Big shoes! Those are what Anne Hillerman has to fill in taking over for her father, the late best-selling writer Tony Hillerman, beloved by critics and readers alike for his iconic Navajo mysteries, which spanned a whopping 36 years. Longtime Hillerman (pÃ¨re) protagonists Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee are both on hand for Anne Hillerman’s debut novel, Spider Woman’s Daughter, but the spotlight falls on Bernie Manuelito, Chee’s policewoman wife. Manuelito is at the scene when Leaphorn is shot in the head in the parking lot of a local restaurant. As she leans over the flagging Leaphorn, she makes him a promise: She will find the shooter and bring him to justice. As a witness to the shooting, she is immediately relieved of duty pending further notice. This will not stop her from keeping her promise, however—although she will have to stay under the radar to achieve that end. So seamless is the writing transition from father to daughter, it is easy to forget that one is reading Anne, not Tony. That said, Anne brings a welcome female perspective to the table, fleshing out several of the female supporting characters but never forgetting the importance of the two main players who define the series. Nicely done on every level.
007 IS FOREVER
Big shoes, redux! Certainly the premier espionage franchise, either in book form or on the silver screen, has to be James Bond. For years, moviegoers have squabbled over the relative merits of Connery, Moore, Craig, et al., regarding their portrayals of the suave 007. Several luminaries have penned “continuation works” to Ian Fleming’s series—Robert Markham (a pseudonym for Kingsley Amis), Jeffery Deaver and John Gardner are just a few—some hewing closer to the original than others. The latest writer to take on this daunting task is William Boyd, the Whitbread Award-winning author of A Good Man in Africa. Solo is set in 1969 on the eve of Bond’s 45th birthday. The title refers to Bond’s going off the radar on a mission of his own choosing, a deadly tri-continental undertaking, consequences be damned. Naturally, given Bond’s reputation, there is a woman at hand, and then another, although perhaps not the sort of overwrought creations one might have expected from Fleming. Boyd’s Bond is altogether darker and more introspective than Fleming’s, and more cerebral than physical. There are no Aston Martins with flamethrowers, no rocket trips to the farthest reaches of Earth’s atmosphere, just a straight-up spy story that brings new maturity to an old favorite.
AN ABSENCE IN ICELAND
Arnaldur Indridason’s Black Skies may well be the most complicated book I have ever tried to review. For starters, Inspector Erlendur is still on hiatus—never mind that he was the main character in the first six books in this series—and his presence hovers over the story like some brooding ghost. He was also M.I.A. in the previous installment, Outrage, in which the investigation was led by his colleague, Detective ElÃnborg, and I’m sure many devoted readers assumed she was being groomed by Indridason as Erlendur’s replacement. Not so fast, though: This time out, the spotlight is on Sigurdur Ãli, who is at a parallel level to ElÃnborg, although by no means her equal. To further complicate matters, the timeframe of Outrage is the same as that of Black Skies, so there is inevitably some narrative overlap between the two, not the least of which concerns Erlendur’s curious absence from center stage. Then there is the storyline, which morphs from a sex scandal to a murder to the high-level (and highly questionable) banking practices that precipitated Iceland’s financial debacle a few years back. Complex? Yes, indeed. Confusing? Not at all. Indridason weaves an intricate tapestry and demands attention from the reader, but the payoff is well worth the effort.
TOP PICK IN MYSTERY
It’s 1915. World War I has been under way since the previous year, but America has thus far avoided the fray. As Robert Olen Butler’s The Star of Istanbul opens, war-correspondent-turned-spy Christopher Marlowe Cobb boards an ocean liner in New York, bound for Liverpool. The name of the ship: Lusitania. History buffs know the ship never made it to its destination; it was torpedoed by German U-boats off the coast of Ireland, and some 1,200 lives were lost. The incident is credited with hastening America’s entrance into the war. Cobb has been tasked with shadowing Walter Brauer, a suspected German spy. Complicating matters is Cobb’s intense attraction to another fellow passenger, actress Selene Bourgani, who may be a German agent, too. The action finds the three main players dancing their way across the vast European stage from London to Istanbul. This will be no simple matter for Cobb, as the Ottoman Empire (modern-day Turkey) has taken up with the Germans, and there is no safe haven to be found there for Allied spies. The Star of Istanbul has it all: history galore, exotic foreign settings, a world-weary yet engaging protagonist, villains in abundance and a romance worthy of Bogart and Bergman.