What I’m reading lately, Vol. 1:3, the Thrilling Literature edition

Ah, Cana­di­an lit­er­a­ture. Can you believe some peo­ple find you bor­ing?

This week I chal­lenge that asser­tion by going toe-to-toe with three exem­plary mysteries/thrillers. Each of these authors kept me up long past my bed­time.

My moth­er would like a word with all three of you.

Crow’s Landing, Brad Smith

By now it’s a cliché to say that an author is “the next Elmore Leonard,” or “as good as Elmore Leonard,” or  “Elmore Leonar­dian.” When you’re as pop­u­lar and pro­lif­ic as the mas­ter, it goes with the ter­ri­to­ry. It’s a cheat, an easy way for a review­er to say the author deliv­ers a smooth­ly enter­tain­ing thriller that delves into the under­cur­rents of the world and expos­es joy­ful­ly deviant behav­iour for our amuse­ment.

Nev­er­the­less, I am so very lazy. And so I pro­claim (and not for the first time) that Brad Smith is the Canuck Elmore Leonard. And Crow’s Land­ing would not look at all out of place among Leonard’s oeu­vre.

Land­ing, the sec­ond Vir­gil Cain mys­tery after Red Run, is rife with lowlifes, tough broads, sleazy cops, crazy Rus­sians, drug deals, shoot-outs, and one hard-work­ing pro­tag­o­nist try­ing to keep it all straight and get his boat back. Vir­gil is a arche­typ­al pulp hero, gruff enough to be tak­en seri­ous­ly as mus­cle and smart enough to know when the grift is on. Find­ing him­self unwill­ing­ly linked to a miss­ing drug ship­ment, Cain has no choice (by his reck­on­ing, any­way) but to play one side against the oth­er. It’s a clas­sic sce­nario, but hey, Smith works it gang­busters. Crow’s Land­ing is a grit­ty yet smooth Hud­son Riv­er breeze, a great way to spend some qual­i­ty time with per­sons you’d be unlike­ly to sit next to on the bus.

Trust Your Eyes, Linwood Barclay

Lin­wood Bar­clay writes Hitch­cock as good as any­one. By which I mean to say, he excels at intri­cate thrillers where decent ordi­nary peo­ple are thrust into dan­ger­ous sit­u­a­tions not of their mak­ing. Trust Your Eyes throws a decent amount of con­spir­a­cy in as well, result­ing in a vast­ly plea­sur­able labyrinth of mis­tak­en iden­ti­ties, slip-ups, and mur­der. I think Alfred would be pleased.

It also has a great hook. Thomas Kil­bride is a map-obsessed schiz­o­phrenic shut-in who vir­tu­al­ly trav­els the world on Whirl360.com (think Google Street View). When he glimpses a sus­pi­cious image in a New York City win­dow, he bad­gers his broth­er into check­ing it out in per­son. Being a thriller, of course there’s some­thing das­tard­ly afoot, but Bar­clay expert­ly turns the screws so that the truth is always around the next cor­ner. He pop­u­lates his world with flawed heroes and under­stand­able vil­lains, nev­er let­ting the admit­ted­ly far-fetched plot get too goofy.

Like Hitch­cock, Bar­clay under­stands the val­ue of strong dia­logue, rapid plot move­ments, and sup­ply­ing a MacGuf­fin to keep every­thing trav­el­ling for­ward. Trust Your Eyes is a ter­rif­i­cal­ly twisty thriller, and is hon­est­ly one of the only books that kept sur­pris­ing me right up to the very end.

The Demonologist, Andrew Pyper

Read­ing Andrew Pyper is like dri­ving 150 with your eyes closed. It’s scary, pos­si­bly insane, and always a good time should you sur­vive.

While many of his past works have flirt­ed with the para­nor­mal, The Demo­nolo­gist goes full-bore super­nat­ur­al with a spir­i­tu­al quest of sorts, fol­low­ing a uni­ver­si­ty pro­fes­sor who must deduce the clues hid­den in Par­adise Lost to reach his daugh­ter, who has been abduct­ed into the nether­world. This plot sounds a bit like some­thing Dan Brown would dream up, except that a) Andrew Pyper knows how to write, and b) The Demo­nolo­gist is, y’know, good. I’d put it clos­er to Arturo Perez-Reverte’s The Club Dumas in spir­it, if not in exe­cu­tion.

Unlike Brown, Pyper doesn’t insult the read­er with paper-thin heroes, card­board cut-out vil­lains, and a cliffhang­er in every para­graph. Pyper rec­og­nizes the val­ue of the slow burn, tak­ing the time to set his plot in motion through char­ac­ter inter­play, clean prose, and effec­tive­ly unset­tling atmos­phere. He also har­bours an intrin­sic knowl­edge of how to scare the read­er, real­iz­ing when (tak­ing a cue from Stephen King) to go for the ter­ror, the hor­ror, and the gross-out.

I’ve read most of Pyper’s work thus far (still need to get to The Trade Mis­sion), and The Demo­nolo­gist is one of his best, a night­mar­ish trek that puts Pyper firm­ly in the Peter Straub fir­ma­ment.

And there you have it. Three book reviews, three books you darn well should read.