Mysteries: Paris, Scandinavia and Mississippi figure in new books

smacknee@mcclatchy.comMay 10, 2014 

The Forbidden, by F.R. Tallis. Pegasus, 378 pages.

F.R. Tallis plunges us into late-1800s Paris, all cathedral gargoyles, rustling silk and gaslight.

We follow Dr. Paul Clément, a student of the budding field of neurology, whose particular interest is in resuscitation of the dead using electrical charges. Tallis populates his story with real historical figures of the time, and thanks to impressive research detailed in the afterword, creates a beautifully authentic style that never falters into anachronism. Clément becomes interested in near-death experiences and goes under himself, but thanks to an inconvenient curse from a witch doctor in the prologue, instead of the tunnel and the light he sees a hellscape, and when he is resuscitated he brings a demon back with him.

So you might say it’s a 19th-century “Flatliners,” segueing into “The Exorcist.”

The Hidden Child, by Camilla Läckberg. Pegasus Crime, 528 pages.

You don’t often see the Scandinavian mystery genre in this column, and “The Hidden Child,” unfortunately, illustrates the reason. The translated prose just cannot escape a clumsiness that makes the story seem as though it’s being narrated by a bright eighth-grader (no offense to any eighth-graders out there).

But in spite of the lack of nuance, this one kept me reading, so it deserves a mention.

The story bounces between a village in present-day Sweden and the same village during World War II. A young man who smuggles aid to occupied Norway is caught by the Germans. Years later he and his brother commemorate the war in their own ways; one by hunting Nazis, the other by researching Nazi artifacts. A Nazi medal found in a neighbor’s attic is brought to the researcher to check out, and he is later found dead, only the first in a string of deaths within the small group of friends who were youngsters during the war.

Camilla Läckberg explores family ties and betrayals through various subplots: a couple struggling with paternity leave; a misogynistic policeman who falls in love; a blended family painfully adjusting; a gay couple preparing for parenthood.

Natchez Burning, by Greg Iles. William Morrow, 800 pages.

Mississippian Greg Iles delivers the first in a promised trilogy about former prosecutor and Natchez Mayor Penn Cage. When his father, a respected physician, is implicated in a mercy killing and refuses to discuss with his son what really happened, Cage goes looking for a deeper motive that could keep his father from defending himself.

He finds it in the files of a reporter who is trying to expose a secret, deadlier offshoot of the KKK. The Double Eagles, when threatened with exposure, prove to be just as lethal as in their heyday.

Iles mixes reality and fiction in this exploration of the violence that met the civil rights movement in his home state, and the obstacles that keep many of the cases unsolved decades later.

Go to the ObserverMysteries Facebook page for a chance to win a free copy of one of these new mysteries.


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