Saturday, September 5, 2015

(No.294) Part 3 of "Two Macdonalds & several other crime novelists"

Part 3 of "Two Macdonalds (Ross and John D.) and
several other crime novelists"

by Alastair Rickard

In my two previous columns (Nos. 292 amd 293) I offered some comments about new or republished novels I have enjoyed by a number of current writers as well as the accumulated works of the late Ross Macdonald and John D. Macdonald.

This column concludes the series.


The American author Joseph Kanon is a talented writer. His novels are set in different cities and mainly but not entirely at or shortly after the end of world War II. The novels do not repeat characters or plot lines.

"The Prodigal Spy" (1999) takes place in Washington and Prague and involves an American insider who spied for the Russians. "The Alibi" (2009) involves an American officer in Europe at war's end and his involvement with a Jewish-Italian survivor of war crimes. Both are well written -- as one expects from Kanon.

There is hardly a more reliable writer when it comes to each of his novels ascending the American bestseller lists than Michael Connelly. A former journalist, Connelly is the real deal: a certified producer of 'top 10' novels. His longest running character is the Los Angeles Police Dept. detective Harry Bosch. Because his Bosch novels are not frozen in time Connelly reached a point chronologically when Bosch retired.

However, like Ian Rankin's Detective Inspector John Rebus in Edinburgh who was also retired by his creator, Bosch came out of retirement. "The Burning Room" (2014) is the latest published in the series with another (the 20th,"The Crossing") scheduled for publication in November this year.

Vermont state detective Joe Gunther is the central character in more than two dozen crime novels by Archer Mayor. Gunther is surrounded by a continuing cast of police and non-police characters (especially female friends), a pattern continued in "Proof Positive" (2014), the 25th in the series. The next Joe Gunther novel "The Company She kept" will be out this month.

Lee Child is, like Michael Connelly, the creator of a character -- Jack Reacher -- whose appearance in another new story guarantees that novel bestseller standing. Child, an Englishman who once worked in British television, created an American character who is not only an ex-military policeman, large and very tough, but also a wanderer around the U.S. thus facilitating his encountering of all manner of eccentric people and circumstances.

"Personal" (2014) features rather more than usual of Reacher's biographical details but is just as violent as well as difficult for a reader to put down. The 18 Reacher novels are very successful for good reason: they are absorbing. The next Reacher novel, "Make Me", will be out in Sept. this year.

The American novelist John Sandford has created two long running characters: Lucas Davenport, a senior detective in a Minnesota state policy agency and Virgil Flowers, one of his subordinates, For the most part their respectives cases do not overlap.

There are 25 "Prey" novels featuring Davenport; all his stories have "Prey" in the title: and 8 so far featuring Virgil Flowers. The latest from Sandford are "Gathering Prey" (2015) and (with Flowers) "Deadline" (2014). They are well plotted and told in a fashion as interesting as their predecessors in the two series.

Like Joseph Kanon novels, the historical espionage genre of fiction by Alan Furst, a particular favourite of mine, form a series of novels without continuing characters. In "Midnight in Europe" (2014) Furst again shows that he is a master at setting up the mood and creating the atmosphere of Europe in the years between the two world wars and leading up to WWII.

Finally Rebecca Cantrell, like Furst an American writer who has lived in Europe, began the story of her lead character Hannah Vogel in pre-war Europe in "A Trace of Smoke" (2009). It is the first in a series of novels and a good start, one that has been followed by three more.

Vogel is revealed to be a newspaper crime beat reporter living a hand-to-mouth existence in 1931 Berlin who unintentionally becomes involved with the affairs of a senior Nazi. The story embraces aspects of both the Nazi rise to power in Germany and the corresponding decline in the pre-1933
Berlin/Weimar lifestyles since depicted in books like Christopher Isherwood's "The Berlin Stories"and various movies and plays such as "Cabaret".




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/Weimar era