Dashiell Hammett A 75th-Anniversary Tribute
Greetings again. If this latest newsletter seems a bit overdue, it's because those of us manning January Magazine's cluttered crime fiction desk have been so busy lately with other assignments.
New and Noteworthy
Anybody who thought the success of Martin Cruz Smith's Gorky Park (1981), his first novel featuring Moscow detective Arkady Renko, was a publishing fluke must be amazed to see Renko back now in his fourth heavily publicized outing. Havana Bay (Random House) follows the cynical and lonely -- but somehow endearing -- Renko as he spends his own savings on a trip to Cuba, where he intends to look into the death of an old acquaintance, a KGB bureaucrat whose body was recently found afloat on Havana Bay. But was it actually his friend? Most local police, disdainful of Russians in this post-Soviet era, aren't interested in helping Renko learn the truth. But he finally receives assistance from a surprisingly idealistic woman cop who gets him to let down his hair a bit, and also helps him negotiate the tight conspiratorial turns of Smith's latest novel. Atop its complex plotting, the book offers a moving snapshot of Havana in all its disheveled glory.
From humid Atlanta, we turn to chilly northern Minnesota, the setting for William Kent Krueger's Boundary Waters (Pocket Books). After his star turn in last year's Iron Lake, ex-sheriff Cork O'Connor returns to probe the disappearance of the mono-monikered Shiloh, a former druggie and current charts-topping country-western singer, who seems to have been swallowed up by two million acres of wilderness land on the Canadian border. A friend of Shiloh's mother (whose long-ago murder was never solved), O'Connor leads a search party that includes FBI agents and an ex-con, but they're not the only ones looking for the songbird. Some bad guys are also on Shiloh's trail, perhaps hoping to shut her up now that regression therapy has evidently revealed to her the face of her mother's slayer. Adding depth and novelty to Krueger's story is his interest in local Native American culture.
Slightly darker than some of Dana Stabenow's previous Kate Shugak mysteries, Hunter's Moon (Putnam) finds the former Anchorage, Alaska, investigator helping to lead a party of German computer executives on a hunting expedition. With their corporation being probed by the FBI, the CIA, and the Securities and Exchange Commission, this excursion seems like just the antidote for anxiety. But things turn ugly after one of the execs is shot to death. And he's only the first to go.... Corpses mount even faster in Blair S. Walker's Hidden In Plain View (Avon). Only here the dead are young African-American professionals in Baltimore, all of whom are discovered nude in their bathtubs, their faces covered with Confederate flag decals. Having already solved a spate of neo-Nazi bombings and murders (see 1997's Up Jumped The Devil), newspaperman Darryl Billups looks into the decal slayings, only to put his own career and life in jeopardy.
Historical and modern-day mysteries intertwine in Kathy Reichs' Death Du Jour (Scribner). This sequel to Deja Dead (1997) starts with Montreal forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan digging up a church graveyard, searching for the oddly missing remains of a 19th-century nun who's in line for sainthood. But Tempe is soon drawn away to analyze half a dozen murder victims found in and around the scene of a house burning -- corpses that may connect this incident to other killings at a South Carolina commune. Rest assured that by book's end, and amidst a flurry of intriguing forensic details, Tempe will have solved both new and old crimes.... A naked woman fleeing through the streets introduces Hawaiian private eye John Caine to his third case in Emerald Flash (St. Martin's Press), by Charles Knief. Naturally, ex-SEAL Caine steps in to help the woman, Margo Halliday, who is running from her abusive former hubby. But his gallantry only leads him into further trouble when, months later, Halliday's ex is found shot to death in her condominium.... In Robert Goddard's Caught In the Light (Henry Holt), we find photographer Ian Jarrett shooting winter-bound Vienna. While there, he falls for sexy Marian Esguard, who convinces him to leave his family and run away with her -- only to tell him at the last minute that they can't be together, after all. Confused, Jarrett searches for his beloved, only to discover that he's pursuing a ghost: The real Esguard, who had claimed to be the inventor of modern photography, died in the 1820s. So who is the woman who stole Ian's heart and lies at the center of this mystery involving missing historical photos, a financier with dubious motives, and yes, reincarnation?
