The best of January’s reading.

January, a miserable month for us living in the northern hemisphere, was redeemed by some excellent crime fiction reading. I read 10 books for crimepieces and perhaps because there was a stong Scandinavian presence, the common theme seemed to be murders set to the backdrop of freezing winters. However, the highlight of my month was set in a much warmer climate, the Australian Desert. Gunshot Road by Adrian Hyland combined sparky writing with a great sense of place and one of the best female detectives around.

The books I read in January were:

1. Death and the Spanish Lady by Carolyn Morwood. (completed as part of the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge).

2. The Circular Staircase by Mary Roberts Rinehart

3. The Winter of the Lions by Jan Costin Wagner

4. Believing the Lie by Elizabeth George

5. Gunshot Road by Adrian Hyland

6. V is for Vengeance by Sue Grafton (also reviewed for crimesquad.com)

7. The Mask of Glass by Holly Roth

8. The Final Murder by Anne Holt

9. 1222 by Anne Holt

10. Midwinter Sacrifice by Mons Kallentoft

Kerrie over at Mysteries in Paradise is hosting a meme summarizing the crime fiction recommendations for January 2012.

Review: Holly Roth – The Mask of Glass

Many of us have a daydream where we change our appearance and see if those that we are close to are able to recognise us. What will be the feature that we are unable to hide? Our eyes? Body shape? It is, of course, also a well used device in crime fiction with both criminals disguising their true identity and deceiving their nearest and dearest (Agatha Christie’s A Murder is Announced) and also victims using disguise to avoid detection (Lisbeth Salander in Steig Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy). Occasionally, the detective has to undertake this too – Sherlock Holmes of course revelling in disguise and trickery.

In this book by US author Holly Roth, who was writing in the 1950s and 1960s, Jimmy Kennemore of the US Army’s Counter Intelligence Corps is both victim and investigator when a routine investigation into a missing deserter goes horribly wrong. His innocent enquiries at a seedy photographic studio result in him trussed up in a garage and only narrowly surviving an explosion. He crawls to the apartment of a family friend, Doc, who patches him up and nurses him back to health.

When Jimmy looks in the mirror his boyish good looks have disappeared and he now looks like a much older man with deep grooves down the side of his face and his red hair turned white. This is where the fun starts. I enjoyed reading of Jimmy embracing his new identity, testing it out on his girlfriend Rita and his astonishment at how people react to his more macho appearance. Equally enjoyable is Jimmy’s investigations into the men who nearly killed him. His revisits to the shop and attempts to dupe his way into the gang were gripping passages full of tension. There is a Jack Reacher/Da Vinci Code feel to the narrative, Jimmy goes from one scrape to the next but his natural bravado and military training help him to brazen out his situations.

The denouement was slighty disappointing, I don’t think I’m giving too much away to say it had something to do with Communists and H Bombs, a sign of the times I suppose when the book was written in 1957. It all seemed to be wrapped up on the last two pages so I had a slightly dazed feeling after finishing it. Given the preceding action, a little more explanation would have been welcome. It provided though a real slice of New York’s mean streets, contrasted nicely with Doc’s Second Avenue lifestyle.

This is #1237 in the vintage Penguin series.