Quin­lan flies flag with witty thriller

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books -

HAS the so­ciopo­lit­i­cal cli­mate in the US killed off a great crime writ­ing tra­di­tion? Well, judg­ing from what’s pub­lished, al­most.

But then along comes Pa­trick Quin­lan, whose Smoked grabbed at­ten­tion about a year ago. Now here’s The Take­down ( Head­line, 295pp, $ 32.95) star­ring Dick Miller, who is fresh out of prison, where he picked up typ­ing skills.

Th­ese land him a job at Feld­man Real Es­tate, where the boss, Dot Racine, reck­ons he’s hot. But af­ter a wild night to­gether Dick dis­cov­ers Dot’s body in the boot of his car. He can’t re­mem­ber much about that night. Did he kill her? He can’t be­lieve it. Be­hind all this there’s a money scam Dot was in with Ly­dia, plus, lurk­ing in the shad­ows, Nestor Gar­cia, Dot’s re­ally scary ex- lover. This moves fast and is heaps of fun.

Sadly, End Games ( Faber, 335pp, $ 29.95) fits as the ti­tle for this novel, ap­pear­ing so soon af­ter Michael Dibdin’s death at 60.

Dibdin’s Aure­lio Zen is prob­a­bly the most en­ter­tain­ing of those cops whose in­ves­ti­ga­tions are tracked by genre buffs hooked on Ital­ian food, style and sun­shine. This time Zen is fill­ing in for some­body in Cal­abria, where he de­spises the habit of cook­ing ev­ery­thing with toma­toes.

True to sup­posed Cal­abrian mores, an Amer­i­can lawyer as­so­ci­ated with a film com­pany is kid­napped and killed in ex­tra­or­di­nary fash­ion.

Mak­ing the film, a bib­li­cal tour de force, seems to have been a cover for get­ting at a trea­sure be­lieved to be buried be­neath a river way back when bar­bar­ians were dis­plac­ing Ro­man rulers.

The plot is en­gag­ingly com­plex, with oo­dles of his­tor­i­cal de­tail to trans­port read­ers to an­other time, an­other place.

A few al­ready may have en­coun­tered the pro­lific and mul­ti­voiced Rus­sian au­thor Grig­ory Chkhar­tishvili.

As him­self, he has edited a large an­thol­ogy of Ja­panese lit­er­a­ture, writ­ten The Writer and Sui­cide , and lots of other stuff. As Boris Akunin he con­jured the 19th- cen­tury Rus­sian de­tec­tive Erast Fan­dorin and more re­cently in­tro­duced the cu­ri­ously prac­ti­cal Sis­ter Pela­gia.

Pela­gia & the Black Monk ( Wei­den­feld & Ni­col­son, 394pp, $ 32.95), her sec­ond in­ves­ti­ga­tion, pen­e­trates Chris­tian dark­ness when, scream­ing ‘‘ Basilisk is com­ing. It is the end!’’ a trau­ma­tised monk bursts in on a gath­er­ing in Zavolzhsk, a pro­vin­cial town. Au­thor­i­tar­ian men of the cloth hav­ing failed the task, pretty soon our savvy nun, in dis­guise, be­gins to un­ravel the mys­ter­ies of life at a cor­rupted New Ararat Monastery.

Mean­while in Nor­way, a nine- year- old girl who loves an­i­mals rides off on a yel­low bi­cy­cle, only to van­ish 35 min­utes later. This is Black Sec­onds by Karin Fos­sum ( Harvill, 247pp, $ 32.95). Fos­sum re­fuses to pan­der to pop­u­lar de­mand for en­ter­tain­ment in the form of the in­evitable pun­ish­ment of a crim­i­nal’s evil act.

Black Sec­onds is much more dis­turb­ing, pre­sent­ing un­ex­pected ways in which cir­cum­stance may make a crim­i­nal of any­body. Ida was such a sweet girl. But then the young au­to­mo­bile ad­dict, Tomme, is a nice guy who doesn’t want any­thing to do with drugs from Am­s­ter­dam.

Also well in­ten­tioned is an in­tel­lec­tu­ally hand­i­capped young man with his talk­ing par­rot. And yet the girl is dead. While not at all preachy, it’s pos­si­ble this story may trig­ger un­ex­pect­edly com­pas­sion­ate re­sponses, even among the more blood­y­minded read­ers.

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