Late last month I asked the author about what he was reading. Burke's reply:
I know that there are some crime / mystery authors who prefer to read outside the genre, for fear of being unduly influenced (or subconsciously mimicking) another writer’s style or story, but most of my reading tends to be in the genre. What I’m always looking out for, though, are crime / mystery novels that deliver more than a straightforward (or, indeed, delightfully complicated) ‘whodunit’.Visit Declan Burke's Crime Always Pays blog.
So far this year I’ve come across a few novels that delivered a very satisfying read in that respect. The first was Celeste Ng’s debut, Everything I Never Told You. It opens dramatically, by telling us that, “Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.” We subsequently discover that Lydia Lee, the teenage Asian-American daughter, had drowned in a local lake, although no one knows if the drowning was murder, suicide or a tragic accident. As it happens, the distinction remains blurred throughout as Celeste Ng investigates not only Lydia’s life, but also that of her parents, James and Marilyn Lee. In the process she explores issues such as proto-feminism (the novel is set in the 1970s, but frequently harks back to the 1950s), cultural assimilation (or lack thereof), and racial identity, all of which are issues the teenage Lydia was trying to accommodate, as well as deal with the pressures of adolescence. The book reminded me very much of Megan Abbott’s work, which I intend as a very high compliment.
Another novel I found very striking was Richard Beard’s Acts of the Assassins, which opens with Jerusalem-based Roman speculator – i.e., investigator – Gallio charged with discovering the whereabouts of the missing body of the recently crucified cult leader, Jesus. The book is the second in Beard’s ‘Messiahs Trilogy’ (the first was Lazarus is Dead), and while the story that evolves does so in large part faithful to the events of the New Testament and the Acts of the Apostles – fascinating enough, in my opinion – Beard also brings a narrative style he calls ‘quantum fiction’ to the table. This allows him to not only compress the time period of the New Testament, which means that Gallio find himself on the trail of what appears to be a serial killer who is murdering the apostles in a variety of gory ways, but also allows him to treat the historical tale in a contemporary fashion – e.g., Gallio uses modern technology, takes airline flights, and has access to contemporary weaponry. It’s a compelling investigation on the one hand, but it’s also a profound meditation on faith. It is also, you might be surprised to learn, very funny.
Finally, John Connolly’s latest Charlie Parker novel, A Song of Shadows, represents yet another step forward from a writer who might be entitled to rest on his laurels at this stage. A private investigator, Parker is recovering in the coastal Maine town of Boreas from very serious wounds sustained in his previous outing, The Wolf in Winter (in fact, Parker has been declared clinically dead three times, and resuscitated), but when an amateur Nazi-hunter washes up dead on a nearby beach, Parker finds himself thrust into an investigation that brings him face to face with the horrors of the Holocaust. The supernatural elements of the Parker novels remain, but Connolly has increasingly bent the tropes to fit the language of mythology, and here Parker is characterised rather explicitly as a Christ-like figure who is prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of his fellow man (and woman).