In a recent interview with best-selling author, Ian Rankin, I asked what he was reading in crime fiction that he’d recommend. Without hesitation, he said Jo Nesbx ‘s “The Snowman” (Knopf, $25.95).
Rankin described it as a “powerhouse read,” and it really is. Nesbx, a Norwegian novelist, has written seven crime thrillers featuring Detective Harry Hole of the Oslo Crime Squad (three are available in the United States).
Hole’s investigations are usually fueled by alcohol and a simmering rage, but he’s leaner in this novel, his muscles clearly visible “between skin and bone.”
Hole is trying to be a better man, but it isn’t easy. Someone is beheading “unfaithful mothers,” building snowmen as a chilling calling card.
Hole suspects a serial killer, but he can’t get anyone else to buy his theory.
If you’re still grieving the loss of Stieg Larsson, it’s time to move on. Nesbx’s waiting for you.
Like Nesbx, Belinda Bauer may be another author you’ve overlooked. Her first novel, “Blacklands,” won a 2010 Crime Writers’ Association award. In her latest, “Darkside” (Simon and Schuster, $15), Bauer returns to the bleak English moors with their “hidden histories and forgotten secrets,” and to the twisted psychological territory that marked her brilliant debut. People on the moor may walk on “the exposed peaks, but their lives” are “conducted in the folds and creases.”
Police Constable Jonas Holly was raised on these moors, returning to this “backwater posting” so he has flexibility to care for his wife, Lucy, who has multiple sclerosis.
When an elderly woman is smothered in a local nursing home, and snow cuts off the area from outside help, more grisly deaths follow.
This novel’s dark eloquence, its distinctive characters, and its psychological terror reminded me of a Patricia Highsmith story or a Hitchcock film. Horror movies play constantly on Lucy’s television as if watching them helps her face what’s assaulting her body, and Bauer ingeniously uses the tropes of the horror genre to build suspense. When you figure out what’s happening, don’t bother screaming — it’s too late.
My final pick this month keeps us reading abroad. Jan Merete Weiss’ wonderful debut, “These Dark Things” (Soho Crime, $24) is set in contemporary Naples, Italy.
From the opening scene of an elderly bone cleaner (an ancient Catholic ritual to “intercede for the souls way laid in purgatory”) pulling her cart across the “black flagstones” of the Via della Piazzola, I was transported to a city that has more than a foot in its ancient past.
After the bone cleaner discovers a young woman displayed like a “Pre-Raphaelite” angel among the relics in the city’s catacombs, Captain Natalia Monte of the Carabinieri, and her partner, Sergeant Pino Loriano, “a Buddhist” who looks “at things from unusual angles,” investigate.
Did the young woman’s lover, a misogynistic professor, murder her? Or was it one of the city’s infamous crime families?
The novel is full of intriguing contradictions and cultural clashes between modern Naples and its past, and Merete Weiss confidently weaves them into this distinctive mystery.
Carole E. Barrowman, a professor of English at Alverno College, writes a monthly column on mysteries for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.