Farewell to Partners & Crime

Yesterday I learned the sad news via GalleyCat that after 18 years in business, Partners & Crime, the superb West Village independent bookstore dedicated entirely to new/used/rare mystery, crime, espionage, and thriller fiction is closing. The one positive–and it’s a big one considering recent bookstore closure trends–is that P&C does not seem to be shuttering because of any problems with rent or sales. (It’s not every closing bookstore that thanks its landlord…) Here’s the goodbye message they’ve posted on their website’s homepage:

After 18 years in the shop on Greenwich Avenue, Partners & Crime Mystery Booksellers is closing its doors on September 20th.

We’ve had a great run and have enjoyed helping a generation of readers find the books they love.

We’ve had a lot of fun, learned a tremendous amount, and enjoyed our time with all of you – customers, authors and publishers.

Stop by, reminisce and check out our THANK YOU sale — and maybe find that favorite title you really can’t live without!

Couldn’t have done it without you!

With our great appreciation to all , and a special thank you to Bernard Charles, our landlord, for all their support.

So there you have it–a little over a month to do just as P&C suggests: stop by, say thank you, buy a book, and bid adieu to a great New York City institution.

For my part, I thank you very much, Partners & Crime! Your interested, interesting, friendly, and knowledgeable staff assisted me in particular with tracking down/selecting a number Scandinavian crime novels, right as I started getting into the genre. Some of these were harder to acquire than others, too: I remember, for one, the gentleman who helped me order Lime’s Photograph when I was frustratedly trying to find any Danish thrillers or crime fiction whatsoever–I actually enjoyed our conversation more than the book.

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Call Me Princess

Review originally published on Reviewing the Evidence, here.

Although Nordic crime fiction has gained an incredible prominence on the world stage, Denmark has never been at the forefront of this movement. Among countless others in the field, Sweden has its Henning Mankell, Stig Larsson, and Sjöwall & Wahlöö; Norway its Jo Nesbø and Helene Tursten; Finland its Matti Yrjänä Joensuu; and Iceland its Arnaldur Indridason and Yrsa Sigurdadottir, but contemporary crime authors from Denmark have yet to gain renown as part of this current wave. One could speculate, however, that Danish authors are having their moment now: 2011 has seen the publication of English translations of The Boy in the Suitcase by writing team Lene Kaaerbøl and Agnete Friis, The Keeper of Lost Causes by Jussi Adler-Olsen, and Call Me Princess by Denmark’s “crime queen” Sara Blaedel.

Call Me Princess finds its tough, sailor-swearing, workaholic police detective Louise Rick tracking down a brutal serial rapist who targets women he meets through online dating websites. Having gained his victim’s trust after weeks of email correspondence, the rapist sets up what appear to be a perfectly chivalrous date. After a long, fancy dinner, the perpetrator returns to the woman’s apartment, where he then subjects her to mental and physical abuse. When Call Me Princess opens, one of this man’s victims has reported the crime. Just a few weeks later, the perpetrator murders his second victim, making it even more pressing that Louise and her colleagues make an arrest.

The story itself clips along at a reasonable speed, interspersing scenes of the ongoing investigation and its myriad dead-ends with short interludes in Louise’s daily life—her close friendship with ambitious crime beat reporter Camilla Lind (who ever so conveniently has started dating someone she met online) and Louise’s failing relationship with her live-in boyfriend Peter. The dialog sounds a bit tinny and the characters are by-and-large rather flat, but as Barbara Fister remarks in her review of the novel on this site, in its efficient-but-shallow approach, reading Call Me Princess is much “like watching an episode of a fairly entertaining television mystery.”

Unfortunately, there are two significant problems that loom over the story. For one, the plot is pervaded with head-smacking coincidences and the kind of farcical investigative ploys that anyone who has watched a few episodes of Law and Order will recognize as completely unworkable. For instance, police detectives don’t take civilian crime victims to help stake-out their attackers mere weeks after a crime has taken place. The most obvious reason is that this sort of situation would be dangerous for both the police officers and the victim. Moreover, this kind of set-up is completely devoid of empathy towards a person who has just endured a serious trauma.

