The Jury Box

by Steve Steinbock

Left Coast Crime is an annual mystery conference set in the early spring, usually located on the West Coast of the U.S. (although in 2006 it was held in Bristol, U.K. This year, for the first time, a Canadian city is hosting Left Coast Crime (Vancouver, BC, March 28-31). In celebration, this month’s Jury Box opens with several novels by Canadian authors.

**** Anne Emery, Though the Heavens Fall, ECW, $24.95. Nova Scotia lawyer Monty Collins is visiting Ireland, along with his family and his best friend, Father Brennan Burke. It’s 1995, and a tenuous peace has settled between the Irish Republican Catholics and the Protestant Unionists. Monty provides legal assistance to the family of a man killed by a hit-and-run driver, while Father Burke reestablishes connections with old friends and family. But Brennan finds himself caught up in sectarian tension, and the two cases intersect with devastating results. Emery doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to politics. The dialogue is smart and the story brutally emotional.

**** Cathy Ace, The Wrong Boy, Four Tails Publishing, $22.00 cloth, $14.95 tpb. In the Welsh town of Rhosddraig, a few days after Guy Fawkes Night, a man walking his dog uncovers the charred remains of a human body. D.I. Evan Glover, eagerly anticipating his upcoming retirement, travels to the town with D.S. Liz Stanley, newly arrived from England. What they eventually uncover are layers of lies, secrets, and misunderstandings behind the closed doors of the idyllic town. Much of the action is set in and around the Dragon’s Head Pub, run by a single mom, her sardonic mother, and her teenage daughter. The Wrong Boy is a well-told novel of suspense written by a Welsh-born author who is the Toastmaster at this year’s Left Coast Crime.

**** Joseph Mark Glazner, MurderLand, JMG Books, $14.99. The town of Niagara Falls, Ontario hosts quite a few museums that range from the conventional to the bizarre. Such a museum is the setting for this high-octane novel about roguish antihero Harry Holiday, who returns to Niagara Falls to run MurderLand, a museum specializing in gangster memorabilia and conspiracy-theory artifacts. Harry tries to keep the fading museum afloat while trying to find out who ran his father off the road, leaving him in a coma. MurderLand is the eighth novel by the Shamus and Arthur Ellis nominated author, and his first after a thirty-year hiatus.

***** Alan Bradley, The Golden Tresses of the Dead, Delacorte Press, $26.00. The three recently orphaned de Luce sisters have cause for celebration: eldest sister Ophelia is finally marrying her sweetheart. But during the wedding celebration, a human finger is found in the wedding cake. Fortunately, there’s a detective in the family: twelve-year-old youngest sister Flavia, amateur chemist and budding sleuth, has just started a detective agency. Along the way, Flavia solves an exotic case of poisoning involving obscure African lore. As always, the Flavia de Luce series doesn’t disappoint, and experiencing the story from the point of view of a precocious preteen narrator makes it a singular delight.

**** Lisa Gabriele, The Winters, Viking, $26.00. Daphne du Maurier’s 1938 novel Rebecca (adapted by Hitchcock in 1940) is remembered for its Gothic romance, suspense, and twist ending. This reworking relocates the settings from Monte Carlo and Cornwall to the Caymans and New York’s Hamptons. After a whirlwind romance, the unnamed narrator comes to live on a Hamptons estate with aristocrat and politician Max Winter and his troubled teenage daughter Dani. But their relationship is marred by Dani’s behavior and by the ever-present shadow of Winter’s late wife, Rebekah. The Winters is not Rebecca, but I enjoyed the subtle parallels and well-placed references, and found the story thoroughly engaging. Gabriele captures and translates the mood of the original story and gives it a completely new twist.

*** Leo Benedictus, Read Me, Twelve, $26. Smart and disturbing, Read Me follows the career of a serial stalker infiltrating the life of one of his subjects. I didn’t want to like this book, for all its creepiness. But as the title foretold, the book seemed to compel me to keep reading. Using the skills of a private detective and a poet-philosopher’s introspection, the narrator transforms voyeurism into a sophisticated hobby. He describes and reflects on his hobby and on his various subjects. But the bulk of the book centers on a woman whose life he turns upside down as the story builds up to a tense crescendo.

