Abir Mukherjee, A Rising Man Harvill Secker ISBN-13: 978-1846559013 This is the first in what promises to be a fine series about an Imperial policeman in Calcutta after the Great War. Captain Sam Wyndham, recently arrived from London, finds himself thrown in at the deep end when a senior civil servant is found lying murdered next to a brothel. Wyndham has the patronage of Lord Taggart, Commissioner of Police, to give him connections and some protection, as he sets off in the face of Digby, an angry, long-serving, resentful subordinate and a junior constable educated at Harrow and with a first-class degree in law from Cambridge. Surendranath Bannerjee (another Bengali Brahmin name), nick-named ‘Surrender-not’ by monoglot Digby, is one of the best creations in the novel, and his and Wyndham’s association promises reflection and mutual education. Mukherjee ought to know Calcutta well: he is himself a Bengali Brahmin, and his grasp of police procedurals suggests wide and deep reading. A first crime novel may be forgiven certain bumps or fallings short in characterisation and historical grasp; here stereotypes abound throughout, but manage to be engaging. Corruption—of course—infiltrates all aspects of Calcutta life. Mukherjee writes well, despite using some words or phrases anachronistic for the period. Above all, though, even at this early stage, Mukherjee has accomplished a page-turner, and knows how to leave just enough loose ends to annoy and entice his readers forward. The book won Harvill Secker’s competition to find a new writer of talent. The crop was rich: Susanna Drury for ‘Trust’, Guy Bolton for ‘The Pictures’, Josephine Jarman for ‘Patience’, Janet Olearski for ‘Foreigner’ and Elle Wild for ‘Strange Things Done’.
Leif G W Persson, The Dying Detective Doubleday ISBN-13: 978-0857520883 Several books ago, before the loathesomely comic figure of Backstrom more or less took over, Persson had a couple of very successful senior detectives, with the two great old friends, Lars Martin Johansson and Bo Jarnebring, leading the plots. This one was published in 2010, and won both the Swedish Academy of Crime Writers’ Award for Best Crime Novel of the year as well as The Glass Key for Best Scandinavian Crime Novel. Readers may remember that Lars Martin was reputed to be ‘the man who sees around corners’. Retired now, but not ‘old’ in today’s terms, he suddenly, apparently out of nowhere, has a stroke, the revenge of his body on his abuse of it: bad diet, too much alcohol, lack of exercise—all the usual middle-aged-male delinquencies. The stroke is a symptom of his dying heart, though he seems only intermittently to remember this, especially when asked out to lunch. What made Persson’s prose about Johansson and Jarnebring so enchanting, was his ability to let us hear their thoughts, often, simply, ‘why is he/she saying this?’ Lars Martin’s last case, presented to him intriguingly by one of his doctors, involves favours from his otherwise underestimated brother-in-law, former colleagues, his wife, and two carers, all of whom have a much clearer idea of what lies ahead than does the detective, who does what such professionals do and goes back to the beginning of the unsolved case. Persson’s books are long, sometimes very long, but the standard of plot, character, and conversation which he maintains draws one in. Despite showing his cards in the title, Persson’s humanity towards his character makes it almost possible to ignore Johansson’s symptoms. Don’t ask if he has the sense to solve the case before his own ending. You know.
Hendrik Falkenberg, Time Heals no Wounds, tr. from the German by Patrick F. Brown, Amazon Crossing ISBN-13: 978-1503933477 Occasionally, just occasionally, a self-publishing author on one of what are really vanity presses, makes it to a trade publisher. But—like The American Dream—it is a delusion, and as self-publishing grows and continues to take advantage of would-be crime writers, one sees kinds of pastiche which suggest that these writers have made lists for themselves to orientate their plots. It doesn’t help, and the result is endless inept farragoes of painting by numbers. This first novel in a projected series of ‘Baltic Crime’ [sic] is an example of what you get: a few Nazis, a bit of revenge, a maverick detective with baggage and eccentricities, a rookie, and a preposterous series of deaths. Basically, over-cooked amateur work with loose ends everywhere. To Be Avoided.