This latter point brings us to the other, more disheartening problem about Call Me Princess. This is a novel written by a female author, about a female police officer who is investigating a string of heinous crimes against women. Given this, one might expect a substantial level of empathy throughout the book. But while Blaedel does attempt to make the reader feel for the victims—for instance, by relating both of the rape episodes from the women’s perspectives—her detective Rick is one of the more emotionally tone-deaf agents of the law that I’ve read in quite a long time.

Louise gestures towards compassion when dealing with rape victims—stiffly noting in one instance that the woman has “been through a terrifying experience”—but is unaccountably upset when the victim involved can’t render a full description of her rapist or articulate a full account of events just hours after she’s been attacked. There’s an explanation for this: we’re told that Louise avoids “…empathizing too much with other people’s sorrows and emotions,” in order to keep her work separate from her personal life. This makes sense, certainly. But Louise’s struggle to be understanding towards others bleeds into her personal life as well: into her relationship with her boyfriend, and also with her best friend Camilla. Struggling to be compassionate seems to be a major part of Louise’s character development in this series, so perhaps this weakness is meant to align her with the typical police detectives that abound in the genre: married to their work, solitary, unyielding in their morals and motivations. But more often than not, it just makes Louise Rick a difficult detective to root for.

Two Takes on Borkmann’s Point

I am finally reading Borkmann’s Point because episodes of the Swedish TV show that was based on Håkan Nesser’s Van Veeteren series are, conveniently, being screened at the Scandinavia House this summer. Being a big fan of detective shows (of the BBC variety—not so much CSI-type dramas) and of Scandinavian crime novels, this presented a nice opportunity to not only read the much-lauded Borkmann’s Point, but also compare and contrast two different tellings of the same story.

The basic premise is this: Detective Chief Inspector Van Veeteren of the (imaginary) city of Maarsdam is vacationing in the nearby seaside town Kaalbringen. Although he’s scheduled to go back to work, he’s recruited to stay in town and join forces with the local Kaalbringen police after a man murdered with an ax is discovered. Shortly after, there is another murder—similar in method, although the victims have nothing apparent in common. While he quickly bonds with the members of the Kaalbringen police force (particularly the clever inspector Beate Moerk and DCI Bausen), Van Veeteren sees no solution, even as the case drags on for two months and results in yet another murder.

In all honestly, I can’t say that either the novel or the TV version is all that successful, although if I had to pick, I’d probably opt for the show. It’s been awhile since I’ve done a good ‘list review,’ so here are some general observations about problems in the novel, and the oddly pointless changes that were made in its TV adaptation.

The Novel

1.  Borkmann’s Point now has the dubious distinction of introducing the most transparent killer since my Mary Higgins Clark reading days. I honestly guessed the killer on page 59 (the book is 321 pages total) and while there were moments throughout that were meant to telegraph the murderer’s identity to the reader, it’s clear that the big reveal at the end is supposed to be a shocker. But it isn’t, except perhaps to Van Veeteren, who for months has been dispensing sage advice and telling people that he’ll “only have to set eyes on [the murder’s] type” and then he’ll know whodunit. If this is supposed to be ironic, it doesn’t come across at all.We are later supposed to believe that Van Veeteren was actually on to the killer much sooner, but Nesser purposefully cloaks his hero’s thoughts—and much of his investigative work—in secrecy. We’re told that VV makes calls to follow up on hunches, but we don’t know to who or what he finds out. He takes trips to check out clues, but he doesn’t tell us (or his underlings) where he is going. It’s like reading an Agatha Christie novel, but without the charm. The only thing that makes this any more bearable is that the police inspector who joins Van Veeteren from Maarsdam—Münster—frequently notes that his boss is “sitting there, playing the asshole and being mysterious again,” which does provide a nice bit of relief from The Great Detective’s ego.

2.  Nesser is awful at writing women. There is a chapter in which inspector Beate Moerk is at home, contemplating the case, her weight, and her status as a single woman and a female detective, during which Nesser writes, “She started soaping her breasts…still firm and bouncy; another recurrent thought was that one day she would start to dislike her breasts—the whole of her body come to that. But naturally, that was a trauma she shared with all women.” Ugh.

