An Alpine Mystery

Why does snow make it easier to murder?

An Alpine Mystery

Richard Armitage is an English actor best known for starring in the Hobbit trilogy and in the recent eight-episode streaming series “Fool Me Once.” But it turns out, he’s also a writer. His debut novel, Geneva, offers a sophisticated mystery set in the Swiss city and involving biotech and a lot of snow.

In “Fool Me Once,” he plays the scion of a British pharmaceutical family who somehow appears on a nanny-cam after his untimely death. Armitage’s alpine saga is no less mysterious. In it, a Nobel Prize-winning scientist becomes a target of assassination after she’s tricked into endorsing a neurological implant that could transform society.

No spoilers here, but Armitage has ably bridged two creative efforts. Unlike some onscreen personalities who use their celebrity to sell novels (Jim Lehrer and Steve Martin come to mind), he is not really famous in either sphere. He is a good actor and a good writer, yes. But if he were just one or the other, that would be fine.

Armitage’s novel appeared in the March issue of TripFiction, a monthly British newsletter, under the heading “10 Great Thrillers Set in the Alps.” The others on the list were written by non-actors, but his was the only title that caught my eye — even before I knew about the author’s moonlighting.

The main list in the issue is “10 Great Works of Historical Fiction,” two of which are by authors I’ve discussed before. Robert HarrisAn Officer and a Spy depicts the Dreyfus trial in electrifying detail and forms a fitting backdrop to the recent resurgence of antisemitism worldwide. Harris relies heavily on transcripts from the trial, and his novel reminds us that France, that most Catholic country, was a major collaborator in the Nazi persecution of Jews during WWII.

The other book on the list that I’d single out is one of John Steinbeck’s best, Cannery Row, a nostalgic view of a California completely buried by the state’s current incarnation. In the 1930s, cannery workers could actually afford to live in Monterey County.

TripFiction’s February newsletter spotlighted Louise Penny and the terroir of Quebec, the setting for her Inspector Gamache series. Its first volume, Still Life, which has Gamache investigating a murder in Three Pines, was made into a not-too-highly-rated 2013 movie and, more recently, a limited TV series starring Alfred Molina.

There are 19 books in Penny’s series, and my favorite is The Beautiful Mystery. It’s set in the isolated monastery of Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups and involves murder in the choir and spiritual challenges for Gamache and his assistant, Jean-Guy Beauvoir. It has less of Quebec culture but won several awards. And like in Armitage’s novel, there’s lots of snow.

Darrell Delamaide, a journalist, is the author of two novels and two works of nonfiction.

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