Dashiell Hammett A 75th-Anniversary Tribute
Edited by J. Kingston Pierce
IN THIS ISSUE: The month's most-wanted reads • An overflow crop of fresh fiction from Robert Goddard, Linwood Barclay, Rebecca Pawel, Steven Saylor, Laura Lippman, Chris Simms and many others • Don Winslow's artistic inspiration; Henry Porter's publishing frustration; James Crumley's peculiar dedication, and much more news from the world of mystery • Plus: Who will walk away from Bouchercon with awards?
Pierce's Picks for June
Arthur & George (Jonathan Cape UK), by Julian Barnes. Brit Barnes isn't a newcomer to crime fiction; he used to write hard-boiled London tales under the pseudonym "Dan Kavanagh." But Arthur & George is quite different. Based on historical events, it alternately follows the lives of ophthalmologist-turned-author Arthur Conan Doyle and George Edalji, the latter being the friendless son of a vicar in rural Staffordshire, who -- as any diligent Sherlockian might well know -- was convicted in 1903 of mutilating livestock. An infamous miscarriage of justice, this case eventually drew the attention of Conan Doyle, who, after Edalji had done his seven-year prison term, put on his Holmes cap in order to prove the man's innocence and win him a pardon.
Bangkok Tattoo (Knopf), by John Burdett. Royal Thai Police Detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep, introduced in Bangkok 8 (one of January Magazine's gift book choices for 2003), investigates the mutilation murder of a CIA agent. The suspect: Chanya, a working girl employed at a club owned by Sonchai's mother and his boss. The complications: a cover-up implicating Al Qaeda, and the detective's fondness for Chanya.
Close Case (Henry Holt), by Alafair Burke. This third Samantha Kincaid novel (after Judgment Calls and Missing Justice) finds the Portland, Oregon, assistant DA being summoned on her 32nd birthday to look over the scene of a bludgeoning that left popular black investigative reporter Percy Crenshaw dead. Suspicions that the killing is related to recent racial tensions and anti-police demonstrations in the city lead to the arrest of two men, one of whom confesses to the killing, only to later claim it was made under duress. As Kincaid searches for more evidence, she stumbles into political minefields and raises the ire of local cops -- including her new live-in boyfriend, Detective Chuck Forbes.
Cold Kill (Michael Joseph UK), by David Lawrence. Troubled Detective Sergeant Stella Mooney (The Dead Sit Around in a Ring, Nothing Like the Night) probes the brutal death of a young woman found in a London park not long before Christmas. A man named Robert Kimber subsequently admits to murdering her, which makes police higher-ups happy. But Mooney isn't so sure Kimber is to blame. But if not him, then who?
The Dead Place (HarperCollins UK), by Stephen Booth. The all too familiar scent of death permeates Derbyshire, as Detective Sergeant Diane Fry becomes convinced that an anonymous caller, who has been taunting police there with descriptions of carnage, may not be a crank, after all. Meanwhile, Detective Constable Ben Cooper looks into the area's first body-snatching case. This is the sequel to One Last Breath, which featured among January's gift book picks for 2004.
The Death Collectors (Dutton), by Jack Kerley. Mobile, Alabama, police detectives/psychological sleuths Carson Ryder and Harry Nautilus (The Hundredth Man, 2004) are back, this time to catch whoever's responsible for a series of murders, each of which is accompanied by a small oil painting. A retired cop suggests that the crimes might be connected to a pattern-killer case he once worked, even though the lunatic behind those particular slayings, Marsden Hexcamp, was murdered by one of his own followers 30 years ago. Digging deeper into the contemporary crimes, Ryder and Nautilus (assisted again by Ryder's homicidal brother, Jeremy) discover that a group of macabre art collectors are keeping Hexcamp's memory alive. Talk about bizarre legacies!
Fire Sale (Putnam), by Sara Paretsky. Straddling the worlds of poverty and plenty, Chicago P.I. V.I. Warshawski investigates sabotage at a flag-manufacturing plant and also looks into the disappearance of Billy Bysen, a 19-year-old Christian idealist who's run off with the daughter of a flag plant employee. Naturally, V.I. takes her lumps -- and gives them back in spades.
A Good Day to Die (Bantam Press UK), by Simon Kernick. Deliciously immoral Detective Sergeant Dennis Milne, last seen in The Business of Dying (one of January's favorite works of 2002), returns to London from voluntary exile in the Philippines in order to hunt down the murderer of his former partner, Asif Malik. Joining him in this revenge campaign (and later in more amorous escapades) is journalist Emma Neilson. One must ask, though: Are these two really on the same side?
Hitler's Peace (Putnam), by Philip Kerr. Playing the what-might-have-been game, Kerr takes readers back to 1943 and World War II. Following Germany's mortifying defeat on the Eastern Front, Adolf Hitler's goose looks to be about cooked. The Führer is intent both on avoiding a confrontation with the U.S. military in Europe and subverting President Franklin D. Roosevelt's demand that the Third Reich surrender unconditionally. In the meantime, FDR is headed for Tehran, Iran, where he's to meet with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin. On the way, though, philosophy professor, intelligence analyst and onetime Communist Willard Mayer uncovers what may be a plot to assassinate the three Allied leaders. British novelist Kerr is best known for his trio of private eye Bernie Gunther books, beginning with March Violets (1989).
Locked Rooms (Bantam), by Laurie L. King. Fresh from their excitement in The Game, husband-wife sleuths Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes head for dynamic San Francisco in 1922. Russell, who'd grown up in that city, must settle some affairs related to her family's estate. But the closer she gets to the Bay Area, the more she is plagued by dreams involving the "locked rooms" that give this eighth book in the series its title. Might those dreams be related to the San Francisco earthquake and fire of 1906, which Russell insists she can't remember? Does she have a mental block against those catastrophes, protecting her from some hidden traumatic recollections? With help from a young Pinkerton agent named Dashiell Hammett, Russell and Holmes hope to plumb her forgotten past, especially the "accident" that left our heroine an orphan.
Murder Is My Racquet (Mysterious Press), edited by Otto Penzler. Building on his series of sports-related crime-fiction anthologies, Penzler here serves up 14 smashing encounters with the supposedly civilized game of tennis. Lobbing stories our way are Lawrence Block, Judith Kelman, Peter Lovesey, Lisa Scottoline, James W. Hall and others.
Savage Garden (Scribner), by Denise Hamilton. Los Angeles Times reporter Eve Diamond (Sugar Skull, Last Lullaby) becomes embroiled in the disappearance of stage actress Catarina Velosi, thanks to the friendship between Velosi's playwright muse and Eve's Hispanic boyfriend, Silvio Aguilar. When the performer is found dead, suspicion falls quickly on her string of disappointed ex-suitors, including Silvio. Meanwhile, Diamond is having to cope with Felice Morgan, a hot young black reporter who may be playing fast and loose with the "facts" in her stories.
