Bumsted Books of the Year - Jack's Picks

Thursday Dec 01 2011
by Whodunit

In the past, one book has for me usually distanced itself from the pack as the “book of the year,” but this time around I am unable to single out one title. Instead three books jostle in my mind as outstanding. One is Ian Rankin’s latest, The Impossible Dead. As we all know, Rankin retired John Rebus a few years back. Rebus was ready for retirement. He was drinking too much and had become far too cynical. In his place has come Malcolm Ross, a policeman in a unit that investigates the wrongdoing of other cops, commonly known as “The Complaints.” Ross drinks Appletizer and has less angst than Rebus, but his cases are as complex and political as his predecessor’s.

 As a historian, I really appreciate the series by C. J. Sansom based in Henrician England. I am hard-pressed to think of another that better combines historical detail, sharp plotting, and a likeable detective. Heartstone, the fifth in the series, maintains Sansom’s high standards. To the historically-accurate plot of England preparing for naval war against France in 1545, Sansom adds a number of subplots, including one involving Shardlake and his relationship with a woman erroneously housed in Bedlam. If I have a problem with this book, it is in the large number of overlapping subplots, which require several chapters to resolve at the end.

There will never be another Stieg Larsson, and it is time that we stopped looking for one. The Millenium Trilogy was a once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon. There are other good Nordic writers, however. This year I was particularly impressed with Jussi Adler-Olsen’s The Keeper of Lost Causes. As is usually the case, Adler-Olson has been publishing for some years, and this book, while the first in English translation, is hardly his maiden effort. Adler-Olsen is Danish, and so the setting is a bit unusual. So too are the premises of the book. A Copenhagen cop who has been involved in a violent incident in which colleagues were killed (and in which he failed to draw his gun) is so damaged by guilt that he becomes a pariah within his unit. He eventually is exiled to a newly-created Department Q, located in the basement of the police building, which is charged with investigating cold cases.  He is Department Q’s only member, although he soon acquires an assistant, an Arab named Assad, who is officially employed as a cleaner. Assad, it transpires, is not only a brilliant detective but an experienced one, having worked for some years for some Middle Eastern secret service agency. The two men work together to solve the long-ago disappearance of a member of parliament. Good stuff!



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