"What makes New York unique among public places in America is that the narrowness of its geography forces its citizens to confront face-to-face, every day, the diversity of their world. Here, every conceivable age, class, race, profession, political and philosophical viewpoint, sexual persuasion, temperament, and social style are on display. In the city's crowded public spaces ... New Yorkers find themselves presented with nothing less than the entire glorious, maddening, imperfect spectacle of the modern world itself." -- Ric Burns and James Sanders, New York: An Illustrated History
Is it really any wonder that New York City has generated such a landslide of fiction over the years? By itself, it is almost a fantastical place -- too much all at once to be believed, a metropolis of the imagination that is "greater than the sum of its constituent parts," to quote writer Luc Sante. E.B. White once likened New York to poetry: "The island of Manhattan," he commented half a century ago, "is without any doubt the greatest human concentrate on earth, the poem whose magic is comprehensible to millions of permanent residents but whose full meaning will always remain elusive." Many authors -- from William Dean Howells and Ayn Rand to Tom Wolfe and Jay McInerney -- have sought to capture a bit of that poetry inside their own fiction, with varying success.
And it's not only mainstream fiction that has found a commodious home in the city. While Los Angeles may forever be associated most with Raymond Chandler and Ross Macdonald, New York's crime fiction associations have always been more diverse. Ellery Queen, Ed McBain, S.J. Rozan, Avram Davidson, Rex Stout, Andrew Vachss, even Isaac Asimov -- they've all found in the Big Apple enough worms around which to construct their modern stories of mystery and malevolence. But there's an equally impressive number of authors who, over the last two decades, have drawn their inspiration from this city's heritage. Think of Caleb Carr's two historical novels, The Alienist (1994) and The Angel of Darkness (1997). Think of the late William L. DeAndrea's wonderfully lighthearted romp, The Lunatic Fringe (1980). Think of Maan Meyers' 1996 The House on Mulberry Street (and earlier entries in the Tonneman series), or the pseudonymous J.D. Christilian's Scarlet Women (1996), or E.L. Doctorow's The Waterworks (1994), or Andrew Bergman's Jack Levine novels, including Tender Is Levine (2001), or William Marshall's distinguished pair of Virgil Tillman tales, The New York Detective (1989) and Faces in the Crowd (1991).
Now add to that list two more books, released by St. Martin's Press over the last six months, that do much to uphold New York's reputation for spawning puzzles from the past: Suspension, by Richard E. Crabbe, and On Night's Shore, by Randall Silvis.
Suspension should have been one of my nominees for the best books of 2000, but unfortunately, I didn't read this work in time to include it. Set in 1883, it revolves around construction of the Brooklyn Bridge ... and a plot, cooked up by vengeful former Confederate soldiers, to destroy that grand span before it can be completed. Intent on spoiling their conspiracy is Sergeant Detective Tom Braddock, a seasoned and savvy cop whose commitment to the public trust is undermined by his having occasionally assisted his crooked superiors on the force. Author Crabbe's flair for portraying in words the atmosphere of old New York compares favorably with that of Caleb Carr. Describing three sea gulls sitting motionless on a bridge cable, for instance, he writes: "Like gargoyles they seemed, formed in stone. The moon shone ghostly pale on still, gray feathers. Lost souls of the harbor, they huddled together in the dark, wing to wing. No lamplight burned to unhood the night." Yet it is Suspension's patiently evolving and suspense-laden storyline, plus its richly developed cast of characters (including real-life bridge builder Washington Roebling and his remarkable wife, Emily) that make this book worth re-reading. I only hope that Crabbe has a sequel in mind for the near future.
On Night's Shore begins with a bang, as 10-year-old street arab Augie Dubbins watches a desperate young woman in 1840 throw a baby from a warehouse into the chill Hudson River, then follow the infant into the drink herself. ("And what I remember now," Augie comments, "is the way her dress ballooned out around her slender legs, and how even as she fell, tilting sideways, she tried to hold the hem against her thighs, and the purling fluttering sound the fabric made, rippling like a torn kite, all the way to the water.") Trying to make some money by selling his first-person account of this odd tragedy to curious passersby, he happens to meet a poverty-plagued journalist by the name of Edgar Allan Poe, who thinks there might be still more money in expanding on the facts as Augie knows them. Together, Poe and his precocious assistant set out to determine what drove that woman to suicide, and in the process they encounter an emaciated assassin, a burgher capitalizing on -- and manipulating -- his city's progress, and the two very different women around whom Poe has shaped so much of his life and life's work. Silvis uses Poe as effectively here as Harold Schechter did in Nevermore (1999), though his story is made somewhat less credible (and a bit annoying at times) by its frequent foreshadowing of characters or events that will be integral to Poe's later fiction.
With either of these books -- or any of those I mentioned before -- you witness New York in all of its maddening, imperfect and sometimes poetic glory. And you realize that the city has always been this way, and probably always will be. Thank goodness.
