The great port of London is churning with activity in Anne PerryÃ¢Â€Â™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 isnÃ¢Â€Â™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. Ã¢Â€ÂœTheyÃ¢Â€Â™re different, thatÃ¢Â€Â™s all,Ã¢Â€Â says a newspaper dealer who bristles at all the Ã¢Â€Âœforeign newspapers.Ã¢Â€Â
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. Ã¢Â€ÂœI think itÃ¢Â€Â™s fear,Ã¢Â€Â Hester says. Ã¢Â€ÂœItÃ¢Â€Â™s fear of ideas, things that arenÃ¢Â€Â™t the way youÃ¢Â€Â™re used to. Everyone you donÃ¢Â€Â™t understand because their language is different, their food, but above all their religion.Ã¢Â€Â How times havenÃ¢Â€Â™t changed.
Part police procedural and part travelogue, Cay RademacherÃ¢Â€Â™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, Ã¢Â€Âœthe graveyard of any career,Ã¢Â€Â where he has inherited a run-down 18th-century stone house. Blanc soon finds out that Ã¢Â€ÂœParisian ruthlessness didnÃ¢Â€Â™t quite work down here.Ã¢Â€Â 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 regionÃ¢Â€Â™s infamous mistral. By the time Blanc is presented with his second murder case, heÃ¢Â€Â™s ready to admit that his new home in the countryside is more stimulating than heÃ¢Â€Â™d thought.
Julia Keller doesnÃ¢Â€Â™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 AkerÃ¢Â€Â™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 Ã¢Â€Â” heroin being Ã¢Â€Âœas common as stray cats around here.Ã¢Â€Â But Bell Elkins, a county prosecutor and the protagonist in this series, knows that the problem goes deeper, to a Ã¢Â€Âœcircular logic of despairÃ¢Â€Â created by shuttered coal mines, exacerbated by zero replacement job options, and resulting in the kind of hopelessness from which thereÃ¢Â€Â™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 Ã¢Â€Â” of AmericaÃ¢Â€Â™s hometowns.