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Police

Police
Jo Nesbo

At the end of Nesbo’s last book, Phantom,  a lot of us thought Harry Hole was dead. Since Police is being marketed with the tagline “a new Harry Hole novel”, I don’t think its too much of a spoiler to reveal that Hole is still alive… at least when Police starts.

There is a killer on the loose in Norway, and he seems to be targeting police officers. Is his motive revenge, hatred, or even love? The politicking at police headquarters impedes rather than advances the case. A few who have worked with Harry Hole try to form their own task force and solve the crimes like he would. But can they do it without him?
This novel is typical of all the Nesbo has written in the Harry Hole series; that is to say, excellent. Psychological analysis, modern forensics, and old-fashioned beat cop detecting all play a role in solving the case.  The case takes unexpected twists and turns that keep you guessing (and turing pages) up until the end. A story arc involving the corrupt chief of police and his henchman gets wrapped up. But is it as good if there is no Harry Hole? You have to read the book to decide.

SPOIlER ALERT
My feeling is that this just might be the final Harry Hole book (altho Nesbo has fooled us before.) If, in fact, it is- I’m not disappointed with this farewell to the character. For once he might have a book where he doesn’t disappear into an alcoholic drinking binge/blackout. For once he might get to be happy with his long-time off-and-on girlfriend Rakel and her son Oleg. I’m only disappointed because I never wanted to say goodbye to Harry. Oh, I know, characters are usually better if they say goodbye before we are quite done with them. But 9 Nesbo books (in English) over the last few years have made me rather attached to Harry Hole. He is, in my opinion, one of the greatest fictional detectives of the last 20 years.

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Other characters in the running for the best detective of the last 20 yeats: the fictional Pendergast of Preston and Child. the fictional House of TV. the fictional Lincoln Ryhme of J. Deaver. the fictional Temperance Brennan of K. Reichs. the fictional Sherlock of the BBC.

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Bones of the Lost

Bones of the Lost (Temperance Brennan #16)
Kathy Reichs

Forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan is, as usual, busy with many different cases. She’s examining remains of dog mummies connects to an antiquities smuggling case. She’s trying to identify the body of a teen girl who may have been the vicitim of sex trafficking. And she’s been tapped by the US military to help solve a case involving a soldier who fired on civilians in Afghanistan. Each case requires her unique expertise.
Meanwhile, Tempe’s personal life is (as usual) complicated. Her ex-husband (ex-cop ex-Marine) Pete is in the throes of marrying his new trophy wife. Her long-time lover Ryan (Royal Canadian Mounted Police, aka Mountie, detective) is suddenly incommunicado. And her beloved daughter Katy is far away, stationed in Afghanistan after enlisting at the end of the last book.
Obviously Temperence Brennan solves the cases- all of them- although (no suprise to anyone who has read any other books in this series) most of them tie together in the end. One thing I don’t like about how Reichs writes these novels is that, in the crucial chapters when Tempe puts the pieces together, she is vague about whodunit. You get to the end like, what?! and then generally have to reread the last 6 chapters to understand.

I first met, and loved, Temperance Brennan on the hit TV show Bones. Naturally then I read the books. In my opinion, the first 6-8 books in the series were the best, but I’ve always likes the show better than the books.  I think I might have finally pinpointed why. The heart of the TV show Bones is the relationship between Brennan aka Bones and her FBI agent partner Seely Booth. They are often at odds, sometimes in love, and always hilarious. In the books, Tempe has no Booth- altho you can see in both her lovers, Pete and Ryan, ideas that grew into Booth. Often in the books, she is not “with” either of them, which just isn’t as much fun.
Also on the TV show, there is a solid cast of supporting characters. Parts of the show are often portrayed from their perspective. While the books feature recurring side characters, they are not nearly as fun as the TV cast. The books are always narrated entirely by Brennan, too. She’s brilliant, hardworking and even sometimes funny- but sometimes you wish for another narrative perspective.

I enjoy Reich’s books. I haven’t missed one yet, and I often recommend them to readers looking for a good forensic mystery.  But at the end of the day, I love TV Bones better than novel Tempe. I guess I’m just glad that Reichs could help give us both of them.

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You might like: the Body Farm novels by Jefferson Bass. the Rizzoli and Isles novels by Tess Gerritsen.