One additional note before I serve up this latest helping of "The Rap Sheet." I've made a slight but symbolic change in the newsletter. I used to clearly separate books debuting in Great Britain from those being published in the United States. However, what I thought was a logical organization caused some confusion in the "Future Felonies" section, where I would first have to run through a tally of titles scheduled to appear over a several-month period in the States, then start all over again chronologically with novels premiering in the UK. So, with this edition I have decided, instead, to treat all books alike, mixing British titles in among American ones. I shall identify British books in the simplest manner possible, usually by attaching a "UK" to the names of their publishers. This integration only makes sense, given that (1) my readership is not confined to the States and (2) it is so much easier today than it used to be to procure works from either side of the Atlantic -- inviting us to further expand and enhance our appreciation of modern crime fiction.
J. Kingston Pierce
New and Noteworthy
Forget J.A. Jance. Forget Earl Emerson. The best writer of Seattle-oriented crime fiction these days is a former English teacher named G.M. ("Jerry") Ford. And he proves this with his just-released seventh novel, Fury (Morrow), about a rapist and serial killer who's set to die by lethal injection -- until the prosecution's chief witness suddenly recants her testimony. It seems she lied in court to cover up an unwanted pregnancy. But with Seattle's mayor and police authorities refusing to re-examine the case, it's up to the publisher of a third-rate tabloid and a discredited reporter named Frank Corso to stop the execution. If they can. Ford has already scored national popularity with half a dozen books, including last year's The Deader the Better, that feature an underachieving but persistent Seattle private eye, Leo Waterman. With Fury, though, "I wanted to try something different," explains the 55-year-old author. "I was starting to feel sorry for Leo. I'd had him shot and beaten up and going for years without getting laid. We both needed a change." So he decided to create a new, non-Waterman series, beginning with a serial-killer tale "that demythifies the character. After all, real serial killers aren't exotic like Hannibal Lecter; they're just like your brother Frank." Fury's convicted murderer is a hateful and sartorially challenged hick. Yet what really makes this novel shine are protagonist Corso, the privacy-obsessed former New York Times star, and Ford's wry observations about life in America's damp caffeine capital ("Much like the weather, nobody talked about the traffic anymore. Sitting for hours breathing catalytic converter fumes had become such a fact of life that taking notice was now considered positively rural"). Tightly written and tension filled, Fury deserves to be a publishing rage.
Often compared with P.D. James is Deborah Crombie, whose A Finer End (Bantam) -- her seventh novel featuring Scotland Yard detectives (and lovers) Duncan Kincaid and Gemma Jones -- places the pair both at a crossroads in their relationship and in the middle of an eyebrow-raising murder investigation that sends them to Glastonbury, the mythical last resting place of King Arthur and his beloved Guinevere. Kincaid's architect cousin is there trying to decipher a 1,000-year-old secret that has supposedly been transmitted to him through "automatic writing" by a long-dead monk, Brother Edmund. Did you get all that? Hey, I said this story was strange. Yet it still contains the elements for which Crombie's fiction is known. Especially noteworthy is Finer End's cast of colorful secondary players -- from a pregnant teenager who is psychically connected to the ruins of Glastonbury's historic abbey, to the Company of Watchers, spirits who reportedly guard King Arthur until he can rise again. ... Fans of the British police procedural will also want to find Frank Smith's Thread of Evidence (St. Martin's Minotaur). Detective Chief Inspector Neil Paget -- last seen in Candles for the Dead (1999) -- must sort out the truth behind the untimely hotel room death of an overly ambitious contractor, Jim Bolen. Suspects include Bolen's brother, Harry, with whom he'd had a very public argument shortly before his demise, as well as a teenage prostitute named Vicki Lane, who the cops think may have knifed Jim Bolen when he got too rough with her. Only when the killer doesn't see the Bolen investigation progressing as planned does he risk revealing himself to DCI Paget.
In Louisiana Hotshot (Forge), a sequel to her popular 82 Desire (1998), novelist Julie Smith has black computer whiz Talba Wallis -- aka the Baroness de Pontalba, poet laureate of New Orleans' café society -- winning employment with a crusty old private eye named Eddie Valentino. The pair's struggle to establish a working relationship provides much of this book's attraction, but its plot revolves around a girl named Cassandra who is being preyed upon by a rap star's hanger-on. ... A much different sort of African-American female protagonist takes the lead in Norman Kelley's Black Heat (Amistad Press). She's New Yorker Nina Halligan, a former prosecutor turned investigator -- "a little bit Shaft, a little bit Charlie's Angels," according to the publisher. This story is rooted in the long-ago assassination of a civil-rights leader named Malik Martin and the subsequent nervous breakdown of Martin's movie sex-goddess wife, Veronica. Now, a quarter-century later, Veronica wants the attitude-packing Halligan to find her lost daughter. Naturally, obstacles stand in her way, not the least of which are a black evangelist, who's setting up church franchises derided as "McChurches," and Manhattan's finest, who may have had a role in Malik Martin's murder. Although the suspense and action in Black Heat will attract many, what may be most memorable here are Kelley's astute references to black culture and history. ... One of the more unusual recent releases is Rosewood's Ashes (Intrigue Press), by engineer/novelist Aileen Schumacher. It's a story told in parallel timelines, the most crucial one set in the small town of Rosewood, Florida, in 1923. In that year, Rosewood saw a lynch mob rise in response to accusations that a white woman had been raped by a black man. The mob's retribution didn't stop until the town was burned to the ground and a number of its residents massacred. Jump ahead now to the present, when pregnant engineer Tory Travers and her boyfriend, El Paso detective David Alvarez, fly to Gainsville, Florida, to visit her dad, who's in a coma after a hit-and-run incident. During that trip, they meet a young woman who is busy with a project that will make restitution to the Rosewood survivors and descendents of those who perished in the massacre -- a project to which Travers' father had pledged a great deal of money. When this woman later dies in what looks like another hit-and-run, Alvarez leaves his lover's side to ascertain whether there is more than coincidence behind the deaths of people linked to Rosewood. The problem with Rosewood's Ashes is that Schumacher's modern story is continually upstaged by her historical sections.