Later, Van Veeteren meets a woman in the course of the case and makes an empty promise about how long it’ll take him to crack it. The woman leaves, comforted, and VV snickers to himself: “How easy it is to fool a woman…a woman you’ve only known for five minutes.” Again, there might be some underlying irony here—Van Veeteren is arrogant about fooling ladies all while he’s being fooled himself. But even so, the sort of easy chauvinism here only made me like him less than I already did.

3.  These people are investigating a serial ax murderer and yet, not much investigating seems to really happen. Even if there aren’t a lot of clues, it seems to me that it’d be worth spending far more time tracking down former associates, lovers, flat-mates, etc. to get more insight into the lives of the victims. Find possible connections. Right? As is, everyone spends the day kinda-sorta talking about the case at the local pastry shop and they all go home at the end of the day with a bit of a shrug. Van Veeteren spends night after night with DCI Bausen playing chess, eating rich gourmet dinners, and sampling multiple bottles of fine vintage wine from Bausen’s private collection. No one really seems all that fussed, honestly, except for Münster, the skeptical inspector from Maarsdam who wants to go home to his wife and kids. Which makes me think that maybe we’d all be better served if the book was about Münster—who cares even a little about the outcome of the case—as opposed to Van Veeteren.

(For two other takes on the novel, check out Yvonne Klein and Sharon Wheeler‘s reviews on Reviewing the Evidence. Peter at Nordic Bookblog also reviewed it rather favorably.)

The TV Adaptation

There were a number of problems with the novel, but none of them were really addressed by the changes made to the TV adaptation. Rather, the TV adaptation was more successful because it has a slighter scope. It’s an 80 minute police drama—you anticipate that there will be plot holes and smoothed-over characterization. Here are some of the odder choices for adjustment:

1. Van Veeteren is retired.

He does actually retire within the novels, but not in this book. By bumping up the retirement, VV becomes truly inconsequential to the case. He just hangs around, pointing out things that make the local police look dumb. During the show, an up-and-coming Kaalbringen inspector kicks him out of a meeting in frustration one day, and rightly so: ‘What are you even doing here?’ he asks. ‘You’re a civilian.’

2. The victims are actually beheaded, with a normal ax.

The book makes a point of saying that all of the victims probably could have been beheaded if a little less finesse had been used by the murderer. But they are specifically *not* beheaded. Also, Nesser makes a point of saying that the ax used has very unusual dimensions and wouldn’t be easy to purchase in a normal store. To change these details really just simplifies the whole thing and makes it even easier than in the book to suss out the killer. Also, it’s just more gruesome, which is pretty much unneeded in a story about ax murders.

3. The victims are all restrained before they die and made to look at a photograph, the impression of which is found in blood at each crime scene.

In the book, Nesser makes a point of telling us that the victims are all caught unaware by the killer and die almost instantaneously. So again, we’re just making this more graphic. As for the photograph—that’s supposed to help fill in the killer’s motive, but it isn’t in the book at all and is pretty much a cheat. And the fact that Van Veeteren can look at a square indentation in some congealed blood and figure out that it was made from a photograph, well, that just tests the suspension of disbelief a little too much for me.

There were more changes—characters switched around, a whole plot line where the murderer attempts to frame someone else, chronologies changed, but none really for the better. I think I’ll give the rest of the series—both the novels and the TV show—a miss.

Barbara Fister Interviews Quentin Bates

Nordic crime enthusiast (and fellow librarian) Barbara Fister has a nice long and interesting interview with Quentin Bates on her Scandinavian Crime Fiction blog. Among other things, they discuss how Iceland has changed since Bates first lived there in the 70s, the 2008 economic Crash, Arnaldur Indriðason, and writing from a female prospective. I won’t spoil the highlights for you, but I will pass along my hearty agreement with Bates’ assessment of “the mighty Bernard Scudder,” the translator of record for oodles and oodles of Icelandic literature–everything from sagas to the English subtitles in the film version of Jar City. Says Bates:

“Arnaldur and Yrsa both had the tremendous good fortune to be translated into English by the mighty Bernard Scudder, who did a magnificent job – to the extent that their books are as good, if not better, in English than in Icelandic.”

