Fabulous Fiction Firsts #285 (August's Nordic Crime Fiction)

This week Denmark's best-selling crime writer Jussi Adler-Olsen makes his U.S. debut with this first novel in the Glass Key Award-winning Department Q series, The Keeper of Lost Causes * * * (translated by Lisa Hartford), called "superlative" and "twisty" by reviewers.

After a near-fatal shooting that left him volatile and guilt-ridden, brilliant Homicide Detective Carl Morck is assigned to run Department Q, a new section of the Copenhagen Police dedicated to resolving the most notorious unsolved crimes.

Between napping and genial banter with his assistant Assad, Morck is surprised to find that one particular case snags his attention - the disappearance of Merete Lynggaard, a beautiful and popular politician who vanished 5 years ago during a ferry crossing and assumed dead.

Only the reader is privy to the fact that Merete is alive, imprisoned and subjected to the most horrendous treatment. "Adler-Olsen deftly advances both stories simultaneously" in this absorbing psychological thriller.

Comparisons to Henning Mankell, Stieg Larsson, and Jo Nesbo are inevitable but this newcomer holds his own, and with strong prose and a sense of humor.

* * * = Starred reviews

Also noteworthy is Michael Ridpath's Where the Shadows Lie * *, smoothly weaving history, legend, and police procedural in the first of a crime series set in Iceland.

Boston PD Detective Magnus Jonson is on loan to the Icelandic Police Force in Reykjavik, and walks right into the murder investigation of Professor Agnar Harldsson. It is a homecoming of sorts for Magnus while keeping him out of the assassins' reach until he could testify on police corruption.

Amid the wild and desolate landscape, rumors swirl of an ancient manuscript connected to an Icelandic saga, and a precious ring of terrible power. Magnus's unorthodox investigative techniques prove problematic with his Icelandic hosts while his father's unsolved murder two decades ago inadvertently comes into play, adding to the complex storyline and the intrigue.

"Ridpath does a fine job of immersing us in Icelandic culture, and Magnus,... is a thoroughly fascinating character. Exotic and compelling, a first-class mystery. " Arnaldur Indriđason is in good company.

* * = Starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #282 (Not all Arctic Crime Fiction is Nordic)

Award-winning British journalist M.J. McGrath's White Heat * is a "riveting Arctic mystery that marks the fiction debut of a wickedly talented writer." ~ The New York Times

Set in the Queen Elizabeth Islands in the Canadian High Arctic, as the lone female guide in a profession dominated by men, Edie Kiglatuk does not have it easy. Being only part Inuit does not endear her to the elders in the insular tradition-bound Ellesmore Island community either.

When one of the hunters is shot and killed on her watch, the incident is quickly covered up to protect the guide business from negative publicity. Two other suspicious deaths follow, with one of them hitting too close to home. With the help of Police Sergeant Derek Palliser, Edie is determined to find the connection in a search that would take her beyond her small village, and into the far reaches of the tundra.

"McGrath transports the reader to a land of almost incomprehensible cold and an unfamiliar but fascinating culture, taking on issues of climate change, energy exploration, local politics, and drug and alcohol abuse." Her heroine, flawed (recovering alcoholic with trouble staying on the wagon), isolated (ostracized as a troublemaker) is smart, by necessity tough and cunning, but is also warm, loyal and caring, with a keen sense of humor. I for one, am glad that White Heat is the first in a projected series.

A readalike for The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney which also captures the Canadian wilderness landscape in a suspenseful historical thriller.

Readers who appreciate a strong female protagonist in a non-traditional role (woman park ranger) would also like the Anna Pigeon series by Nevada Barr.

* = Starred review

Attention Peaks Freaks

Have you been itching to watch the pilot episode of Twin Peaks? Thanks to some added copies in the AADL collection, you now can. It happens to come from a metallic gold case of magic and wonder. It’s the most beautiful box set to have graced my hands since I purchased the original Twin Peaks box set on VHS, which I still own.

If you’ve been meaning to watch the show for the first time, or fall in love with Agent Cooper all over again, we’ve got you covered. Also added to the collection, is Season 2, Disc 7, which is a disc with bonus features(!) including: Deleted scenes, a slice of lynch, Peaks SNL skits, "Secrets from another place" feature-length documentary, interviews with cast and crew, and much more. It. Is. Purely. Magical. If you're ready to get your David Lynch on.

