If you have already read Steig Larsson’s Millenium Trilogy (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl who Played with Fire and The Girl who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest) and want to try a different type of Swedish crime fiction, I would highly recommend Camilla Läckberg’s first novel, The Ice Princess, set in the picturesque town of Fjällbacka, Sweden.

The Ice Princess centers around writer Erica Falck who returns to her hometown after the death of her parents in a car accident.  Shortly after she arrives from Stockholm she happens to discover her childhood friend, Alexandra, who has died of an apparent suicide.  Grieving for their daughter, Alexandra’s parents ask Erica to write an article about Alexandra for the local paper.  While researching Alexandra’s death Erica runs into an old friend, Patrick, who is a police officer in town.  The two discover many secrets about Fjällbacka’s most prominent family whose past is intertwined with the death of Alexandra and eventually learn that her death may not have been at her own hand.

I’ve also included a beautiful photo of Fjällbacka, Sweden which happens to be the hometown of a friend.  She snapped this photograph over the summer (which was taken late in the evening).  Since Läckberg is also a native of this fishing village, she uses authentic street names, landmarks, and other notable and unique features of the village, including Ingrid Bergman Square, named for the Swedish actress who spent a good amount of time in Fjällbacka.

This is not the type of book I would typically choose.  Turns out, I couldn’t put it down.

When I go on vacation, I often look for books that take place in the same locale.  Since I was heading out on a vacation to Maine, this one fit the bill.  Granted,  it had also received several excellent reviews, so I wasn’t just going by the title or the picture on the cover, though I’ve  selected books that way a time or too, as well.  Popular authors such as Nelson DeMillie, Tess Gerritsen, John Lescroart and C.J. Box were all singing the praises of this debut novelist, whose day job just happens to be editing Down East: The Magazine of Maine.  Plus, the book also landed on Booklist’s best crime novels of 2010 list.

The Poacher’s Son opens with Mike Bowditch, a game warden in Maine, receiving an alarming message on his answering machine from his estranged father, Jack, whom he hasn’t seen in two years.  The next day, Mike discovers that his father is the prime suspect in the murders of a beloved cop and a lumber executive.  Though Mike knows his alcoholic father makes his living poaching illegal game, he cannot bring himself to believe that the man is capable of murder.

What distinguishes this book from more plot-based suspense thrillers is the realistic no-one-is-perfect characterizations.  Also, the author seems to have a natural knack for pulling the reader into the setting, be it the rocky coasts or the forested wilderness that makes up much of Maine.

No, I won’t tell you the ending.  But I will recommend that you read this book and that you keep a lookout for the series of other Mike Bowditch mysteries to come.

submitted by Sarah W

Ben Decovic is a former homicide detective who busted himself down to patrolman after the senseless death of his wife.

Corrine Tedros is a former nobody who wants money, respect and the immediate death of her husband’s rich uncle who is withholding both.

Croy Wendell is hired to do a crime. He doesn’t find out his clock is stopped until it’s far too late.

Jack Carson witnesses a perfectly arranged murder gone horribly wrong, but can’t unlock the memory – he’s got late stage Alzheimer’s.

This isn’t Carl Hiaasen’s Florida.

This is noir, done right.

Set in 16th century Prague, Wishnia’s new mystery transforms Jewish sexton, Ben-Akiva, and his mentor, the famous Rabbi Loew, into an effective detective team in The Fifth Servant.  Just before the start of Passover, a young Christian girl is found murdered inside a Jewish shop, which triggers accusations of blood libel and revives the threat of retribution against the entire Jewish community.  As the newly arrived shammes in Prague, Ben has three days to prove that someone else is responsible for the crime, other the the arrested shopkeeper, Federn.  Though Ben gains the support of Rabbi Loew, he is hampered by the Inquisition and by ghetto restrictions, so he  must depend upon his clever wit and mazl (luck).

I’ll admit that for the first 50 pages or so, I had to keep checking the glossary — I really don’t have a strong background in 16th century Jewish terminology!  Still, most of the unfamiliar phrases were readily explainable within their context, so it really didn’t disrupt my enjoyment of the book. The characters are well-developed and the story is richly layered with both spiritual and historical insight, but it is the fast-paced tension that makes this a true page-turner.

The Edge by Dick Francis is, as always, about horses, but this time the action takes place in Canada, instead of England.

Head of Security for the British Jockey Club, Tor Kelsey  travels to Canada for the Great Transcontinental Mystery  Race  Train. He works  undercover  as a waiter on the train so he can keep an eye one of the club’s Most Wanted  (an extortionist/horse owner they haven’t been able to catch red-handed,yet).

To add to the intrigue, there is a murder mystery group on the train – no one but Tor and his foe know that there is a real murderer on board.

Another railroad mystery is The Silk Train Murder by Sharon Rowse. A train that rushes silk from Vancouver to the east coast of Canada is the setting for a turn of the century romantic caper. Emily Turner is the liberated heroine who helps John Landsdowne Granville investigate a murder. Granville’s quest takes him to the seedier part of frontier towns (opium dens, brothels and dance halls).

The combination of strict Victorian morals and the rambunctious frontier provide a glimpse into a fascinating period of Canadian history.

woman-with-birthmarkIf you liked the Inspector Wallender programs on PBS Masterpiece Mystery (the DVD is coming out next month!) immerse yourself in another Swedish police procedural.

Woman with Birthmark by Hakan Nesser stars an extremely cranky Chief Inspector Van Veeteren. This time he is placed in charge of an investigation into a series of homicides. Men are shot at close range above (and below) the belt. The reader knows who the killer is, but not the motivation. Nesser is a master at creating an atmosphere of tension and subtle dread. The violence and dialogue is never overstated and is all the more effective for that.

Both Henning Mankell (author of the Kurt Wallender mysteries) and Nesser illustrate why the mysteries of Sweden, Iceland, and Norway are so popular right now.

sweetness-at-the-bottom-of-the-pieFlavia deLuce is one of the most winning heroines to come along in a long time – wickedly funny, whip smart with a passion for chemistry (especially poisons) – and all of eleven-years-old. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie delivers this unique and charming voice in one of the best mysteries of the year.

It’s 1950 in England where Flavia, her Father the Colonel and her two older sisters live at Buckshaw, their decaying family mansion. The family, in the tradition of English novels, is full of eccentrics with the Colonel proccupied with his stamp collecting, and Flavia’s sisters having little time (or regard) for her. Flavia keeps busy in her well-stocked chemistry lab, plotting revenge.

When a murder is committed in the cucumber patch at Buckshaw, Flavia believes it is “by far the most interesting thing that had ever happened to me in my entire life”. When her father is arrested for the crime, Flavia leaps to action.  Riding her trusty steed (bicycle) Gladys, she asks questions, investigates clues and begins to put together the web of intrigue. She’s daring, resourceful and perceptive and gets to the answer quicker than anyone else. After all, who better than a young girl to find the answers – children are mostly unseen and their intelligence is usually underestimated, allowing Flavia more freedom then adults.

Readers will be happy to know that this is the first of a planned series of six books with the next title due early next year, where we can follow Flavia in another unique predicament.