Silence of the Grave (Harvill Press UK), by Arnaldur Indridason. Icelandic author Indridason's second novel to be translated into English (after Jar City, 2004), Silence finds Reykjavik police detective Erlendur and his team investigating a grave uncovered during the construction of a new building. Hopes that the body might simply be that of a person who'd been lost in the snow and perished decades ago soon crumble, leaving Erlendur instead with tales of long-ago female abuse. At the same time, this downtrodden detective struggles to hold his own family together. Translated by Bernard Scudder.
Snow Is Silent (Faber and Faber UK), by Benjamin Prado. Spanish novelist Prado delivers a dark, Eros-filled tale about three friends who meet every evening at a bar. One of that trio is an insurance clerk who falls under the spell of a young woman, only to have her request his help in murdering her abusive spouse. Naturally, things go even more wrong from there. The young seductress takes off, and the clerk is betrayed by one of his supposed "friends," who just happens to be the narrator of this story -- but whose identity isn't revealed until the end.
Still River (St. Martin's Minotaur/Thomas Dunne), by Harry Hunsicker. Lee Harvey Oswald is on the case. No, not that Oswald. Hunsicker's protagonist is instead a Gulf War vet and Dallas, Texas, gumshoe, who in this promising debut novel is on the lookout for the brother of an old high-school acquaintance. Helping and tempting him both is Nolan O'Connor, a fetching ex-San Antonio cop and the Irish-Mexican-Catholic niece of his late partner. Together, these two must deal with a drugs-related conspiracy, an ominously armed gay couple and competing white and black powerbrokers.
36 Yalta Boulevard (St. Martin's Minotaur), by Olen Steinhauer. After being framed for murder by one of his fellow spies, Brano Sev, an espionage agent (introduced in Steinhauer's first novel, The Bridge of Sighs, 2002) who works for an unnamed Eastern European country during the 1960s, is given a chance at redemption. All he has to do is investigate Jan Soroka, a possible double agent who's turned up recently in Sev's hometown of Bóbrka. Expect plenty of Cold War atmospherics and paranoia, plus an intriguing plot line concerning Sev's father, who after World War II was forced to leave his homeland under a cloud of suspicion.
To Darkness and the Death (St. Martin's Minotaur/Thomas Dunne), by Julia Spencer-Fleming. In this follow-up to Out of the Deep I Cry (reviewed in "The Rap Sheet," 6/04), we find ex-army helicopter jockey and current Episcopalian priest Clare Fergusson being summoned away from her preparations for a bishop's visit to Millers Kill, New York, to join the search for Millicent van der Hoeven, whose disappearance may not be as innocent as her having gotten lost in the Adirondack woods. Millicent and her siblings were planning to turn their childhood home over to a company that would then lease it to a nature conservancy, raising concerns about kidnapping and eco-terrorism. Helped again by Sheriff Russ Van Alstyne (with whom she shares a fragile platonic relationship), Clare begins to uncover a web of revenge, blackmail and homicide in their small town.
New and Noteworthy
Surf's up, and so is Jeff Shelby, whose energetic but imperfect debut novel, Killer Swell (Dutton), has San Diego surfer-cum-sleuth Noah Braddock searching for his over-privileged and now missing high-school sweetheart, but finding mostly trouble. The 30-or-so-year-old Braddock might have fit comfortably among the tanned cast of that 1980s U.S. TV series Riptide -- just another beach-dude private eye whose acumen and professionalism are easily missed behind a façade of cheap T-shirts, equally cut-rate living arrangements (he still occupies the single-bedroom bungalow he once shared with three college roommates) and defiance of a snoot-to-the-grindstone lifestyle. Yet when haughty Marilyn Crier, who hasn't laid eyes on Braddock for more than a decade, wants to know what's become of her daughter Kate, she turns immediately to him for help.
Braddock is understandably suspicious of this woman, who had done her damndest to prevent the Princeton-bound Kate from taking his board-waxed hand in marriage.
It surprised me that Marilyn hadn't asked me how I had become an investigator, but I figured that would've been too much interest in me for her. She would've loved to hear how it took me six years to finish college, that I waited tables for two years after that until I'd spotted an ad in the paper for an insurance company looking to train an investigator. I liked the job, the freedom of the hours, the solitary environment. I didn't like the reports, the suits I had to wear to the office, or the fact that I had a supervisor. I completed my hours, applied for my license from the state, and said adios. Not glamorous, not lucrative, but it had become my life and I had grown to appreciate it.
But Mrs. Crier understands how to play the old sentimentality card ("I know you cared about Kate. And I was hoping that might still count for something."). So off goes our hero to quiz Kate's friends and family, mix it up with thugs and federal agents, and learn more than he really wanted to know about his ex-girlfriend's recent life. This includes the discovery that Kate's husband of three years is a serial cheat; that Kate spent time in drug-rehab programs; and that this former "golden child" had mortgaged her shapely ass to the DEA, agreeing to help bring down drug kingpin Alejandro Costilla in exchange for her own freedom from prosecution. If that's not enough to permanently tweak Braddock's view of the world, he also allows himself to be seduced by Kate's "older, sexier sister," Emily, who gives him an enigmatic key that Kate misplaced at her Del Mar townhouse -- and which could throw the lock open on this whole case. And then he further complicates things by reinitiating an affair with SPD Detective Liz Santangelo, who's running interference between Braddock and the DEA. As the P.I. acknowledges halfway through this book, "I was very close to becoming Jerry Springer material."
Also contributing to Killer Swell's appeal is Carter Hamm, a wisecracking, womanizing ex-jock and career juvenile delinquent, and the newest addition to crime fiction's lengthening conga line of forceful sidekicks. As Braddock notes, "Despite our differences -- the main one being that I thought the law should be obeyed and he thought the law was a pain in the ass -- we had remained surfing buddies, occasional coworkers, and good friends." Carter acts in these pages as part conscience, part bodyguard to Braddock, taking almost as many bullets in defense of his amigo as he fires off cautions to the P.I. against falling for the women who suddenly crowd his life.