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Alex

Alex
Pierre Lemaitre

Alex was an excellent detective thriller, with more than one suprising plot twist. In fact, I’m having a hard time writing a review with no spoilers because the plot twists are so major. I’ll do my best, but trust me, the book is better than my review makes it sound.

There are three major crime segments in Alex. Police Commandant Camille Verhoeven is the driving force in investigating all of them. First of all, a young woman named Alex is kidnapped, jammed into a wooden crate so small she cannot stretch or lie down, and suspended from a rope in an abandoned warehouse. When Commandant Camille does manage to find her kidnapper, he dies before telling police anything; leaving Alex with no food or water, at the mercy of the rats.
Next, Commandant Camille is trying to solve a series of murders where victims were killed by having acid poured down their throats. He feels the killings are of a sexual nature, but others are skeptical; and when a woman turns up among the victims, it seems Camille is wrong.
Finally, there is a suicide, which might just be a murder. Commandant Camille finally uncovers the original crime at the root of all these deaths and unravels the twisted thread tying all these horrible crimes together.

The crimes, the murders, the plot twists- those are enough to make this book a page-turner. But Commandant Camille Verhoeven is the real stand-out of the story. A short man with a big ego and a kitten named Doudouche, Camille is neurotic and briliant as we expect our best fictional detectives to be. He is understandably reluctant to take on the Alex case, having lost his own wife and unborn child in a kidnapping gone wrong. Solving the case requires confronting his own inner demons.
If Lemaitre had just stopped at Commandant Camille, this would have been a good enough detective thriller. But he goes on to surround Camille with a cast of characters that are compelling on their own. Louis is Camille’s former partner, reunited with him to solve this crime. The two of them communicate in a way that only long-term coworkers can. Le Guen is Camille’s boss, who forces him to take the Alex case. The author describes them as being like an old married couple- they fight but understand each other perfectly. Armand is another coworker, who initially provides comic relief for desciptions of what a miser he is. But it turns out maybe he has a generous heart. Together, these police officers form a team with depth and color around Commandant Camille.

Alex is being sold as the first book in the Commandant Camille Verhoeven trilogy. I hope they hurry up and translate the others from French,  because I can’t wait to read them. I want another detectice thriller with this kind of fast-paces writing and unexpected twists. I also want to read more about Commandant Camille and his team!

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You might like: The Bat, Nesbo. The Abomination, Holt. Any of the Deleware/Sturgis novels by Kellerman.

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Cuckoo’s Calling

Cuckoo’s Calling
R. Galbraith/J.K. Rowling

In case you somehow missed the news, it came out recently that this detective novel, published under the name of Robert Galbraith, was in fact the work of J.K. Rowling, the superfamous author of the Harry Potter books. Her previous attempt at post-Potter adult fiction, Casual Vacancy, didn’t go over all that well. So I can see why she might have wanted to try again with a book that would be judged on its own merits. Having never read the Potter books, I feel like I can give Cuckoo’s Calling a fairly unbiased review. I found this thriller less than spell-binding.
J.K. Rowling’s writing style is lush and descriptive, with an absurdly proper level of punctuation (commas, semi-colons and parenthesis), and long sentence constructs with multiple dependent clauses. It’s good writing, if a bit slow going- and terribly at odds with what purports to be a detective thriller.
In Cuckoo’s Calling, Robin finds herself as the temporary secretary to a private eye named Cormoran Strike, who is investigating the apparent suicide of a famous model, Lula. There are lots of players on this stage, all with their own well-developed backstory; the one I found most interesting (and would, in fact, want to read about again) was Strike himself. The mystery itself wasn’t all that riveting.
I also felt like this story had misogynistic elements to it, in the way women were described and how theit characters were developed. For example, in their first encounter, Strike almost knocks Robin down the stairs, but catches her by the breast. So throughout the first chapters, she is described as sneakily rubbing her bruised breast. Maybe this is Rowling’s attempt to sound like a  male author, but I didn’t care for it.
The mystery and characters were about average, with Cormoran Strike being the standout in the story. The writing was above average, but not at all suited to this type of book. I found myself wishing I could enjoy the writing in a different type of book, like one of those slow reflective novels that takes place with a family at their beachhouse all in one weekend…or perhaps…a fantasy.

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