Every Sunday, WW writer John Minervini brings you the latest in book reviews, author Q&A's and Portland literary gossip. Click here to join the Tome Raider mailing list.
Times are tough, and you want escape lit
. I don't blame you. Seriously, who wouldn't prefer a good old-fashioned thriller to spiceless, real-life mysteries like a crusty economy or a sadistic election cycle?
Of course, finding the right mystery novel can be difficult. Fortunately, Portlanders have a leg-up on the enterprise. It's called Murder by the Book (3210 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 232-9995, mbtb.com)
, and it's a genre boutique that specializes in pairing armchair hedonists with page after page of mouthwateringly odious vice
. Whether you prefer softboiled crime novels set in California wine country or your tastes run to something a little more...ghastly...well, you're sure to find it at MBTB.
Spooky customers browse MBTB on Friday, Oct. 31.
Currently in its 25th year, Murder by the Book offers row after row of mystery novels in an unpretentious Hawthorne setting. Don't know where to start? The thrillers are organized by theme, so you can browse sections like noire, contemporary female sleuths and police procedurals. And in the event that you're still stumped, don't worry: recommendations are free. Customers are encouraged to shoot the breeze with any of MBTB's six staff members, each of whom specializes in a different mystery sub-genre.
Recently, Tome Raider sat down with MBTB co-owner Barbara Tom (who prefers her thrillers with a glass of "bloodthirsty pinot noire") to talk about two hot new mystery releases with topical themes—terrorism and the war on drugs. Interestingly, both of their authors are comeback kids, kinda.
[Soviet Bloc Party]
A Most Wanted Man (Scribner, 336 pages, $28.00)
by John le Carre
A former MI6 agent, Le Carre hit his stride writing spy thrillers during the Cold War; you may remember the iconic Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
(1974). But ever since the fall of the Berlin Wall, he's been struggling to find a new voice.
The problem faced by Le Carre and his generation of mystery writers is that they no longer know quite who the bad guys are. The world can no longer be neatly divided into West and East, capitalist and communist, good and evil; these days genre authors must grapple with gray-on-gray issues like Guantanamo,, suicide bombings and slippery nuclear stockpiles—or risk becoming irrelevant.
But with the release of his new book, Le Carre's back on top. A Most Wanted Man
tells the story of Issa, a Russian with a murky past who tries to enroll in medical school in Hamburg. Is he a devout Muslim? Is he a terrorist? As competing Western intelligence agencies pursue the young man, an idealistic civil rights attorney fights to save Issa from deportation. Topical themes like extraordinary rendition and radical Islam are explored in this explosive novel, which takes place over the course of a single day.
The King of Methlehem (Simon & Schuster, 256 pages, $13.00)
by Mark Lindquist
You may remember Mark Lindquist as the author of Sad Movies
(1987), a more-or-less insipid novel in the line of Nick Hornby's High Fidelity
(although, to be fair, Lindquist came first). That was in New York in the 80's, when Lindquist was tapped as a member of the new brat pack of up-and-coming writers. Others included Bret Easton Ellis, Donna Tartt and Jay McInerney.
But as the fortunes of Ellis and McInerney have waned, Lindquist has waxed, due in no small part to a career makeover. He changed cities, he changed genres—he even briefly changed careers. In 1990, Lindquist moved to Seattle, enrolled in law school and afterward worked as an assistant D.A. in Tacoma. These days, he writes region-specific detective novels like Never Mind Nirvana
(2000), a bestseller that bared the seedy underbelly of the Seattle grunge scene.
In his new novel, The King of Methlehem
, Lindquist puts his D.A. experience prosecuting Tacoma meth cooks to good use. His protagonists, Wyatt and Mike (a police officer and a prosecuting attorney, respectively), can't be sure which is the bigger obstacle: a city full of drug dealers or the hugely inefficient system of law enforcement designed to deal with them. Methlehem's pace is great, but what really separates this mystery from the pack is Lindquist's quirky sense of humor: how many lawyers do you know who unwind from a day at the office with Zen meditation?