[Note: This book’s preface claims it’s based on a true story. It’s not. If you read this novel as an accurate account of Aboriginal culture, you’ll be misled. It should be categorized as New Age Fantasy. The end of this review contains a link to a story in which the author retracts her claims to the book’s authenticity. As fantasy, though, it’s a pretty good read.] Marlo Morgan, an American living in Australia, is invited by an Aboriginal group to what she thinks is an awards banquet.
Alexander Starritt’s We Germans tells the story of a small group of German soldiers retreating from the disastrous invasion of Russia in 1944. The German soldiers on the Eastern front know the war is lost. Pursued by the ruthless Red Army, they’ve retreated a thousand kilometers on foot and are crossing the Polish countryside they destroyed years earlier, when they looked and felt invincible. The main character, Meissner, was drafted into the war at age nineteen as an artilleryman.
James Ellroy’s Blood on the Moon introduces LAPD Detective Sargent Lloyd Hopkins, a “genius” homicide investigator with a reputation for solving tough cases. First published in 1984, the book contains what are now a set of common tropes. Hopkins is a rogue cop working against the strictures of the department that employs him. His self-sworn duty to protect the innocent is born of his own childhood trauma. He can be as single-minded, violent, and relentless as the killers her pursues.
The Cocktail Waitress was the last book James M. Cain wrote before he died in 1977. Hard Case Crime editor Charles Ardai pieced it together from a number of manuscripts and published it in 2002. The book, as Ardai says, “is a classic Cain femme fatale story that’s told for once from the femme fatale’s point of view.” And what a point of view it is. The book opens with twenty-one year old widow Joan Medford standing at her husband’s grave.
The Troubled Man is the final installment in Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallander series, and the only one of the series I’ve read. I found the book in a Little Free Library in a park in Virginia. I picked it up, because I felt quite troubled at the time. I saw the title and thought, “That’s me.” In this book, Wallander, a police officer in a small coastal town in Sweden, is sixty years old and spends a lot of time reflecting on his life.
Jean-Patrick Manchette’s No Room at the Morgue is the first book I’ve read from NYRB Classics that’s just flat out bad. The back cover includes a blurb from Kirkus Reviews that says, “If Marx, Freud, and Jim Thompson collaborated on a noir, this might be the result.” Actually, if Marx, Freud, and Jim Thompson had had an editor, this book would never have been published. A good crime novel raises questions in the reader’s mind to keep them hooked.
I wanted to like George Pelecanos' The Cut, but it left me a little cold. I’m a huge fan of Elmore Leonard, and Pelecanos has a lot in common with the master. Both rely heavily on dialog to convey character, and both have a good ear for the language. Leonard’s characters come off a little sharper, at least compared to this book, in which the testosterone-drenched wise guys on both sides of law do too much posturing and smart-mouthing.
In the opening of Day Keene’s Bring Him Back Dead, sheriff’s deputy Andy Latour seems to be stuck in the wrong job and the wrong marriage. His wife, Olga, a descendant of the faded Russian aristocracy, barely speaks to him. He had promised her a life of wealth and ease as the oil boom struck southern Louisiana and the Delta Oil Company had opened a test well on his land.
I’m often disappointed by contemporary mystery and thriller bestsellers. The characters are flat and unengaging, the writing is often heavy-handed, as if the author is telling us through a bullhorn what we’re supposed to feel. Many writers jack up the action to make up for a lack of depth, like a bad guitarist turning up his amp to try to bowl us over with power because he doesn’t have the skill to win us over with substance.
These five works show Millar to be a brilliant mystery/suspense writer. I’ve reviewed them all separately, and they’re all four or five stars. She really deserves to be more widely read. Note that the negative reviews of this book on Amazon complain about the small print size, not the content of the works themselves. The print is indeed small. That, combined with large pages and narrow margins makes reading hard on the eyes.