December 12, 2019

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Questions abound in war-era thriller

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 9/7/2016 (1251 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Troubled cop/single father Woodrow Cain leaves North Carolina for 1942 New York City: gangsters running wild, cops on the take, U-boats lurking beyond the harbour, feds with mysterious agendas, deep ethnic splits, and Nazi spies and saboteurs everywhere.

In Dan Fesperman’s The Letter Writer (Random House, 372 pages, $36), Cain soon meets Danziger, a seemingly harmless old Jewish man who writes and reads letters to and from Europe in a half-dozen languages for semi-literate, lower-income clients.

Gosh, you don’t suppose Danziger could have a somewhat more intriguing past? And that the plot could soon pull together the real-life G-men and mobsters plotting against the backdrop of bodies dumped in the harbour and burning freighters on the horizon? Absolutely a crackerjack of a book.

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Brighton copper Roy Grace has a black widow on his hands. She not only has a string of elderly rich husbands who’ve died tragically within days of marriage — some by deadly bites — but she also breeds poisonous snakes and insects. Gosh, who could have seen her husbands’ sudden ends coming?

In Peter James’ Love You Dead (McMillan, 437 pages, $24) Grace also contends with ultra-nasty senior police officer Pewe, the return of colourful American hitman Mr. Tooth, serial killer Dr. Crisp having done a runner, and the lurking presence of his possibly-whacko, presumed-dead wife Sandy.

Love You Dead is better than his recent books, in which the degradation and terror of women victims were akin to torture porn, but it all feels a little forced. Surely even one of those old rich men would have smarts enough to Google a 30s woman who went all you-had-me-at-hello on them.

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Jon is a supposed hitman for the mob who’s never carried out his contracts, and now he’s on the run to the northernmost settlements in Norway after ripping off Oslo’s biggest drug dealer — pretty unwise career decisions, though skedaddling makes sense.

In Jo Nesbo’s Midnight Sun (Random House, 214 pages, $28), he takes refuge in a lonely, heavily religious fishing community and awaits the inevitable.

It’s a good read, though a short one, and Midnight Sun’s first-person narration dissipates a little of the suspense. There’s far more to the story than whether there’ll be a high-noon showdown and who will survive.

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A cabinet minister in an unnamed province (obviously Alberta) murders a small-town accountant and won’t say why. The premier turns to lawyer Harry Asher, his personal fixer, to find out what it’s all about, or maybe to find out what the victim knew and keep it buried. What if Asher is into justice at any cost?

In Mark Lisac’s Where the Bodies Lie (NeWest Press, 269 pages, $21), there’s a steady mix of political skulduggery, oil, massive financial scandal, oil, small-town thugs, oil, evangelical politicians blithely breaking all the commandments, and oil. Did we mention oil?

Anachronisms and a few decades notwithstanding, there are even characters somewhat similar to Bible Bill Aberhart and Ernest Manning. A good read, though depressingly cynical — and why be so cute about not acknowledging it’s Alberta?

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Be aware when the titular character in Lars Kepler’s Stalker (McLelland and Stewart, 523 pages, $25) kills, there are excruciatingly long and drawn-out chapters in which terrified women are stalked in their own homes and then slaughtered, all graphically sick to the point of being pornographic — and repeated again, and again, and again.

A group of Stockholm cops and doctors is on the hunt for the serial killer, and they all, it goes without saying, have their own demons and secrets. Stockholm police allegedly are prone to breaking the law and to being more trigger-happy than Dirty Harry.

For a while the mystery elements are intriguing, but as it gets increasingly over-the-top the plot unravels to the point of being beyond preposterous.

Free Press legislature reporter Nick Martin would have enjoyed joining Cain and Danziger in Brooklyn for an (imported) beer.

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