World Fantasy Award Nominees

And the nominees for the World Fantasy Awards include: 2 debut writers (both just happen to be women...) and 2 set in Africa

Zoo City by Lauren Beukes-my personal favorite from this South African writer

Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin-she has written plenty of award winning short fiction,this is her first novel & part of the Inheritance Trilogy (the third book comes out in October)

Silent Land by Graham Joyce- genre mashup mostly of suspense fiction and a bit of fantasy thrown in; compared to writers Haruki Murakami and Ian McEwan

Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay- not unlike the fantasy writer George R R Martin did with his Song of Ice and Fire series, Kay tries to do with one book set in a world not unlike 8th Century China; lots of kudos from reviewers

Redemption In Indigo by Karen Lord- another first fiction retells a Senegalese folktale

Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor-known for her young adult fiction, this book takes place in a postapocalyptic Saharan Africa where a young girl must use her magic to end the oppression of her people, the Okeke

Lifetime achievement awards go to Peter S. Beagle (of Last Unicorn fame) and Angélica Gorodischer.

The winner will be announced at the World Fantasy Convention held this year on October 30th in San Diego. So get your geek on!

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #280

Coming out this week, Deborah Lawrenson's The Lantern is a fitting farewell to the August heat. Though this being British journalist Lawrenson's 6th novel, it is the first to be released in the US - a modern gothic novel of love, secrets, and murder—set against the lush backdrop of Provence.

Eve falls for the secretive, charming Dom in Switzerland, and follows him to Les Genevriers (The Junipers), an abandoned house set among the fragrant lavender fields. Each enchanting day delivers happy discoveries: hidden chambers, secret vaults, a beautiful wrought-iron lantern, and Eve has never felt more alive.

But with autumn’s arrival the days begin to cool, and so, too, does Dom. Eve becomes obsessed with the mystery of the absent, beautiful Rachel, Dom's ex-wife. The bright, warm rooms now turn cold and uninviting; shadows now fall unexpectedly; and Eve senses a haunting presence moving through the garden.

The story unfolds in Eve's modern voice and the diary of Benedicte, former owner of Les Genevriers. The two stories move slowly together, revealing family secrets and evil deeds, a credible homage to Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca.

"Lawrenson is marvelous at bringing across the sensory, sensual richness of Provence".... "Her sumptuous descriptions of the charming French countryside and the intricacies of perfume making" is enchanting and seductive. The imagery and the palpable scent linger long after the last page is turned. Lovely.

July's Books to Film (and a nice way to get out of the heat)

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is based on the novel by Lisa See.
China. Parallel stories, generations apart. Two young girls bound together by circumstances, history, and a secret language written on the folds of a white silk fan.

Sarah's Key is based on the novel by Tatiana de Rosnay.
Paris, July 1942: 10 yr.old Sarah locks her younger brother in a secret hiding place to save him from the Nazi round-up. Sixty-seven years later, Julia Jarmond, an American journalist stumbles onto a trail of secrets that link her to Sarah, and to questions about her own romantic future.

The film Cowboys & Aliens is adapted from Scott Mitchell Rosenberg's work of the same title.
1873. Arizona Territory. A stranger with no memory of his past stumbles into the hard desert town of Absolution, a town that lives in fear. But this stranger the town rejects might just be the only hope from the marauders from the sky.

Based on the real-life experience of Iraqi army lieutenant Latif Yahia as detailed in his book I was Saddam's Son, The Devil's Double recounts how he was ordered to become the body double to Saddam's son- the notorious "Black Prince" Uday Hussein, a reckless, sadistic party-boy with a rabid hunger for sex and brutality.

Good Neighbors is based on Chere Voisine by Chrystine Brouillet.
Neighbors Spencer and Louise have bonded over their fascination with a recent string of murders. When Victor moves in, they hit it off. But as they soon discover, each of them has their own dark secret. What they once thought of as a safe haven is as dangerous as any outside terrors they could imagine.

The First Avenger: Captain America is based on the Marvel Comics series by Ed Brubaker.
Steve Rogers volunteers to participate in an experimental program that turns him into the Super Soldier known as Captain America, joining forces with Bucky Barnes and Peggy Carter to wage war on the evil HYDRA organization, led by the villainous Red Skull.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #277

NPR's Three Critics Pick The Best Books For Summer (listen to the podcast) has some fabulous titles. And no one was surprised that The Hypnotist * * featured prominently on it. Now NPR just unmasked the identity of the author(s), known until now, as Lars Kepler.

Stockholm. A gruesome triple murder. 15 year-old, the only witness/survivor, sustained 100 knife-wounds and is in shock. Detective Inspector Joona Linna's only option - to enlist the help of Dr. Erik Maria Bark, the hypnotist.

The battle-worn Linna and the reluctant and scarred Bark unwittingly set off a chain of violent events that climax at a remote cabin north of the Arctic Circle.

