Read Recently — February 2016 — Mysteries

The Forsaken by Ace Atkins

Trigger warning for sexual assault.

The latest Quinn Colson novel finds Colson facing the usual challenges to his sheriff-ship, though at least the feds are off his back. In the wake of the storms that devastated Tibbehah County in the last book, Quinn is sharing his house with his mother and sister, which he overall doesn’t mind (and even enjoys as he gets to spend time with his nephew–though this can cause some tension as his advice on how to deal with bullies is not popular with his sister), though everyone seems determined to stick their noses into his affair with the local coroner. His sister is working on rebuilding the church she had been involved in building with her late lover, but she takes the time to advise a friend to talk to Quinn.

Said friend, now a middle-aged small-time country singer, was in her early teens in the early 1970s when she and a friend were kidnapped and raped; the friend was shot to death. A local biker gang, one of whose members was the father of her friend, went on a rampage and lynched a transient black man who they thought was the rapist; but the singer is certain that she saw the man responsible several weeks later. Whatever else went on, she is certain that an innocent man was murdered.

To complicate things, while the bikers have been mostly absent from Tibbehah for the last several years, their place in the local crime ecosystem taken over by Johnny Stagg, their leader from those days is due to be released from prison shortly and he intends to return to Tibbehah and take over where he left off. Stagg does not plan to go down without a fight.

The return of the bikers (and the leader who was in charge for the lynching) will complicate Quinn’s investigations, but it gets worse: one of the men who rode with the bikers that summer, and was with them the night of the lynching, was Jason Colson. Quinn’s father.

This has always been a dark series, not afraid to examine the dark side of its setting, but this one: rape, murder, kidnapping, lynching; I think it’s a bit darker than most and I’d understand if you wanted to skip it. In fact, I know people I would recommend should pass it by. Series-wise, though, there is a twist right at the very end that I’d suggest people who have followed the story this far and who intend to follow farther should read.

With those caveats, recommended.

Bangkok Tattoo by John Burdett

I’ve talked before about starting a series in the middle. In this case, though, this was the earliest book in the series that I could find. And this looked like a series worth investigating (pun unintentional).

Sonchai Jitpleecheep is a detective in the Royal Thai police force, working directly for Colonel Vikorn, head of police in at least this district. In addition he works at a brothel, the Old Man’s Club; in US detective fiction this would make him a bent cop at best and at worst a criminal; in Bangkok it makes him a loyal son (and underling; Colonel Vikorn is a silent partner in the club).

When Chanya, the club’s star earner, appears to have murdered and mutilated a customer, an American who just wandered in off the street, the question isn’t will they cover it up, it’s how? Chanya’s loss would be a blow to the club. Things just get more complicated as they go along, and Sonchai is soon running all over Thailand.

On the one hand, this is a mystery set in a culture that most North Americans never encounter. Everything Sonchai does has to be balanced against the demands of his Buddhism. On the other hand, I’m not sure about its authenticity. How can I be? I’ve never been to Thailand and even if I had I couldn’t have been a cop there. And then there’s the ending, the final solution: it’s dumb. Like, seriously “you expect me to accept that?”-level dumb. My opinion of the over-all work may change, but for now: not recommended.

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