The paperback original Where There's Smoke, There's Murder (Avon Twilight), by Harry Paul Lonsdale, may be the ideal read for today's growing population of cigar enthusiasts. Set in Cambridge, Massachusetts, it features New York cop-turned-cigarshop-owner Nick Chase, who returns to his old investigative ways after a loyal customer is murdered and clues point to this incident's connection with a 50-year-old crime.... Also from the paperback racks comes Mary Daheim's latest light-hearted bed-and-breakfast cozy, Legs Benedict (Avon Twilight). Imagine hostess Judith McMonigle Flynn's amazement when a guest known as "Mr. Smith" kicks off, only to be revealed as the notorious hit man Legs Benedict. And wouldn't you know it? Every other guest in the place had some motive for wishing Legs would take a long walk off a short pier. Daheim's books aren't memorable, but they rarely fail to entertain.... And don't miss the paperback reissue of Beyond the Grave (Carroll & Graf), by Bill Pronzini and his wife Marcia Muller. Originally published in 1986, it follows parallel investigations: one by 1890s San Francisco detective John Quincannon, who is on a quest for a treasure chest buried in 1846; the other by modern museum director Elena Oliverez, whose use of Quincannon's case notes may lead her to the lost fortune -- if she isn't murdered first.
Finally, consider three new novels set in the British Isles. First up: Kissed a Sad Goodbye (Bantam Doubleday), by Texas resident Deborah Crombie, whose last novel featuring Scotland Yard Superintendent Duncan Kincaid and Sergeant Gemma James, Dreaming of the Bones (1997), was an Edgar Award nominee. In this adventure, Kincaid is called away from a weekend with his ex-wife's 11-year-old son to examine the Docklands murder of Annabelle Hammond, the head of her family's tea company. Though a lovely woman, Hammond was capable of inspiring not only passion, but jealousy and hatred in others, and her murder appears to have roots deep in the past.... Ploughing Potter's Field (Collins Crime) comes with an excellent pedigree: Its author is Phil Lovesey, son of the redoubtable Peter Lovesey (Upon a Dark Night, etc.). But Potter's Field is an engaging story on its own, a look into the tormented mind of an imprisoned killer, as plumbed by interviewer Adrian Rawlings. Unfortunately for Rawlings, what he hears is having an effect on his own psyche.
The winner of Britain's prestigious John Creasey Memorial Award, Garnethill (Carroll & Graf), by Denise Mina, takes its name from the highest point in Glasgow, Scotland. But it finds theater ticket-office worker Maureen O'Donnell at a low point in her life, poor, with a dysfunctional family and a psychologist boyfriend who's not only married, but also abusive. Then, one morning, Maureen wakes to find that boyfriend strapped to her kitchen chair, with his throat slit. Not surprisingly, Maureen -- claiming a history of mental illness -- is the prime suspect. Even she isn't sure of her own innocence, until she starts to link this murder with a nightmarish series of recent crimes. I like what another reviewer said of Mina, that she "writes with a pen dipped alternately in gallows humor and rage." Oh, how true.
Robert Crais' seventh Elvis Cole novel, L.A. Requiem (Doubleday, June), has something of a checkered past. The novel was expected out last January, under the title Devil's Cantina. But as I understand it, the author pulled his book from its publisher at the last minute and sold it to another publisher, which changed the novel's name and insisted on Crais altering its ending. The result is an ambitious work that may mark a turning point in this series. Although it centers on the disappearance and death of Karen Garcia, the daughter of a friend of Elvis' unofficial partner, Joe Pike, L.A. Requiem is also packed with peeks into Pike's previously guarded past. Especially important to this tale is his strained history as a Los Angeles cop -- a history that comes back to bite Pike, after a second person dies and LA's finest haul him in for the crime.
