Criminal Fiction: December's Children

Every month, Daneet Steffens uncovers the latest goings on in mystery, suspense, and crime fiction. See previous columns on the Criminal Fiction archive page

Shorter days are made brighter by clever short stories, both dark and sparkling. Nobody does a twist in the tale like O.Henry unless it’s Edith Wharton or Edgar Allan Poe. Or, try a more modern master via any of the stories in Roald Dahl’s un-fairy-tale collections for adults: Switch Bitch, Kiss Kiss, Someone Like You.

Reading around: new titles on the crime fiction scene

In A.J. Banner’s The Twilight Wife (Touchstone), 34-year-old marine biologist Kyra Winthrop is recovering from a head injury sustained on a diving trip that has left her with patchy memories before, during and after the accident. Looked after by her devoted husband Jacob, his childhood friend Nancy, and her husband Van, Kyra roams the island by foot and bike, revelling in the Pacific Northwest sea-and-beach life and weather, but plagued by terrifying nightmares when she sleeps. It’s when her returning memories turn out to be just as nightmarish as her night-time dreams that Kyra starts to question what’s real in her life – and what’s not. Join A.J. Banner at her book launch, January 7, 2pm at Liberty Bay Books.

Kill the Next One by Federico Axat, translated from the Spanish by David Frye (Mulholland), is a serious rabbit hole of a book. It begins when charismatic Ted McKay – husband, father, successful businessman – is about to kill himself because he has a terminal case of cancer. A knock on his door reveals one Justin Lynch, operative of a shadowy organization that trucks in vigilante and self-requested murder. But there’s much more to this dizzying maze of a thriller than that head-bending opening – and you might want to avoid reading it at night.

In Catriona McPherson’s The Reek of Red Herrings (Minotaur), Dandy Gilver and her partner-in-detecting-crime Alec Osborne are hired by a wealthy herring merchant to investigate a most unsavory death: it seems that certain barrels of Birchfield’s pickled herring contain some unpleasantly surprising extra content: human limbs alongside the fish. Before you can say, “There’s something rotten in….” Gilver and Osborne find themselves spending part of a wet and wild 1930’s December in a tiny fishing village on the coast of northern Scotland. As they mingle with wacky taxidermists, bohemian artists and feisty fisherfolk, their gradual appreciation of the local dialect and participation in the local traditions add canny grist to their sleuthing mill.

With a freezing Oslo Christmas season in the background, a police procedural – the seventh in this popular series – unfolds over nine tense days with detective Hanne Wilhelmsen investigating a gory quadruple homicide, the crime scene made all the more grisly by the early interference of a wandering mutt. In Anne Holt’s Beyond the Truth, translated from the Norwegian by Anne Bruce (Scribner), the Machiavellian machinations of a dysfunctional wealthy family – three of whom were among the murder victims – are one thing, but what becomes even more fascinating are the internecine squabblings over the investigation at police headquarters, not to mention Wilhelmsen’s own domestic challenges.
The Quintessential Interview: Jayne Ann Krentz

Bestselling Jayne Ann Krentz currently writes under three different names, including Amanda Quick and Jayne Castle. Her latest romantic thriller, When All the Girls Have Gone, is set in Seattle and kicks off with protagonist Charlotte Sawyer trying to track her missing stepsister. Throw in an initially rocky relationship with a PI and a women’s online investment group that is not all that it seems, and you’ve got a trademark Krentz cocktail.

What or who are your top five writing inspirations?

Love the archetype of the modern American private investigator, Robert B. Parker’s Spenser, for example. Love the myth of the “amateur sleuth,” the character without acrime-fightingskill-set who gets caught up in a dangerous mystery – an adult Nancy Drew. Love the romantic-suspense theme of two people learning to trust each other in order to survive. Love stories that feature a hero and heroine who share certain core values: honor, determination, courage and the ability to love. Love stories of revenge. All of these things inspire me.

Top five places to write?

My office. Hawaii. My office. On board a really big ship. My office.

Top five favorite writers?

  1. Christina Dodd
  2. Susan Elizabeth Phillips
  3. Elizabeth Lowell
  4. AJohn Sandford
  5. Robert B. Parker

Top five tunes to write to?

Can’t write to music. Too distracting. It’s a can’t-walk-and-chew-gum-at-the-same-time thing, I guess.

Top five hometown spots?

  1. Frank’s Quality Produce in the Pike Place Market
  2. DeLaurenti
  3. Specialty Food & Wine in the Market
  4. Seattle Mystery Bookshop
  5. Nordstrom
  6. Page 2 Books in Burien — yes, it’s in Burien but I think that’s close enough to be considered a hometown spot