The Man From Beijing, by Henning Mankell

A stand alone suspense thriller from the Swedish author that brought us the best-selling Kurt Wallander detective series. Book reviews (both good and bad) are popping up all over the place.

Henning Mankell’s latest epic, The Man From Beijing, begins in Sweden with a mass murder in a remote village. After local officials begin looking into it, Judge Birgitta Roslin learns she is connected to one of the victims and yearns to solve the mystery, which involves delving into her own past. The book cuts to 1863 where three Chinese brothers are kidnapped and forced into work. The connection between one of the brothers, the murder in Sweden years later, and the man from Beijing is quite interesting, and as Birgitta to tries to unravel the historical mess that is before her, she is unaware of the connection. Sweden, China, Africa, Colonialism, Mao, the Communist Party, and secret family diaries all help bridge gap.

Mankell weaves the stories in an enjoyable fashion. The reader gets lost in each era and works along with Birgitta to learn where that lone red ribbon that was found at the crime scene came from. It’s a great thriller, as far as thrillers go, but it’s no Kurt Wallander book. Mankell, we love you anyway, we don’t mind if you stick with more Wallander and less ground-breaking.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #200

In Danielle Trussoni's contemporary epic fantasy Angelology**, Sister Evangeline, a 23 year-old nun at the convent of the Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration in upstate New York is drawn into the 1000-year old conflict between the Society of Angelologists and the beautiful, powerful, and cruel, half-human-half-angel Nephilim when she comes across letters between philanthropist Abigail Rockefeller and the late mother superior, referring to "an ancient artifact" - an article the Nephilim are desperate to claim.

The imaginative multilayer plot; the circuitous unfolding of Evangeline's personal connections to the Angelologists; captivating characters real and imagined; scholarly blending of biblical and mythical lore; rich historical references; seductive imagery; treachery, mystery and adventure make for an engrossing and entertaining read.

Film rights to Sony Pictures with Will Smith's Overbrook Entertainment producing. Rumor has it that Trussoni is at work on a sequel. Can't get here soon enough for me. (I won't spoil it for you though).

Comparison to The Da Vinci Code is inevitable but more appropriately would be Katherine Neville's The Eight; and Kate Mosse's Labyrinth.

Coincidentally, Trussoni, a graduate of University of Wisconsin and the Iowa Writers' Workshop now resides in the Languedoc region (France) where Labyrinth is set. Her memoir Falling Through the Earth was named one of the Ten Best Books of 2006 by The New York Times.

** = Starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #199

On virtually every "must read" list of 2010, Paul Doiron's The Poacher's Son*** is an outstanding debut due out in April (already on order, heavy demand is expected, and more importantly, the holds are quietly building). Early readers (I counted 6) - all agreed that this is indeed, a fabulous fiction first!

At the heart of this provocative action/mystery is a father-son relationship. Mike Bowditch, a rookie game warden is surprised to find a cryptic message on his answering machine from his estranged father Jack, a brutal drunken womanizer, legendary woodsman and game poacher. It turns out Jack is the prime suspect in a double murder involving a cop and a timber executive. As evidence and suspicion mount against Jack, Mike risks his job, his honor, and his future with the woman he loves to try to clear his father's name.

Down East editor-in-chief Doiron takes a provocative look at the ties between fathers and sons, unconditional love, and Maine's changing landscape in his outstanding debut. Fans of C.J. Box's Joe Pickett novels, and Nevada Barr's Anna Pigeon novels will appreciate the wilderness setting and the suspense. Social issue-driven mystery fans might ruminate on progress versus tradition, duty versus loyalty, and expectations versus desires. The first in a projected series, readers would be pleased to know that the next adventure with Mike Bowditch is just over the horizon.

*** = Starred reviews in Kirkus Reviews, Library Journal, Publishers Weekly

February Books to Film, Part 2

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The very popular The Lightning Thief: Percy Jackson & the Olympians, Book One by Rick Riordan is now a feature film (not yet rated).

This wildly popular series for young readers makes the leap to the big screen on February 12. Adapted from the first book in the series, the film is directed by Chris Columbus (who brought the first two Harry Potter books to the screen) and stars Logan Lerman as Percy Jackson.

It's the 21st century, the gods of Mount Olympus and assorted monsters have walked out of the pages of high school student Percy Jackson's Greek mythology texts and into his life. And they're not happy: Zeus's lightning bolt has been stolen, and Percy is the prime suspect. Even more troubling is the sudden disappearance of Percy's mother.

And FINALLY, the twice-delayed, Martin Scorsese-directed Shutter Island is to be released on February 19th (let's hope).

Shutter Island is an army facility turned hospital for the criminally insane. When a beautiful-and certifiably crazy-patient escapes, U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels and his partner, Chuck Aule, are called in to investigate. Embroiled in uncertainties and mystery, the two soon learn there's much more at stake than simply finding one missing woman.

Leonardo DiCaprio, Mark Ruffalo, Ben Kingsley, Michelle Williams, and Max von Sydow star in this thriller based on the bestseller by Dennis Lehane.

Kurt Wallander TV series based on the books

Henning Mankell is a Swedish all-star when it comes to writing crime fiction. His best-selling books featuring Inspector Kurt Wallander have been wooing readers for years. BBC aired a TV series featuring Sidetracked, Firewall, and One Step Behind - all based on the books of the same name- back in May. The first three are available on one DVD at AADL. Three more episodes of the Wallander TV series are set to air on BBC sometime soon. I look forward to more, as I really enjoyed these three episodes!

