Busy Body by M.C. Beaton. Minotaur Press 2010.
Lately, I’ve been catching up with some of my favorite detectives. I follow a number of series and have gotten a little behind with the latest editions. Of the four listed here, M.C. Beaton’s Agatha Raisin offers the lightest fare, but no one does the village cozy better than Beaton. The series began in 1992 with Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death. Busy Body is Agatha’s 21st outing, and even though all the usual elements are in place, Beaton is still able to charm her readers. In Busy Body, Agatha investigates the death of John Sunday, an officer with the Cotswold Health and Safety Board, who has been making himself very unpopular through his ruthless enforcement of village by-laws. When he dies a ghastly death before the horrified members of the Lady’s’ Society, there are plenty of suspects. Fans following Agatha’s romantic life will be startled to find Charles getting serious and Agatha passing up an invitation from James. Will Agatha accept Charles’ offer? We’ll have to wait for the next book. Fortunately, that shouldn’t be long, as the next installment, As the Pig Turns was released in October. There is also a new Agatha Raisin Companion available.
Outrage by Arnaldur Indridason. Random House 2008 (translation 2011).
Indridason’s books are set in the Icelandic city of Reykjavik. The series features the rather bleak chief detective Erlendur, and his fellow detectives, Elinborg and Sigurdur Oli. I first encountered Erlendur in Silence of the Grave, released in translation in 2005, and it remains one of my favorites. Indridason brings both the city of Reykjavik and his cast of characters to life, especially the moody, dark Erlendur. Outrage is a departure from earlier novels in that Erlendur is away on leave, and in this book, Elinborg investigates. She is called out when a young man is found murdered in his home, his throat skillfully cut from ear to ear. When the date rape drug Rohypnol is found, along with a woman’s shawl, it appears that the killer may have been the intended victim. Solving the mystery leads Elinborg back to the murdered man’s rural roots. Meanwhile, Elinborg’s own family life, especially her relationship with her teenaged son, is causing her stress. Ultimately, the question for readers is: Where is Erlendur? There are two sequels available in Icelandic, which hopefully will be available for English readers soon.
The Wings Of The Sphinx by Andrea K Camilleri. Penguin 2009.
If the setting of Indridason’s mysteries often seems cold and desolate, Camilleri’s Sicilian setting is sun-drenched and warm. Featuring Inspector Salvo Montalbano, the series began with The Shape of Water, written in 1994 and available in English in 2002. The Wings of the Sphinx is the eleventh in the series, and a couple of sequels are still awaiting me. The Sphinx of the title is a moth that is found tattooed on the shoulder of a young woman who has been discovered in a trash dump, her face shot off. Montalbano sets out to discover who she is and what happened to her. Montalbano is surrounded by a full supporting cast, from Catarella, who is a little slow and tends to garble messages, to Fazio and Augello, his detectives, to Livia, his love interest. The mysteries always include tantalizing views of Sicilian life and are replete with delicious descriptions of Montalbano’s meals, an important part of his day.
Willful Behaviour by Donna Leon. Penguin 2010.
I was reading the reprint edition of this story, which was published in 2010, but Willful Behaviour, the eleventh in the Commissario Guido Brunetti series, was first published in 2002. The series is now up to 20 titles, with 21, Beastly Things, scheduled for release in 2012. Brunetti works in Venice, yet another interesting setting. Like the Sicilian mysteries, the Italian setting is well-developed, and food is an important part of the Commissario’s life. So is his family, his professorial wife Paola and their two children. In Willful Behaviour, Brunetti’s investigation leads him to long-hidden secrets of art theft and the exploitation of Italian Jews during the World War II. Leon’s books are always intelligent investigations of important issues, from snuff films to the marginalization of immigrants.