Tag Archives: Mystery novel

Another Chilling Read from the Arctic

 book cover: The Bone Seeker


Destination: Canada, The Arctic Circle

Book:  The Bone Seeker, An Edie Kiglatuk Mystery, by M. J. McGrath (NEW 2014)

“The boundaries of murder were unlimited.  Like some far distant universe, every individual act of killing was dark and vast and unknowable.” From The Bone Seeker by M. J. McGrath

The Arctic
Land and ice and water near Kuujuaq. Photo by Murray Dewing at Flickr.

I love finding books that are not only fun to read, but also shed light on a place and a culture that I know next to nothing about.  So how many books have you read that take place in the Arctic and have an Inuit heroine?

One difference between southerners (anyone south of the Arctic Circle) and the Inuits (Eskimos) is that we southerners think of ice as frozen water.  However, in the Arctic, they think of water as melted ice. Edie Kiglatuk, an Inuit, shares this bit of cultural difference along with many others along the way to solving the mystery of a missing teen girl.

If you need to cool off from  hot summer weather, let M. J. McGrath transport you to an island. No soft breezes and palm trees here, though.  Just too much daylight all summer long. Edie Kiglatuk, the main character is uncomfortably warm when the temperature raises above freezing. That makes McGrath mysteries the perfect books for ‘chilling.’

Artic wolf tracks
Photo by Johannes Zielcke, from Flickr

Edie has taken a summer school teaching position in the town of Kuujuaq, a small town in Nunaviq in far north Quebec Province. In summer, the sun never sets on this Arctic region, and the constant light plays havoc with people’s sleep cycles.

Edie, while not officially a detective, brings a wealth of experience and appropriate skills to the job when her friend Sergeant Derk Paliser, the only law in these parts, recruits her to help. They are searching for the killer of a teenage girl, Martha, whose body is found in a lake that is suspected by the Inuits of harboring evil spirits. Edie is an expert tracker, and sees things that elude people more used to walking on pavement than on ice.

As in the previous Edie Kiglatuk mystery that  I reviewed, The Boy in the Snow, set in Alaska,  The Bone Seeker reveals a much wider evil conspiracy than a simple murder.  In Boy in the Snow, Edie uncovered corrupt politicians and a human trafficking ring.  Here, the suspense builds and you will not fully realize the meaning of the book’s title until you arrive near the end.

You know you’re in for a wild ride when the Canadian Defense Department shuts down the investigation and takes away the body and all evidence.  Derek resents the non cooperation of the Army and his anger makes him less than a diplomat. Edie keeps some of her actions secret even from Derek. The native people on the island don’t trust any outsiders (qalunaat), even Derek, who is only half Inuit. Meanwhile, a female attorney who has been representing the tribe in a suit against the government aimed at cleaning up contaminants for the “evil” lake, endangers herself by refusing to back down when old paperwork hints at deep secrets.

As you can see, there is plenty of conflict to go around, and plenty of strong characters who refuse to “behave” when the government wants them to back away.

 NOTES: I am an Amazon affiliate, which means if you click on the book cover and shop at Amazon, A Traveler’s Library will earn a few cents to help pay the Internet rent. Thanks.

Click on photos to learn more about the photographers.

 

Chills in Barcelona

Destination: Barcelona Spain

Book: The Good Suicides by Antonio Hill. (New June 2014)

This novel follows one I reviewed recently, Summer of Dead Toys. In fact, Summer of  Dead Toys ended with a teaser to lead you to this book. I found the teaser irresistible. Of course the books can be read in any order, but I like following the progression of a detective’s personal life as it unfolds in a series by reading the earlier ones first.

In The Good Suicides, we puzzle with Antonio Hill  over whether there can be a “good” suicide, what can drive a person to the point of suicide, and when what looks like a suicide may actually be a murder. Group dynamics play a large part in this story and so we wonder about the effect of being part of a group. And of course suspense builds as we wonder if there will be more victims. Hill, a psychologist, brings his knowledge into play not only in developing characters, but also in knowing how to interest us.

