Windup Girl. This debut novel is a tale of Bioterrorism in a post-petroleum future Thailand. Calories become currency and bio-terrorism becomes a tool for corporate profit. Star reviews are all over the place for this book.
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