Here, here. Scudder’s translation record is inspirational and staggering, and I’m delighted that he is still receiving due credit, even if he isn’t around to enjoy it.

Frozen Assets

My most recent review is of Quentin Bates’ new crime novel Frozen Assets, set in a small (imaginary) Icelandic fishing village and starring the gruffly appealing Officer Gunna. Check out Bates’ blog, Graskeggur, for more info on forthcoming titles in the series.

My review was published on Reviewing the Evidence. You can read it on their website, here, or the full text is below.

***

“You can’t hide in Iceland.” Or so is the hope of Officer Gunnhildur (Gunna) Gísladóttir, the stalwart, commonsensical “country copper” at the heart of Quentin Bates’s first crime novel, Frozen Assets. Although the (imaginary) small harbor village of Hvalvík sees little crime outside of traffic violations and the occasional disorderly drunk, Officer Gunna authoritatively takes over the complex investigation into the suspicious drowning of a Reykjavík man who was far too drunk at the time of his death to walk let alone drive over an hour to the Hvalvík harbor where he was found. Even more suggestive, the victim was employed by Spearpoint, a PR company with suspicious ties to some powerful Icelandic politicians, which is assisting with the development of a new and increasingly unpopular smelting plant that is being built just outside of town.

Hindered in her investigation by the unwilling employees at Spearpoint and urged by her superior to close the case as an accidental death, Gunna’s persistence is justified when yet another suspicious death -that of one of the drowning victim’s associates – is uncovered. Soon, she finds herself immersed in a complicated case that involves everyone from politicians and underhanded financiers to a scrappy group of environmental activists and a persistent gossip blogger whose merciless revelations of the foibles and misdeeds of Iceland’s elite have angered some very dangerous people.

Published by Soho Crime in the US, Frozen Assets maintains the strong and evocative sense of place that characterizes that imprint. Bates – who is himself British but has spent many years living in Iceland and working at a variety of odd jobs from netmaker to factory worker- clearly knows the country (and the countryside) well. Hvalvík–which was inspired by “…many of the quiet villages dotted around the coast of Iceland, where most people make their living from the land or the sea” – comes alive in a small luncheonette where the day’s menu consists of potatoes and a brusquely offered choice of “fish or meat?” In the small, smoky police station where the chief often opts to drive the “second best Volvo,” and where local sons and daughters divide their time between horse stables and monthly stints on fishing trawlers. And while Reykjavík is still a bustling urban hub by contrast, with a fair share of squalid basement flats and shady nightclubs, Bates draws together both locales in the mind of the reader, painting a portrait of a small and intimate country where no one can remain anonymous for long.

Gunna is also a satisfying creation–a character in the mode of Fargo‘s Marge Gunderson who patiently pursues her quarry with a gruff but straightforward charm. A talented policewoman, she transferred from the city police force to Hvalvík in the wake of her husband’s death, and is still negotiating the new balance of her life as a single mother and station chief with very few resources ad insufficient manpower.

Set in the months leading up to Iceland’s catastrophic financial collapse, the threat of imminent disaster simmers under the surface of Frozen Assets, although this tension is never quite borne out within the novel. Bates assembles a sprawling cast of idiosyncratic characters and engaging subplots – a young journalist trying his hand at the crime beat; a gluttonous taxi driver and petty offender who gets in too deep with a far more criminal set – but the abundance of these additional elements occasionally obscures the novel’s original premise. However, the raw material of Frozen Assets still makes for a gratifying read, and Officer Gunna will undoubtedly earn herself fans eager to see where her next investigation takes her.

