Saturday, December 10, 2011

When the going gets tough, I seem to read crime fiction.

I don't know about you, but the end of year usually sees a bit of an energy decline and emotional overload for me.  I am not sure the precise reason, but my reading did slow down over the last few weeks.  Fortunately that little dip has passed, and my reading enthusiasm has been fully restored.  During the slump I did read a couple of fairly decent crime novels.  To be honest, I think that is what I love about crime fiction: yes it is formulaic and predictable at times, but who cares?  Sometimes there is nothing nicer than to plunge into the world of unlikely murder and body disposal, to make one's own life seem positively bliss. 

Firstly I read Skin and Bone by Australian MD and author Kathryn Fox.  It is a very competent police procedural.  Detective Kate Farrer has returned to the homicide squad after three months off.  I liked the character of Kate because she is a bit controlling and irritating.  I guess I liked that she was in some ways unlikeable. Makes for a change from the irascible male detectives and super stylish female pathologists who generally populate the genre.

As to the plot of Skin and Bone, there is nothing especially remarkable about it; we have Kate and co discovering the remains of a burned female corpse, without an immediate identity, and the presence of a nappy bag suggesting that there is a missing baby.  The hunt begins, and of course leads to some very seedy and unlikely connections between the ensuing cast of suspects. 

I think what I enjoyed most about Fox's writing is the interesting medical procedural aspects.  She writes well about the forensic side of things, no doubt her background as a doctor contributes to this, and there is some heart to the story and characters.  For those that like the medium speed police procedural, Fox is worth checking out.

Now to the high speed, sleep depriving , and my current crime writing favourite, Jo Nesbo.  Yes, I couldn't resist going one more round with Detective Harry Hole (pronounced Hula) this year.  The Devil's Star is the fourth Hole novel I have read since discovering this series earlier this year.  Honestly, these books are so "unputdownable" (and yes, I know that is the most irritating and cringy word know to reviewing, but if ever I was going to use it, it will be here) that they should come with a health warning. 

I have tried to think about what makes these books so compelling.  And I can only conclude it is the character of Harry himself.  I mean, it is like Nesbo has taken what we have come to know and love in our irascible detectives and taken it to warp speed.  Harry is not just a little maudlin, brooding, hard drinking and smoking, sparse living, unlucky in love, but irresistible to woman type.  He is much worse than that.  Harry is a full blown alcoholic, a focus of ridicule in the Oslo police force, whose working life reads a bit like a psychedelic drunken binge, lurching from oblivion to self imposed periods of abstinence, where Harry appears only one crumpled cigarette drag from his whole world crashing down around his ears.  Needless to say, at over 190cm tall, this haunted and time ravaged detective is still irresistible to women, and utterly unlucky in love.

Like all of the Hole novels I have read, the plotting of The Devil's Star is complicated but faultless.  By the time the killer is revealed, the reader has been lead through so many turns and culverts, without stopping to draw breath, that the denouement always feels like a gasping relief.  This novel was different for me too, because Oslo is experiencing a heatwave, which completely changes the atmosphere of what I have come to love about the usual ice-packed Scandinavian crime novels.  The heat works, because Harry's alcoholic haze seems even more depressing, everyone is sweating all of the time, and the author has had to be even more creative and macabre in finding ways to hide his murdered corpses. 

In The Devil's Star, Nesbo has delivered another tightly written, high body count, espresso paced crime thriller.  If you like your crime to feel like a surge of adrenaline that won't release you until the last page, you must try these books.

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