Recommendation from the SMSA Crime & Mystery Book Club

This month the theme was 'far away places' and we have an eclectic bunch of books and one poem that we recommend: 

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Prime Cut by Alan Carter

This is the debut novel of Australian author Alan Carter featuring DSC Cato Kwong, a disgraced cop stuck in Hopetoun, Western Australia working in the Stock Squad (focus on horses and ponies).  Set during the recent global financial crisis, seaside town, Hopetoun is prosperous because of the Australian mining boom. With an influx of people and money comes crime and when a torso of a human body is washed up by the sea, Kwong is called on to investigate.  This is a great first novel, and a good look into Australian rural life in the 21st Century.  The juxtaposition of white Australian mythology about the outback with the reality of modern Australia with different cultures and the impact of mining and selling a natural resource to the highest bidder is woven through the investigation. Well worth a read.   

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Pick You Victim by Pat McGerr

Another debut novel, Pick Your Victim was written in 1947 and set the Aleutian Islands in the Northern Pacific Ocean during World War 2. The story is known for its plot structure - starting the story with the knowledge of who the murderer is and ending it with the identity of the victim. As reviewer Xavier Lechard describes on gadetection.com "The story opens with a group of Marines, stationed in the Aleutians, whom are threatened to succumb to boredom and the monotony of daily routine, when one of them discovers that his package from the home front is padded with a heaping bundle of torn newspaper scraps. Needless to the say the scraps of paper are eagerly devoured, however, among the bits and pieces on boxing bouts and advertisements for women's garments is an incomplete account of a murder committed at the Society to Uplift Domestic Service (SUDS for short) back in Washington. Paul Stetson strangled one of the SUDS officers to death at their office, but parts of the article, that would've informed them on the victim's identity, are missing." This is a hard book to find because it is not well known. You may be able to find it in second hand book stores or through the internet. If you can find, buy it.

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The Missing Wife by June Duncan Owen

Set in a small farming town in Western New South Wales, Australia, this novel focuses on how a person can never escape the past. Laura is a history teacher in Sydney who is in the middle of school holidays when friends of hers from her time in Sri Lanka contact her to ask for her help. Their daughter,Nilanthi,has gone missing and they ask Laura to find her. Nilanthi is the missing wife of a farmer, a mail order bride who is not welcomed to the community, To find out what has happened to Nilanthi, Laura has to travel to the town in Western New South Wales, which just happens to be her home town. Laura's family history and her own marriage to a Sri Lankan man back into her own tragic past.

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Winter Study by Nevada Barr

This is the 14th novel in the Anna Pigeon series. Anna is a park ranger who works and sometimes investigates murder in the Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, USA. In this story, Anna is sent to Isle Royale in Lake Superior near the border between Canada and the USA in January. It is the middle of winter and mischief is afoot where Anna is being housed with the team running the famed wolf study and two homeland security scientists. This is vintage Barr where the study of nature and the environmental impact of humans is mixed with the investigation of a murder.

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O Caledonia by Elspheth Barker

A mixture of a coming-of-age story and a crime novel, O Caledonia is a first novel by writer and journalist Elspheth Barker, published in 1991. It won four awards and was shortlisted for the Whitbread Prize in the UK. The protagonist of the story is also the victim of the story.  16 year old Janet is found murdered beneath the stairs of a castle in a remote Scottish village. She is not missed by her parents or anyone in the village, just missed by a small black bird.  It is beautifully written and you sink into the vivid imagery and fantastic use of language.  The story of Janet's life is told in flashback so you learn about the world Janet inhabits physically as well as mentally.  Her approach to life and obvious intelligence makes her stick out in this small village in the 1950s. It has a lot of dark humour and wry observations and although it is sad it is also very uplifting.

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Murder on the Iditarod Trail by Sue Henry

The blurb on the back says "The winner of Alaska's world-famous Iditarod -- a grueling, eleven-hundred-mile dog sled race across a frigid Arctic wilderness---takes home a $250,000 purse But this year, the prize is survival". So this qualifies as a far off place. This novel errs on the side of romantic suspense in the mystery/crime genre as there is a central love story.  This is a page turner as the structure of the race keeps the plot tight and moving. 

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The Dark Wind by Tony Hillerman

This is the second novel is the series featuring Officer Jim Chee of the Navajo Tribal Police in Arizona. Chee works to keep the peace between the Navajo and the Hopi when a decaying and unidentified body is discovered in the desert. Tony Hillerman was known for his respect and love of the Four Corners area in the South West of USA which covers Native American tribal lands and the interaction between white and Native American culture. I have written about Tony Hillerman before, click here to read it.

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On the Head of a Pin by Janet Kellough

Published in 2009, this Canadian historical crime novel features Thaddeus Lewis, a 'saddlebag' preacher who is on his way to his new posting in Prince Edward County, Upper Canada.  Set after the 1837 Mackenzie Rebellion, Lewis is convinced that there is a serial killer on the loose. Still in mourning after the death of his daughter, Sarah, Lewis tracks the killer across the colony using the Book of Proverbs and a the small painted pin of the title as the only clues. Janet Kellough is an author and performance storyteller who has a great interest in delving into the everyday life of people rather than dates in a history book.

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Silent Valley by Malla Nunn

Set in the 1950s in South Africa in the first years of what is now called Apartheid, this is a Detective Sergeant Emmanuel Cooper novel that explores the Natal area of South Africa and the interaction between the dominant local nation, the Zulus, and apartheid structure. Cooper investigates the death of a Zulu princess in the Drakensberg mountains near Durban. According to publishers Pan Macmillan, "he must enter the guarded worlds of a traditional Zulu clan and a white farming community to gather up the clues Amahle left behind and bring her murderer to justice. But the silence in the valley is deafening, and it seems that everyone - from the uncooperative local police officer, to the white farm boy who seems obsessed with the dead girl - has something to hide."  This series is fascinating as it delves into a certain place and time in history.

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The Blackhouse by Peter May

Peter May is a Scottish writer who started started out as a journalist in Glasgow. He has written for TV and has a successful crime series set in Shanghai, China.  He now lives in France and has written two more crime series, the first is The Enzo Files books set in France and The Lewis Trilogy that takes place on the Isle of  Lewis in Northern Scotland.  The Blackhouse is the first in the trilogy and features Detective Inspector Fin Macleod, a native of the island, who is sent back to the island from Edinburgh to investigate a murder.  Like all novels set in remote areas, the weather and isolation of the communities are integral to the atmosphere and plot of the stories.  Peter May is a veteran writer who knows how to spin a yarn. It is worth spending time in the world he has created.

 

The Shooting of Dan McGrew by Robert Service  

Watch the poem read by Bill Kerr below: