Here’s Mrs. Peabody’s 2022 Christmas crime list — featuring crime set in America, Argentina, Australia, Canada, China, Japan and space!
Treat others! Treat yourself! Support local booksellers!
Marcie R. Rendon, Murder on the Red River (Soho Press 2022)
Setting: 1970s Midwest America
Murder on the Red River is the first in a crime trilogy featuring Renee ‘Cash’ Blackbear. She’s just 19, both toughened and traumatized by a childhood in foster care after being taken from her Ojibwe family at the age of three. When not driving harvest trucks for local Midwest farmers or playing pool, Cash occasionally helps out Sheriff Wheaton — a lifelong ally. Following the murder of a Native American man, she gains access the victim’s community and progresses the investigation using cues from a series of visions. Cash is a wonderful, multifaceted character who will soon have you willing her on. The novel also shows her embarking on a personal journey against the backdrop of the Minnesota American Indian Movement (AIM), which is starting to make the historical crimes committed by European settlers visible.
Seicho Matsumoto, Tokyo Express, tr. from the Japanese by Jesse Kirkwood (Penguin Modern Classics 2022; first published 1958)
Setting: 1950s Tokyo and Hakata Bay, Japan
This beautifully translated Japanese crime novel is a classic by a master of the genre — a police procedural that shows how vital investigative doggedness is to closing out a case. The case in question is both simple and not so simple. A pair of young lovers from Tokyo are discovered lying on the beach of Hakata Bay in what looks to be a double-suicide. But an old hand in the local police force and a younger Tokyo inspector both suspect something is wrong. In tandem, they work out the true story of what took place. The pace of Tokyo Express is slow and quietly gripping, with lots of old-fashioned sleuthing that offers the reader lovely diagrams of station platforms and timetables to puzzle over. An elegant pleasure.
Eva Jurczyk, The Department of Rare Books and Special Collections (Poisoned Pen Press 2022)
Setting: Canadian university library
Given the cover, you would be forgiven for expecting a light read, but The Department of Rare Books delivers something altogether more complex and rewarding. Liesl Weiss, the sixty-plus assistant director of the department in question, is recalled from her sabbatical after boss Christopher Wolfe is felled by a stroke. Tasked by the Chancellor with keeping donors happy and the show on the road, she immediately faces two crises: the disappearance of the newly acquired Plantin Polyglot Bible and a member of staff. Part literary mystery, part exploration of four decades in the lives of a close-knit but prickly group of librarians, and part coming-of-age story (it’s never too late!), this is an absorbing and surprisingly gritty crime novel. I will never look at a university librarian in the same way again.
Shelley Burr, Wake (Hodder & Stoughton 2022)
Setting: New South Wales, Australia
Burr’s hugely accomplished debut novel is set in and around the small, outback town of Nannine. Twenty years ago, Mina McCreerey’s nine-year-old twin sister Evelyn vanished from the remote family sheep farm in the middle of the night. The case remains unsolved, leaving Mina and her father in a terrible limbo — and prey for gossipy online forums that like to implicate them in the crime. When Mina is approached by Lane Holland, a maverick private investigator, she is initially wary. But Lane’s success in other cases gradually convinces her to give him a go — though she is unaware that he carries secrets of his own. Wake is both a sensitive portrayal of the long-term effects of trauma and a riveting, tightly plotted cold-case noir.
Charlotte Carter, Rhode Island Red (Baskerville 2022)
Setting: 1990s New York
Charlotte Carter’s off-beat 1990s crime trilogy was reissued this year with a splendid new set of covers. Our heroine is Nanette Hayes, wise-cracking saxophonist, French translator and amateur sleuth. One afternoon after a street gig, she agrees to put up a charming fellow musician for the night, only to find him sprawled out murdered the following morning. Worse still, he turns out to have been an undercover cop, which brings lots of unwelcome attention to her door. Set in New York and steeped in the jazz of greats like Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk, Rhode Island Red is a sparky, original take on the private eye novel, and explores a Black woman’s experiences in the Big Apple of the 1990s in a lively and nuanced way.
Eloísa Díaz, Repentance (Weidenfeld & Nicolson 2022)
Setting: Argentina in 1981 and 2001
Spanish author Eloísa Díaz drew on her Argentine family roots when writing this powerful historical crime novel. Repentance explores one ‘small story’, that of Buenos Aires police inspector Joaquin Alzada and his teacher brother Jorge, at two key historical junctures: 1981, when Argentina is in the grip of a military dictatorship that is disappearing young activists (The Dirty War) and 2001, when economic turmoil is bringing exasperated citizens out on the streets to protest. It’s at this point that Alzada, long since demoted to a desk job, gets to investigate a murder due to staff shortages — and then faces the eternal dilemma: whether to turn a blind eye to the injustices perpetrated by those in power or to do what he knows is right. There is, of course, no easy answer. Alzada is as complex as the history he’s caught up in — and his biting humour and love of family infuse the novel with warmth.
Kirstin Chen, Counterfeit (The Borough Press 2022)
Setting: America, Hong Kong, China
Counterfeit begins with Ava — a Chinese-American lawyer struggling with the demands of motherhood — telling Detective Murphy how she got entangled in the criminal activities of Chinese former college roommate Winnie. The latter had reinvented herself as a sleek and glamorous businesswoman, and was running an ingenious designer goods scam. But is Ava telling the whole truth or did things unfold a little differently? Behind this hugely entertaining tale lie some serious questions — first and foremost, what price freedom? The novel provides fascinating insights into modern Chinese society, the interplay of Chinese state capitalism and American consumerism, and the struggles of women to gain full control over their lives. Bonus: you’ll be immune to the lure of designer handbags once you’ve read this book.
Emily St. John Mandel, Sea of Tranquility (Picador 2022)
Setting: Canada, the future, space
Get ready for a wild ride. In 1912, disgraced aristocrat Edwin St. Andrew experiences what he thinks is a hallucination. For a split second, in a remote forest on Vancouver Island, he senses a cavernous space and the sound of a violin. In 2203, a novel by Moon Colony Two dweller Olive Llewellyn contains a passage in which a man plays the violin in an airship terminal while trees rise around him. And in 2401, an era when time travel is a crime, Gaspery-Jacques Roberts is sent to investigate a space-time anomaly caught on film in 1994 — which features notes from a violin. It’s the start of Roberts’ sleuthing at various moments in time… Sea of Tranquility remains one of my all-time favourites this year: a genre-bending fusion of crime and science fiction.
And if you’re looking for more top-quality international crime fiction, I’d thoroughly recommend Bitter Lemon Press and Orenda Books.
Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!