PSYCHOPATHS IN crime fiction are an easy sell. The three books discussed here have different types of psychopaths. We start with Patricia Wentworth who wrote in the early to mid-20th century, around the same time as Agatha Christie. Hers is a domestic triangle where there is no overt violence, and the psychopath among the characters is hard to pin down; the focus being on the psychological effect on the victim. But in the Kyle Perry and Karin Smirnoff stories written in the present era, the brutality and violence of their psychopaths are on the page as are the physical and emotional effects on the victims.
DANGER POINT by Patricia Wentworth (Hodder; 320 pages; ₹699)
Beautiful society heiress Lisle Jerningham overhears a conversation between two guests at a country-house party. One says that her husband will murder her just as he did his first wife. Lisle flees to the station and jumps into a first-class compartment where she meets Miss Silver, a retired governess and now a private investigator. But Lisle, who has recently written her will, doesn’t listen to Miss Silver’s advice to tell everyone that she has changed it again. When Lisle experiences a near drowning and other accidents, it is clear that someone is out to kill her. Is it the husband, who stands to inherit her fortune and who needs it to resuscitate his stately home, or is it the husband’s cousin, a raffish man with a hush hush job? As the needle of suspicion swings between the two, and a third cousin (a woman who is in love with Lisle’s husband), the emotions shoot up to danger point. Even worse, Lisle discovers that the trio were with the first wife when she “slipped” on a mountain track and fell to her death. Then a young woman from the local village is found dead at the bottom of a cliff, and she is wearing the heiress’s jacket. A case of mistaken identity? Miss Silver certainly thinks so.
Wentworth, who was born in Mussoorie in the late 19th century, is the Golden Age Queen of high anxiety heroines mired in romantic triangles. In this high concept psychological thriller she creates two triangles: two cousins and the heiress; the heiress, a cousin and the husband.
Like Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, Miss Silver is a gentlewoman, but unlike the twittery Miss Marple, she has a scholastic background and is rational and logical in her approach.
Wentworth is brilliant at conjuring the setting and the emotional intensity, which comes from the heroine’s tangled love life. Danger Point keeps us at the edge of our seats, riveted by the heroine’s plight and desperate to find out whodunnit and whether they will murder again.
THE DEEP by Kyle Perry (Penguin; 464 pages; $22.99)
Forrest Dempsey washes up ashore amidst the largest sea-cliffs in the Tasmanian coast. The 13-year-old is alive, after having been lost at sea seven years ago with his father and mother, and on his back is a badly etched tattoo, “I am Forest Dempsey”. Set in Shacktown, a township that runs on abalone fishing and drug smuggling controlled by the coldblooded matriarch Ivy Dempsey, a female Godfather, The Deep is about the inner rivalries and betrayals of the Dempsey family. Many generations of Dempseys have used the fishing industry and a deadly Black Wind as cover, a wind that twists and pulls at the waves like a cyclone. Only two men have managed to break free of the family trade, but have paid a high emotional price. Mackerel Dempsey out of jail on bail who is trying his best to change his life and keep out of trouble; and his cousin Ahab who was a father-figure to Mackerel and his two brothers including Forrest’s psychopath of a father in their childhood. As the police, psychiatrists and the family ask Forrest questions about the past seven years, something doesn’t seem right. Is he Forrest Dempster? Or is he the pawn of a mysterious pirate-drug lord Blackbeard, who is rumoured to be moving in on Shacktown.
When Forrest’s uncle and current head of the Dempsey empire goes missing, and his body is found floating in a whirlpool under the sea-cliffs, old family secrets are exposed, and danger threatens Forrest and the Dempseys. Mackerel and Ahab have to make a stand for what they believe is right, even if it means sacrificing everything. With highly complex backstories to resolve, the end feels a bit rushed, but Perry manages to tie the strands together quite neatly, and in a satisfying way.
Kyle Perry’s sublime prose transports us emotionally to close-knit families and communities grappling with shameful secrets in the rugged Australian landscape. The lyrical prose highlights the taut emotional entanglements of the Dempseys, and the wild sea including a terrific underwater chase provide a fitting setting to the twists of the story
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Kyle Perry’s books are a grittier version of fellow Australian Jane Harper’s. Their sublime prose transports us emotionally to close-knit families and communities grappling with shameful secrets in the rugged Australian landscape. It is no wonder that Perry is a rising superstar of Australian crime fiction. The lyrical prose highlights the taut emotional entanglements of the Dempseys, and the wild sea including a terrific underwater chase provide a fitting setting to the twists of the story.
THE GIRL IN THE EAGLE’S TALONS by Karin Smirnoff (Knopf; 368 pages; ₹2,146)
Stieg Larsson had envisaged ten books in the Millennium series, but didn’t live to write them. His estate hired David Lagercrantz to write books four, five and six. And now, Swedish journalist and crime fiction writer Karin Smirnoff has written book seven. Translated by Sarah Death, the story is set in the wilderness of northern Sweden. The theme is the damage caused by ostensibly green companies. With the criminal underworld leading the charge for the untapped natural resources of Sweden’s far north, Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist find themselves heading north to the small town of Gasskas, quite separately, and for seemingly different purposes. Salander has been named guardian of her niece Svala after her mother, Marta disappears, while Blomkvist is there to attend his daughter’s marriage with the local councillor (Henry Salo). When Lisbeth realises that 13-year-old Svala is being watched and knows far too much about the criminal underworld, Marta’s disappearance assumes ominous overtones. Blomkvist, on the other hand, who is at a loose end since his beloved Millennium magazine has become defunct, finds his son-in-law-to-be’s erratic behaviour and unsavoury associates suspicious. Salo and his family are threatened by a mysterious Swede Marcus Branco, the owner of a global company that wants sole ownership of a wind farm project. With his daughter and grandson’s safety on the line, a worried Blomkvist begins investigating. Meanwhile, Lisbeth and Svala search for Marta, who is not the first woman to have disappeared from the town. As the violence rises, once again Blomkvist and Lisbeth find themselves on the same side battling evil villains.
The heroine of this book is Svala, a mini Lisbeth Salander, a whiz kid, a safebreaker and a go-getter, with the same tolerance for pain as Lisbeth. The level of violence and brutality is high, which is par for the course for a Scandi noir.
Blomkvist fades into the background for much of the book, and Lisbeth is not that present either on the pages, though both are necessary ingredients in the series. Smirnoff admitted in an interview that she was less interested in writing about Blomkvist. “He’s a difficult person and I don’t like him that much,” she said. “I find him quite boring. But at the same time, he’s a good guy who deserves more cred than being a person who chases women and lives for his articles.”
Lisbeth’s role has been usurped by her niece, the most interesting character in the book. The focus is on Svala’s ingenuity in tackling the baddies, a mini Lisbeth in action, and when the aunt joins in, mayhem ensues for the diabolical villains. It might be time, though, to retire Blomkvist and Lisbeth, and stick with Svala.