Thursday, January 24, 2008

Echoes from the Dead by Johan Theorin

I probably don’t need to mention that Scandinavian authors are popular right now - you might have heard of a certain Girl and her Tattoo. My family is a little obsessed with them - Steig Larsson, Jo Nesbo, Per Petterson (not mysteries, but very good), Henning Mankell, and others. So when both my dad and my brother told me that Theorin is their new favorite Swedish author, I had to give him a try.
Echoes from the Dead is set on a chilly, windswept island off the coast of Sweden. The story follows Julia Davidsson and her father Gerlof as they delve into the twenty-year-old disappearance of Julia’s young son, Jens. It is a quieter book than some mysteries. Julia’s long-held grief over her lost son is very well portrayed. Gerlof is a former ship’s captain in his eighties. The search for new information about Jens is partly a way to escape the care facility where he lives and feel important again. And then there is the shadowy figure of Nils Kant. He is revealed in historical chapters interspersed throughout the story. Nils is legendary on the island, evoked almost as boogieman, and Gerlof thinks he was involved in Jens’s disappearance.
The best part about Echoes from the Dead was that Theorin kept me guessing about what happened to Jens and Nils Kant, and about what might happen to Julia and Gerlof.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Pavel & I by Dan Vyleta

Normally I hate being tricked when a book is repackaged with a new cover so that I don’t realize it’s been out for years. But if the publishers hadn't “tricked” me into reading Pavel & I, I would have missed a great read. It has just about everything I want in a mystery: fantastic atmosphere, intriguing characters, enough of a mystery that I’m surprised at times, and an ending that I didn't see coming.
The story takes place in Berlin during the winter of 1946-1947. With resources at a frightening low, this is the worst time for one of the coldest winters on record. Pavel Richter, a decommissioned American soldier, is just barely getting by when another former-soldier comes to him for help covering up the death of a Russian midget. When the friend later turns up dead, Pavel is drawn into an investigation of multiple murders. There’s also a monkey and a hooker with a heart of, well, maybe not quite gold. I loved this book. It’s especially great for readers of Alan Furst, Philip Kerr, and those who, like me, loved Winter in Madrid.