Most of this plays out in a city popular with travelers–Barcelona. As a traveler who reads, you’ll learn quite a bit about the culture of modern day Spain.

Antonio Hill changes up the main characters a bit in his second novel, The Good Suicides. Barcelona Policeman Héctor Salgado is off probation and back on the job, although ordered not to pursue the disappearance of his ex-wife, Ruth. His young partner Leire is supposed to be on maternity leave, but she is itching to get back to work, and “unofficially” picks up the investigation of Ruth’s absence. This necessitates the introduction of another female police officer, Martina Andreu.

Winter in Barcelona
Winter in Barcelona Photo by Daniel Julià Lundgren, from Flickr.

The other change I enjoyed was in climate.  If you read the review, or the book, Summer of Dead Toys, you may remember that the sultry heat of Barcelona summer established an atmosphere that added to the drama.  The Good Suicides takes place in Barcelona’s winter, and instead of seeking shade, the characters are wanting to be inside with a cup of hot coffee. The shivers are not all metaphorical.

Hill’s use of weather to establish mood and believability reminds me of the emphasis on weather in the four books of the Copenhagen Quartet by Thomas E. Kennedy.  [No wonder I'm thinking about Kennedy's work--his final book in the Copenhagen Quartet, Beneath the Neon Egg, is the subject of the next review you can read here at A Traveler's Library.]

Antonio Hill’s work is full of delightful turns of phrase that seem totally perfect–and totally unique. For instance this description of a place:

Empty apartments are like actresses in decline, thought Leire. Well kept, always awaiting the arrival of the person who gives them meaning so that they can once again become welcoming, lively spaces, they never manage to shake off a dusty, rancid air, an aspect of assumed neglect that repels rather than attracts.

Road in Spain

“Sotres Panorama” by Mick Stephenson mixpix.Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:SotresPanorama.jpg#mediaviewer/File:SotresPanorama.jpg

And this one of action as detectives drive into the mountains:

Lola clung to the door handle as the car stumbled along, nervous, faster than the terrain permitted.

Ever think of your car as nervous before?

I was also impressed by the author’s thumbnail sketches of the people in this novel, even those who served only as background to the story, like this in a bar.

While they were talking, the young customer had decided to leave the virtual world and return to his true occupation, that of a tourist, and the waitress was still standing motionless behind the bar, less beautiful than she believed herself to be.

Another person–this time a main character.

She had lovely dark hair and a tense expression, but it was precisely that expression which rendered her neutral features, too correct to be beautiful, attractive.  Mar Ródenas, like her brother, belonged to the immense group of people neither handsome nor ugly. They lack intensity, Ruth always used to say…

While I truly enjoyed reading Antonio Hill’s fresh metaphors and was impressed by his skills of observation, I do have one complaint about his characters. There are so many of them, and he has not found a way to remind the reader who someone is when they re-enter the book after an absence. I frequently got lost, and had to backtrack to remind myself who I was reading about.

The structure of the novel leads to this problem, since it is arranged in sections that focus on specific characters, who generally return to play a role in the section focusing on someone else.

The plot is complex.  It starts simply enough with a woman’s body discovered on the Metro tracks–an apparent suicide.  But digging into the death, Héctor discovers that there was another suicide among workers in the company where this woman is employed as a personal assistant.  It is difficult to believe that two suicides in such a short time are a coincidence. And more people will die.

From there, he explores the dynamics of the cosmetics company, headed by a brother and sister, until he teases out the complicated relationships and the causes for suicides. And/or murders.

Meanwhile in another thread, Leire is trying to figure out what happened to the missing Ruth as the pregnant cop gets closer and closer to the time for her delivery.

The Good Suicides (a bit of a stretch for a title) impressed me as much as Hill’s first book. And guess what? Once again, the book ends with a teaser to lure you into book number three.

I am not going to repeat everything that I said about the author’s background and about Barcelona. You can look back at the review of Summer of Dead Toys for that information. I will just add that it seems to be a tradition that second books are a disappointment. That is definitely not the case with The Good Suicides.  I think readers and Antonio Hill have a long and happy relationship in front of them.