***** Christopher Fowler, Bryant & May: Hall of Mirrors, Random House, $27.00. The hallmarks of Fowler’s Bryant and May series are his weaving in of London’s geographical quirks and curiosities, and the antics of the two over-the-hill detectives. This latest book is set not in London but in the English countryside in 1969, when Bryant and May are young men. But Hall of Mirrors is no less enjoyable for these absences. When the two detectives are assigned to guard a witness who is spending a weekend at a social gathering, they find themselves—along with seven other guests, their hosts, domestic staff, a pet pig, and a commune of hippies camped outside the estate—trapped on a vast estate when the roads are closed. Several attempts are made on the witness’s life, and two others are gruesomely killed. If it sounds like a novel by Agatha Christie or P.G. Wodehouse, that was the idea. And it’s pulled off brilliantly in Fowler’s unique way.

*** Gaston Boca, The Seventh Guest, Locked Room International, $19.99. Amateur sleuths Stéphane Triel and Luc Duthiel are invited to Nanteuil Manor, and on their arrival, they follow the sounds of crying to a shed with a single set of footprints leading to it. Inside, the body of the young handyman is hanging, doused in perfume and wearing lipstick. The local police deem it a suicide. But it doesn’t add up for Triel and Duthiel. When the two sleuths, the police detective, their two hosts, and their chauffeur try to leave the estate, they find themselves trapped inside by an unseen foe.

   In a classical denouement lasting almost fifty pages, Triel explains how a complex drama wrought a sequence of impossible elements. The Seventh Guest, originally published as Les Invités de minuit in 1935, is translated now by John Pugmire.

*** Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins, Killing Town, Titan Books, $22.99. Celebrating the hundredth birthday of hardboiled icon Mickey Spillane, Max Allan Collins has completed what would have—if Spillane had finished it—been the first Mike Hammer novel. In his introduction, Collins explains how he spent several hours, during a visit to Spillane’s home, poring over old manuscripts, most of them of unfinished books or fragments. Among them was an incomplete novel set before the events in I, the Jury, before Spillane had met his secretary/sidekick Velma.

Ink had barely dried on our annual Sherlock Holmes issue when two more new works of Sherlockiana arrived on my desk. Rather than waiting a year to report on them, I decided to share them now. Sherlock Holmes Is Like (Wildside Press, $14.99) the third collection of essays edited by Canadian Holmes scholar Christopher Redmond, who asked sixty other fans to whom they would compare this incomparable character. Answers range from Odysseus and Jesus to Houdini, Spock, Gertrude Stein, and Gandalf the Gray.

Bill Mason’s A Holmes by Any Other Name (Wildside Press, $12.99) provides a list of several hundred Holmes-like characters whose names are twists on the original, including Gene Wilder’s “Sureluck Holmes,” Mark Twain’s “Fetlock Jones,” James Thurber’s “Shirley Holmes,” Charles M. Schultz’s “Snoopy Holmes,” Ross Macdonald’s “Herlock Sholmes,” and Ellery Queen’s “Pharaoh Jones.” The list goes on, but you get the idea. The book also includes lists of characters whose names are variations on Dr. John Watson and Professor Moriarty.

Reviewing short-story collections and reprints is normally the role of Jon Breen, who may review the following book in an upcoming column. But Brittain’s stories are among my favorites and I’m very excited about the release of The Man Who Read Mysteries: The Short Fiction of William Brittain (Crippen and Landru, $19.00 tpb, $29.00 clothbound, edited by Josh Pachter). The book contains eighteen stories, all originally appearing in EQMM between 1965 and 1983, including eleven “Man Who Read . . .” stories (“The Man who Read John Dickson Carr,” “The Man who Read Ellery Queen,” “The Woman who Read Rex Stout,” etc.) and seven stories about high school science teacher Mr. Strang. The collection is edited and includes an introduction by regular EQMM contributor Josh Pachter.

Copyright © 2019 Steve Steinbock