May 1, 2017 Booklist 9 #mysterymonth
By Paul Cleave.
2012. Atria, $15
How can this New
Zealand cop novel
be such a knockout
when it’s home to
some of the genre’s
most familiar ste-
reotypes? Hero Theodore Tate is an ex-cop who lost his job
for boozing. His wife is in an irreversible coma. He’s short of
money and drives an elderly clunker. And yet, Cleave man-
ages a fresh imagining of these chestnuts. The scenes with the
comatose wife are beautiful and moving rather than pathetic.
The inner musings of the characters have a poetic power, even a
quirky humor. The final effect is that tingling in the neck hairs
that tells us an artist is at work.
Swimming in the Dark. By Paddy Richardson. 2015. Upstart,
Fifteen-year-old Serena, “just one of the bloody Freemans,”
disappears after being victimized by a predator in a position of
power. Her teacher, Ilse, who saw promise in the troubled teen,
and Ilse’s mother, an East German immigrant, become involved
in an effort to find Serena. Award-winning New Zealander
Richardson masterfully weaves the backstories of her primary
characters into a compelling plot that focuses on how repression
can exist in a nominally free society and what it may take to
overcome it. A stunning thriller, grounded in love.
Smaller and Smaller Circles. By F. H. Batacan. 2015. Soho,
The hero of this surprising novel—set in a spot of grinding
Philippine poverty called Payatas—is a Jesuit priest, Father Gus
Saenz, a forensic anthropologist. He is tall and lean, he has an
overawed sidekick, and the police seek his “considerable intellect” when a crime has them baffled. Oh, my God! It’s Holmes
in holy orders! But Batacan doesn’t just stop with the tantalizing premise; she brings an incredible emotional force to a novel
about a serial killer preying on young boys and delivers an ending as artful as it is lurid. Perfect for Baker Streeters looking for
an engaging multicultural incarnation of their hero.
The Singapore School of Villainy. By Shamini Flint. 2012.
Minotaur, $25.95 (9780312596996).
The third Inspector Singh novel finds the beer-drinking,
turban-and-white-sneakers-wearing detective working on his
home turf—an unusual event, as homicides are rare in the au-
thoritarian city-state of Singapore. With most of the suspects
being expat lawyers, the investigation has high priority as long
as Singh can pin the murder on a local. Naturally, it doesn’t
work out that way. Flint combines delightfully quirky charac-
ters with a top-notch, twisty mystery. Earlier installments in
the series find the inspector moving to other Pacific Rim set-
tings, including Bali and Malaysia.
Bangkok Haunts. By John Burdett. 2007. Vintage, $14.95
Burdett’s Bangkok may be the most vibrant landscape of any
in current crime fiction, and Sonchai Jitpleecheep—an improbable mix of West and East, the fact-seeking investigator meets
the tranquil Buddhist, at ease with contrary realities—is certainly among the genre’s most intriguing sleuths. Bangkok police
detective and co-owner, with his mother, of a brothel in the
city’s notorious District 8, Sonchai explores the lower depths of
depravity with a bravura mix of horror and black humor, taking
moral ambiguity to almost sublime levels of complexity.
The Depths of the Sea. By Jamie Metzel. 2004. St. Martin’s,
Thailand, 1979. A CIA agent vanishes while on a top-secret
mission involving Cambodian refugee camps. Only one man
can hope to find him: Morgan O’Reilly, a desk officer at the
agency who ran a spy network of street orphans in Cambodia
during the Vietnam War. Metzel’s knowledge of Washington
politics and the refugee camps gives the story an air of realism
that few similarly themed thrillers can match. A vibrant, well-paced novel dripping with the noir-tinged atmosphere of the
immediate post–Vietnam War years.
The Fear Artist. By Timothy Hallinan. 2012. Soho, $14.95
Poke Rafferty, travel writer and sometime sleuth living in the
notorious Patpong District of Bangkok, just wanted to paint his
apartment, but instead, he finds himself on the run from the
Thai secret police and matching wits with an aging American
serial killer whose blood lust, ignited during the Vietnam War,
now rages unchecked. Set against the epochal 2011 monsoon
that nearly drowned all of Bangkok, this installment in Hallinan’s long-running series offers a full-sensory exploration of
Patpong and modern expat culture.
Paying Back Jack. By Christopher G. Moore. 2009. Grove, $14
Disbarred American lawyer turned Bangkok PI Vincent Cal-vino is hired by a true ugly American to follow the “minor wife”
of a wealthy Thai businessman who is running for a national political office. This tenth novel in a series that has achieved more
fame in Europe than the U.S. combines a straightforward hard-boiled genre tale with a fascinating look at Thai social dynamics
(Moore is a longtime Bangkok resident). For anyone who ever
wondered what a purebred Chandlerian detective would make
of vice-friendly Bangkok, this series is for you.