The Shadow Woman

Following a recent foray into the Åke Edwardson ouvre (with Sun and Shadow), I read and reviewed a previous installment in the author’s Erik Winter series, The Shadow Woman. I’ll have to admit disappointment with this title. I had some reservations about Sun and Shadow, but the elements that really paid off in the end–the characterization, domestic/personal-life plot lines, and pacing–were just not nearly as strong in The Shadow Woman. And it’s not that Edwardson was lacking for material in this installment. In fact, he gives himself almost too much to work with: transnational biker gangs, racially motivated violence, alienation within immigrant communities, a bacchanalian summer festival in Gothenburg…the list goes on.

I do feel, however, that perhaps Edwardson deserves a bit of a pass for some of the weaker aspects of The Shadow Woman, particularly if one is reviewing it against other titles in the Erik Winter series. Because it is actually a much earlier installment in the series than many of the books that have already been translated. It was originally published in Sweden in 1998, and was, I believe, only the second novel in the Winter series–it’s no wonder that in the intervening years Edwardson became more adept at characterization and plot pacing.

I understand that particularly when introducing a new, foreign (translated) author to American audiences, a publisher really has to make a splash in order to retain the attention of readers for future publications. So it makes some commercial sense to have published a more refined title in the Winter series first, in order to really make an impression on American readers. To my knowledge, Sun and Shadow, the third installment in the series, was the first book translated into English, followed a year later by Never End, which was actually chronologically correct. Frozen Tracks was translated next (also chronologically correct), at which point, they went back and translated the first book in the series, Death Angels, followed by The Shadow Woman.

My problem with this is not that I don’t think that the full series is worth translating into English–it absolutely should be translated. But crime fiction aficianados are, as a rule, staunch series readers, and particularly fond of detectives. And once you know what happens in a detective’s life somewhere down the line–because you’ve read later books–it can be not-a-little frustrating to go back and try to forget all that when you’re reading an earlier book. Edwardson also makes references to former cases that he’s worked on in other novels. So if you’ve read a later title, you have a sense of what happened in previous cases and books. As such, it would have been nice if it had been possible to publish one of the later titles in the series and then go back and start at the beginning, once the audience had a favorable impression. Then the rest of the translations could have all been chronological.

Ah, but I digress with all this kvetching. The full review of The Shadow Woman can be read below, or on Reviewing the Evidence, here.

***

It’s a sweltering August in Gothenburg, Sweden, and the city is buzzing in the midst of the raucous annual Gothenburg Party. While excitement is high due to the festivities, a series of violent events continue to trouble the local police force, led by Detective Inspector Erik Winter. Having spent his summer lounging in cut-offs, learning to appreciate hard rock (in lieu of his preferred Coltrane), and bouncing back from a transnational murder investigation (as took place in Death Angels), Winter vigilantly jumps into a new homicide case: an unidentified woman found strangled in a quiet park. Although the woman’s identity remains unknown, Winter is shocked to discover that she had definitely been a mother. His murder investigation suddenly becomes a suspected kidnapping as well.

While readers familiar with the Winter series will be glad to have another of these titles available in English, however, The Shadow Woman lacks the depth of characterization and strong pacing that have made some of Edwardson’s previously translated titles (such as Sun and Shadow) so compelling. Perhaps this can be credited to the fact that the novel is actually a rather early installment in the Winter series—it was originally published in Sweden in 1998. In this earlier articulation, Winter is more caricature than fully drawn character. His personal life—which in other books offers an intimate window into his professional skills and shortcomings—is kept very much in the background, leaving the reader to get to know Winter through strained jokes about his out-of-date musical knowledge (he refers to The Clash as a “new band”) and the fact that he wears designer suits as “a form of protection against the apprehension that constantly threatened to force its way into his body.”

The novel is also permeated with a palpable tension that doesn’t truly pay off. As the story opens, one of Winter’s police colleagues, Aneta Djanali, a woman of African descent, is subjected to racially-motivated harassment during the Gothenburg Festival and viciously attacked. Edwardson uses Djanali’s attack—as well as a gang-related shoot-out in a busy city square and an immigrant man holding his son at gun point in front of the police station—to create an atmosphere of escalating violence in Gothenburg. Aside from the murder, these events feel to be mostly filler. The murder investigation labors on, and for most of the novel, everything else is treated as an afterthought. Even more frustrating is Winter’s apparent omniscience throughout the case. In a moment of almost laughable coincidence, he somehow guesses the murder victim’s first name before her identity is confirmed.

