“Macbeth” by Jo Nesbø. Hogarth, 464 pages.
I love reboots of Shakespeare, and “Macbeth,” my favorite Shakespeare play, particularly lends itself to adaptation with its eternal themes of lust and ruin. The grim Scandinavian genre is a perfect match for this grimmest of plays, and Jo Nesbø’s update totally fulfills that promise.
He translates medieval Scotland into a 1970s municipality, stateless but with a few nods to Scottish place names. The city is crippled by corruption, the populace sick in the polluted districts and the rich breathing easy elsewhere. The assorted soldiers from the original are police, and the enemy the drug syndicates. Duncan is a new chief commissioner vowing to break the drug gangs. Macbeth’s Lady is a casino owner. The witches are eerie emissaries from the city’s drug czar, Hecate. We all know how the story goes, but Nesbø still manages to ring a few changes to surprise us even as he faithfully includes the indispensable points like Banquo’s ghost, “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow...” and the “no man of woman born” twist.
The Hogarth imprint has published four of these takes on Shakespeare, by authors including Anne Tyler and Margaret Atwood, but mystery fans may be forgiven for being especially excited about the next one: a “Hamlet” by none other than Gillian Flynn, whose “Gone Girl” ignited the wildly popular “unreliable narrator” craze. Hamlet as “unreliable narrator” – that’s genius.
“A Death of No Importance” by Mariah Fredericks. Minotaur, 288 pages.
For those who like a good “historical,” here’s a 1910 throwback starring a lady’s maid who solves a murder among New York’s upper crust.
Jane Prescott is smart, resourceful and genuinely concerned for the impression her nouveau riche employers are making in their new environment. Their unawareness of “the done thing” is a constant handicap in the strictly mannered society, but it also gives Jane more freedom than in a properly run house.
When a young man-about-town meets a well-deserved bloody end during his engagement party, Jane is the one to find the body, which attracts the attention of a good-looking Irish reporter. The two share information and do a little investigating. Happily, Mariah Fredericks avoids the pitfall of the amateur sleuth who magically does police work without credentials.
“The Saint of Wolves and Butchers” by Alex Grecian. Putnam, 400 pages.
A Nazi assimilates into small-town Kansas after the war, and decades later has established a church that hides his unpleasant proclivities.
When he’s spotted by a former inmate of his concentration camp, a Nazi-hunting group gets involved. Their first operative disappears before the story opens. When the second operative finds that the local police seem to be protecting the Nazi church leader, he recruits an officer he trusts from a neighboring town, Skottie Foster, an African-American single mother. The good guys are very good and the bad guys are awful, but my favorite part is a huge, perfectly trained magical totem of a dog named Bear who I really, really wish were not a fictional character.