by Sharon Tucker
The convention of taking The Grand Tour of Europe was a tradition of the upper class from the 17th to mid-19th centuries. It was intended to educate a youth in terms of cultural history, the arts and society. A few years ago when I visited Europe on my version of The Tour, I was enchanted. I became acquainted with people from everywhere and loved spending too much time in museums, palaces and galleries. I attended the theater even more often and walked miles through country sides getting the European version of a tan. I had read about much that I saw, seen films set in Britain, France and the Netherlands and talked to others who’d traveled, but being in Europe was an education and is something that I treasure. It was not a uniformly positive experience, nor should it have been, since we learn from misunderstandings and mistakes more often than we do when all goes well.
And as might be expected, neither does all go well in Harry Bingham’s Love Story, With Murders, Anne Zouroudi’s The Messenger, and Pierre Lemaitre’s Alex, but all three mysteries make for fascinating reading while offering a fresh look at Welsh, Greek, and French cultures. You’ll read much that will confirm what you suspect but you will gain insight as well.
Bingham’s Love Story, With Murders is the second book in his series centering on Welsh Detective Constable Fiona Griffiths. Readers met Griffiths in Talking to the Dead published in 2013, but I doubt that most readers had a real clue about her until near the end of the novel’s 370 pages. The clue(s) come sooner in Love Story but Griffiths’ off-center approach to her investigations will startle the reader just as much the second time around as it did in the first. Both the novels are set in contemporary Cardiff, Wales, but Love Story begins with the discovery of a body part in a dead woman’s horizontal freezer. Soon, other body parts are found in the same Cardiff suburb, but not all belong to the original victim, nor are they in the same condition. As Griffiths and the police investigate the murders/dismemberments, we learn more about her mysterious family background and the unique resilience that keeps her alive even in the direst of circumstances.
The investigator in The Messenger of Athens has an even more mysterious background than Griffiths, but his investigative techniques and their consequences are unique. Messenger is the first in Anne Zouroudi’s Seven Deadly Sins series, but as far as I’m concerned (having read the first three), the recurring question of each book is: Who is Hermes Diaktoros? Each novel I’ve read is set on a different Greek Island, of which there are between 1,200 and 6,000–as far as we know. Even if only 166 to 227 are inhabited, this still gives Zouroudi a bit of scope for future novels–she might run out of deadly sins before that. The Messenger begins with discovering the body of Irini Asimakopoulis, missing for two days, and unreported by her husband and family. As her remains are air lifted from the foot of a cliff on the Isle of Thiminos, those involved evince little respect and less care for her remains. When Hermes Diaktoros arrives on Thiminos, the lack of co-operation the police and townspeople give him seems unusual even for isolated, suspicious country-folk, but does this deter Diaktoros? Hardly. With Olympian assurance and enviable calm, he finds justice for her.
Police Commandant Camille Verhoeven metes out justice along different lines in Lemaitre’s Alex. Prepare to learn how the French police and judiciary work as a team–as opposed to the adversarial system of justice we have in the United States and in Britain. Possibly even more fascinating is how the novel unfolds. As we begin, we meet the title character, Alex, and are puzzled by the Frenchwoman’s lack of chic–for want of a better noun. Alex seems to have no real body image. She doesn’t know what looks good on her or how to use enhancements properly. Suddenly she is brutally kidnapped and put in a cage suspended from the ceiling of an abandoned warehouse. The story then shifts to the police. Our primary investigator is compelled to take the case despite a personal ordeal from which he has yet to recover fully. Verhoven has a depth of character that delighted and surprised me, as did that of his team. A word about plot: WOW. The action turns quickly, radically and often. This is a compelling read. Zut alors!
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