However, if Colorado author Shelby hopes to turn this beach read into a continuing series, he ought to take two bits of advice. (1) Don't accept as gospel Raymond Chandler's rueful plotting suggestion that "When in doubt have a man come through the door with a gun in his hand." Less frequent wielding of loaded weaponry could only have enhanced Swell's credibility and demonstrated more imagination on the author's part. And (2) intuition and blind luck aren't suitable investigative tools. In Chapter 6, Braddock exits a hotel, happens to glance across the parking lot at a poorly parked red Mercedes, and is drawn to check it out. "For as long as I can remember," he tells the reader, "I have done things simply because I felt compelled. No justification, no reason. I just do things." Too conveniently, the car's trunk contains a corpse that will alter this story's direction. Sorry, but events like that just don't happen in reality. Of course, there's no requirement that fiction behave within the rules of reason. But readers can only suspend their disbelief so damn far. -- Reviewed by J. Kingston Pierce
Shelby would be wise to take some plotting cues from British thriller writer Robert Goddard, whose 17th novel, Sight Unseen (Bantam Press UK), is a satisfyingly twisted combination of abduction, guilt, historical politics and even more guilt.
On an otherwise pleasant afternoon in July 1981, blond, 2-year-old Tamsin Hall is abruptly kidnapped during a visit to the Neolithic henge monuments at Avebury, a town in the southwest of England. Rushing to the infant's aid, her 7-year-old sister, Miranda, is struck and killed by the abductor's van, while their elder brother, Jeremy, and nanny Sally Wilkinson watch in horrified ineffectualness. Also observing these events is David Umber, a Ph.D. student who's waiting at a nearby pub for a stranger called Griffin, who may be able to help him with his research into the pseudonymous 18th-century correspondent and political polemicist "Junius." In the wake of these heartbreaks, the Hall family disintegrates; a depressed Sally Wilkinson weds Umber, then kills herself; and Umber, unable to make contact again with the mysterious Griffin, eventually loses interest in his studies. Not until nine years after Tamsin's disappearance does a prosecuted child murderer named Brian Radd add her to "his admitted list of victims just before he goes into court certain of a life sentence."
Now leap ahead to the spring of 2004. The melancholy Umber has retreated in his late 40s to Prague, where he wastes his talents as a tour guide. But then one day he's confronted by retired Detective Chief Inspector George Sharp, who'd worked the Tamsin case, and never believed that Radd either stole or killed the tot. Convincing him even further is a recently received letter, scolding him for his failures in the original investigation. Sharp figures Umber sent him the note, since it's signed "Junius," but Umber disavows any knowledge of the thing. Undaunted, and despite warnings that it's "a fool's errand," Sharp enlists Umber's help in learning what really happened in Avebury 23 years ago. It's a mission that will send this pair rumbling across Europe in an old Volkswagen bus; force Umber to grill Tamsin's divorced parents and strike up an odd alliance with the father's new wife; lead to a re-examination of the facts surrounding Sally Wilkinson-Umber's suicide; lodge Sharp behind bars on the island of Jersey; raise questions about a private eye's involvement in these doings; and leave the Hall clan further decimated, before all the answers can be found.
My introduction to this author's work was Caught in the Light (1998), a truly mesmerizing example of fictional deception. It follows a photographer who, while on assignment in Vienna, falls in love with a woman he meets there by chance, and decides to leave his wife -- only to then discover that his new heartthrob has not only vanished, but that she may be someone entirely different than he'd supposed. I've rarely been disappointed since. Goddard's mastery at creating intrigue, his skill at keeping readers guessing as to how all the clues fit together, and his frequent blending of history into his modern-day yarns all commend his novels to widespread readership. (Why he isn't better known in the States, I may never understand.) Although I was surprised, in Sight Unseen, by Goddard's choice to essentially abandon the quirky Sharp partway through this book, after setting him up as a figure necessary to the firm resolution of the mystery, the answers revealed in the closing chapters -- as shocking as they are understandable -- fully compensate for any such sacrifices to story focus.
This is cliff-hanging suspense fiction of an unusually high caliber -- literary and memorable, not simply marketable. -- J.K.P.
Another case solved. Another life ruined.
That's the very last line of Scottish author Stuart MacBride's debut novel, Cold Granite (HarperCollins UK), but it quite succinctly represents all of the drama and disappointment that precedes it. Set in the northeastern Scottish town of Aberdeen -- known alternately as "Granite City" and the center of the North Sea oil industry -- Granite introduces Detective Sergeant Logan McRae, who's just returned to duty with Grampian Police after a year "off on the sick," following a hunting knife attack by Angus Robertson, a serial killer nicknamed the "Mastrick Monster." Although he'd hoped for a quiet re-entry into law enforcement, McRae is instead thrown head-first into a child-molestation case. David Reid, three months shy of his fourth birthday, has been found strangled to death in a water-filled ditch, with his genitals removed. And one of the local newspapers, the Press and Journal, somehow manages to report this discovery even before police can notify the tyke's parents -- a development that results in McRae's being painfully gut-punched by the boy's frustrated father.
McRae's assignment is to answer that question. But there's seemingly no end of obstacles mounted in his way. He's working with a new boss, Detective Inspector Insch, who doesn't suffer idiots gladly ("And the inspector thought everyone was an idiot."), and who appears more than willing to share the burden of this child-molestation probe, so long as it allows him time to perform the role of villain in a local pantomime show (a role choice that will soon come back to haunt him). The DS' nerves are further stressed by his having to deal with chief pathologist Dr. Isobel MacAlister, a stunning but chilly ex-girlfriend who's said to have found a new man in her life, and by his teaming with leggy, dark-haired Woman Police Constable (WPC) Jackie Watson, to whom McRae is attracted -- despite her intimidating sobriquet, "Ball Buster." On top of all this, the DS is handed a second investigation, involving the message-fraught murder of Geordie Stephenson, porn-star-handsome enforcer for "Edinburgh's leading importer of guns, drugs and Lithuanian prostitutes."
For a 458-page novel, Cold Granite proceeds at a surprisingly healthy clip. This has partly to do with the tightly rendered turns MacBride keeps throwing in the reader's face; every time McRae & Co. think they have found a solution to one of their cases, unexpected new information sends them back to square one -- and embarrasses them in the process. The author has also made the smart decision to not try rendering too many of his characters too fully. A temptation, especially when penning police procedurals, is to give dimension to a broad ensemble of cops, though it only risks confusing readers who can't keep them all straight. Here, MacBride barely pencils in the majority of police involved; several he identifies simply with cognomens that recall some comically awkward experience from their recent past ("Steve the Stripper," for instance). He's thankfully more attentive to McRae, Insch and Watson, as well as to an array of eccentric suspects, the most notable of whom is a pitifully schizophrenic public trash collector named Bernard Duncan Philips, aka "Roadkill," whose association with this story's child-murder case heaps no end of derision upon his unwashed noggin. Honorable mention is also due Colin Miller, "the Press and Journal's new golden boy from Glasgow," whose occasionally oblique efforts to develop DS McRae as a reportorial source provide this novel with some of its funniest moments.
Cold Granite has its weaknesses. MacBride leads us to expect more from the relationship between DS McRae and WPC Watson than he ever delivers; similarly, he doesn't produce enough fire from the promising tinder he assembles around opportunistic defense attorney Sandy Moir-Farquharson.
