A slow starter that soon picks up to thriller speed. (Tip: skip the author’s preface–it belongs at the end.) Slow Horses is a sort of 21st-century behind-the-scenes John LeCarre novel, less about the terrifying kidnapping that jolts MI5 into action than the procedural and political machinery that pits its players against each other. Slough House is where the “slow horses” who screw up spy missions go to trudge in circles for the rest of their weary lives. When a real crisis drops in their path, they throw over the traces faster than you can say Derby. Personalities, talents, and zest blossom; and as these dull characters remember to value themselves, we suddenly have a stake in their success. Jump-cuts between the criminals and their rival sets of pursuers keep the pace zippy. This being a battle of secret service vs. underground vs. news media, no one’s real identity matches the role s/he has been playing. I was sorry when the book ended — and glad the author made good use at the end of his yawn-inducing introduction to Slough House.
This is one of my favorites in the Wolfe canon. Not just because it takes place in the literary world, although I loved time-traveling around the postwar New York publishing scene with author Rex Stout. And not just because it’s always a pleasure to hang out in detective Nero Wolfe’s Manhattan brownstone with the eccentric genius and his right-hand man Archie Goodwin. The plot is satisfyingly intriguing: who’s killing every person who’s read a not particularly controversial manuscript? I especially liked the opening twist: Wolfe’s first visit from his friend and rival Inspector Cramer isn’t a request for help solving murder #1, but to figure out why an odd list of names was found on the scratch pad of a dead law clerk. Any writer will immediately have her/his suspicions; but it takes America’s finest Holmes-Watson duo to piece together the series of clues that will unmask the killer.
An inspired concept — write about a group of contemporary amateur sleuths who are the same demographic as most amateur-sleuth mystery readers. Osman has created a high-end retirement community that’s a 21st-century version of the classic English village; even his title pays homage to the Golden Age mystery that introduced Miss Marple, Agatha Christie’s The Tuesday Club Murders. The characters are distinctive enough to tell apart, charming (or anti-charming) enough to be both likeable and suspicious, and similar enough to the traditional ensemble (the mysterious ex-spy, the logician, the friendly knitter, the garrulous working-class dad, the sharp and not-so-sharp local cops) to keep me laughing and turning pages. Osman is a professional entertainer and very good at it. I admired his acrobatic multiple not-quite-endings, though I didn’t entirely follow them, and I look forward to reading more from him — as well as the probable TV series.
We’re looking forward to a brand-new year (play it, Pete Townshend!) . . . hoping it will be full of reignited friendships, collaborations, festivities, and hugs.
While the late winter Left Coast Crime conference won’t resume in person until 2022, mystery writers and fans are still crossing our fingers for Malice Domestic at the end of April. We’re especially excited about the launch of Malice’s 2021 anthology Murder Most Diabolical, presented by Lifetime Achievement Award winner Walter Mosley and featuring CJ Verburg’s story “A Terrible Tragedy.” Set on Cape Cod, this is reluctant sleuth Edgar Rowdey’s first foray into the buzzing local theater scene, when he’s tapped to design the set for a Hollywood director’s production of Macbeth.
Whether Malice Domestic 2021 is 3-D or virtual, keep an eye out for Murder Most Diabolical!
An out-of-town adventure for Archie and then — when the case and the women involved spin out of control — for Wolfe. This plot hinges on the Communist threat, which makes it feel dated in a clumsier way than Stout’s nickel phone calls and $10 steak dinners ever do. Still, as always in this series, a gripping and satisfying read.
An adventure at Lily Rowan’s Montana ranch! The setting for me was the greatest fun in this episode of the ever-rereadable Wolfe and Goodwin series. Generally I prefer the mysteries this ace detective team can solve from Wolfe’s Manhattan brownstone; but since Lily is the Queen of Hearts, it’s a pleasure to travel with her and Archie to her most exotic home-away-from-home.
“Liked” is the wrong word for a Naomi Klein book. As usual, she does an awesome job of exposing a travesty of rich entitled capitalists exploiting a system they’ve rigged to strip assets and well-being from ordinary citizens — in this case, the storm-battered and serially colonized islands of Puerto Rico. I’d love to believe the small sustainable local infrastructure innovations of local residents can prevail, but it’s a Sisyphean battle. I wish Klein had more explicitly defined the epithet “neoliberal.”
A book that opens with the suicide of a sympathetic character is not a book I’d normally expect to like, or maybe even finish. Burying Ben caught me up fast and kept me turning pages straight through to the end. Unexpectedly, it’s an ideal read for this “perfect storm” season of coronavirus, wildfires and hurricanes, political deceit and treachery, when hugging a dear friend might kill you. Nobody (including the narrator) is quite who we think they are, or who they think they are. Kirschman is a deft, engaging writer with a unique advantage: she knows the real world of law enforcement up close, from both the roller-coaster level of cops joking over coffee and five minutes later risking their lives, and the expert-observer level of a clinical psychologist. So this is not a standard story of good guys trying to outwit bad guys and vice versa. The “mystery” doesn’t even really emerge until we understand how the characters’ depths, quirks, pasts, and the diverse pressures they work under became lethal for would-be Officer Ben Gomez. It’s a scary terrain–compelling because it’s authentic. And through the ups and downs Dr. Dot Meyerhoff perseveres, because what else can she do, with human lives and her own future at stake? Highly recommended!
Have you missed those lazy summer afternoons splashing, surfing, and sunbathing at the beach? Long mellow evenings of seafood and tall frosty drinks? We’re here to help!
On Friday, August 28, Boom-Books is giving away CJ Verburg’s 5-star Zapped: an Edgar Rowdey Cape Cod Mystery on Google Play, Apple/iBooks, Kobo, Nook/Barnes&Noble, and Kindle/Amazon. (We’re giving it away, but check before you click — some e-book outlets may charge you a small fee.)
Read a sample of Zapped here.
To stretch out your stretch of summer sleuthing, rejoin Edgar, Lydia, Mudge, and friends in the seaside village of Quansett for Croaked: an Edgar Rowdey Cape Cod Mystery.
Happy end of summer!
April 2020 is a wonderful time to expand our horizons virtually. Boom-Books is offering Charisse Howard’s Dark Horseman: Mystery, Adventure, and Romance in Regency Virginia FREE as part of Smashwords’ “Authors Give Back” sale from now until April 20. If you’ve ever loved horses, wept for a heart-breaking loss, or wished you could to time-travel back to Antebellum Virginia, you’ll love this fast-paced full-length story of a strong-minded young woman who must stake her future happiness on an impossible choice. Order Dark Horseman FREE until April 20!