An international bestseller and already being adapted for film, The Hypnotist is an adrenaline- and action-packed thriller, "smart and unpredictable", atmospheric as it is cinematic. A nordic crime mystery debut to rival some of the best in the genre.

* * = Starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #276

Graveminder * (also available in audio ) is the first adult title by popular YA author Melissa Marr (Wicked Lovely series).

Her grandmother Maylene's death brings Bek (Rebekkah) Barrow back to Claysville, a sleepy little town with strict rules how the dead are to be buried. Without a thought, Bek slips into performing the strange rituals at the gravesite that she has watched Maylene performed over the years: she takes three sips from a silver flask and speaks the words "Sleep well, and stay where I put you."

Bek never suspects that with Maylene's passing, she is the new "graveminder", the next Barrow female to uphold the century-old contract between the worlds of the living and the dead. Worse yet, no one will tell her that Maylene was actually murdered, and danger is lurking in Claysville. The dead are hungry.

Byron Montgomery, the young Undertaker seems to be the only one who could help her set things right once the dead begin to walk, but he is also the last person Bek would want to involve considering their complicated past and the itchy spark between them that Bek is trying desperately to ignore.

"Haunting, captivating, brilliant!" Check out the author's website and Maylene's Scrapbook for the backstory of the graveminders. A nice cross-over for YA readers.

Want more creepy/chilling read this summer?

Try So Cold the River by Michael Koryta (in audio); Coffin County by Gary Braunbeck; and The Caretaker of Lorne Field by Dave Zeltserman. Perfect to read around the campfire. Don't wander off though, and make sure someone's got your back.

* = Starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #274

The hype for Alice LaPlante's Turn of Mind * * * * is building to a fever pitch with its publication this week. It is the leading title for the publisher this season. We saw early review copies back in January and knew this was going to be BIG, and now all the reviews just confirmed that it is the "must read" of the season.

The narrator is Dr. Jennifer White, a widowed retired orthopedic surgeon with rapidly advancing dementia. She is the prime suspect in the murder of her best friend and neighbor Amanda O'Toole. As proud and forceful women, their relationship has been complex and rocky at times. The killer has surgically removed four of Amanda's fingers, and worse yet, Jennifer does not know whether she did it or not. As the investigation into the murder deepens and White’s relationships with her live-in caretaker and two grown children intensify, a chilling question lingers: is White’s shattered memory preventing her from revealing the truth or helping her to hide it?

"A startling portrait of a disintegrating mind clinging to bits of reality through anger, frustration, shame, and unspeakable loss, Turn of Mind is a remarkable debut that examines the deception and frailty of memory and how it defines our very existence."

"An extraordinarily crafted debut novel... the author is able to do it so convincingly through the eyes and voice of the central character is an amazing achievement. Heartbreaking and stunning, this is both compelling and painful to read."

Good companion read to this year's bumper crop of FFFs dealing with neuroscience and the strange and wondrous workings of the human mind. See blogs on Left Neglected and Before I Go to Sleep. Turn of Mind also joins a growing list of titles dealing with Alzheimer's, and does it brilliantly.

Alice LaPlante was a Wallace Stegner Fellow and a Jones Lecturer at Stanford University. She teaches creative writing at both Stanford and San Francisco State University.

* * * * = Starred Reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #271

A Cambridge grad (English Lit.), Rosamund Lupton won the Carlton Television's new writers' competition and was selected by the BBC for a place on their new writers' course before becoming a novelist. Her debut Sister: a novel * * * was originally published (2010) in the UK in paperback. Steadily building up steam and garnering great reviews (The New York Times, for example) along the way, it is likely to be one of the big "must reads" this summer. I read it in one night. Just couldn't put it down.

When Bee (Beatrice) Hemming receives a call in Manhattan from her mother that her sister Tess is missing, she is on the next plane out to London. The sisters are THAT close. When Tess is found dead (in an apparent suicide) Bee refuses to accept that. As Bee moves into Tess's art student studio/apartment, tracks down her friends and lovers, traces her movements leading up to her disappearance, a disturbing picture begins to emerge. All the tell-tale signs point to the murderer as someone Tess knows and trusts, someone that might see Bee now as a threat.

The narrative takes the form of a series of intimate letters from Bee to Tess as she recounts their family life, the fierce devotion between them, as well as being an effective device that would allow Bee to lay out in meticulous details, her fearless pursue of the murderer.

"A chilling, gripping, tragic, heartwarming, life-affirming enigma of a story" . "A skillfully wrought psychological thriller". You might be a bit late to the party already (Sorry about the waiting list), but don't miss this one.

Watch Rosamund Lupton discuss the inspiration behind the writing of the book on YouTube.

* * * = starred reviews.

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