A hero­ine with un­canny pow­ers from Peter Høeg, an epic set in Ber­lus­coni’s Italy, un­con­ven­tional sleuths from Fred Var­gas, and a frozen corpse

The Guardian - Review - - Thrillers - Barry For­shaw

The late Hen­ning Mankell once said that the book he most wished he’d writ­ten was Peter Høeg’s Miss Smilla’s Feel­ing for Snow – with the caveat that he would have re­worked the un­sat­is­fac­tory sci­encefic­tional end­ing (his reser­va­tions about that book’s coda were widely shared). Had the cre­ator of Kurt Wal­lan­der lived to read Høeg’s new book, The Su­san

Ef­fect (Harvill Secker, £16.99, trans­lated by Martin Aitken), there is lit­tle doubt that he would have once again wanted to re­jig the un­likely cli­max. Høeg’s sig­na­ture char­ac­ter, Smilla Jaspersen, had an al­most su­per­nat­u­ral in­tu­itive abil­ity in­volv­ing weather that aided her de­duc­tive skills, and the au­thor echoes that here by giv­ing the epony­mous Su­san a sim­i­lar gift: the abil­ity to com­pel in­ter­locu­tors to tell the truth. But Su­san – who also pos­sesses an Olympian sex- ual ap­petite – is re­spon­si­ble for putting her equally odd fam­ily in danger when she is called on to in­ves­ti­gate a clan­des­tine think­tank called “The Fu­ture Com­mit­tee”, and finds the stakes are noth­ing short of apoc­a­lyp­tic.

In­ter­est­ingly, Miss Smilla was mar­keted as lit­er­ary fic­tion (about, among other things, Den­mark’s post-colo­nial legacy), with its crime fic­tion trap­pings seen as incidental, in the same way that the axe mur­ders in Crime and Pun­ish­ment are less im­por­tant than the study of guilt and redemp­tion. But Høeg is ev­i­dently no snob, and now seems happy to move de­ci­sively into the less “re­spectable” field of crime. Judged in genre terms, this is an art­fully writ­ten, ex­u­ber­ant thriller with a mer­cu­rial and in­ter­est­ing cen­tral char­ac­ter. It will please many – or at least those in whom the end­ing doesn’t in­spire a Mankell-like de­sire to do a re­write.

From Den­mark to Italy – but none of Høeg’s or­nate use of lan­guage is to be found in the caus­tic and blunt Suburra by Carlo Bonini and Gian­carlo De Cataldo (Europa Edi­tions, £13.99). This mas­sive crime epic, al­ready adapted for TV, is trans­lated by Antony Shugaar in un­fi­nessed fash­ion (“Sa­mu­rai ripped them into shreds. His friend never even fired a shot. Then they shov­elled the re­mains into trash bags and dropped them into the Tiber”). Italy, with its en­demic po­lit­i­cal and re­li­gious cor­rup­tion, is fer­tile ter­ri­tory for crime fic­tion. Choos­ing the Ber­lus­coni era as it en­ters its long-over­due fi­nal phase, Bonini and De Cataldo (a mag­is­trate and jour­nal­ist re­spec­tively) set their nar­ra­tive in Os­tia, a run­down and law­less area of Rome. The fi­nan­cial cri­sis of 2008 has al­lowed the mafia to gain even greater in­flu­ence over the po­lice, their own crim­i­nal foot sol­diers, far-right ex­trem­ists and a deeply com­pro­mised Catholic Church plagued by sex scan­dals. There’s no nu­ance here, but Suburra is a re­minder that crime fic­tion can say as much about a so­ci­ety as other gen­res.

More Euro­pean crim­i­nal­ity in the dis­tinctly off-kil­ter The Ac­cor­dion­ist

(Harvill Secker, £16.99) – but then, the ec­cen­tric lit­er­ary world of French writer Fred Var­gas (here trans­lated by Siân Reynolds) has quirk­i­ness as a given. The epony­mous mu­si­cian is the prin­ci­pal sus­pect when two Parisian women are killed. He flees to sanc­tu­ary with Marthe, a for­mer sex worker and the near­est thing he has known to a mother; Marthe then in­vei­gles for­mer in­ves­ti­ga­tor Kehlweiler into tak­ing an unortho­dox ap­proach to un­mask­ing the real mur­derer. The book is as be­guil­ing as pre­vi­ous en­tries in the Three Evan­ge­lists se­ries, with the plea­sure here com­ing from the comic in­ter­play be­tween the un­con­ven­tional sleuths. And (as this is Var­gas) a pet toad has a sig­nif­i­cant role.

Af­ter so many tired po­lice pro­ce­du­rals, who can pro­duce some­thing dif­fer­ent in the genre? Sarah Ward, as

A Pa­tient Fury (Faber, £12.99) demon­stra­bly proves. Like Ann Cleeves, Ward in­fuses a de­gree of Scan­di­na­vian chill­i­ness into her res­o­lutely English sce­nar­ios, and has a gift for the ma­cabre im­age – such as a burning body, strung from a ceil­ing, which turns slowly to face those who have dis­cov­ered it. Diminu­tive DC Con­nie Childs finds that the key to three mur­ders in a Der­byshire house may lie with an asyet-undis­cov­ered fourth body. Read­ers may ini­tially won­der why

The Frozen Woman by Jon Michelet (No Exit, £12.99) bagged a big Nor­we­gian prize. But those who per­sist will re­alise that the longueurs are in­ten­tional, and pa­tience pays div­i­dends. Win­ter holds Nor­way in its grip. Left-lean­ing lawyer Vil­hem Thyge­sen finds a frozen corpse in his gar­den – that of a young woman, the vic­tim of a bloody knife at­tack. The po­lice dis­miss the mur­der as drug re­lated, but then a mem­ber of a biker gang once rep­re­sented by Thyge­sen dies in what ap­pear to be ac­ci­den­tal cir­cum­stances. The com­mon de­nom­i­na­tor in both cases – the bol­shie, 60ish lawyer – is sud­denly of in­ter­est to the po­lice, who have long nur­tured a dis­like of him. It doesn’t hurt that the trans­la­tion is by the reign­ing monarch of the art, Don Bartlett.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.