Notes: The publisher sent me a copy of this book for review. My opinions, nevertheless are always my own.

If you use the links to Amazon that I have provided, you should know that although it costs you no more, I make a few cents whenever you shop through those links.  Thanks for supporting A Travelers Library.

New York with Murder, a Rookie Journalist and Hasidic Jews

Destination: Brooklyn, New York

Book: Invisible City by Julia Dahl (NEW summer 2014) [Review of MacMillan audio book read by Andi Arndt]

I’m back in New York City. Unfortunately it is only an armchair journey, but certainly an interesting one . I’ve moved from Terminal City in Manhattan, which we discussed a couple of weeks ago, to Invisible City in Brooklyn, a worthy first mystery novel by Julia Dahl.

In Invisible City, you will become acquainted with two worlds that may be as foreign to you as a small principality in Asia, even though it takes place in the middle of the quintessential American City.

The first, less exotic but nevertheless holding plenty of “I didn’t know that” moments, is the world of Rebekah Roberts, a young journalism graduate who works as a stringer for a sensationalist New York newspaper.  She is learning her craft on the hoof as she sets off each day to follow whatever story the newspaper editors assign her — interviewing people, gathering facts, but not actually writing a story. Someone in the newsroom does that.

Hasidic Jewish Men
Hasidic Jewish Men, photo from Flickr

Until, that is, she becomes embroiled in the murder of a Hasidic woman in Brooklyn, and as she becomes more confident in her judgment as a journalist, she also grows in her understanding of her own life.  Rebekah’s mother was a Hasidic Jew, who gave birth to Rebekah as a result of a temporary experiment in living outside the faith.  While the girl was still very young, her mother, Aviva,  left her with her father and Rebekah knows nothing about either Aviva or the Hasidic Jewish culture.

So we follow along as Rebekah (who has kept the Jewish spelling of her name, despite never practicing Judaism) learns what it is like to be a Hasidic woman and why her mother may have left the community, and even more puzzling to the motherless girl, why her mother returned to her faith, abandoning Rebekah and her father.

Rebekah picks her way through a minefield of people (newspaper editors, cops, Hasidic Jews) who never seem to be telling the whole truth. A key character is Saul Katz, a police liason to the insular Jewish community who knew her mother.  That brings up the question of whether Rebekah  spends so much time on this story  because she is seeking justice for the murdered woman, or seeking her lost mother. She  not only gains some maturity as a journalist during her investigation of the murder, but she gains in personal maturity as well.

Hasidic Jew Family
Hasidic Family. Photo from Flickr
Hasidic wedding
Hasidic wedding. Photo by Eliot Margolies

There are many surprises–even shocks–awaiting Rebekah, and the reader about the way the isolated Hasidic Jewish community functions.  Particularly the lives of the women.

Personally, I also was surprised and nearly shocked by the practices of the journalistic community as well.

Author Julia Dahl has worked as a journalist for various newspapers and websites, and like Rebekah has a Jewish mother and a Christian father.  She lives in Brooklyn, which makes for vivid recreation of the life of the city.

In listening to an audio book, frequently the voice of the reader can make the difference between sticking with the book, or giving up on it.  At first I thought I would find Andi Arndt’s high pitched rendering of Rebekah to be annoying, but ultimately it worked to remind me constantly of how young and naive Rebekah was. Plus, Arndt was able to present a variety of characters and clearly delineate them for my ear.

Invisible City will be a great audiobook for you to slip in the CD player as you head off for a road trip this summer, or a good book to curl up with in print on electronic form as you chill out. And you just may get hooked by Rebekah, and be waiting for the next installment of her journalistic adventures in NYC.

This interview will fill you in on her process in writing Invisible City, and give you a suggested book in case you want to learn more about the ultra Orthodox Jews.

Note:  MacMillan Audio sent me an audio book for review. However, my opinions are always my own and I am not obligated to review the books they send.

You will find links to Amazon here, as well as links to informative articles.  The Amazon links are affiliate links meaning A Traveler’s Library benefits when you shop through those links. Thank you.