Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Best of 2015

The “Best of 2015” lists have started to appear. Here are some of my favorite 2015 novels.

In Lynne Truss’ sometimes funny, sometimes horrific fantasy Cat out of Hell, we meet Alec, a librarian and recent widower, who loses both his job and his sister. Seeking rest and clues to his sister’s disappearance, Alec and his dog Watson retreat to the seaside where they receive a manuscript of a series of interviews between a former colleague named Wiggy, and his cat, Roger, who has told him a dark tale about demonic cats, nine lives and a campaign against humans. The Grand Cat Master, Beelzebub, is summoned. Bodies pile up. Links are found between Alec’s wife’s death and other local deaths. Alec steals a book from his library (horror!). Will he and Watson defeat the Grand Cat Master in time? Whose side is Roger on? And what is Wiggy up to?

As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust is the 7th book in C. Alan Bradley’s delightful Flavia de Luce mystery series. Young Flavia, chemist and sleuth, travels from her ancestral home in England to attend Miss Bodycote’s Female Academy in Canada. Feeling banished and homesick, Flavia is presented with a mystery her very first night. Another student, Collingwood, rushes into Flavia’s room to inform her that three students are missing. When the Head of the school knocks at her door, Collingwood hides in the chimney and dislodges a corpse. While solving these mysteries, Flavia attends class, makes friends, discovers a connection to her mother and learns who to trust, including one teacher who is an acquitted murderess.

Orhan is a young man living and working in Istanbul in Aline Ohanesian’s debut novel Orhan’s Inheritance. His grandfather Kemal has built an international business making kilim rugs in his Anatolian village. After Kemal is found dead inside a vat of indigo dye, Orhan inherits the business. However, the estate is left to a stranger, Seda, who lives in an Armenian-American retirement facility in L.A. Orhan flies to L.A. to meet Seda, discover her connection to Kemal and offer compensation for the house that has belonged to his family for a hundred years. Unraveling the love story Seda refuses to remember reveals the painful history of the last years of the Ottoman Empire and the suffering resulting from the Armenian genocide.

Adrian McKinty sets his darkly witty Detective Sean Duffy novels in Northern Ireland during the “Troubles” in the 1980s. In the latest in the series, Gun Street Girl, Duffy, a Catholic cop in the Royal Ulster Constabulary with his own personal issues, investigates the suspected double murder and consequent suicide of Michael Kelly and his wealthy parents. He uncovers links to the fatal overdose of a cabinet minister’s daughter, gun running, and arms dealers. Attempts are made by an American agent with a fake identity and a smart, female MI5 recruiter to derail Duffy’s investigation before he discovers cover-ups not only in the Irish and British governments but with Ronald Reagan as well. Similar to WWII era Detective Foyle, Duffy attends to the investigation of murder during a time of war.

Another cop with substance abuse and women issues is Bureau of Indian Affairs Special Agent Joe Evers. Evers’ use of alcohol to mask his grief over his wife’s death caused him to bungle an investigation and lose the trust of his boss and team. Three months before his forced early retirement, the car of a former Congressman is found on the Navajo Reservation. The Congressman, his female aide and his driver disappeared 20 years earlier during a corruption probe. The congressman’s former wife is a front runner in the New Mexico gubernatorial race. Who has something to hide? The disappeared? The ex-wife? The powerful U.S. Senator who advises her campaign? A former Navajo Nation president? A dealer in Native American artifacts? John Fortunato’s debut novel Dark Reservations won the Tony Hillerman prize and kept me up reading all night. Fortunato, an FBI Special Agent, lives in Marquette and writes what he knows. Luckily for us, he’s writing at least three more novels in this series, the last of which might be set in the U.P.

Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal is a unique coming-of-age story about a girl with an extraordinary palate. Each interconnected chapter, told from the point of view of someone who knows Eva Thorvald, explores a period of Eva’s life beginning with her birth and continuing through her rise to become one of the top chefs in the country. Each vignette is centered on a particular food such as lutefisk, walleye, pepper jelly and venison. These foods and most of the major people in Eva’s life come together in a concluding widely popular, very expensive destination dining experience. Sometimes sad, there is a lot of fun in the novel found in its structure, a few recipes, jokes about foodies, the flawed characters and its Midwestern aura.

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro is a very atmospheric mix of fantasy, history and myth, that explores the question, is life easier without memory? Axl and Beatrice, an elderly couple, live in ancient Britain, in the relative peace that came after the Romans left and the Saxon invaders moved in. It is a place of mist, rain, superstition and foggy memory. Beatrice, who is ill, is weary of forgetfulness and wants to see their son whom they barely remember. They set out on a quest to find him. Along the way they meet a Saxon warrior, a very elderly Sir Gawain and his horse, orges, pixies, scary monks and a dragon. They also journey inwardly to understand themselves and the depth of their love for each other. Will it be enough to keep them together when they die? The parallel journeys allow for meditation on themes of war and the collective lies nations tell themselves to lessen their guilt. What price do we pay to accurately remember?

In Louise Penny’s 11th Armand Gamache Three Pines mystery, The Nature of the Beast, Armand and his wife Reine-Marie are adjusting to retirement in the Quebec village when nine-year-old Laurent Lepage tells another of his tall tales, this one about a gun as big as a building and a winged monster hidden in the forest, that no one, including the former chief inspector, believes. When Laurent disappears, villagers search the woods and learn to their horror that someone did believe the boy. Revealing his discovery leads to murder, betrayal, the unveiling of a decades-old threat with global consequences and the realization that evil can be found even in the most idyllic places.

Come on into your library, there’s more where these came from.
--Cathy Seblonka, Collection Development/Reference Librarian

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