Viewed from the perspective of Aberdeen boosters, MacBride's portrayal of Scotland's third largest city in the run-up to Christmas must be agonizing:
Everyone looked murderous and inbred. When the sun shone they would cast off their thick woollens, unscrew their faces, and smile. But in winter, the whole city looked like a casting call for Deliverance.
Yet Granite should redeem itself in any reader's eyes with its adroit mélange of humor and heartache, its bang-up denouement and its supple prose. Comparisons with Ian Rankin's John Rebus novels (A Question of Blood, Fleshmarket Close) may be premature, but they aren't altogether unreasonable; both MacBride and Rankin are skilled at character cultivation and at depicting Scotland's moody atmospherics. However, Rebus is a lonelier and more cynical protagonist than the younger Logan McRae. (In a recent post on her blog, January contributing editor Sarah Weinman relates McRae, instead, to Mark Billingham's Tom Thorne, of The Burning Girl fame.) Cold Granite demonstrates all the markings of a series launch. A welcome one, at that.
Another case closed. Another fan made. -- J.K.P.
Mysteries with a humorous bent can be tricky to handle. A guffaw in the face of murder and mayhem might seem inappropriate or just plain dumb, unless handled with instinctive talent and quick-witted aplomb -- two qualities for which Canadian novelist/columnist Linwood Barclay has become well known.
In Bad Guys (Bantam), the sequel to Barclay's farcical 2004 debut work, Bad Move, we find neurotic science-fiction author Zack Walker abandoning the not-so-bucolic countryside of Oakwood and trundling his family -- wife Sarah, college freshman daughter Angie, and teenage son Paul -- back onto the mean city streets from whence they'd fled -- same block, different house. Zack has put science fiction on the back burner, at least for now, and is concentrating on writing features for the same daily newspaper, The Metropolitan, where his wife works. In fact, Sarah is now, officially, his boss. The office setting pullulates with colorful members of the Fourth Estate, notable among them being a crime-beat reporter called Cheese Dick, whose nose for news and odiferous body are legendary in the newsroom and elsewhere. But I digress ...
In between worrying about his children's safety and letting his natural anxiety gum up even the best of times (for Zack, dire forebodings lurk around every corner, and he's just the guy to give in to excessive zeal), Walker is working on a feature story about a string of local clothing store robberies, and he's been going on nightly stakeouts with private eye Lawrence (never call him "Larry") Jones, who is trying to put an end to the smash-and-snatch thefts.
But while these stakeouts provide gunplay and car chases, clues to solving the crimes remain frustratingly elusive, and Zack's attention is soon drawn away to daughter Angie's troubles with a computer whiz named Trevor Wylie. Trevor dresses in the black-coated Matrix style currently favored by mass murderers everywhere; but worse yet, he seems to be stalking Angie. At the very least, he calls the Walker house too many times a night and won't take "not interested, get lost!" for an answer. The only thing to do, Zack decides, is to follow, not Angie, but the guy who is following his daughter, just to see if she is indeed being followed, and if so, what the follower is up to. Got that? Well, imagine a parade of three cars, each of them tagging along behind the other and nobody knowing what's up except for Zack (and even that's debatable). Now picture an extremely embarrassed father who must keep mum about seeing his 18-year-old daughter in a clinch with her latest boyfriend (whom he hasn't yet met), because to question her would mean admitting he'd been following her.
Oh, and in the middle of this complicated Sturm und Drang it becomes clear that the Walkers need a second car, primarily for Angie to drive to and from college, since public transportation is dangerous, and squiring her to various classes isn't always convenient for a guy, like Zack, who is supposed to be working a stakeout. So when P.I. Jones suggests that the writer attend a government auction of cars confiscated from various murderers and miscreants, Zack listens. He also gets an earful of advice from his family, beginning with son Paul:
"If they're auctioning off cars that belonged to drug dealers, there should be lots of Beemers. Drug dealers love Beemers."
However, Zack winds up purchasing a little hybrid number called a Virtue. The car had previously been owned by "Barbie" Bullock, a second-class hood with anger-management issues and an impressive Barbie doll collection, who's maneuvering to enter the big leagues as adjutant to Mr. Indigo, a recently incarcerated mobster. (Author Barclay has a definite knack for names.)
How Zack Walker saves Angie from malignant forces (and shoots up a Barbie dollhouse, among other things, in the course of a night's nasty events), while also protecting the rest of his family and solving the robbery spree (well, more or less) is a tale told by a talented writer with a gift for the absurd and a wicked take on life. It would be a challenge to come up with reasons not to like a novel as fluidly paced and delightfully outlandish as this one. And why try? Linwood Barclay, a staff columnist for the Toronto Star and author of the memoir Last Resort (2000), has beaten the second-novel blues with Bad Guys. I look forward to reading more about his protagonist's hilarious, angst-filled life. -- Reviewed by Yvette Banek
The Watcher in the Pine (Soho Press), the third novel in Rebecca Pawel's superbly drawn historical series featuring Carlos Tejada Alonso y Léon, finds the earnest Nationalist lieutenant taking command of the Guardia Civil post in the small Cantabrian village of Potes. It's 1940, in post-civil war Spain. Tejada sees his relocation both as a means to get away from his overbearing commander, Captain Rodriguez in Salamanca, and as a deserved promotion. But he didn't expect his new post to be so rural, or the village to be in such crying need of repair ("A cluster of largely roofless buildings huddled together on either side of the bumpy road signaled the center of the town."). And he feels guilty for having brought his lovely pregnant wife, Elena Fernandez, to this backwater town -- a place that may prove hostile to them both.
It seems that the Republican maquis ("Red guerillas") are sporadically attacking the Guardia patrols from mountain positions, and "the terrorists" may even be responsible for the murder of Tejada's predecessor at Potas, Lieutenant Calero. Tejada finds his immediate subordinate, Sergeant Márquez, of questionable use in decision making ("Perhaps he was one of those efficient but limited men who are superb subordinates, but disasters when promoted beyond their competence."), and the whole Guardia Civil post lacking in discipline and proper accommodations. While Tejada is busy turning his new command into a respectable enforcer of government law, Elena is concerned about not having the whole town hate them.
Elena rolled her eyes. "What were you doing this afternoon?"
Very quickly, things turn ominous for Tejada. It seems that someone has stolen two shipments of dynamite from Devastated Regions, the government agency responsible for rebuilding those portions of the town that were destroyed during the war, as well as general infrastructure improvements, and Tejada fears for Potas' safety. "Tejada's mind was racing. If dynamite had been in the hands of the bandits for a month already, then there wasn't a bridge or barracks in the province that could be considered secure."
