I’ve read a lot of crime fiction over the past couple of years–first because I was writing my own and lately because I’m trying to decide whether to write another. Three that I read recently are very different but all excellent, no doubt because the authors are skilled and experienced.
I’m happy to recommend all three:
Blood Grove is the 15th book in Walter Mosley’s Easy Rawlins series. It came out this year but is set in 1969. Suffice it to say that Mosley and I are both old enough to have vivid memories of that time, and he captures it well, including the racial injustices we’re talking about now and should have been paying more attention to then. His writing is crisp and full of delightful images, and his take on the country at that time—damaged Vietnam vets, hippies, racism subtle and far from subtle—adds meaning to what is a good story.
Easy (short for Ezekiel) is a private investigator of the old school, and this novel fits the PI subgenre’s pattern. PI books generally feature a detective who is often a former cop or military vet, flawed, partial to booze, and capable of violence and humanity in equal parts. The first page typically finds him sitting in his office when a client bursts in to hire him, invariably telling only half the story. The detective is almost always reluctant to take the case but then relents, and then wanders around collecting information from seedy characters, calling in old, more violent friends, and stumbling over dead bodies. Mosley sticks to this formula, but he’s so good and offers so much more, you won’t mind it a bit.
If She Wakes is typical of the more modern psychological thriller, and Michael Koryta is as good at those (he’s written more than a dozen) as Mosley is with the Rawlins formula. It begins with Tara, a college student assigned to shepherd a guest speaker to a school event. From the start something feels wrong and by the time the first chapter ends, a car collision has killed the speaker and left Tara in a coma on life support. Abby, an insurance investigator (and former stunt driver) assigned to the “accident” is quick to realize something is out of whack and is soon running from and towards hired killers and mysterious government officials.
The story shifts between Tara’s and Abby’s points of view, with Abby’s part told in past tense, while Tara’s is told in present tense. It’s done so smoothly, you won’t even notice. That’s incredibly difficult (trust me, I’ve tried). When Tara wakes, she suffers from Locked In Syndrome, and one of the added benefits of the novel is learning about this condition, in which the victim is awake and alert but unable to move or communicate (except to the reader).
One of the challenges of writing a good thriller is that the plot invariably crosses into the unbelievable, but the author must hook the reader so he or she will go along for the ride anyway or without noticing. Koryta knows how to do this, and he’s also created two strong female protagonists, each fighting interior demons from the past. You’ll root hard for both of them. And then there is Dax, the hit man you won’t forget, not because of his violence but because he’s a victim fighting past demons of his own.
The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino is one of those books I never would have read if not for my wonderful book club. Higashino is perhaps the most popular crime novelist in Japan, and this book has won every award available. It was fascinating to read it along with the two mentioned above because it is so different.
The story begins with Tetsuva Ishigami, a high school math teacher, who has a giant but unspoken crush on Yasuko Hanako, though he’s too shy to speak to her. They’re next-door neighbors and when Yasuko kills her abusive ex-husband, Ishigami takes charge of hiding the crime. (No spoilers here because this happens in the first couple of chapters.)
What follows is a fascinating game of cat and mouse, with Ishigami using his brilliant, logical, math mind to go up against his old friend, an equally brilliant scientist helping the police. You’ll need to get past the idea that Ishigami will do anything for a woman he’s barely spoken to, but if you can do that, the mind game that follows will fascinate you. Ishigami is a unique character, and Higashino’s simple language (giving due credit to translator Alex O. Smith) creates a mood that is perfect for the chess-like mystery and for providing insight into an unfamiliar culture. The book is different from any American mystery I’ve read, and that only adds to its allure.