While readers in Britain are preparing to receive Paul Johnston's fifth novel, The House of Dust (Hodder & Stoughton, June), his third outing for near-future P.I. Quintilian Dalrymple has finally been published in America. Set in the independent city-state of Edinburgh in 2025, Water of Death (St. Martin's Minotaur) finds the wisecracking Quint sweating through a particularly steamy summer and, simultaneously, trying to figure out who's poisoning local citizens with contraband whiskey. His investigation isn't helped at all by the nervousness of Edinburgh's governing body, the Council of City Guardians, which worries that poisoning deaths will decimate the local tourist trade. Nor is it made easier by the fact that Quint's former lover, dissident Katharine Kirkwood, has come back just in time to become a suspect in these murders -- the chief suspect, if Dalrymple's present female companion, the burg's highest-ranking medical officer, has anything to say about it. While the novelty of Johnston's series has worn down some since his first installment, Body Politic, saw print in 1996, Water of Death still stands out for its deftly drawn characters and ability to mislead readers, to make them think they know where the plot is headed...and then shift gears entirely. (By the time you reach the end of Chapter 19, you'll have no doubt of Johnston's skill at this.) And like Ian Rankin, Johnston presents an Edinburgh that is lashed alternately by hope and torment, a place always worth revisiting.
Speaking of Rankin, his 12th John Rebus novel, The Falls (Orion -- UK), recently reached British shelves. It begins with the missing Philippa Balfour, an art history student at the University of Edinburgh and the daughter of a wealthy banker. The ever-intuitive Detective Inspector Rebus figures this is more than the case of a rebellious child causing her parents to worry -- especially after the discovery of a small coffin that contains a carved wooden doll. Linking Philippa's disappearance to an Internet role-playing game and the mystery of 16 more small coffins that were found on a local hillside back in 1836, Rebus is off on yet another investigation that (like Set in Darkness) has its feet both in the past and the present. ... Rooted not so far back in history is The Company of Strangers (HarperCollins -- UK), by Robert Wilson, whose previous novel, A Small Death in Lisbon, won the British Crime Writers Association Gold Dagger Award for Fiction. Whereas Small Death offered two parallel timelines, Strangers is told in linear fashion, beginning during World War II and leading to a shocking denouement set shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall. In between, we make the acquaintance of Andrea Aspinall, a comely but callow British mathematician who in 1944 escapes bomb-plagued London and her sheltering mother to work as a spy for the Allies at a time when speculation is high that Adolf Hitler might be developing atomic weapons. Under the guise of a new name, "Anne Ashworth," she sets off for Lisbon, Portugal, hungry for new experiences and imagining that the spy game will be just that -- a game. However, the stakes prove much higher. She encounters and then falls in love with a German military attaché, Karl Voss, whose commitment to the Nazi war effort has been seriously undermined by his brother's death during the Battle of Stalingrad. For these two, though, there can be no peace. Andrea finds herself in a dysfunctional Portuguese household, pursued by the husband and targeted by his crazed wife, who sees in Andrea a rival. Voss, meanwhile, is implicated in a coup attempt and taken back to Germany, where he reportedly perishes during interrogation. His death is the catalyst for everything that follows -- Andrea's marriage to a Portuguese major, her struggle against Portugal's fascist regime, even her eventual return to London, where she hopes to heal decades worth of wounds. At 464 pages, The Company of Strangers is a complicated and compelling work, not quite so brutal as A Small Death in Lisbon, but no less thrilling. And in Andrea Aspinall, it boasts a protagonist of uncommon and enduring depth -- one stranger with whom you are most pleased to keep company.
It's hard to read Robert B. Parker's Potshot (Putnam) without being reminded that his first western historical novel, Gunman's Rhapsody (Putnam) -- in which he recounts events leading up to Wyatt Earp's role in the 1881 O.K. Corral shootout in Tombstone, Arizona -- is due for publication in June. Parker's books have always borne characteristics familiar from westerns, but there's no mistaking Potshot's debt to that other genre. This story finds Boston P.I. Spenser being hired by the winsome wife of a hot-headed fellow who was supposedly victimized by a gang of desert rats and drunks ("the Dell") preying on the town of Potshot, Arizona. But after asking around a while, our hero starts to suspect that the wife -- and most of the movers in town -- are holding information back, information that may put them in as bad a light as the Dell. To even the odds, Spenser calls out his own private cavalry, including his usual sidekick, Hawk, and a selection of other toughs who've lent helping hands during his recent adventures. Just like Earp and his cohorts stood up against the Clantons and McLaurys in Tombstone, Spenser and company must match wits -- and weaponry -- with the Dell gang in order to bring peace to Potshot. While Parker fills these pages with his usual, admirably spare prose and rapid-fire dialogue, the book doesn't offer any new information about his series protagonists, and you can see the resolution coming like a train on a straight track. My advice: If you want a western, which is what Potshot really is, hold out for Gunman's Rhapsody. ... Set, like Potshot, in the modern West -- New Mexico, to be exact -- is Deadly Sin (Avocet Press), by P.J. Grady, whose Maximum Insecurity (1999) was nominated for a Shamus Award for the Best First Private Eye Novel. In this second outing for Norteña detective Matty Madrid, she's puzzling over both the theft of a 150-year-old statue of San Miguel and the killing of a parish priest's well-to-do mistress.