It’s interesting to see how Kurt Wallander is portrayed live in person, and by Kenneth Branagh no less. If you’ve been wondering what all the fuss is about regarding Scandinavian fiction, give the DVD a whirl. It may just encourage you to read Mankell’s books, or perhaps those by Asa Larsson, Kjell Eriksson, or Håkan Nesser- all of which are Swedish crime fiction all-stars.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #194

Now that Lee Child's Gone Tomorrow has snatched the top honor in the Adrenaline category of the 2010 Reading List Award, Jack Reacher fans could hardly contain themselves. While they eagerly await the next Reacher scrape, we suggest The Bricklayer.

Pseudonym for a former FBI agent, Noah Boyd's debut (and projected series opener) features Steve Vail, a former agent turned bricklayer who is recruited to solve a brilliant and deadly extortion plot by a mysterious organization called the Rubaco Pentad. One thing is clear: someone who knows a little too much about the inner workings of the Bureau is very clever —and very angry—and will kill and kill again if it means he can disgrace the FBI.

While some reviewers find fault with it being "...highly formulaic", "predictably inclusive finish with a bit of romance", most would admit that it is "pulse-pounding", and "irresistible red meat for connoisseurs of action thrillers". (150,000 first printing)

You know you are going to read it. Might as well be first on the list.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #192

Blacklands*** is a taut and chillingly brilliant debut by British journalist/screenwriter Belinda Bauer.

Steven Lamb, an under-sized 12 yr. old boy, armed with a shovel, could be seen digging along the wild moors of Shipcott (Somerset), oblivious to the weather. He is digging for treasure - no, not the kind fascinating to boys his age, but for his uncle’s body. 18 years ago, young Billy Peters disappeared and unhinged his family.

Dejected with the lack of results, Steven knows convicted serial killer Arnold Avery could show him where to dig. After all, he buried them. Steven writes and Arnold answers. What begins as a cat-and-mouse mind game between a naive but determined boy and a clever and sadistic pedophile turns deadly when Avery senses an opportunity to relive his crime.

"Bauer displays remarkable talent in pacing, plotting and, most important of all, getting beneath the skin of even her most repellent characters". What was originally conceived as a short story about a boy and his grandmother (from the author's note) is likely to be one of the shining stars in crime fiction this year. Shortlisted for the CWA Debut Dagger Award.

Readalikes: Catherine O'Flynn's What Was Lost, and In the Woods by Tana French.

*** = Starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #190

In Victor Lodato’s “phenomenal” debut, Mathilda Savitch***, fearless and observant 13 year-old Mathilda Savitch is determined to sleuth and find the person who pushed her older sister – wild and beautiful Helene, in front of a moving train. Mathilda is convinced that Helene’s secrets lie dormant in their computer and the cryptic and increasingly alarming emails from a stranger will lead her to the killer.

At times heartbreaking and hilarious, the compelling page-tuner grapples with serious issues while never allowing us to lose sight of the immediacy of Mathilda’s chaotic reality, making her a sympathetic and engaging narrator.

Victor Lodato (recipient of Guggenheim and NEA fellowships, winner of numerous awards including the Kennedy Center Fund for New American Plays), “indelibly captures the fragile vulnerability and fearless bravado of adolescence through Mathilda’s impeccable voice, one that rages with alienation, frustration and confusion as much as it aches with hope, wonder and desire. “

Comparison to Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is inevitable. Highly recommended.

*** = Starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #187

In Lou Manfredo's Rizzo's War*, veteran NYPD detective Joe Rizzo has always subscribed to the notion that “there is no right, there is no wrong, there just is” – a rule he tries to instill in his movie-star handsome, young and freshly-minted partner Mike McQueen. Their beat – the Bensonhurst, Brooklyn neighborhood where their savvy, courage and compassion is called on daily to keep the streets safe. But when a councilman’s daughter goes missing and they are forced to operate under the radar, with dubious boundaries, and no safety net, it is their trust in each other that's sorely tested.

Strongly character-driven, this police procedural sparkles with authenticity. (Born and raised in Brooklyn, Manfredo served in the Brooklyn criminal justice system for twenty-five years). The well-paced plot is firmly anchored in the physicality of the setting. Big city politics, organized crime, corruption, compounded by personal and family drama, old wounds, and new threats add complexity and suspense to the storyline.

Comparison with Joseph Wambaugh's The Choirboys(1975) is inevitable. This projected series debut and FFF will also please fans of the late Ed McBain's ever-popular 87th Precinct mystery series.

* = Starred Reviews

World Fantasy Awards

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Created in the mid-1970s, the World Fantasy Awards, associated with the annual World Fantasy Conventions were established as a fantasy counterpart to the SF-oriented Hugo and Nebula Awards. If you enjoy reading/watching/writing fantasy or science fiction, the annual conventions are definitely for you! Think about attending the 2010 convention. It will be close by in Columbus, Ohio on the weekend of October 28-31. A great way to celebrate Halloween by dressing up as your favorite fantasy character- a Volturi anyone?

Here are the winners for best novel:

The Shadow Year by Jeffrey Ford: In the wake of a classmate's disappearance, a sixth grader and his older brother observe strange events in 1960s Long Island, including the appearance of a man in a large white car and the deteriorating mental state of the school librarian.

Tender Morsels by Margo Lanagan: A young woman who has endured unspeakable cruelties is magically granted a safe haven apart from the real world and allowed to raise her two daughters in this alternate reality, until the barrier between her world and the real one begins to break down.

Best Anthology:
Paper Cities: An Anthology of Urban Fantasy, by: Ekaterina Sedia, ed.
A collection of urban fantasy stories featuring cities--whether real or imaginary and throughout history--and how they affect the lives and experiences of their inhabitants.

Best Collection:
The Drowned Life by: Jeffrey Ford: In this mesmerizing blend of the familiar and the fantastic, multiple award-winning New York Times notable author Jeffrey Ford creates true wonders and infuses the mundane with magic.

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