The Watcher in the Pine does not succeed simply as a novel of criminality, however. Author Pawel spent a good month in Potes, doing direct research and adding to her already abundant knowledge of Spain in the 1930s and 40s. As a result, Watcher is a rich historical novel, as well as offering an engrossing exploration of the damaged human soul. The distrust that characters feel for their post-civil war government bleeds through these pages, and the hardships that both sides inflicted upon the other is much in evidence. Touchingly, Tejada's own vulnerabilities come to light here, as he becomes a father for the first time, Elena bearing a son, Carlos Antonio ("Toño"). For Lieutenant Tejada, those things for which he would have given his life previously, suddenly become irrelevant compared to his family's safety. ("It's only a matter of time before the maquis start up again. And when they do, what sort of man would I be if I put my family in danger a second time?")
Elena, with her longstanding leftist leanings, and her loyal Nationalist husband come to terms with their at-odds political beliefs, and it is their forged union that symbolically holds out hope for the whole of Spain -- if the various political parties can learn to compromise for the greater good of their country. The Watcher in the Pine is a glorious book, and both the characters and the earthy Spaniard countryside are well worth the time spent with them. At the end of the novel, Tejada flirts with the idea of resigning from the Guardia, but concedes, "I just can't imagine myself as anything else anymore." One can't imagine a character being more than what Tejada is, a complete and inspiring man. -- Reviewed by Anthony Rainone
Åke Edwardson, a popular crime novelist in his native Sweden, makes his English-language debut in June with Sun and Shadow (Viking). Featuring Erik Winter, Edwardson's sharp-dressing, jazz-loving detective chief inspector, Sun and Shadow follows a team of cops and detectives as they struggle to unravel a grisly pair of murders in the small city of Gothenburg.
Edwardson, however, is more interested in the personal lives of his many police officers than in the logical processes of detection. Sun and Shadow is evenly split between the shadow of crime and the relative sun of his characters' lives. Winter's father is dying in southern Spain, but his pregnant girlfriend, Angela, is moving in with him, and the two events combine to make Winter reconnect with his family. Other cops on the force find themselves reaching out to the rebellious daughter of the police chaplain and her abused boyfriend, trying to help them make it through their teen years. There are, in fact, far too many police in this story to keep track of, and their personal lives become distracting: the cop who may or may not have a brain tumor; the black officer who's just as Swedish as her coworkers, even if they don't seem to realize it; the police psychologist whose analyses are seductive, despite their scientific shakiness. Edwardson tells us far too much about his cops, so that when suspicion falls eventually on them, we've seen it coming for a long time.
With brief scenes that leap between characters without necessarily identifying them, Edwardson keeps us guessing, and the tension is carefully tightened as Sun and Shadow moves forward. But much of the suspense never goes anywhere. Who is it, for instance, who kept breaking in to Winter's apartment building? What was the ancient quarrel between Winter and his father? And the climax of this novel, featuring a dramatic kidnapping, is as limply resolved as the unmasking of the murderer, whose motives are never explained. Maybe Edwardson just got tired of all that shadow and decided to return to the sunshine. -- Reviewed by Caroline Cummins
In 1991, when Steven Saylor published a book about a detective in ancient Rome titled Roman Blood, he thought he was writing a standalone literary novel. Fourteen years, seven books and 18 short stories later, the adventures of his togaed gumshoe, Gordianus the Finder, have become what Saylor calls "a secret history of Rome," starring actual historical figures and tracing the decline of the Roman republic.
Many of Saylor's recurring characters, including the historical Cicero and the fictional Lucius Claudius, turn up here, along with new figures from history, including the unusually independent Sempronia (in "The Consul's Wife"), the one-eyed rebel general Sertorius (in "The White Fawn") and the unfortunate consul Lucullus (in "The Cherries of Lucullus"). Saylor's historical imagination has always been strong; even within the confines of the short story, his portraits of long-dead Romans are vibrantly alive, and his sense of place just as vivid. His Romans delight in the exotic taste of cherries and the more familiar taste of blood scattered on the sand of gladiatorial arenas. These people are not quite like you and me -- Saylor has long relied on his dialogue to explain such niceties as the Roman father's casual right to put his own family to death -- but they still feel like they live just around the corner.
The stories in A Gladiator Dies Only Once range from lighthearted puzzles to poignant tragedies, all sustained by the even tone of the practical, if sentimental, Gordianus. Family troubles are paramount, with devious wives, duplicitous offspring and devoted siblings making regular appearances. Saylor constructs his tales around various aspects of ordinary Roman culture, from eating habits and the daily press to sports training and funeral games. He even spins one entire story ("Poppy and the Poisoned Cake") out of a single cryptic remark uttered in a debate by Cicero.
Saylor, who is currently working on a standalone historical novel titled Roma, may not get around to penning a new Gordianus novel anytime soon. In the meantime, A Gladiator Dies Only Once is a pungent snack -- dipped, perhaps, in the salty fish sauce Saylor's Romans enjoyed so much. -- C.C.
Oh, Laura. After reading Ms. Lippman's previous standalone, the dark and disturbing Every Secret Thing (which dealt with murderous little girls) and now, her equally bruising To the Power of Three (which features a locked high-school washroom, three teenage girls, a loaded handgun and fatal consequences) you get the feeling that we've left "sugar and spice and everything nice" behind a very long time ago. And that the author is seriously pissed off.
To the Power of Three (Morrow) is like a relentless shotgun marriage between Mean Girls and Bowling for Columbine pumped up to 11 -- or maybe 12. Laura Lippman directs her wide cast of characters, each with their guilty secrets and secret hurts, with a sure and powerful hand like the pro she is, never taking a false step or flinching from her vision, eschewing dime-a-dozen acts of violence in favor of the far more devastating violence of raw emotions exposed and dreams crushed. She stretches and snaps time like elastic, starting with the shooting (which leaves one girl dead, one not talking -- and one whose story seems dubious, at best) and then retracing the steps that lead up to it, leapfrogging from story to story, viewpoint to viewpoint, as teachers, police officers, parents and other members of the adult world struggle in vain to make sense of the shooting. But one by one, every lie, half-lie and dirty little secret is knocked down as Lippman works her relentless way back to the present -- until, finally, all that's left standing is the truth. Or something close to it.
On the surface, longtime best friends Perri, Josie and Kat -- three "good" students, now seniors, attending a "good" school in a far-flung suburb of Baltimore -- seem to have it all: first-rate grades, promising futures, even a measure of status and popularity. And, of course, each other.