Despite the bizarre premise of Eric Garcia's two novels -- that dinosaurs didn't all die off 65 million years ago; the survivors merely costumed themselves to blend in with "ape" culture -- there's something utterly charming about them. In both Anonymous Rex (1999) and the new Casual Rex (Villard), we watch Velociraptor private eye Vincent Rubio stumble about Los Angeles like Philip Marlowe's naïve and horny reptilian relation, running alternately into trouble and increasingly outlandish (read: hilarious as hell) situations. In Casual, Rubio and his partner, Ernie Watson, are working two cases: trying to get their hands on their dino landlord's missing prosthetic penis, and investigating a cult of "Progressives" who have convinced Ernie's former brother-in-law, Rupert, to rediscover his saurian roots. They do better with that second assignment, kidnapping and then deprogramming Rupert. But when he supposedly commits suicide shortly thereafter, the dino detectives decide to probe further, eventually jetting off to a secluded Hawaiian island where even Rubio's attraction to a seductive Progressive doesn't blind him to the fact that this cult is not nearly so benign as it seems. Though Casual could have used some more rigorous copy editing, its dialogue is sharply delivered and Garcia's off-hand mentions of well-known personalities (including FBI honcho J. Edgar Hoover and proto-Mormon Joseph Smith) who were also disguised dinosaurs never cease to entertain. Or to suggest other more contemporary personalities who are either dinos or less-brilliant apes. My own votes: Bill Clinton (dino), George W. Bush (ape); Elizabeth Hurley (dino), Pamela Anderson (ape); Tony Bennett (dino), Ricky Martin (ape).
Meanwhile, Collins reports on his Web site that he's working on a 12th Heller novel, in which the P.I. "returns to Chicago (at the request of many fans) for some mob crime doings; right now I'm calling it Chicago Lowdown, but we'll see. No famous crime this time -- it's about the Kefauver [organized crime] hearings and the death of Heller's cop friend, Bill Drury (a real, albeit not famous, unsolved crime)." ... With their disparate backgrounds -- she's a Chinese-American private eye in her late 20s, he's her older, more cynical partner -- Lydia Chin and Bill Smith have provided author S.J. Rozan with an intriguing range of plot possibilities. Those novels in which Chin takes the investigative lead (such as A Bitter Feast, 1998) tend to center around New York City's Chinatown, while the Smith yarns (including Stone Quarry, 1999) cover a broader geographical ground, but often a narrower contextual one. Both work well. However, in Reflecting the Sky (St. Martin's Minotaur), Rozan sends this pair out on a case together -- one that removes them both from their familiar milieus -- and the result isn't nearly so satisfying as her previous works. The detectives' assignment seems elementary at first: fly to Hong Kong and hand over a family heirloom to the grandson of Gao's recently departed colleague. But before they can complete that task, the grandson is kidnapped and his parents are hit with two conflicting ransom demands. Lydia and Bill feel obliged to help, but their assistance is rebuffed by the boy's family. Not unreasonably suspicious, they pursue the case anyway, learning their way around the complexities of Hong Kong society as they go. Rozan may have hoped to explore her two characters more deeply through their extended interaction here, but the foreign setting -- which leads to textbook fish-out-of-water situations -- and confusion that results from too many characters with difficult-to-remember names detracts from what might have been a valuable experiment.
I confess to having approached another Stephen J. Cannell tale with trepidation. Although the man is due immense respect for his work on such TV series as The Rockford Files and Wiseguy, his debut novel, The Plan (1995) -- which suggested that organized crime has been scheming for decades to move someone friendly to their causes into the White House -- was horrible, the sort of book you feel stupid for having read. It's no wonder, then, that I passed on his next four offerings. But after seeing a few laudatory mentions of The Tin Collectors (St. Martin's Press), I thought I'd give Cannell's latest offering a shot. And I was pleasantly surprised. The story begins with a Los Angeles cop, Shane Scully, fatally shooting his former partner, Ray Molnar, in order to prevent the latter from killing his own wife. Of course, what the Internal Affairs cops -- the despised "tin collectors" of the title -- focus on is that Scully and Molnar's wife were once involved, and how that may have been a motive for murder. Scully knows he's clean, but nobody else seems to believe him, least of all a sharp and vengeful prosecutor named Alexa Hamilton. So, Scully seeks to clear his own name. And in the process, he stumbles onto Ray Molnar's secret life...as well as a tide of corruption that may have swallowed LA's highest officials. Cannell has grown as a novelist over the last half decade, his prose and character evolvement sharpening to match the lucidity of his dialogue. Yes, some of his plot twists are easily anticipated, and there's a fast-paced glibness to The Tin Collectors that suggests it's already being prepared for TV adaptation. But I can now actually say that I look forward to seeing the next Cannell book.