Ultimately a lackluster installment in the Winter series, The Shadow Woman remains thin in both character and plot development. And while Edwardson’s dedicated fans may enjoy getting a glimpse of the star detective before he became Sweden’s youngest-ever Chief Inspector, new readers to the series would be well advised to start elsewhere.

 

 

Spontaneous Reads: Sun and Shadow

I always have a stack of books that I am about to read, but being a somewhat spontaneous reader, I frequently set aside books that I’ve been planning to read for months in favor of a new title that caught my attention out of nowhere. Since this is such a frequent occurrence for me, I thought it might be interesting/useful (at least for me) to keep a more active record of the books I pick up and read on a whim.

My first installment in the Spontaneous Reads ‘feature’ is Sun and Shadow, an Erik Winter novel by Åke Edwardson. And I’ll be honest, although this was an unplanned choice, it’s not totally out of the blue: I’ll be reviewing a new Winter installment by Edwardson very soon and wanted to do some background reading beforehand. I really enjoyed the book, but it was a bit of a perplexing reading experience for me because there were a lot of aspects that normally, wouldn’t be my cup of tea. My (rather long) attempt to clarify my mixed reactions to the book is below.

***

Although Edwardson has been on my list of Scandinavian-crime-authors-to-read for some time, I had previously put off reading any of his novels because they had been described as rather stringent procedurals, and as a rule, I am not a huge fan of this genre. I understand that meticulous investigations–with their red herrings and dead-end leads and countless interviews with doddering old women who may have seen something relevant to a crime but really just want to serve the dashing inspector biscuits and coffee and have a little company–are some readers’ cups of tea. For myself, however, I’m not so invested in the process. I generally like the varied dynamics of a police force that you get in a procedural, but that enjoyment doesn’t really outweigh the sense of stagnation that sometimes comes over me in the midst of one of these novels.

I’ll admit it: I like plot. And while this is an element that may be somewhat out of vogue in contemporary ‘literary’ fiction, it is (generally) still highly valued in crime novels. So while I appreciate the pleasure that one might take out of reading the intricate (but often dull or frustrating) quotidian burdens of a police investigation, I usually prefer that the crime novels I read eschew that sort of realism in favor of some broader character development, more back story, and/or steadily escalating tension.

All this preamble is to say that I have just finished, and very much enjoyed, Sun and Shadow, the first of Edwardson’s Erik Winter novels to be translated into English (although it wasn’t the first in the series). What is somewhat perplexing to me–and apologies, because this probably won’t end up being the best of sells for this book–is that Edwardson utilizes a number of tricks which I would normally really dislike in a novel. But somehow, even when all of these strategies–and dare I say, cheats–are combined (and I’ll get to this more momentarily), the end product is still a really enjoyable, well-paced, strongly characterized novel which I gobbled up in a few short days.

To start with the good:

Winter is a great character. He’s reasonably quirky–loves jazz and gourmet cooking (there’s several whole pages where he describes, in recipe-level detail, the meal he makes on New Year’s) –and we’re told early on that he’s Sweden’s youngest chief detective inspector. As the book opens (days before the new millennium), however, he is about to turn 40 and is starting to feel a bit introspective about his life. This is emphasized by the ample family subplot that Edwardson builds around Winter: when the book opens, his father is dying and his longtime girlfriend–who is six months pregnant with his first child–is moving in with him.

Edwardson really takes his time with this domestic development. In fact, although the reader knows right from the start of the book that there has been a double murder, the police don’t discover it until just over 100 pages into the book. The fact that such an elongated reveal works in a crime novel really speaks to how engaging Winter and the other detectives and characters are. You want to spend time with them and become immersed in their lives, rather than just jumping into the investigation.