But that's on the surface. Lippman, best known, until now, for her Tess Monaghan private-eye series (In Big Trouble; By a Spider's Thread, "RS" 7/04) is currently at the peak of her game. (Is there a major mystery writing award she hasn't won?) She knows how to lift the lid off the secret hell of teenage American girls and give us a good hard look at the works, tearing apart -- with chilling efficiency and surprising savagery -- the fluffy pink dream world we'd like to imagine for our daughters. She gets the hidden nastiness of that high-pressure adolescent world exactly right, from the ruthless competitiveness, bitter jealousy, and mercurial swirl of ever-shifting alliances to the to-die-for social significance of such cultural flotsam as iPods and "Lunchables."
That memory came flooding back to me as I read the final pages of To the Power of Three. Those pages linger with me, weeks after I closed the book. A lesser man would have cried like a baby. -- Reviewed by Kevin Burton Smith
Live on tape from Gettysburg, it's Abraham Lincoln -- or is it?
Like his fellow Canadians in The Band, who gave us the classic The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, author Brad Smith's latest novel, Busted Flush (Henry Holt), sidesteps the "they started it" disputes and scars that still linger from America's much-ballyhooed War Between the States and heads right for the aftermath, focusing on the carpetbaggers and other miscreants who, even well over a century later, are still trying to milk that bloody internecine conflict for all they can get. And with the historical memorabilia market going full-tilt boogie, there are plenty of suckers to be milked. As one huckster so succinctly puts it here, "half the country considers itself an expert on that war."
This story starts when Dock Bass, a happy-go-lucky carpenter-turned-not so happy realtor from upstate New York decides he's never going to be the man his wife wants him to be -- and he'd never be happy being that man, anyway. So he lights out for the territories with his most prized possession, his late, lamented father's woodworking tools, a few CDs (Dylan, Neil Young, Lucinda Williams "for good measure") and a handful of his favorite books (Huckleberry Finn, John Steinbeck, Mordecai Richler). His destination is Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, site of the famous 1863 Civil War battle, President Lincoln's subsequent speech and a house that Dock has apparently just inherited from a dead relative he never knew.
Turns out that the house actually predates the Civil War, and the amiable, if occasionally cranky Dock isn't far along in his renovations when he discovers a potentially priceless horde of mid-19th-century loot tucked away in a sealed-up workshop: photos, pictures, journals and, most astonishing of all, what might be an actual sound recording of Lincoln delivering the Gettysburg Address. All of this courtesy of young Willy Burns, a Civil War-era jack-of-all-trades and would-be inventor who originally lived in the house.
Could these treasures be genuine? The discovery thrusts Dock reluctantly into the national spotlight, even as the sharks start to circle. But oh, what sharks!
Busted Flush is filled with colorful, larger-than-life characters drawn with broad but never cartoonish strokes. There are suitably hissable villains (real-estate developers, an unscrupulous antiques dealer/scam artist and his redneck assistant), likable heroes (an endearingly nutty history professor and a chain-smoking female TV journalist with -- I kid you not -- a heart of gold) and a whole bunch of quirky folks, such as the cheerfully foul-mouthed associate dispatched by a rap superstar to purchase "the motherfuckin' Lincoln recording," because Lincoln "set all us motherfuckers free in 1861."
Yet, as crazy as things get, Smith, whose other books include the hard-boiled One-Eyed Jacks (2000), nominated for the prestigious Dashiell Hammett Award, and the country noir comedy All Hat (2003), is never mean-spirited -- a neat trick in an age of sound-bite character assassination and 10-cent cynicism. He pokes and prods with gentle humor, rather than lacerating with caustic wit, and some of the most effective moments come when the author drops his guard and shows a little unexpected tenderness. Dock's unassuming Everyman stance, the simple pleasure he takes in the hard physical work of renovation and the genuine affection this put-upon, soft-spoken would-be homesteader displays for his late carpenter father, are what really make Busted Flush special and often surprisingly touching. And the end result goes down about as easy and pleasantly as a cold beer with a good friend on a sunny day. -- K.B.S.
Author John Shannon also knows how to instill his characters with plenty of heart. Middle-aged and feeling every one of his years, often bewildered and frequently bested by his opponents and life in general, the introspective, brooding Jack Liffey, who specializes in tracking down missing children, may not seem like someone to set the world on fire. But in his quiet, unassuming way, he's arguably become one the great private-eye heroes of the last decade, and Shannon one of the few mystery writers around willing to wear his humanity -- and his politics -- so openly on his sleeve.
In the seven books leading up to his new Dangerous Games (Carroll & Graf), Jack has been bruised and battered physically (he's still feeling the effects of a collapsed lung, and he was literally put through a wringer in last year's Terminal Island), emotionally (he's suffered a divorce, several soured relationships and a estranged relationship with his father) and politically and philosophically (has Jack had even one of his cherished ideals not challenged or his good intentions not thwarted by events?). Hell, even his business card is "dubious," little more than a tattered pieced of paper at this point, with a series of crossed-out and handwritten phone numbers, a testament to the vagaries of Jack's perpetually unsettled existence.
Yet like the Energizer Bunny or a particularly resilient modern-day Job, somehow Jack Liffey keeps on keepin' on. This time out, he's living in the East Los Angeles barrio, but his efforts at "getting to know" the neighbors backfire when he inadvertently angers a young local gangbanger, who squeezes off a few gunshots in his general direction -- and ends up seriously wounding Jack's beloved teenage daughter, Maeve, the one constant in our hero's freefall of a life.
Worried about Jack's rage in reaction to this shooting, his new Paiute-Latino girlfriend, Sergeant Gloria Ramirez of the LAPD, offers him a convenient distraction: help her track down her young and rather naïve 18-year-old niece, Luisa, who's run away from an unhappy home life on a small Paiute reservation in California's Owens Valley to join the teeming pornography business in the San Fernando Valley.
Of course, the quest after starry-eyed Luisa is never quite so simple as that -- Liffey's cases always seem to spin off in unexpected directions, and before we're through here, readers will have followed Jack on an odyssey through a kaleidoscope of different cultures and subcultures. We'll also have met a slew of intriguing, if not always admirable, characters: a barely literate gang member fascinated by American history; a once-famous Native American porn star, now living as a recluse; a wisecracking phone-sex operator; two young filmmakers hoping to cash in on "the new porn" of violence, and a high-school janitor who sniffs spray cans of PAM. As always, these people refuse to obey the stereotypes -- Shannon doesn't so much defy expectations as twist them, and he makes a point of giving almost every one of his characters some sort of back story, some shade or nuance that lifts them up and makes them memorable. Even Trevor "Terror" Pennycooke, a violence-prone Rastafarian gangster whom Jack has run into before comes across not as some faceless cartoon thug, but as a satisfyingly complex individual, tender and compassionate but chillingly effective in the art of torture.
