Saturday, September 17, 2011

Three Seconds

Three Seconds
Authors: Anders Roslund & Börge Hellström
Translated from Swedish by Kari Dickson
Quercus, 2011
683 pages

What happens when an ex-journalist and an ex-con hook up to write fiction? In the case of Sweden's Roslund & Hellström, the result is an international bestselling, award-winning crime novel. Three Seconds won the 2011 CWA International Dagger Award in July, but it's been on my list of books to read for several months. I kept waiting for it to be available on the Kindle. I waited. And waited. I'm still waiting, for it still isn't.

In the meantime, I ordered the paperback version from Amazon UK, even though that was more expensive than getting the hardback here in the USA . You see, I don't like hardbacks. I've noticed that many books come out in paperback months earlier in Europe than they do over here, which I find very annoying. But this review isn't supposed to be about my views of the publishing industry's marketing practices. Moving right along.

Despite my exuberance over reading Three Seconds, the truth is, I wasn't immediately drawn in. I plodded through the first 150 pages or so, trying to figure out who was who and keep track of the characters. But once I figured that out, I was good to go, and it soon became apparent what's so special about this book.

Main character Piet Hoffmann has a life so secret, only one other person knows about it. A police informant, he's so deep into the Polish mafia that he's now organizing sales of amphetamines smuggled into Sweden by human mules. Yet Piet is also a family man with a loving wife, Zofia, and two young sons whom he adores. Only Piet's handler Erik (who knows Piet by his code name Paula) is aware of Paula's role in this highly covert mission.

When a drug deal goes bad and an undercover policeman is killed execution style, Piet begins to struggle with the conflicting priorities of his life. His Polish 'CEO' back in Warsaw wants him to lead a new 'business initiative' supplying drugs to Swedish prisons. But in order to do this, Piet will have to be convicted of a crime and go to prison. In doing this, he risks everything, including the family he loves.

In the meantime, veteran Stockholm investigator Ewart Grens is looking into the drug-related murder. Still grieving from the loss of his wife and his role in it (a sub-story which will be partially revealed), Ewart sincerely believes he's on the trail of a psychopath. Since I don't do spoilers, I won't say more, except to say that the last 200 pages of this book are impossible to put down. And I didn't put it down until I finished, even though it was well after midnight on a "school" night when I finished it last Thursday.

If you like thrillers, police procedurals, or Scandinavian crime novels, you have to read this. And although it's still not on Kindle (WTH???), it's available on Nook. The US paperback is being pre-sold online now with an expected release date of 01 November 2011. Oh, and there's always the hardcover -- if you can stand it. :)

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Into The Darkest Corner

Into The Darkest Corner
Author: Elizabeth Haynes
Myriad, 2011
403 pages

This has been a great year for reading books by first-time authors. Allow me to introduce you to Elizabeth Haynes from the UK. Her freshman entry Into The Darkest Corner is so clever, it doesn't seem like a first book at all. From the opening two scenes (one, an excerpt from a court hearing transcript; two, a murder), I wasn't sure at first where I was headed. But I felt compelled to keep reading . . .

Main character Cathy was once a big time party girl, with a life full of good times, alcohol, and casual relationships. But that was three years ago. Now, she's a somewhat shy and obsessive-compulsive recluse who has set patterns for doing things like checking to see that her doors are locked, having her tea at certain times of the day, and avoiding red clothing. Through the technique of describing past and present in alternating chapters, we learn what happened to Cathy, how she came to be in this condition, and why she trusts no one.

In the present-day chapters, Cathy slowly and reluctantly develops a relationship with Stuart, who moves into the apartment upstairs. Turns out Stuart's a doctor, and it doesn't take long for him to realize that Cathy has obsessive-compulsive disorder. Through him she begins to trust again, and takes steps toward getting the help she so badly needs. But when ghosts from Cathy's past come around, she just might take a giant leap backwards.

I don't feel that I can say too much more about the plot without giving too much away, so instead I'll focus on my reaction to the book. It's a true psychological thriller with lots of nail-biting, cringing moments. Even now, hours after I've finished reading, I still find myself thinking about some of the more disturbing scenes. Into The Darkest Corner is definitely an apt title.

One other thing. In the afterword section of the book, it's noted that the author wrote the first draft of Into The Darkest Corner during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in November of 2008. I think that's really cool!

Friday, September 2, 2011

A Cold Day For Murder

A Cold Day For Murder
Author: Dana Stabenow
Gere Donovan Press, 2011 [original paperback published in 1992]
208 Pages

One of the blogs I follow mentioned this book in a recent post, and it occurred to me that I'd never read anything by Alaskan author Dana Stabenow. I thought it was about time, so I decided to start with A Cold Day For Murder, the first book in the Kate Shugak series and winner of the 1993 Edgar Award for best paperback original. I read the Kindle version, which was released this year and is currently a free download on Amazon.com.

Kate Shugak is a thirty-year-old Alaskan native who lives alone, some five miles from her closest neighbors. She travels by snowmobile and her best friend is her half Husky/half wolf, named Mutt. Her relationships with family (namely her grandmother and a few cousins) is complicated. Actually, Kate herself is a little complicated. In a former life, she worked in Anchorage as an investigator for the D.A.'s office. In fact, she's still recovering from an altercation with a child abuser she was investigating, in which she received permanent injuries.

But now her old friend Jack has made the long trek to Kate's cabin, hoping to get her help on a case. A local park ranger, a young "Outsider" whose father happens to be a U.S. congressman, has gone missing - as has the investigator sent to find him. In solving the mystery of these disappearances, Kate is forced to confront her past, to overcome her fears, and face up to some serious problems in her community.

Stabenow weaves a solid mystery into a unique geographical setting, with some very colorful characters.  Kate is a strong yet tender character who is able to navigate the cultural complexities of her world with a great deal of sensitivity. I have no doubt that she grows considerably over the course of the now eighteen-book (that's amazing!) series.

Most likely, if you like Tony Hillerman's Navajo Tribal Police mysteries, then you'll like this series, too.