Fabulous Fiction Firsts #151

The Tourist*, a new stand-alone from Edgar-finalist Olen Steinhauer, is a spy-thriller being compared by critics to the genre classics of John leCarre, Graham Greene and Len Deighton.

Milo Weaver used to be a “tourist” - A CIA undercover agent with no home, no identity. Now retired, he has a 9-5 desk job at the Company’s New York office, a family and a brownstone in Brooklyn. However, when the arrest of a long-sought-after assassin sets off an investigation into one of Milo’s old cases, he has no choice but to go back undercover and to find out who’s pulling the strings.

This "superbly accomplished", "richly nuanced" tale introduces to Steinhauer readers (of his excellent Eastern European quintet) a new hero in Weaver - who is smart but sometimes not smart enough and who toils at a soul-crushing job utterly alone. Film rights sold to George Clooney.

* = Starred reviews

The Sir John Fielding Mysteries

If you are a reader of historical mysteries, especially if there is a nice long series of them, the eleven Sir John Fielding Mysteries, by Bruce Alexander, could be for you. In Georgian London (that is, when mad King George was sending redcoats to North America to discipline those headstrong colonialists), Sir John Fielding is the magistrate in Covent Garden. Based on a true character, Sir John was known as the “Beak of Bow Street” and was responsible for organizing the first-ever police force, known as the Bow Street Runners. With a reputation as an uncompromising, exacting man of the law, he was also one of the first to be considered fair and impartial when hearing cases involving the local riff-raff from the streets of London.

I have only read the first two, and so can’t vouch for them all, but these were perfect. Told by Sir John’s young ward, Jeremy Proctor, a foundling with a sharper-than-average mind and keen powers of observation, who becomes Sir John’s helper and co-conspirator in unraveling the dastardly crimes of Covent Garden. Oh, did I mention that Sir John was blind? Stories are told about how he could recognize 2000 local criminals by their voices alone. His astute and probing mind, his unfailing memory and keen senses, prove the undoing of the criminal element in old-town London.

Alexander sets just the right mood in foggy London with visits to the infamous Newgate Prison, "Bedlam" Hospital and Drury Lane Theatre; colorful and memorable Dickensian-style characters, including a few real ones like Samuel Johnson and Ben Franklin; really twisty plots which are hard to second guess; and a very well-crafted, lilting narrative which mimics eighteenth-century speech, but is utterly readable.

Be sure to begin with the first, Blind Justice. For a list of all the titles in the series, in order, look here.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #148

Three-time Edgar Award winner Joe Gores' Spade & Archer is the only authorized (by Dashiell Hammett's daughter) prequel to The Maltese Falcon (1930).

When Sam Spade gets drawn into the Maltese Falcon case, we know what to expect -- straight talk, hard questions, no favors, and no way for anyone to get underneath the protective shell he wears like a second skin. We know that Spade is sleeping with his late partner Archer’s wife, Iva. What we don’t know is how Spade becomes who he is. Spade & Archer completes the picture, beginning in 1921 when Spade sets up his own agency in San Francisco.

"The author (who lives in Marin County in the Bay Area) not only does a brilliant job of bringing Prohibition-era San Francisco to life with street-level detail and a native's perspective, but also captures Hammett's spare style and tone perfectly".

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #144

Norman Green's latest The Last Gig* is the first in a projected series featuring teen shamus Al(essandra) Martillo - a Puerto Rican runaway from Bronx.

Tough and street-smart, Al might have taken on more than she had bargained for when hired by Mickey Caughlan, head of a local Irish mob, to uncover the traitor within.

While the storyline might have been rather straightforward, it is Al who steals the show - "She fights like a Valkyrie, loves hard, runs scared at times, stand tall when it matter, is sexy, endearing and just about the freshest heroine to enhance genre fiction in forever" ~Kirkus. Now that's sounds like a winner to me!

* = Starred Reviews

Audio Fabulous Fiction First #141

BBC Audiobooks production of Catherine O'Flynn's "heartbreaking, hilarious, immensely rewarding" debut novel What Was Lost* is not to be missed.

Nominated for the Man Booker Prize, the story begins with 10 year-old Kate Meaney, amateur sleuth/loner, except for the unlikely Adrian, adult son of a local shopkeeper, and Teresa, a girl who sets new standards for naughtiness. Then, one day, Kate disappears.

20 years later, two employees of the Green Oak Shopping Center where Kate doggedly set up surveillance of her bank robber "suspect" begin seeing Kate's ghost on the security camera. All at once, the many lives that were affected by her disappearance converge and collide.

