The Latest and Greatest in Crime Fiction – New York Times

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The great port of London is churning with activity in Anne Perry’s latest Victorian mystery, AN ECHO OF MURDER (Ballantine, $28). On the lookout for trouble, Commander William Monk of the Thames River Police keeps his eyes peeled on the mighty ships passing through. But he isn’t prepared for the gruesome scene of murder that greets him in a dockside warehouse. The horridly mutilated victim is a Hungarian merchant, one of a growing populace of displaced persons fleeing oppression in European cities like Budapest and Vienna, only to stir up antagonism in their new home. “They’re different, that’s all,” says a newspaper dealer who bristles at all the “foreign newspapers.”

Perry fashions a rich, if blood-splattered narrative from this chapter of history. As the murders continue, Monk and his clever wife, Hester, a nurse who saw plenty of savagery in the Crimea, struggle to fathom the new climate of hatred. “I think it’s fear,” Hester says. “It’s fear of ideas, things that aren’t the way you’re used to. Everyone you don’t understand because their language is different, their food, but above all their religion.” How times haven’t changed.

Part police procedural and part travelogue, Cay Rademacher’s MURDEROUS MISTRAL (Minotaur, $24.99) is a perfect getaway mystery. This tightly-plotted whodunit (briskly translated from the German by Peter Millar) uproots Capitaine Roger Blanc from his prestigious office in the Paris gendarmerie to the Midi, “the graveyard of any career,” where he has inherited a run-down 18th-century stone house. Blanc soon finds out that “Parisian ruthlessness didn’t quite work down here.” Nor does Parisian pride, which gets clobbered when he starts interviewing slippery local suspects in the murder of an inept gangster.

The detective-as-outsider convention works really well in humanizing Blanc, whom the elegant women in the district find especially amusing. The backbreaking restoration work earns him sympathy, as does his first exposure to the slashing winds of the region’s infamous mistral. By the time Blanc is presented with his second murder case, he’s ready to admit that his new home in the countryside is more stimulating than he’d thought.

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Julia Keller doesn’t pull any punches in FAST FALLS THE NIGHT (Minotaur, $25.99). In the course of a single day, there are 33 overdoses (three of them fatal) in Aker’s Gap, the Appalachian town in West Virginia where she sets all her regional mysteries. The putative cause of this horrendous business is a batch of tainted heroin — heroin being “as common as stray cats around here.” But Bell Elkins, a county prosecutor and the protagonist in this series, knows that the problem goes deeper, to a “circular logic of despair” created by shuttered coal mines, exacerbated by zero replacement job options, and resulting in the kind of hopelessness from which there’s no recovery. The plot pretty much consists of waiting for the next OD victim to keel over, but Keller does a terrific job of rubbing our faces in the troubles of her hometown — of America’s hometowns.


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