El Dorado by Dorothy Porter. Picador, 2007.
First line: The little girl's / dead hand / is sticking stiffly / up / as if reaching / to grab an angel's / foot.
A serial killer who calls themself El Dorado, is murdering children, leaving a gold thumbprint on the victims' foreheads. Unusually, the children are not subjected to any abuse, and they are killed almost gently. This is a killer who cares about children and the innocence of childhood.
Melbourne DI Bill Buchanan calls in his childhood friend Cath, now a Hollywood special affects expert, to help him. He's hoping she can provide a fresh perspective on the case. As the story unfolds it becomes clear that the solution to the case lies in Bill and Cath's childhood. As they reminisce, they slowly uncover the identity of the killer.
El Dorado is a wonderful book, extraordinarily beautifully written, and it grabbed me from that first stunning sentence. Alongside the investigation of the murder, it explores the themes of adult and childhood friendships, outsiders and betrayal, as it races to its dramatic climax.
Rough Trade by Dominique Manotti. Arcadia, 2001 (originally published in French, 1995)
First line: There's a girl sitting naked on the edge of a vast white bed in the middle of the room, with mirrors all around.
A young Thai girl is found dead in a fashion workshop in Paris' Le Sentier district. This is the heart of the city's rag trade, an industry which survives with the use of illegal labour, mostly Turkish. The investigation into her murder takes Superintendent Theo Daquin into the murky underworld of Paris.
Set in 1980, against the backdrop of the Turkish workers' fight for legal rights, this complex but realistic plot takes in drug trafficking, illegal immigrants, sweat shops, police corruption, paedophile rings, and pornographic and snuff videos. Rough Trade is dark, gritty and uncompromising and is a gripping read.
Rough Trade won the French Crime Writers' Association Award, and Dominique Manotti won the Crime Writers Association 2008 International Dagger for her more recent work, Lorraine Connection.
I had never heard of Manotti before finding this by chance at the library only a short time before her CWA Dagger award was announced. If her other books are anything like as good as Rough Trade I can well see how she won this award.
A Deadly Business by Lenny Bartulin. Scribe, 2008.
First line: It was perfectly clear to him now, dangling in the wet tussock cleavage of a broad hill that slid towards the headland cliffs.
Sydney second-hand book seller, Jack Susko is barely scraping a living, so he jumps at the chance to make some real money when the wealthy Hammond Kasprowicz offers him well above market value for as many copies of the books of poetry written by Edward Kass that he can find. What he doesn’t realise is that in doing so he’s going to get himself mixed in one seriously dysfunctional family.
Written in a delightfully wry style reminiscent of the classics of hard-boiled crime fiction, A Deadly Business has everything you could want - a reluctant hero, a femme fatale, nasty bad guys, corrupt police, violence, twists aplenty, and dry humour. Bartulin is currently working on the second book in the series, and I for one, can’t wait.