Review by New York Times Review
ARNALDUR INDRIDASON isn't like other authors of Nordic crime fiction. The crimes he writes about aren't particularly gruesome. His villains aren't excessively violent, nor are his victims especially remarkable. And his detective hero is so taciturn he's barely socialized. But the Icelandic author's latest novel, REYKJAVIK NIGHTS (Thomas Dunne/Minotaur, $25.99), nicely illustrates the qualities that make his books so deeply pleasurable. Translated with grave sensitivity by Victoria Cribb, the new novel is a prequel, set in 1974, when Iceland was celebrating the 1,100th anniversary of its settlement - a time when Inspector Erlendur Sveinsson was a rookie cop on night patrol with the Reykjavik police, "witnessing human dramas that were hidden from others." Even then, he was a night person, going on lonely walks around the city, dropping into graveyards for "peace and solace" and fretting about public indifference to people like Hannibal, the homeless tramp who "drowned like a stray dog" in a shallow pond in the peat marshes. Having often locked him up on a drunk-anddisorderly charge to keep him from freezing to death, Erlendur had come to know something of Hannibal's sad history. And now, a year after his death, the young cop suspects he was murdered. As Erlendur interviews other homeless people, he demonstrates the compassion that would come to define the character we know from later novels. His is a generosity of spirit that extends to both the living and the dead, from the battered wives who keep forgiving their violent husbands to the college girl who vanished 20 years ago and in whose ghostly footsteps he walks from time to time. In comforting Hannibal's grieving sister, Erlendur reveals the personal tragedy that accounts for both the kinship he felt with her brother and his lifelong obsession with stories and legends about missing persons. The bulk of his extensive library on this morbid subject has to do with travelers who lost their way in the wilderness and either survived through "incredible feats of endurance" or perished in "tragic surrender to the forces of nature." But because people like Hannibal "could just as easily lose themselves on Reykjavik's busy streets as on remote mountain paths in winter storms," he will be the champion of all these lost souls. LIAM MULLIGAN can't hang on much longer as the last reputable reporter at The Providence Dispatch. Since the paper's corporate takeover, the newsroom is down to a few pale ghosts, the J-school grads are running boilerplate, and the new managing editor is tailoring copy to advertisers. But until someone actually pulls the plug on this once-scrappy daily, Bruce DeSilva gives his smart and funny investigative sleuth something to live and fight for. In A SCOURGE OF VIPERS (Forge/Tom Doherty, $25.99), the governor of Rhode Island, a feisty former nun (irresistibly known as Attila the Nun), is pushing to legalize sports betting. Of course, this makes the big crime families apoplectic, and they hastily scramble to funnel bribes to "upstanding public servants" who can block the legislation, something that comes to Mulligan's attention through his close associations with local mobsters as well as the chief of police. But the politics get really ugly when a legislator who turned down a bribe is found floating in the Blackstone River. Mulligan sinks his teeth into this juicy story, but if the paper folds, he's already got a few offers - the most attractive being the one from his bookie, who wants Mulligan to take over the numbers so he can retire. DETECTIVES ARE ALWAYS being upstaged by flashy villains. But it's the victims who take the shine off the lead detective in behind CLOSED DOORS (Harper, paper, $15.99). Detective Chief Inspector Louisa (Lou) Smith of the fictional English town of Briarstone is meant to be the featured player in Elizabeth Haynes's novel, but she's too wrapped up in her boyfriend and too inundated with intelligence reports to be much fun. All this dry police work fails to capture the drama in the story of 15-year-old Scarlett Rainsford, kidnapped on a family holiday in Greece, who reappears 10 years later in a local brothel. That transfixing story, told through vivid flashbacks, is the grim reality for the many women and children bought and sold throughout Europe every day. Haynes gives Scarlett such a resonant voice that she can almost speak for all these unfortunates, victims who can't speak for themselves. NOTHING BEATS THE Victorian era for refined social cruelty or the Middle Ages for wholesale savagery, but for financial buccaneering it's the 18th century you want. Robin Blake's historical mystery THE HIDDEN MAN (Minotaur, $25.99) is set in a provincial English town making preparations for a grand festival held only once every 20 years. The mayor is understandably anxious about financing this fete, but since people didn't quite have the hang of a banking system in the Georgian era, he entrusts the funds to Phillip Pimbo, a pawnbroker with a sturdy strongroom. But when Pimbo suddenly dies, it's revealed that he invested the money in a merchant ship trafficking in the slave trade. The sleuths in this series, the coroner Titus Cragg and Dr. Luke Fidelis, are too precious for words, but what's valuable here is the author's portrait of the emergence of investment banking.
Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [April 19, 2015]