Robert Crais, The Wanted, Simon & Schuster    Elvis Cole is contacted by a single mother worried about her son, in whose bedroom she has found cash and jewelry provenance is not clear. She finds too many expensive clothes. Her teenage son and his girlfriend seem suddenly to have found Ali Baba’s cave, but the son isn’t telling her anything. Nor is he going to school. She doesn’t have the money Cole would charge for surveillance. The words ‘pro bono’ are not spoken, but Cole, in his generous way, makes time for her and her boy, Tyson, who will have to surrender himself to the DA before he can be arrested and charged with eighteen counts of burglary. Evidently, this is a story in which redemption plays a role, for Cole, for Tyson, for the two criminals posing at detectives, but also for Cole’s Lucy and Ben, who went back to Baton Rouge after discovering just how risky Cole’s life can be. Pike plays his usual role, as does the beer-drinking cat.

Cole is not the only one pining after a particular woman. Tyson’s girlfriend is one of the house-breakers in the story, which, as it develops, eventually prompts Tyson to realise that she may not be the sanest person he’s ever dealt with. No redemption, then, for Amber’s mother (terminal narcissist), or very much for Amber herself (there’s a twist).  Crais knows how to pace a story, and this one moves back and forth from his first-person perspective to a third-person narrator who fills us in about the bad guys, one of whom, it emerges, is a fine violinist. Their development is—once you get past what they do for a living—is touching. These bad guys, experts at finding people and things, spend a lot of time bickering in serial stolen cars, but also killing people they track down, so the threat they pose is considerable. The agent of redemption turns out to be Tyson’s mother, who is a voice of sanity and a woman who knows how to get on with things, up to and including saving the children.

 

Oliver Bottini, Zen and the art of murder tr. Jamie Bulloch, MacLehose Press             Why is a young monk walking up a mountainside in western Germany near the French border, with a staff and wooden begging bowl and no appropriate protection from the weather, quietly, tenaciously, through the snow on the ground and the snow falling? The Mayor of the village, Liebau, is convinced that he’s some kind of infiltrator inexplicably disguised in a Zen Buddhist (the mayor’s a nasty piece of work, but try to stay with me). His local police force is very small, and the senior cop, Hollerer (recently widowed), has to send for reinforcements from nearby Freiburg. When police arrive from Serious Crimes, why won’t the monk speak to them (could it be because he doesn’t speak German?).

    At this early point, Bottini’s delicate construction looks like the usual suspects. Chief Inspector Louise Bonì follows the monk up the hill, and Hollerer and his colleague, Nitsch, drive up to where they can stop the young man from going any further. But he hasn’t done anything. Although the monk is in serious danger from the elements, there’s nonetheless a strong comic streak at work. What, after all, are the police supposed to do?          
    Imagine, thus far, a little provincial town between, say, Colmar and Freiburg, in the High Black Forest region of Western Germany, near the Rhine and the French and Swiss borders, perhaps 20 or 30 kilometres from the village and the town. A woman chief inspector still unable to shake the PTSD that has pulled her into alcoholism, her divorce, her estrangement from her parents, and suffering her own experience of misogyny in a larger nick run by more men who wish she weren’t there—especially since she’s a much more intelligent cop than they are. Bonì has to contend, among other things, with her colleagues’ inability to pronounce her name: no, not her surname, her first name, Louise, which her boss, Bermann (among others), pronounces as ‘Luis’. For me, the first thing was to start making lists of characters and places (a blessing upon the Times World Atlas and google maps helped, too). Most of the geography in the book is real, and so is the workplace discrimination. One despairs, but it’s all quite amusing. (I have to say that the depiction of French bureaucracy in law enforcement made me laugh out loud. Really, what is to be done?)          
    The answer, as the book unfolds, is ‘a great deal’, most of which I’m leaving out, or you’d be reading this review far into the night. Not only has Bottini exquisite control over a series of loose ends, so that the reader’s attention is constantly on something that seems to have happened in a prior book (there is no prior book). Bonì is only one of a cast of characters caught in a line or two and almost totally devoid of cliché. Bonì herself is a find (if I can put it that way), one of those brilliant/intuitive/maverick cops who can’t let go. Bottini’s writing is a joy to read, for example (I’ve excised a couple of spoilers):

‘For a moment she thought [the corpse] really was [him], but the dead officer only looked like him: young, too, and with a very narrow face.’

Of course this is one (of several) occasions when blame and guilt generally wreck a superior officer’s life. Better a fictional cop than a real one—and things are not going to get better, or, at least, some things and some people. To write this review I found I needed to read the book twice, which I did with the enormous pleasure that comes with actually understanding what’s going on because at a second reading you have some sense of where you are. But don’t just take my word for it: read this book. A second book will be out next summer. I’ll let you know.

 

Ragnar Jónasson, White Out, t. Quentin Bates, Orenda Books        Ari Thor returns, with most of his weaknesses intact, though there is emphasis on the life-changing arrival of a child. White Out is in his police procedural series (originally published in 2013), with Jónasson’s rather dreadful young cop (shallow, ambitious, resentful that he hasn’t succeeded his former boss), who’s about to be a father. Actually, White Out is country house Agatha Christie (or anybody’s else’s lone house on a deserted point) with the usual small group of characters, but he really can’t do characters, and his women are cliches. There’s a reason for stressing this, because the murder of the detective in The Darkness is repeated here (death by suffocation, accepted as inevitable by the female victims).

Three women of the same family have leapt off a cliff edge over many years, but not all of them were suicides. The wealthy man who owns the solitary house is unpleasant, but so are the two people who’ve lived in the house as housekeeper (more shades of The Darkness) and Lighthouse keeper for many years. Very heavy-handed on the family secrets. It’s always a bad sign when there are pages of puffery before you get to the title page, and a bad sign when the puffs are mainly below-the-line comments.

 

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