The 19th installment of Ralph McInerny's Father Dowling series is Grave Undertakings (St. Martin's Press, June). The puzzle this time has to do with the death of a local mobster and subsequent attempts to dig up his coffin.... Taking a break from his Nameless Detective series, Bill Pronzini presents a psychological thriller called Nothing But the Night (Walker, June). It follows Nick Hendryx, a man obsessed with finding his wife's hit-and-run killer, who believes that he has finally located the culprit: a man whose shell of respectability hides a crowd of personal demons no less daunting than Hendryx's own.... If you missed the British publication late last year of Minette Walters' The Breaker, an outstanding, red-herring-stuffed yarn about a hunt for the killer of a young mother, buy the American edition, to be released by Putnam in June.
Obsessive love is the theme of Nicci French's Killing Me Softly (Mysterious Press, July). Well recognized in England for her work, but new to American audiences, French here crafts the tale of Alice Loudon, a brainy and beautiful woman whose life seems to be going very much in a predictable direction. Until she suddenly falls under the overwhelming spell of famed mountaineer Adam Tallis. Two months into their relationship, they marry -- and only then does Alice start to wonder about her husband. Can she control the restrained violence she sees in Tallis? Should she be worried about the three women from his past who died "accidentally"? What does she really know about the man she promised to stay with "till death do us part?" French is a tight plotter, and she's expert at character development. Definitely a writer to follow.
In Their Own Words
We asked 1999 Edgar winner Steve Hamilton to tell us about his experiences at the April 29 Mystery Writers of America awards ceremony and fill us in on his plans for a sequel to A Cold Day In Paradise. His response:
Gone But Not Forgotten
Roderick Thorp, best-selling author of such novels as The Detective (1966), died of a heart attack on April 28 in Los Angeles. He was 63. His work may actually be best known in movie form. The Detective, for instance, was made into a 1968 movie of the same name starring Frank Sinatra and Lee Remick. Another of his books, Nobody Lasts Forever (1979), was the basis for the 1988 Bruce Willis vehicle Die Hard. However, one of Thorp's most interesting works -- The River (1995), a fictionalized account of the Green River Killer -- never made it to the silver screen.
Best Paperback Original: The Widower's Two-step, by Rick Riordan (Bantam).
The Private Eye Writers of America recently announced its 1999 Shamus Award nominees. Winners will be announced on July 10, during the Eyecon '99 convention in St. Louis. Nominees include:
Best P.I. Novel:
Best First P.I. Novel: Like a Hole In the Head, by Jen Banbury (Little Brown); Dead Low Tide, by Jamie Katz (HarperCollins); A Cold Day In Paradise, by Steve Hamilton (St. Martin's Press); Zen and the Art of Murder, by Elizabeth Cosin (St. Martin's Press).
Best Paperback P.I. Novel: Too Easy, by Philip Depoy (Dell); Butchers Hill, by Laura Lippman (Avon); The Widower's Two-step, by Rick Riordan (Bantam); Death In a City of Mystics, by Janice Steinberg (Penguin); Murder Manual, by Steve Womack (Ballantine).
For a complete list of Shamus nominees in all categories, visit The Gumshoe Site.
"The Rap Sheet" is written exclusively for January Magazine by Crime Fiction Editor J. Kingston Pierce. Publishers are encouraged to e-mail Pierce with information about new and forthcoming books.
January/February 2005 | October-November 2004 | September 2004 | July 2004 | June 2004 | April 2004 | February/March 2004 | January 2004 | November 2003 | September/October 2003 | July/August 2003 | June 2003 | May 2003 | April 2003 | March 2003 | February 2003 | January 2003 | December 2002 | November 2002 | October 2002 | September 2002 | August 2002 | July 2002 | June 2002 | May 2002 | Rap Sheet #1 | Rap Sheet #2 | Rap Sheet #3 | Rap Sheet #4 | Rap Sheet #5 | Rap Sheet #6 | Rap Sheet #7 | Rap Sheet #8 | Rap Sheet #9 | Rap Sheet #10 |