I belong to a mystery book group, Malice on Main. It is sponsored by a wonderful bookstore, Mystery on Main, in Brattleboro, VT. Each year we pick a theme and the bookstore owner, David, picks the books. 2016 was international mysteries. We read eleven books (we don’t meet in January) and I enjoyed all but one which I didn’t finish. Looking back, I think each member had at least one they didn’t care for; sometimes they finished it any way but sometimes not. Here is the list annotated with my comments.
China: Death of a Red Heroine (Xiaolong Qui) A fascinating glimpse of life and police work in present day China. I really enjoyed this one.
Japan: The Devotion of Suspect X (Keigo Higashima) We had quite a discussion about the writer’s treatment of the women in the book and whether the sexism was cultural or just him or just the detective. I read the a second book by him, Malice, and the woman was more realistically drawn and much more interesting leading me to conclude that the women in Devotion were written the way they were as part of the story. One day I will have to read it again and see if this is correct.
Venice: Death at La Fenice (Donna Leon) This is Leon’s first and, having read everything she’s written, still one of my favorites. We see her detective Guido Brunnetti as she is just starting to develop him as a character. Plus it is an interesting death that he investigates.
Cuba: Havana Red (Leonardo Paura) More interesting for the picture of Cuba than the mystery.
India: Case of the Missing Servant (Tarquin Hall) A lot of fun.
Ghana: Wife of the Gods (Kwei Quartey) Detective Darko Dawson is sent to investigate a murder with supernatural implications and solves both the murder and his mother’s mysterious disappearance over twenty years ago.
Austria: The Truth and Other Lies (Sascha Arango) What happens when a death causes a life built on pretense to crumble.
Turkey: Istanbul Passage (Joseph Kannon) This is more of a spy thriller than a mystery. Set in 1946 or 1947, the story is wrapped around the Jewish exodus from Europe to Palestine. I really liked this book.
Ireland: Elegy for April (Benjamin Black) The search for April who disappears. Full of interesting characters including the eccentric Quirke who undertakes to find her.
France: How’s the Pain (Pascal Garnier) The one book I couldn’t finish. I found the two main characters totally unappealing. One of my fellow book group members thought it was very existential, like a Camus novel.
Argentina: A Crack in the Wall (Claudia Pineiro) Totally absorbing with an ending I would never have predicted. Because it centers around architecture, one can Google the buildings she talks about.
Except for The Truth and Other Lies which could be set almost anywhere, each of these books provides a glimpse of place and culture. One of the reasons I’m attracted to mystery stories is that a good author includes lots of descriptions. I often think that much of what I know about England, I learned from reading mysteries. These eleven books took me to new places and taught me new things. But I also learned that being a police detective – or an amateur crime solver – is pretty much the same no matter where you are.