Elsewhere in Orange County, sheriff's deputy Joe Trona is busy protecting an eminent politician's turf in Silent Joe (Hyperion), by T. Jefferson Parker. The pol in question is Will Trona, who also happens to be Joe's adoptive father and the man who rescued him from an abusive childhood. Joe Trona's life now seems, in fact, more settled than he could have hoped -- until the elder Trona is murdered, and Joe's commitment to a vengeful path compels him to connect this slaying with a rich girl's kidnapping, the killings of Guatemalan immigrants, unexpected local gang alliances and a scheme to enrich Will Trona's political opponents. Ultimately, Joe must face his father's troubled past as well as his own. This is a suspenseful novel with some genuine heart behind it. ... Michael Nava declares that Rag and Bone (Putnam) is the seventh and last outing for Henry Rios, his gay Mexican-American lawyer in LA. In fact, Nava says it will be his last mystery, that he needs to compose different sorts of books in order to improve as a writer. If so, at least he's ended on a high note. Rag and Bone finds Rios recovering from a heart attack and rebuilding his relationship with his elder sister, Elena. This latter effort means sharing emotional baggage, including Elena's confession that she had a daughter, Vicky, 30 years ago and gave her up for adoption. The guilt she feels over that decision is soon to be exacerbated, as Vicky steps back into her life -- black and blue and trailing a son, Angelito. With assistance from his new romantic interest, a Mexican-American contractor, lawyer Rios tries to help mother and child. But unanswered questions bring with them emotional tension and uncertainty. Why, for instance, was Vicky tossed out of a women's shelter if she was really in need? And is she behind the slaying of her allegedly abusive husband? Around these intrigues, Nava constructs a scaffolding of legal and human issues that add to Rag and Bone's depth.
The entire British monarchy seems at risk in Anne Perry's 21st Thomas Pitt novel, The Whitechapel Conspiracy (Ballantine). After his testimony relegates a celebrated soldier to the gallows for murdering a traveler and antiquarian, the soldier's high-ranking friends contrive to remove Inspector Pitt from his command of Bow Street station. He is assigned, instead, to go undercover in the indigent London quarter of Spitalfields, which is supposedly rife with anarchist activity in that year, 1892. Although Pitt seems resigned to this exile, his wife, Charlotte, and their maid, Gracie -- with help from Gracie's reluctant suitor, Sergeant Samuel Tellman -- determine to clear the inspector's name. It's a mission that will not only unearth a wide-ranging plot to end the monarchy, but connect this conspiracy to the devilish doings of Jack the Ripper. Perry is to be commended for shedding light on the poorer side of London, and also for making good use of Gracie and Tellman, who play the most interesting parts in this drama, revealing more of themselves in the process. ... Actor Antoine Dubois has died in pre-Revolutionary Paris, supposedly during a murder-suicide involving his mistress. But Dubois' stepdaughter, Anne Cartier, a young vaudeville actress and teacher of the deaf in London, doesn't believe it. So, in Charles O'Brien's debut historical novel, Mute Witness (Poisoned Pen Press), she hies off to the European mainland where, with the aid of Colonel Paul de Saint-Martin of the Royal Highway Patrol, she plans to learn what really happened to her beloved relative. O'Brien, who holds a Ph.D. in history from Columbia University, expertly captures the class struggles that precipitated the French Revolution. But he also gives us, in Cartier, a terrific new addition to the ranks of amateur sleuths, a woman skilled at both acrobatics and imposture. ... Moving still deeper into the past, we find Black Lotus (St. Martin's Minotaur), Laura Joh Rowland's sixth novel set in 17th-century Japan. Sano Ichiro, the Shogun's sosakan-samu -- Most Honorable Investigator of Events, Situations and People -- looks into an arson murder at the Black Lotus temple, home to an enigmatic but influential Buddhist sect and its dynamic leader. The only witness to the incident is a teenage girl who fled the fire. Sano thinks the girl is at least complicit in this tragedy, but his wife, Reiko, disagrees. She uncovers rumors of brutality within the sect, but in order to bring her suspicions forward, she must disobey her husband and endanger their marriage.
