Murder in Glasgow

Robicheaux returns

Crime Fiction

July 31, 2005|By Sarah Weinman | Sarah Weinman,Special to the Sun

FIELD OF BLOOD

By Denise Mina. Little, Brown. 350 pages.

Denise Mina's novels illuminate the darkest, most uncomfortable corners of her native Glasgow, and this, the first in a new series, continues to do so in exemplary fashion.

Eschewing contemporary setting for a look at the recession-tinged, religious-obsessed early 1980s, Field of Blood is a tale of two unrelated Paddy Meehans: the elder incarcerated for a crime he did not commit, and the younger working her way up in the world of journalism while asserting her independence, much to the chagrin of her family and fiance, Sean. Their lack of understanding turns to outright shunning when Paddy discovers one of the two suspects in the horrific murder of a local toddler was Sean's 11-year old cousin, and the news is made public through no fault of her own.

Desperate to prove her journalistic mettle and redeem herself, Paddy digs beneath frustrating inconsistencies to uncover dangerous truths -- about both the case and herself. Although the subplot involving Paddy's namesake seems solely designed to set up future installments, Mina has created such a wonderfully rendered heroine whose development in the face of abject disapproval is the key to Field of Blood's success.

CRUSADER'S CROSS

By James Lee Burke. Simon & Schuster. 325 pages.

Few would dispute Burke's place in the crime canon -- with beautiful prose and vivid description, any of his books is eminently readable. As is this, the latest volume featuring longstanding protagonist Dave Robicheaux, but readability only further exacerbates the author's maddening tendency to repeat himself and certain stock situations.

The novel begins promisingly, detailing Dave and half-brother Jimmie's ill-fated 1950s encounter with femme fatale Ida Durbin. Then the story jumps to the present, when a deathbed confession by an old acquaintance spurs Robicheaux to find out where and why Ida disappeared -- and if she's still alive.

What follows are the usual Burke tropes: Dave gets beat up a lot, ambles around passively investigating cases old and new (including several brutalized victims of a would-be serial killer) and blacks out a few times as he falls off the wagon yet again. Yes, there are still isolated paragraphs that would provoke green-eyed envy, but thanks to an anticlimactic ending and haphazard plotting, the overall result disappoints. Even so, a subpar effort from Burke trumps many of the genre's current releases.

HE WHO FEARS THE WOLF

By Karin Fossum. Harcourt. 269 pages.

There's still a long way to go before crime fiction in translation achieves as much success in America as it has in European countries, but thanks to some choice Scandinavian imports, the catch-up has begun.

Best-selling Swede Henning Mankell leads by a wide margin, but Fossum, Norway's so-called Queen of Crime, also knows a thing or two about a gripping police procedural. Moody, taciturn Inspector Sejer (making a return appearance after last year's Don't Look Back) has a particularly baffling case on his hands: An elderly woman living alone in the woods has been murdered, and the crime's only witness is a pre-teen delinquent who'd rather be overeating than giving Sejer the necessary information. Then things get weirder when the suspect, a known psychopath, wanders into a bank -- and is taken hostage by a gun-wielding robber.

As Sejer struggles to find the duo, Fossum paints a bizarre but compelling relationship between the two criminals. Who really has control, and who bears more responsibility and culpability?

With sharp psychological insight and a fine grasp on police procedure, Fossum is easily one of the best new imports the genre has to offer.

DEARLY DEVOTED DEXTER

By Jeff Lindsay. Doubleday. 300 pages.

Dexter Morgan doesn't have to worry over the Nietzsche admonition about not becoming the monster you are battling. Long before Morgan begins tracking a serial killer, he already is one himself. As first introduced in last year's bizarrely appealing Darkly Dreaming Dexter, he had harnessed his vicious tendencies for society's greater good -- even though he really couldn't care less. But what's a serial killer to do when he can't work, thanks to an overly suspicious police sergeant determined to arrest him? Play-act at domestic bliss with his pseudo-girlfriend Rita and her two kids, of course. But luckily for Dexter, there's a new madman in town who takes disfigurement to disgusting new heights, and only Dexter's acute understanding of murdering mindsets can halt the killer's plans --- which center not only on Dexter's sister (and homicide detective) Deborah, but a secret from the police sergeant's past.

The plot becomes somewhat muddled, and the Miami setting is disappointingly underused, but Dexter's amusing (if somewhat overarch) voice keeps the pages turning. Especially convincing are his interactions with Rita's son, whom he mentors in more ways than one.

OVER HER DEAD BODY

By Kate White. Warner. 400 pages.

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