Thursday, January 30, 2014


by Bruce Tierney)

Race, religion, greed, xenophobia—author Okey Ndibe tackles these sensitive topics and more in the heist novel to end all heist novels, Foreign Gods, Inc. In this strange and lyrical tale, protagonist Ike Uzondu will attempt a theft, but not of gold or diamonds: His target is nothing less than a war deity venerated by a dwindling number of adherents in Ike’s home village in Nigeria. A god who will, if things go according to plan, bring Ike fortune, both in the “luck” and the “lotsa money” senses of the word. Ike has tried to live a good life up until now. He completed a degree in economics at an Ivy League university, only to be told by a potential employer, “Your credentials are excellent, but the accent is crappy.” In fact, the only job he can find in New York City where his accent is not an issue is one that has become the fallback position for many a new immigrant: taxi driver. But piloting a cab cannot fulfill the ambitions of a man who has braved a long journey, jarring culture clash and interminable bureaucracy to get as far as he has gotten. Only the god Ngene can do that for Ike, and even then, only if Ngene sees fit.


It is hard to imagine how a mother and son writing team from North Carolina could pen the quintessentially English mystery novels of “Charles Todd,” but pen them they do. The 16th installment in the Inspector Ian Rutledge series, Hunting Shadows, is set in post-WWI England, a time and place where wartime losses remain very much a part of everyday life. More than most men, Rutledge carries his war experiences with him: The chiding voice of Corporal Hamish MacLeod, who fought and died under Rutledge’s command at the Battle of the Somme, comes unbidden to Rutledge in times of stress or reflection. As Hunting Shadows opens, Rutledge is summoned to the Fen country, a low-lying area north of his usual Cambridge stomping grounds. Two murders have been committed, seemingly with no relationship between victims but with strong correlation of methodology. Rutledge’s brief is to find the killer before a third victim joins the list. It falls to Rutledge to seek out the truth; this time, perhaps more than any other time in his career thus far, the truth will prove an elusive adversary, one perhaps better left unexposed.


As a mystery columnist, I am skeptical of blurbs hailing new Scandinavian suspense authors as “the next Stieg Larsson.” That said, Norway’s Jørgen Brekke should be in the running, with his original and suspenseful debut novel Where Monsters Dwell. Five hundred years ago, a young Norwegian monk took a walk on the dark side, feeding an unholy obsession with death, culminating in his creation of “The Book of John,” a text bound in human skin. This sort of thing is an aberration that appears only sporadically over the centuries. So imagine the shockwave in present-day Trondheim, Norway, when the curator of the museum holding the Book of John is brutally murdered, her skin flayed from her body. Double-down on the shock effect when the cops find that the curator of the Edgar Allan Poe Museum in Virginia has met much the same fate. Police forces from both sides of the Atlantic collaborate in parallel, then tandem, investigations, the clues to which may be found in the macabre, skin-bound Book of John . . . if they are to be found at all. A killer debut, in every sense of the word, and a book you will want to read in one sitting, preferably not right before bedtime.


Leighton Gage’s previous book, Perfect Hatred, was last March’s BookPage Top Pick in Mystery; shortly afterward, Gage wrote to thank me for the accolade, and we exchanged a series of emails about what was coming next for Brazilian police inspector Mario Silva. One note read, in part: “I shall try very hard not to disappoint you with the next one. It’s entitled The Ways of Evil Men and is scheduled for release, by Soho, in February of 2014.” Well, February 2014 is here, and so is The Ways of Evil Men. Sadly, Gage is not here; he passed away in July. A 20-year resident of São Paulo, Gage wrote compellingly about the social problems that plague modern-day Brazil: assassinations; staggering poverty; and the class system that permeates every social interaction. His final book takes Silva and his team deep into the jungle to investigate a case of possible genocide. Thirty-nine members of the Awana tribe have dropped dead mysteriously, perhaps poisoned, leaving only two members alive. When a local white man is murdered and the elder of the two remaining Awana is found at the scene, it all seems just a bit too pat, and the specter of a massive conspiracy begins to take form. As a writer, Gage had it all: social conscience; complex, well-drawn characters; and superb plot development. All he lacked was the gift of another dozen years of writing, to shepherd Chief Inspector Silva safely into his retirement.

No disappointments here, Leighton, none whatsoever. Sleep well.