Monday, July 15, 2013

New Books for Sherlock Holmes Fans

For readers who like their mysteries hard-boiled and gritty, set in nineteenth-century England, take a look at Alex Grecian's The Yard and The Black Country and David Morrell's Murder as a Fine Art. Okay, so neither has an egotistic, drug-addicted detective at its core (well, one kind of does), but they both have action, mystery, and gore (plus plenty of brandy and poisonings).

Grecian's new series, the first of which is The Yard, begins in 1889 with the creation of Scotland Yard's Murder Squad, which is a response to the police force's inability to catch Jack the Ripper. Twelve of the best cops are tapped to become detectives investigating only murders. Walter Day is new to the force and one of those twelve. He is eventually joined by Nevil Hammersmith, and the two do their best to figure out what happened to a fellow Inspector, who was found stuffed inside a steamer trunk at a London train station. The Black Country picks up a few months later, when Day and Hammersmith are sent to Blackhampton in the Midlands to find three missing people. This book does involve murder, but the story isn't as complex as the first one. Grecian likes to shift perspectives, including sections from the viewpoint of the murderer. He doesn't shy away from the dirt and blood of nineteenth-century London or from the disturbing secrets of a small village.

David Morrell's book is set before the time of Sherlock Holmes, but his story is no less intriguing. He takes a real-life person, Thomas de Quincey, and makes him the main suspect in murders mirroring de Quincey's essay, Murder as a Fine Art. De Quincey is an opium addict (the story of which the real de Quincey explained in a memoir), and he and his daughter Emily assist the local constables in chasing down the real murderer in order to clear his name. This story takes place in the 1850s so Jack the Ripper hasn't terrorized London yet, but another real event, the Ratcliffe Highway murders, have occurred some forty years prior. Morrell also dares to shine a light on the mud and guts, drugs and violence of nineteenth-century London.

If you are drawn to series, start with Grecian's The Yard and follow his characters into The Black Country. If you prefer stand-alone titles, get Morrell's Murder as a Fine Art. Actually, since Grecian has written only two books so far, readers of stand-alones can try both without feeling like there are too many to catch up on. I don't know whether de Quincey or his daughter will make another appearance in a murder mystery, but if they do, readers will probably not be disappointed. Whether you are a fan of Sherlock Holmes or not, there is plenty to like with these new stories.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Book Review - "The Dinner" by Herman Koch

When is a dinner not a dinner? When it's the scene for a serious conversation between two couples concerning a horrible act of violence two of their teenage sons have committed.

Herman Koch lays out all the courses of fancy meal in his book The Dinner, and with each course the atmosphere gets more tense until tempers finally explode with dessert and coffee. Early on we find out the connection these two couples have, and the ties are closer than just what their sons have done. We see a father trying to understand why his son did what he did, and we also see that same man attempt to come to terms with his own violent tendencies. How much of those tendencies are genetic, and what has he passed on--however unwittingly--to his son? What does his wife think about what the boys did?

I don't want to give away too many details from this tightly plotted, slim book. I will say that some patience is required in the reading. Koch explains his narrator's own history with violence, taking us away from the conversation during dinner about to handle the fall-out, and it may take a few chapters to see how the past connects to the present gruesome act committed by the two boys.

If you enjoy psychology, pick up The Dinner. It's not a thriller and while it does have elements of suspense, it's not really a suspenseful read either. It is a journey into the mind of a man and father as he tries to understand his son and ultimately himself.