More fulfilling is A Mystery of Errors (Forge), by Simon Hawke, who has detoured from his usual occupation as a science fiction/fantasy novelist (The Seeker, The Iron Throne) to introduce an engagingly lighthearted series that unites a young William Shakespeare with his new friend, Symington "Tuck" Smythe, as amateur sleuths in Elizabethan England. Meeting at a roadside inn, shortly after Tuck's uncommon run-in with a highway robber, the pair set off for London to make their careers in the theater. But they soon become mixed up with a would-be bride, whose campaign to avoid an arranged marriage is frustrated by her suitor's peculiar attempts to make her appear mad. If the resolution to at least part of the mystery here appears obvious several chapters ahead of its presentation, that doesn't spoil this yarn's delights -- from its evocation of the early London theater scene to its portrayal of Shakespeare as an erudite dramatist who isn't above the occasional street brawl. Comparisons between A Mystery of Errors and Edward Marston's Nicholas Bracewell series are obvious -- and not unwelcome. ... Another delightful dip into merry old England is provided by Marston's The Elephants of Norwich (Headline -- UK), the 11th entry in his fine Domesday series. At the center of this story is the theft of two golden miniature elephants, which a phlegmatic land baron, Richard de Fontenel, had been using to entice the younger lady Adelaide into marriage. Now, with those priceless pachyderms missing, de Fontenel risks losing Adelaide to a despised rival, Mauger Livarot -- a situation that makes him even less happy to be visited by Domesday commissioners Ralph Delchard and Gervase Bret. Accompanied by their wives, soldier Delchard and lawyer Bret have journeyed to Norwich intending to settle a land dispute between de Fontenel and Livarot. They hadn't expected to go on any treasure hunts, but de Fontenel refuses to cooperate until his elephants are returned, drawing Delchard and Bret into a puzzle that involves murder, church thefts and an anchorite's sense of justice. Somehow, though they are all arranged around similar themes, Marston manages to make each new Domesday book distinct and well worth the reading. The Elephants of Norwich is a splendid example. ... By the way, Marston enthusiasts should note that this author has two more works set for publication this coming August: The Devil's Apprentice, his 11th Bracewell novel, due out in the States from St. Martin's Minotaur; and The Repentant Rake, his third story (after The King's Evil and The Amorous Nightingale) to feature Restoration-era architect/detective Christopher Redmayne and Constable Jonathan Bale, due out in Britain from Headline.
Finally, for readers who are as interested in the people behind crime fiction as they are in the stories themselves come two works worth checking out. Chester Himes: A Life (Walker), by James Sallis, raises the profile of this African-American writer who not only created memorable characters such as "Coffin" Ed Johnson, but helped make black American society more than just an occasional backdrop in crime fiction. Women of Mystery: The Lives and Works of Notable Women Crime Novelists (St. Martin's Minotaur), by Martha Hailey DuBose, looks back at some of the earliest contributors to this genre -- Anna Katharine Green, Dorothy L. Sayers, etc. -- but also treats us to insights into the labors of modern practitioners such as Ruth Rendell, Minette Walters and Lilian Jackson Braun.
Susanna Jones' debut work, The Earthquake Bird (Picador -- UK, May), is described as a "chilling" and "haunting psychological crime novel." It opens with a murder in Tokyo and unrolls from there through a series of police interrogations that expose the "dangerously ambiguous" past of the chief suspect in this crime, a young English translator named Lucy Fly. Americans unwilling to order Earthquake Bird from Britain can see what all the hoopla is about in September, when Mysterious Press publishes the book in the States. The fuss over Jones' authorial premiere reminds me of the pre-press surrounding Mo Hayder's Birdman back in 1999. ... By the way, Hayder's second novel, The Treatment (Bantam -- UK), is due on shelves in early June. It brings us back into the grim orbit of Detective Inspector Jack Caffery as he endeavors to determine who tied a husband and wife to radiators in their own house and then left them to die of starvation and thirst, while taking their son away to a still more miserable fate. Caffery's pursuit of the killer is intensified by the fact that his own brother died after an abduction. A grim book, indeed, but certainly affecting. ... Southern California P.I. Kinsey Millhone has to deal with murder in both her professional and personal life in Sue Grafton's P is for Peril (Putnam, June). Although leery of the assignment, a cash-strapped Millhone takes on a missing-persons case involving a prosperous physician who has already run out on one family. At the same time, she must cope with the discovery that her new boyfriend and his brother murdered their parents a decade previously.
In A Traitor to Memory (Bantam, June), author Elizabeth George presents us with both a virtuoso violinist who has spontaneously lost his memory of music and his ability to play, and a woman who has been mysteriously run down by a car on a rainy evening in London. It's up to Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley and his crew to connect the two incidents and reveal a long-ago crime. ... Memory plays a part, too, in Betty Webb's Desert Noir (Poisoned Pen Press, June). Like Anne Perry's mid-19th-century inquiry agent, William Monk, modern-day Arizona private eye Lena Jones is trying to piece together her own past, after a childhood accident. She also hopes to get her whole life back on track after a bullet ended her career as a homicide cop. But in Desert Noir, she's busy enough just trying to figure out who ended the life of her art dealer friend, Clarice. Suspicion falls most heavily on Clarice's abusive husband, but as Jones delves into the Arizona art scene looking for answers, she'll learn more than she ever imagined. ... Watch for a new series from Tim Myers, who until now has written short stories. The first installment, Innkeeping with Murder (Berkley Prime Crime, June), introduces Alex Winston, proprietor of the Hatteras West Inn and Lighthouse, in the foothills of America's Blue Ridge Mountains. When one of the guests is found dead at the top of the lighthouse (an exact replica of the better-known one out on the North Carolina coast), Winston has to solve the crime before it leads to others and gives the inn a reputation for danger -- though it's hard to imagine the place not gaining such a rep, if Myers' series continues. ... And Steve Hamilton's third Alex McKnight mystery, The Hunting Wind, is blowing in from St. Martin's Minotaur come June.