As clever and engaging as Kate Atkinson's Case Histories (2004), and the latest in the Jackson Brodie series, When Will There be Good News? (2008), guaranteeing you many hours of deligthful listening.

*= Starred Review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #140

P.J. Brooke is the pen name of the husband & wife writing team of Philip O'Brien and Jane Brooke. Both active in the Scottish government, they live part of the year in the old Moorish district, the Albayzin in Granada, where Blood Wedding* is set.

First in the Sub Inspector Max Romero series, the story begins with the death of lovely Leila, a Muslim postgraduate student, found near Max's own family estate, and the prime suspect's link to a shadowy terrorist group. The mystery surrounding the death of poet Federico Garcia Lorca during the Spanish Civil War adds depth and complexity to the plot.

Compelling characters, exotic and atmospheric setting, and the smooth weaving of historical and cultural details make this a strong addition to the Euro-crime genre.

Highly recommended as a readalike for Carlos Ruiz Zafón's (author's website) The Shadow of the Wind (2004), set in Barcelona, and the Inspector Alvarez series set in Mallorca.

* = Starred Review

He Who Fears Not Reading a Series in Order

He Who Fears the WolfHe Who Fears the Wolf

I intended to start Karin Fossum’s Inspector Sejer series with book one, of course. But after reading the back cover of book two, He Who Fears the Wolf, I had to skip book one and dive right into book two. There have been five books translated into English from Norwegian thus far and Fossum is definitely a hot author on the “Scandinavian Mysteries to Read list.” She is also a poet and it is clear in her writing, as her words float across the page and down your spine. This time around a woman is found murdered on the front porch of her farm house. The only witness is an overweight 12 year boy who is obsessed with archery and is living in a home for juvenile delinquents. He reports that a local man named Errki, a schizophrenic recently escaped from a mental institution, was at the scene and he soon becomes the top suspect. The same day the body is found a bank is robbed in the center of town (and was actually half witnessed by Sejer himself). The bank robber takes a hostage with him, who turns out to be the escaped schizophrenic. The three misfits are soon drawn into each others webs and each end up individually contemplating how much they have in common. This mystery is ironic, sad, heartwarming, and suspenseful all at the same time.

Too Close To Home by Linwood Barclay

Linwood Barclay, author of No Time for Goodbye, brings terror and suspense in his latest novel, Too Close to Home.

In Too Close to Home, Seventeen-year-old Adam Langley’s family takes a week long vacation; Derek, the next door neighbor kid, decides to execute a foolproof plan to access the Langley’s home for a bit of romantic time with his girlfriend, Penny. Unfortunately, Penny gets grounded and cannot make it and the Langley’s suddenly return home. While Derek is hiding out in the basement, someone comes into the house and murders the entire Langley family, and this is only the beginning of the story.

Mystery readers will enjoy Too Close To Home.

Billy Boyle World War II Mysteries

Blood Alone: A Billy Boyle World War II Mystery, the third in a series by James R. Benn, is an adrenaline-paced mystery that successfully grabs your attention on the first page. The story is fast, tricky and stays in full-tilt throttle.

Billy comes to in a field hospital in Sicily (the first day of the Allied Invasion) with amnesia and has “concerned” visitors he quickly figures out want him dead. His memory comes back in bits and pieces as he meets up with Vito Genovese, Lucky Luciano and other famous American mobsters “assisting” with the American war effort. Then he recalls his uncle General Eisenhower has entrusted him with a secret mission—only, you guessed it—he can’t remember what it is!

In case you want to read the entire series in order, the AADL also has the first two books Billy Boyle and The First Wave: A Billy Boyle World War II Mystery.

(Audio) Fabulous Fiction First #135

Spending too much time on the road? Busy with chores? Couldn’t find your reading glasses? Those are just more reasons to get to some of these fabulous fiction firsts. They are on audio! Smart and savvy publishers are releasing the audio format simultaneously with the print edition. Here are two of my current favorites.

I was mesmerized from the first track by professional actor Lincoln Hoppe’s poetic delivery of The Gargoyle*, by first time novelist Andrew Davidson . This “intense tale of unconventional romance” between a severely-burned hedonistic porn star plotting suicide and a beautiful sculptress in the psych ward who remembered their tragic love affair 700 years ago at a German monastery. “There's pure magic here, a classic redemption story… Davidson's Gargoyle is a rare gem: completely engrossing, wholly unforgettable, and utterly transcendent.”

Fans of Victorian domestic drama (think Upstairs Downstairs) and Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell series would find much to like in Gerri Brightwell’s FFF The Dark Lantern - “a suspenseful novel of mistaken identities, intriguing women, and dangerous deceptions."

* = Starred Reviews

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