OLD CRIMES, NEW KILLINGS: New Books by Peter Swanson, Erin Young and Brian Freeman
My early January reading has been a mixed bag of American based crime novels, all of which revolve around old crimes and dark secrets.
The Fields is actually by a British writer, Erin Young (aka historical author Robyn Young), but it paints a very convincing and evocative picture of the Corn Belt of Iowa.
A young woman’s brutalised body is found in a cornfield, on one of the few family farms still managing to compete with the giants of Big Agriculture. Sergeant Riley Fisher, newly promoted to head of investigations at the Black Hawk County Sheriff’s Office, is given the case, but the investigation takes on a personal edge when she realises that the victim is an old friend from her dark past. The woman’s death reminds Riley of tragic events and crimes she would like to forget, and when a second murder occurs, she finds herself swamped by fear and a rising sense of panic in the community. As Riley investigates she comes to suspect that some very powerful people have connections to the crime.
This is a dark and gripping story that limns a very bleak portrait of rural America. The background information on the devastating effects of Big Agriculture and the genetic manipulation of seeds is powerful and interesting, and has a good contemporary feel to it. The characters are well-crafted and nuanced, especially Riley who is very credible, and they are situated in a realistic setting.
The story moves along at a solid pace and the action is tough and believable, without implausible heroics. The plot takes some interesting turns and the final pages are emotionally charged and very tense. The wrap-up has a plausible ring to it and there are minor loose ends, which could be pursued in later books.
In all, it is a very enjoyable story that raises some fascinating social and political issues.
Four stars out of five!
The Fields is released in Australia (Hachette) and the United States on 25 January 2022. For some reason it is not released in the United Kingdom until 28 April 2022. Thanks to the publisher and the Canberra Weekly for the book.
There is no doubting Peter Swanson’s love of the crime fiction genre. His books bristle with references to old crime novels and movies, and he enjoys taking old mystery tropes and playing with them and updating them.
This passion is once again evident in Nines Lives. With frequent references to Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None and other books, Nine Lives revolves around a list of nine names, which has been sent to each person on the list. The nine people on the list, including FBI agent Jessica Winslow, are complete strangers with no apparent connection. Most of them throw the list away until the first two names on the list are killed. It then becomes a race to stop the count down to the last name.
The nine people on the list are diverse group of different ages, different circumstances and working in a variety of professions from college professor to wannabe actor to oncology nurse. Swanson has good fun in creating the backgrounds for each of them and then killing them off. The book proceeds in a predictable fashion, but there are some good shocks along the way and the reason behind the killings remains tantalizingly out of reach for most of the book. Not surprisingly, the ending stretches belief, but there is a neat twist in the tail.
This a cleverly plotted and enjoyable novel, that holds attention throughout. The book’s sense of melancholy is nicely offset by some witty dialogue and amusing reflections, and the references to classic crime novels will delight aficionados.
Four stars out of five!
Nine Lives will be released on 1 March 2022 in Australia and the United Kingdom by Faber and Faber, and on 15 March 2022 in the United States by William Morrow.
I really enjoyed the first half dozen or so books in Brian Freeman’s series about Duluth (Minnesota) detective Jonathan Stride, but have lost track of them in recent years, mainly due to their spasmodic release in Australia. A Funeral For Friend received some very good reviews overseas when it was released in September 2022, so I bought a copy a few months back and really enjoyed it.
It is the tenth book in the series, and opens with Stride listening to his best friend, Steve Garske, making a shocking deathbed confession: “You’re safe, Stride. I found the body at the Deeps. I buried him.”
When the police dig up Steve’s yard they find a body with a bullet hole in its skull. Stride is pretty sure he knows who it is. Seven years ago, an out-of-town reporter disappeared while investigating anonymous allegations of rape against a prominent politician. Back then, the police believed that the reporter drowned at a dangerous swimming hole called the Deeps, but the discovery of the body changes everything. Stride claims to have no knowledge of what happened to the reporter, but he was the last person to see him alive and had his own reasons to want the reporter dead. Suspended from the Duluth Police Force, Stride has to retrace the reporter’s investigation into the explosive allegations about what happened all those years ago.
This is a very well written and involving crime novel, that demands attention from the opening pages and holds it all the way to the end. The cold case aspects of the storyline work really well and Freeman adds extra suspense by weaving in an supplementary plot about a stalker threatening Stride’s quasi-adopted ward Cat Mateo. There are plenty of twists and turns, and an exciting blood-soaked conclusion. As always, Freeman also creates a good sense of place in describing the town of Duluth and the many moods of nearby Lake Superior and the surrounding streams and woodlands. The characters are also well-fleshed out and balanced in their portrayal.
Freeman smoothly weaves in the background information for newcomers to the series and A Funeral For A Friend can be read as a stand-alone, although some prior understanding of the personal dramatics would enhance the reading pleasure.
In my view this is probably the best entry in the series since the award winning first novel Immoral. I would rate it a strong four to four and a half stars!
Outside of America, Funeral For Friend may be a little difficult to track down, but it is well worth the effort, as are most of the books by Brian Freeman.
Reading Preference: I thought that they were all very good and quite different. In terms of reading pleasure A Funeral For A Friend was my favourite, followed by The Fields and then Nine Lives.