Few recent sequels have been so avidly awaited as The Blood-dimmed Tide (Macmillan -- UK, June), the second book in what's now being publicized as author Rennie Airth's "John Madden trilogy." Madden, you'll recall, made his debut in 1999's River of Darkness as a Scotland Yard inspector pursuing a serial killer shortly after World War I. This new novel moves the timeframe up to 1932. Having resigned from the police force, Madden now lives with his wife and their two children on a farm in the Surrey countryside. But his peace is broken when he discovers a young girl's corpse near his property. With news of Adolf Hitler and the rise of Nazi Germany boiling in this tale's background, Madden is drawn into another disquieting serial-killer investigation. Reports are that Airth is already penning the final book in his trilogy, that installment to take place during World War II. ... Lindsey Davis' A Body in the Bath House (Century -- UK, June) sends sometimes-spy Marcus Didius Falco, under orders from Emperor Vespasian, off to the ends of the Roman Empire -- specifically, Britain -- in 75 AD to investigate corruption and "accidents" at the site of King Togidubnus' massive new villa (now known as Fishbourne Palace in Chichester). Unfortunately for Falco, his efforts to restore order at the building site make him the focus of malevolent attentions. ... Move ahead to the mid 14th century for Susanna Gregory's latest Matthew Bartholomew tale, An Order for Death (Little, Brown -- UK, June). Not convinced that theological disputes alone are behind a succession of murders among the religious orders in Cambridge, Bartholomew -- a physician and forensic sleuth -- pursues the real motives behind these homicides. ... In The Shape of Snakes (Putnam, July) -- her first book since The Breaker (1998) -- Minette Walters takes us to a strike-hobbled Britain in the late 1970s. There, in a rain-filled gutter in West London, a black woman known as "Mad Annie" dies. She hadn't been well liked; her neighbors claimed she was addled and abused her cats. But the woman who discovered her in the end is convinced that Annie was murdered, even though she's supposed to have remained silent in her last moments. What is the secret that will bind these two together for the next 20 years?
Rendered homeless by fire, Alaska musher Jessie Arnold decides it will be good therapy to wheel a friend's Winnebego back from Idaho. But when she picks up a teenage runaway in Sue Henry's new mystery, Dead North (Morrow, July), she doesn't realize that she's invited herself into the nightmare from which the boy is running. Now, with her lead dog, Tank, it's up to Jessie to stop a killer in his tracks. ... No matter how long Captain Gareth Owen -- the "Mamur Zapt," or head of Cairo's Secret Police -- is on the job, his work never seems to get any easier. That's obvious in The Face in the Cemetery (Collins Crime -- UK, July), which has Owen disconsolately rounding up enemy aliens from Egyptian streets in 1914 -- no simple task, as nationalities tend to blur in worldly Cairo, making it unclear who is and who is not German. Over the course of what are now 14 Mamur Zapt books, Pearce has done a marvelous job of re-capturing early-20th-century Cairo and filling it with quirky figures. ... Lustful modern-day antiques dealer/con man Lovejoy is back in Jonathan Gash's Every Last Cent (Macmillan -- UK, July). Troubled by the remarkable talent, as well as the discomforting honesty, of a young man named Mortimer, who shares Lovejoy's facility for telling fake antiques from the genuine articles -- and is rumored, in fact, to be his son -- the elder hunter must devise a way to prevent Mortimer from ruining the local trade. But his enlistment of a friendly sculptress in this scheme precipitates a string of tragedies that sends Lovejoy scurrying for protection.
When even Sherlock Holmes is stumped by dastardly intrigue in late-19th-century London, who else does Scotland Yard turn to but...professor James Moriarty. At least, that was the basis of two fine novels penned long ago by Michael Kurland: The Infernal Device (1978) and Death by Gaslight (1982). Nineteen years later, the Napoleon of Crime returns in The Great Game (St. Martin's Minotaur, August). ... Also back after a long hiatus: Toby Peters, the World War II-era Hollywood gumshoe whose previous wacky adventures have had him rubbing elbows with the Marx Brothers, Bela Lugosi, Mae West and others. In A Few Minutes Past Midnight (Carroll & Graf, August), he's working for Charlie Chaplin. Seems the legendary actor has been threatened with death unless he ends production on a film in which half a dozen wealthy matrons are wed and then killed for their money. Could there be a connection with the recent murders of six rich older women in LA? Despite the "help" of his usual motley crew, Peters may actually find out. ... Robert Crais is making a habit of ignoring his longtime protagonist, LA private eye Elvis Cole. His second stand-alone novel, Hostage, (Doubleday) is due out in August. ... Finally, Lawrence Block reports that he's written a new novel featuring his "self-help detective," Matthew Scudder: Hope to Die, due out in October from William Morrow (U.S.) and Orion (UK). "I had a feeling while I was writing it that it was coming out nicely," Block writes in the latest edition of his fan newsletter, "but it's hard to see the picture when you're standing inside the frame. When I ran it up the flagpole, everybody saluted; my publishers are more enthusiastic than I've ever seen them..."
Scottish writer Val McDermid has won this year's Los Angeles Times Book Prize in the mystery fiction category for her novel A Place of Execution (St. Martin's Minotaur). The award winner was announced on April 29 at the LA Festival of Books. Other contenders for this same commendation were: Purple Cane Road, by James Lee Burke (Doubleday); Blood Rain, by Michael Dibdin (Pantheon); Shame the Devil, by George P. Pelecanos (Little, Brown); and Cold Is the Grave, by Peter Robinson (Morrow).