Jack Liffey, of course, wants to save the world and everyone in it, but it's become obvious by now -- even to him -- that he may never succeed. He never backs down, though, and in a world where too many people's ideals seem to have all the sticking power of a Post-It note in the wind, many readers will find this protagonist's steadfast devotion to his ideals inspiring. And maybe even heroic. -- K.B.S.
In CIA-speak, a "legend" is a fake identity, complete with a highly detailed (albeit fictitious) back story, which an agent assumes when going undercover. These legends can be incredibly thorough, with each identity involving different skills, tastes and even languages spoken, backed up with planted stories in newspaper archives, falsified school records and birth certificates, and a million other tidbits guaranteed to convince the enemy that an operative is exactly who he claims to be. But what happens if the agent himself isn't sure who he is?
That's the question plaguing Martin Odum, the hero in Legends (Overlook Press), the latest in an acclaimed series of spy thrillers from Robert Littell (The Amateur, The Company). Odum (and the reader) is never quite sure whether he's really Odum, or if that's merely another legend. Is he actually a former CIA agent-turned-slacker private eye, who lives in an apartment over a Chinese restaurant in Brooklyn and keeps bees on the roof? Or is he really Lincoln Dittman, a disgraced history professor and arms dealer? Or maybe he's Dante Pippen, an Irish Republican Army explosives expert peddling his skills to the highest bidder? Or is he none of the above? Or, maybe, all of the above?
But his pursuit of the missing hubby (who may or may not be an ex-KGB agent, a philanthropist or possibly a criminal mastermind) takes our man Odum a little further than he'd expected to go -- not just to Israel but also to London, Prague, Russia and deep into his own murky past. Flipping back and forth in time, and from identity to identity, Martin slowly hones in on the truth. However, every secret that's revealed uncovers another layer of deception, and it soon becomes apparent that not only is nothing in this yarn quite what it appears, but everything we learn along the way may also be a lie. (No wonder the book's subtitle is "A Novel of Dissimulation").
This is one hell of a premise, and once the story grabs hold, it's quite a ride. But that ride eventually bogs down, as Legends starts to suffer from Ludlum-itis, a storytelling weakness where you take a solid foundation, bookend it with a satisfactory ending, and then fill the space in between with as many set pieces as are required to make up the page quota. It wouldn't be as frustrating if every scene here advanced the plot somehow or was strong enough to stand on its own. But, as fascinating as some of the details are, too often one feels that Littell is merely spinning his wheels or chasing his own tail, showing off his research, piling on unnecessary particulars and stretching out what should be carefully wrought scenes, until everything begins to unravel.
Which is fine for Martin Odum, whose grip on reality is supposed to be a little shaky anyway. But I'm not sure that Littell intended for his readers to start feeling disoriented and disjointed as well. And while the premise of a spy so undercover that he no longer knows who he is could have been played for dark Kafkaesque laughs, Littell's tight-lipped, sardonic prose rarely loosens up enough to unleash the book's true comic possibilities. And the few attempts at humor seem forced and out of place in a narrative that is otherwise often quite dry.
Still, as a hybrid spy/private-eye novel, there's enough here to keep fans from both genres interested. It's an undeniably clever read, and the search for identity is one we can all sympathize with (who are any of us, really?). I just wish that, ultimately, Legends were a little tighter and clearer headed -- and perhaps less somber in tone. Not that I wanted it to be a laugh-fest, but it's no sin to be glad you're alive. Even if you're not quite sure who you are. -- K.B.S.
Sent to cover the South American music benefit Rock Against Drugs, British freelance journalist-cum-gumshoe Nick Madrid expected the usual: gargantuan egos, crazed groupies and backstage chaos. What he didn't anticipate was that he'd be kidnapped by rebels, confront a star performer who, ironically, has fallen off of the wagon, and dodge assassination attempts. Life is never dull for our less-than-heroic hero in Peter Guttridge's insanely funny Two to Tango (Speck Press).
But these two are barely off the plane before they're kidnapped and held for ransom. They manage to escape, rather ineptly, by hiding in a tree, only to be rescued by mercenaries, and then learn that the rebel leader, Freddy Porras, has sworn vengeance on Otis Barnes, the comeback headliner of this ill-begotten rock tour. However, Porras is going to have to get in line if he wants a shot at Otis, because the aging musician's drunken rampages have left in his wake unhappy ex-wives and girlfriends, an about-to-be-replaced manager and discontented band mates.
It's somewhat jarring as the action in Tango switches between fish-out-of-water Nick cruising along the Amazon -- ever vigilant for parasites that can swim up a man's urethra (yikes!) -- to frenetic backstage preparations for the rock tour, with the lush jungle setting giving way to the differently exotic business of an entertainment extravaganza. On the other hand, these shifts allow UK author Guttridge to explore some of the zanier corners of today's music scene. As this story progresses, Nick is nearly blinded by a silicone-inflated breast, discovers that the touring rockers are more interested in their golf games and redecorating plans than heavy-duty partying, and ferrets out a scheme to defraud the headliners.
Guttridge, who has six previous Nick Madrid mysteries behind him (including No Laughing Matter, A Ghost of a Chance and Cast Adrift), pens mysteries that are every inch as funny as what Carl Hiaasen writes, but not so biting or frenetic. What makes Nick such a pleasure to be around is that he's so ... well, ordinary. He's naïve. He's more likely to be pummeled than hand out beatings. He's not particularly bright. And he's rather renowned for his lack of sexual prowess.
"I'm not one to boast but she said she'd never had sex quite like it."
Packed with one-liners and humorous jabs at performance art, rocks musicians and just about everything else, Two to Tango delightfully mocks the worlds of music and journalism. And Nick is unabashedly self-deprecating and utterly likable. If you have not yet sampled Guttridge's series, give this installment a go. -- Reviewed by Cindy Chow
How to Be Bad (St. Martin's Griffin) isn't exactly a manual on how to turn oneself to the dark side. But it's pretty darn close. Author David Bowker's varied writing history has taken him from a column in New Woman magazine, to The Death Prayer (a 1995 supernatural police procedural with teeth), to a series that has touched both sides of the Atlantic, featuring an erudite, sociopathic hit man with a heart of gold known as Rawhead (The Death You Deserve, I Love My Smith & Wesson, Rawhead in Love). But in this satirical new novel, Brit Bowker takes a break from serial slaying in order to write about a bland but nice London bookseller who finds himself complicit in several deaths.
Running a rare bookshop on the decline is generally as tedious an occupation as one could imagine. But for 23-year-old compulsive list-maker Mark Madden, all that's about to change. First off, he's already had two customers in one week -- a flood of business that in itself is worth writing home about. The first of this pair was a large, abrasive Jesus look-alike gangster who, after demanding to see Madden's "most horrible book," proceeded to destroy the thing. The second visitor was a policeman.
