The next book I read was Ordinary Grace by William Kent Kreuger, author of the Cork O’Connor series, which is a stand alone novel that not only won the 2014 Edgar Award for Best Crime Novel, and the Midwest Booksellers Choice Award, but has been nominated for several others.
The opening prologue sets the scene as the narrator Frank Drum looks back from the perspective of forty years on the summer of 1961, and the seemingly idyllic setting of a small town in middle America when he was 13 years old.
All the dying that summer began with the death of a child, a boy with golden hair and thick glasses, killed on the railroad tracks outside New Bremen, Minnesota, sliced into pieces by a thousand tons of steel speeding across the prairie toward South Dakota.
Ordinary Grace is beautifully written lyrical, emotional, multilayered, schmaltzy and very American novel. I admit to crying at one point as the plot unfolded and I realised that all the characters are flawed in some way. Their visible flaws, Frank’s younger brother Jake has a bad stutter, his older sister Ariel has a hare lip, her boyfriend Karl’s family includes Lise who is deaf and her uncle Emil, a concert pianist who is blind, are as nothing to the secrets they keep hidden inside.
It is as if Frank is feeling nostalgia for a lost time and a utopian childhood world that never was. The tone of Ordinary Grace has been compared, by The Detroit News, to Harper Lee’s masterpiece To Kill A Mockingbird with its combination of dread and nostalgia. The nostalgia is heavily laid on so that the terrible events are that much more shocking.
Ordinary Grace is a very good read but be prepared to have your heartstings pulled as the crisply drawn characters exhibit feet of clay, and the reader is made to understand that although at times life is very hard we have to go on even though we are distraught with grief.
The Hunting Dogs by Jorn lier Horst translated from the Norwegian by Anne Bruce has won both The Golden Revolver [Top Norwegian Crime Novel 2013] and The Nordic Glass Key 2013. The Hunting Dogs is written in a clinical factual police procedural style which is compelling. I thought this a superior book to the author’s Closed For Winter.
Seventeen years earlier William Wisting lead the investigation into the murder of Cecilia Linde, now it seems the evidence may have been fabricated and DNA may have beenn planted by the police. The convicted man Rudolf Haglund is free and Wisting is suspended as an investigation begins.
Meanwhile Wisting’s crime reporter daughter Line is looking into the murder of one Jonas Ravneberg , and is also very concerned that the media have already made a negative judgement about her father. Then another young woman goes missing…….
‘We killed Cecilia Linde,’ Wisting repeated.
‘When you approached the media and told them about the cassette you gave the murderer no alternative.’
The Hunting Dogs explores the relationship between father and daughter, the media’s responsibility in dealing with abduction cases, and the stress placed on the detectives in such cases. It also raises issues about the question of how a system of law that is balanced heavily in favour of perpetrators and their human rights as opposed to those of their victims can function in a very violent world. As a retired policeman once said to me “we can’t interrogate people anymore we have to bore them into a confession”.
The Hunting Dogs has to be a strong contender for the International Dagger and Petrona Awards next year.
‘What’s he doing?’ Morten P asked.
‘He’s just sitting watching people,’ Line said but, at that moment, it dawned on her he was not simply looking. He was selecting individuals and studying them in detail. All of them young women.
Cobra by Deon Meyer translated from the Afrikaans by K.L.Seegers is a fast moving thriller set in Cape Town. Benny Griessel is called to a bloodbath when trained bodyguards have been executed at a luxury guesthouse by a professional killer, or killers, leaving behind distinctive shell casings marked with a cobra. A mysterious Briton Paul Morris, a man seemingly with no past, is missing presumed kidnapped.
Meanwhile charming young pickpocket Tyrone Kleinbooi is plying his trade in order to help pay for his sister Nadia’s university fees. But when he is picked up by security guards for stealing a beautiful foreigner’s purse, a figure intervenes killing the guards but allowing Tyrone to escape leaving behind his mobile phone.
Tyrone still has the disk wanted by the killers, and when Paul Morris is identified a race develops to save him and Nadia who has been seized by the Cobra killers. Yes it is all very complicated, and exciting. Although Cobra is marketed as a Benny Griessel novel, my favourite police person in the novel is:
Captain Mbali Kaleni was the only woman in the DPCI’s Violent Crimes Team. For six long months now. She was short and very fat. She was never to be seen without her SAPS identity card on a ribbon around her neck, and her service pistol on her plump hip. When she left her office, there was a huge handbag of shiny black leather over her shoulder.
She is my favourite character because doesn’t fit the stereotype of women cops in crime fiction, and above all she is honest.
‘State security eavesdropping on us, taking over a criminal case. Just like in apartheid times. We are destroying our democracy, and I will not stand by and let it happen. And it will, if we let it. I owe it to my parents’ struggle, and I owe it to my country.’
Another fine book that should be a contender for the International Dagger.