Anther especially good element is the pacing. I’ve rarely gotten to the very end of a procedural and actually felt a great deal of anticipation to see the case resolved. That feeling that the police are so close! to cracking the case doesn’t usually catch with me. But here, Edwardson develops suspense and build tension based on the fact that the reader has spent 200 pages or so suspecting that they know who the murderer is. (I didn’t guess the right person, but I was pretty close.) So while the police investigation continues to narrow its suspects and get closer and closer to determining who the killer is, their tangential investigations and incorrect suppositions are all the more nail-biting for the reader.

Now for the elements that shouldn’t have worked, but somehow, really did.

1. Edwardson has a tendency to avoid grim/disturbing/or otherwise particularly visual detail. In some cases, this is almost Hitchcockian–we’re chilled by what we can’t see, what we don’t really know. In others, it’s a little disorienting and maybe suggests a tad bit of squeamishness/avoidance on Edwardson’s part. I don’t want to give too much away, but let me say this: the police discover the first murders around page 100. We know something terrible happened to the victims, and they (the corpses) are described, a little. But Edwardson holds the real punch–the actual ‘what’ of the murders–for about 60 more pages. And when you find out what was done, it is an unexpected jolt. And given the circumstances, I was glad to not have had the scene f the crime described in all of its sordid detail–that would have been a little much. But it still feels a little off–like you’re looking at only half of a photograph.

This withholding of details and descriptions happens in a few other notable instances, some to lesser effect. It also extends to the way in which Edwardson deals with more difficult psychological aspects that crop up at the end of the novel. Namely, a major character is kidnapped–for almost a week. The whole chronology suddenly compresses, Winter figures out where she is, and the whole book is wrapped up neat ‘n tidy within about five pages.

We’re told that the woman “wasn’t hurt physically,” which, great, but because the book ends so quickly, Edwardson also dodges the difficulty of writing the psychological fall-out that the kidnapping victim would most definitely experience after such an abduction. We’re simply told that “…one of these days it would all come back to her, but not now…Perhaps never.” Which just seems way too easy. It’s possible–given that the Winter series seems to carry over plot lines and character history from book to book–that this character’s recovery will be dealt with in a later novel. But that doesn’t mean that you can just ignore the entire experience in this installment. If that was your plan, why bother staging the event in the first place? It seems a little tacked on.

2. The novel really depends on a serious red herring/bait-and-switch. About a quarter of the way into the book, I had made a guess of who the murderer was. About half way through the book, Edwardson begins really telegraphing this character as the killer. A few other characters also seem like they might have some potential as the killer, but there’s really one who Edwardson focuses on. And while this may seem too obvious, it also plays into the general sense of tension. You start to think that you’re supposed to have guessed who the killer is, and stop minding that it seems obvious.

The problem is that when the character you suspect turns out to be innocent, there’s not a whole lot done to explain the actual killer’s motivations or background or particular psychosis. There’s a lot of groundwork done early on to explain the killer’s possible frame of mind and why he might choose to commit the murders in the way that he does. This makes sense when you think it’s character A who is the killer, but when character B is revealed, it really doesn’t. Neither does the manner in which he selected his victims, or the messages that he left the cops at the crime scene, or the supposed clues that were to be found in the music that was playing at the scene of the first crime.

3. Edwardson allows an all-too-convenient endangerment of a major character and collision of plots and subplots. The character who is the almost-last victim is far too obvious, and far too relevant to Winter’s life. It’s too convenient. Somehow, though, Edwardson even makes this work. He develops the character as a possible person of interest to the murderer and does offer something of an explanation of why she was targeted. Now, she has nothing in common with the other victims and her kidnapping really just serves to ramp the novel’s climax up to a more dramatic level, but I pretty much bought it at the end. Because again, I was really invested in seeing this case resolved.

In closing, I suppose I would say that Edwardson’s ample gifts of characterization, steady pacing, and satisfyingly determined plot are what make Sun and Shadow a satisfying read. I suppose it’s something like reading an Agatha Christie novel. You know that she’s not playing by the ‘rules’–you know you don’t have all the clues that the detective does, and you know that things are going to resolve themselves rather easily, and you know that all of the clues and plot points might not add up. But the execution (no pun intended) is so fluid and meticulous that you don’t really mind so much in the end.