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First Clue - Better the Blood by Michael Bennett, Blaze Me a Sun by Christoffer Carlsson, The Last Party by Clare Mackintosh, The Prisoner by B.A. Paris

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May I recommend a staycation? I had one this week…three days of doing almost nothing…and it was glorious. I did some reading, of course, meeting new acquaintances along the way, some of them reminding me of old friends found within other novels. (I also saw some real-life friends, including my coauthor here, Brian—we discussed a survey we plan to bring your way soon).
A new face I particularly enjoyed this week was Christopher Carlsson’s serial-killer-obsessed cop Sven Jörgensson. Like many of us, Sven’s doing his best but is never sure that it’s enough. Through the decades that go by in Blaze Me a Sun, we see this investigator torturing himself, all the while growing further from his family and anything that doesn’t involve the case, as he pursues a rapist and killer who stalks women in Sven’s southern Sweden town. With his kind mannerisms and self-doubt that makes you want to shake some sense into him, Sven reminded me of the solid male characters written by Richard Ford.
I suppose it wasn’t a total staycation because as well as Sweden, I also armchair-traveled to London, encountering Amelie Lamont, the protagonist of B.A. Paris’s latest, The Prisoner, whose psychological torture will give me chills for a while. In Michael Bennet’s Better the Blood, Brian was off to Auckland, New Zealand, where one clue to catching a serial killer is a daguerreotype that’s linked to the country’s brutal past. (I’ll use any excuse to link to that site.) Our last imaginary trip this week was to the border between England and Wales. In The Last Party, a series debut that features a Broadchurch-like partnership, a killer lurks, as does tension aplenty.
Enjoy, and see you next week!—Henrietta Verma

When the Past is the Present
⭐Bennett, Michael. Better the Blood. January 2023. 336p. Grove Atlantic.
A tight and tense police investigation that brilliantly integrates Māori culture and history. When a gruesome murder in contemporary Auckland, with the victim found hanging in a secret room within an abandoned building, leads to another murder, Māori detective Hana Westerman realizes she may be on the trail of New Zealand’s first serial killer. But what connects the victims? A daguerreotype from New Zealand’s bloody, colonial past—plus texts and images the killer sends her—provide Hana with a terrifying road map to what’s ahead if she can’t stop him. Through Hana, author Michael Bennett (Ngati Pikiao, Ngati Whakaue) connects the past and the present, both in New Zealand’s history and within Hana’s own life. To find the killer; keep her family safe, especially her university-age, politically charged daughter; and face a painful incident from her youth, Hana must undergo a transformation. And the woman we meet at the end of the narrative is indeed far different from the one who begins it. This is crime fiction at its best: well-paced, richly characterized, and fearless in confronting the pain of colonialism.—Brian Kenney
A Swedish Star's US Debut
⭐Carlsson, Christoffer. Blaze Me a Sun. Translated from Swedish by Rachel Willson-Broyles. January 2023. Hogarth.
Major events in Swedish history that caused the nation to see itself anew parallel the events in this book, with the town of Halmstad a microcosm of the larger turmoil. As the book opens, a woman is found in the back of a car, raped and murdered. The crime will always be linked in the minds of locals with the (real-life) assassination of Sweden’s prime minister, Olof Palme, which happened on the same night, February 28, 1986. Halmstad is in a staid area, where everyone knows everyone, the kids play soccer with a beloved coach, and what farms are left are the quiet backbone of life. The death of Palme and of Stina Franzén, the murdered young woman, cause a kind of shocked introspection whose weight pervades Carlsson’s writing. Horror surfaces once again when another woman disappears the day before the relatively nearby Chernobyl nuclear reactor explodes on April 26, 1986. Chernobyl is “on the other side of freedom,” but even given that the crimes are in much-more-open Sweden, investigator Sven Jörgensson can’t catch the man who taunts him with phone calls and promises there will be more. As years go by, Sven’s son becomes involved in the impossible puzzle, as does a writer who grew up locally and who has returned to write about the crimes (and who narrates this tale). Following events over several decades brings us to care for the characters as much as the outcome of this case, one that’s as unpredictable as it is tragic. The author’s U.S. debut (he’s the youngest winner of the Best Swedish Crime Novel of the Year, for The Invisible Man), this is an absorbing and thought-provoking puzzle.Henrietta Verma
Secrets, Secrets, and More Secrets
Mackintosh, Clare. The Last Party (DC Morgan #1). 432p. November. Sourcebooks.
Rhys Lloyd, a former opera singer, has recently built a series of luxury homes overlooking Mirror Lake, on the boundary between Wales and England. Neither the process nor the end results endear him to the locals, to say the least. To attempt to mend fences, and bring the townies and the posh lake crowd together, he throws a massive New Year’s Eve party, only to disappear in the middle of it. When Rhys’s body is found floating in the lake on New Year’s morning, no one seems all that surprised. Nor sad. Not the town folk, not his wife, and certainly not DC Ffion Morgan, who is assigned to the case. Ffion is a local, back home after a failed marriage, and her search for the killer brings her close to people she’s known her whole life, and close to secrets of her own. Against her wishes, she’s paired with DC Leo Brady from the English side of the lake, and they provide every sort of tension imaginable, from national to sexual, giving the book a good bit of levity. Like the TV series “Broadchurch” and the novels of Ann Cleeves, this wonderful novel takes the reader—through twists and turns, and red herrings aplenty—deep within a community. Crime fiction is a whole lot better now that DC Ffion Morgan has arrived.—Brian Kenney
A Kidnapping with a Twist
Paris, B.A. The Prisoner. November. 304p. St. Martin’s.
In Paris’s latest thriller, a London woman’s trip from rags to riches and back again is a tense fight against a wealthy man who can’t be denied his out-of-control wishes. The tale alternates between two timelines. In the present, readers find Amelie Lamont kidnapped and trapped one floor above her husband, Ned Hawthorpe, who’s also kidnapped and whose rich father doesn’t seem too interested in getting him back. While they wait, Ned makes clear that he’s his stone-cold father’s son, telling the kidnappers that they can go ahead and kill Amelie as it will make his father cough up the money. The past timeline, which takes place several years earlier in the 1990s, shows how Amelie got into this nightmare, starting when her widowed father died and left her homeless. She finds her way to a job at a magazine, with Ned the boss. Desperate for money for college, she makes a startling deal with the rich man, one she immediately regrets. Both Amelie’s time in her dark prison and the lead up to it are psychologically reminiscent of Emma Donoghue’s Room, portraying the intense inner machinations of a woman pushed to the brink. But this web of fear and lies is much more complex, satisfyingly so, than Room, involving many more characters, intricate plotting, and layers of subterfuge. Paris’s fans won’t be disappointed and readers new to the author will be hooked.Henrietta Verma
Extra Credit
Susie Steiner, Author of Acclaimed British Crime Novels, Dies at 51 | The New York Times
In Texas, Women Crime Authors Have Finally Escaped the Shadow of ‘Gone Girl’
New Crime Fiction | The New York Times
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Henrietta Verma & Brian Kenney
Henrietta Verma & Brian Kenney @1stClueReviews

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