In crime fiction, new books are not always better


Jeff Mannix

Current Columnist


In crime fiction, new books are not always better

Books reviewed in “Murder Ink” are not assigned and therefore not literary criticism in a true sense. Publishers send me crime fiction books hoping for a published review. I, in turn, read two or three a week to find the ones worthy of recommendation in this column.

Today, I’ll waste precious words to warn you about two blockbusters not worth your time or money.

Phantom by Jo Nesbo and Blessed Are Those Who Thirst by Anne Holt are two new releases by authors ascending from recent best sellers. Phantom is just more of the same muscular posturing Nesbo has been defrauding us with during his storied career.

And while Holt’s Blind Goddess (reviewed previously) is written well and exciting, Blessed Are Those Who Thirst is a casualty of forcing a new book in order to ride the curve of a profitable wave. Skip them both; they’re pulp.

On a positive note, I’m featuring two books recently re-issued by The New York Review of Books – Act of Passion, first written in 1947 by Frenchman Georges Simenon, and A Posthumous Confession by Marcellus Emants, published first in 1894 and newly translated from Dutch and introduced by the renowned J. M. Coetzee.

These books are similar, short, very famous in their time, and each is a first-person confession of murder.

Georges Simenon has written more than 200 books. Most are quirky police procedurals featuring the inimitable Chief Inspector Maigret, who solves crimes by intuition at a bistro table.

He does so, as Roger Ebert cleverly posits in his introduction to Act of Passion, with the solution of each mystery a mystery in its own right.

They’re wonderfully fun and far more than their obvious simplicity – I’ve read and enjoyed more than a dozen.

But Simenon wrote a handful of crime books he called roman durs, or hard novels. Act of Passion is one of them, and the only one written in the first person. Dr. Charles Alavoine has murdered his paramour.

He confessed and was sent to prison. Act of Passion is a letter written by the buoyantly unrepentant doctor to the sentencing judge, explaining convincingly, and to no purpose, why he murdered.

When you’re done with Act of Passion, you will have been exposed to casuistry at its purest and most convincing. It’s a beautifully written and wonderfully sane account of well-reasoned insanity.

Posthumous Confession is a remarkable story by a genius of a writer that will drill holes in your central nervous system.

It’s not that the story is terrifying – it’s not whatsoever. It’s just that it is too real not to call forth the indefinite doubts we all try to ignore about our own sanity.

If you are a crime reader of the commercial paperback variety, Posthumous Confession is not for you.

If you’ve been keeping up with the “Murder Ink” books, this will test your mettle and sophisticate your reading. And there’s nothing more I care to tell you.

I’m daring you to read this book. Jeff Mannix is a local journalist and author.

In crime fiction, new books are not always better

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