Winners of the 2001 Edgar Allan Poe Awards, given out annually by the Mystery Writers of America, were announced in New York City on May 3. They included:
Best Novel: The Bottoms, by Joe R. Lansdale (Mysterious Press)
Also Nominated: A Place of Execution, by Val McDermid (St. Martin's Minotaur); A Dangerous Road, by Kris Nelscott (St. Martin's Minotaur); Red Light, by T. Jefferson Parker (Hyperion); The Whole Truth, by Nancy Pickard (Pocket Books)
Best First By an American Author: A Conspiracy of Paper, by David Liss (Random House)
Also Nominated: The Ice Harvest, by Scott Phillips (Ballantine); Death of a Red Heroine, by Qiu Xiaolong (Soho Press); Crow in Stolen Colors, by Marcia Simpson (Poisoned Pen Press, Berkley Prime Crime); Raveling, by Peter Moore Smith (Little, Brown)
Best Original Paperback: The Black Maria, by Mark Graham (Avon)
Also Nominated: Murder On St. Mark's Place, by Victoria Thompson (Berkley Prime Crime); Killing Kin, by Chassie West (Avon); The Kidnapping of Rosie Dawn, by Eric Wright (Perseverance Press); Pursuit and Persuasion, by Sally S. Wright (Multnomah)
Best Short Story: "Missing in Action," by Peter Robinson (Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine [EQMM], November 2000)
Also Nominated: "Delta Double-Deal," by Noreen Ayres (in The Night Awakens, MWA anthology, edited by Mary Higgins Clark; Pocket); "A Candle for Christmas," by Reginald Hill (EQMM, January 2000); "Twelve of the Little Buggers," by Matt Coward (EQMM, January 2000); "Spinning," by Kristine Kathryn Rusch (EQMM, July 2000)
Best Critical/Biographical: Conundrums for the Long Week-End: England, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Lord Peter Wimsey, by Robert Kuhn McGregor with Ethan Lewis (Kent State University Press)
Also Nominated: The Doctor and the Detective: A Biography of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, by Martin Booth (St. Martin's Minotaur); Women of Mystery: The Lives and Works of Notable Women Crime Novelists, by Martha Hailey Dubose (St. Martin's Minotaur); The Red-Hot Typewriter: The Life and Times of John D. Macdonald, by Hugh Merrill (St. Martin's Minotaur)
For a complete list of this year's Edgar winners, refer to The Gumshoe Site.
Winners of the 2001 Agatha Christie Awards, given out annually by Malice Domestic, were announced in Arlington, Virginia, on May 5. Winners were:
Best Novel: Storm Track, by Margaret Maron (Mysterious Press)
Also Nominated: He Shall Thunder in the Sky, by Elizabeth Peters (Morrow); The Floating Girl, by Sujata Massey (HarperCollins); Guns and Roses, by Taffy Cannon (Perseverance Press/John Daniel); Killer Wedding, by Jerrilyn Farmer (Avon)
Best First Novel: Death on a Silver Tray, by Rosemary Stevens (Berkley Prime Crime)
Also Nominated: Death Dances to a Reggae Beat, by Kate Grilley (Berkley Prime Crime); Death of an Amiable Child, by Irene Marcuse (Walker); Murder of a Small Town Honey, by Denise Swanson (Signet); Three Dirty Women and the Garden of Death, by Julie Wray Herman (Silver Dagger)
Best Non-Fiction: 100 Favorite Mysteries of the Century, edited by Jim Huang (Crum Creek Press)
Also Nominated: The American Regional Mystery, by Marvin Lachman (Crossover Press); The Complete Christie: An Agatha Christie Encyclopedia, by Matthew Bunson (Pocket); They Wrote The Book: Thirteen Women Mystery Writers Tell All, edited by Helen Windrath (Spinsters Ink); Women of Mystery: The Lives and Works of Notable Women Crime Novelists, by Martha Hailey Dubose (St. Martin's Minotaur)
Best Short Story: "The Man in the Civil Suit," by Jan Burke (Malice Domestic 9, Avon)
Also Nominated: "Amish Butter," by Jacqueline Fiedler (Unholy Orders, Intrigue Press); "Miss Parker & the Cutter-Sanborn Tables," by Gay Toltl Kinman (A Deadly Dozen, Uglytown Press); "Nothing to Lose," by Robert Barnard (Malice Domestic 9, Avon); "The Seal of the Confessional," by Rhys Bowen (Unholy Orders, Intrigue Press); "Widow's Peak," by Rochelle Krich (Unholy Orders, Intrigue Press)
In addition, Mildred Wirt Benson, of the Toledo Blade, received the Lifetime Achievement Award for her work on the original Nancy Drew series.
Finally, the Crime Writers of Canada has announced its 2001 Arthur Ellis Awards nominees. (Winners will be announced on May 23.) The shortlist includes:
Best First Novel
Best Short Story
"The Weeping Time," by Maureen Jennings (in Crime Through Time III, edited by Sharan Newman; Berkley Prime Crime)
"The Rap Sheet" is written exclusively for January Magazine by Crime Fiction Editor J. Kingston Pierce. Authors and publishers are encouraged to e-mail Pierce with information about new and forthcoming books.
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