The artist Renoir once said, "The pain passes, but the beauty remains." For Mark Madden, it is surely the opposite. One night spent at Caro's, during which she kisses him good night "like Florence Nightingale kissing a dying soldier," and he's once again under his manipulative ex's spell. He confesses as much to her. She is ready with a list. A list of people she wants him to murder: her ex-boyfriend, her father and her loan shark. He balks. She pouts and pleads:
"Most people could name at least half a dozen people they'd like to see dead. The only difference is, I've got the guts to admit it. The world's a bad place, Mark. Good people starve and die while bad people thrive and get richer. You think it's bad karma to kill a few bastards? I don't. I think God and all the angels sing for joy every time another bastard dies. How about it? Don't you want to make God happy?"
Madden realizes that Caro has gone far round the bend. She lacks even the most elementary human goodness. But, looking over his bruised face in the mirror, he also recognizes the results of being the "nice guy." Of course, agreeing to become a killer is one thing; falling into it by accident, as Madden does, is another. After two deaths occur despite his efforts -- making Caro a very rich woman, indeed -- she and Mark marry. "Happily ever after" isn't in the cards, though, as the newlyweds dodge an assassin and a cyberstalker, both. Just how far will Madden go to keep Caro happy?
Bowker has a dark, snappy writing style that keeps the reader's eyes glued to the page, laughing and horrified at the same time, as escalating dangers force Madden's unexpected strengths to the surface. The fact that this fast-paced novel has been optioned by Jim Uhls, who wrote the screenplay for The Fight Club, stamps How to Be Bad as this summer's quirky must-read. -- Reviewed by Jennifer Jordan
Deceptively simple in premise, yet complex and involving in its execution, Kevin Guilfoile's debut novel, Cast of Shadows (Knopf), is a perfect combination of science fiction and crime thriller, combining the science of cloning with the chase after a killer.
This story is set in the near future, at a time when cloning is legal and regulated. Anguished by the brutal rape and strangling to death of his teenage daughter, Anna Kat, and disturbed that police have reached an impasse in their investigation of the crime, Chicago fertility doctor Davis Moore, a cloning pioneer, makes his own bold but distinctly aberrant attempt to identify the murderer. He knows that the killer's semen was found on Anna's body, but also that in the absence of a comparison sample from a suspect, such DNA evidence is useless. So, setting aside medical ethics, Moore determines to create a clone of the killer with the unsuspecting assistance of a couple who have sought his help in bearing a child. The result is Justin Finn, whose growth Dr. Moore observes impatiently, secretly knowing that one day this boy will bear the features of the man who ended his daughter's life.
Meanwhile, Anna Kat's actual, grown-up killer lies in the wings, far too close to the Finn family for anyone's comfort. And a religious terrorist associated with abortion clinic bombings threatens to strike again.
Given the ominous nature of Cast of Shadows, it's rather surprising to learn that Chicago author Guilfoile has made much of his living as a humorist, contributing to McSweeney's, Modern Humorist and Salon, and that his first book was the snarky George W. Bush send-up, My Presidentiary (2001), which he co-wrote with John Warner. His characterizations bear a depth and empathy that flows swiftly along with the undertow of medical and personal ethics. At no point does this novel bog down in scientific jargon. Instead, it is enhanced by it. A fascinating read with a powerful ending. -- J.J.
Gregory and his colleague Diane Estevez are bound for a weekend professional workshop in Las Vegas, when Estevez suggests that they check in briefly on their friend, social worker (and obsessive-compulsive) Hannah Green, who has agreed to act as the emergency contact for their patients while they're away, but who, strangely, has not been answering her telephone. Arriving at the office Hannah shares with a psychiatrist, they discover their friend dead -- murdered, it turns out -- in the psychiatrist's office. Who would have done such a thing, and why?
Coinciding with this tragedy is the disappearance of 14-year-old Mallory Miller, a childhood friend of that mysteriously slain 6-year-old, JonBenet Ramsey, who vanishes from her own Boulder home eight years to the day after JonBenet was murdered. Mallory had ample provocation to take to her heels. Her family is dysfunctional, her schizophrenic mother having moved to Vegas to saturate herself in an obsession with attending other people's weddings. But Mallory was also known to have been frightened of something recently. Very frightened.
Because of a consultation that Hannah had requested before her demise, Gregory and Estevez become involved with the case of missing Mallory, and begin to discern connections between her disappearance and Hannah's death (though their code of ethics prohibits them from revealing their suspicions to police). Upset by these fast-transpiring events, Estevez decides to go looking for Mallory's mother in Nevada -- only to stop answering her cell phone once there. And if those mysteries weren't enough to keep Gregory on edge, a schizophrenic patient named Bob Brandt starts making comments that suggest he knows more than he should about Mallory, then misses an appointment for the first time, after years of therapy. Gregory is left to gather up the scattered clues, investigate an enigmatic auto garage proprietor, and balance what he knows -- or thinks he knows -- with the ethics restricting what he can reveal to others.
White does much to humanize his protagonist, giving Alan Gregory a prosecuting-attorney wife, Lauran, who also happens to be suffering from multiple sclerosis, and bleeding Gregory's concern for the fate of Mallory Miller into a heightened protectiveness toward his own children. As a result of all this, what could have been a know-it-all, busybody of a character becomes a man hungry for answers when none float to the surface of their own accord. It's the character richness of Missing Persons that lifts this thriller beyond formula to refined fiction. -- J.J.
2005 is looking like a pivotal year for Chris Simms. Not only has he just seen the issuance of his third novel, Killing the Beasts (Orion UK), a highly polished study of madness and murder, but he is now with a new publisher and has taken on a new agent as well. Beasts shows just how significantly Simms' talent has matured since the appearance of his previous two novels, Outside the White Lines (2002) and Pecking Order (2003), which were also cracking reflections on madness and mental disintegration.
Set against the run-up to Manchester, England's 2002 Commonwealth Games, Beasts gives us Detective Inspector Jon Spicer, a fast-riser in his department, who's hunting down a gang of car thieves targeting top-end vehicles -- Mercedes, BMWs, Porsches, etc. But he's distracted from that assignment by the murder of a female "model." Before you can say "prostitute," further corpses come to light, and Spicer voices his conviction that a serial killer has emerged. Just what publicity-conscious Manchester doesn't need.
Not so surprisingly, the strain of fielding too many deals and finessing the truth too often in his new job begins to take its toll on Benwell. To keep up, he resorts to cocaine and other drugs. And from within his narcotic haze, he starts to worry about his firm's information-technology manager, "Creepy George," who's likely the one responsible for storing pornography on the company's computer servers -- pornography of the worst possible sort.
As Spicer follows a link between the stolen luxury cars and the grotesque corpses left behind by Manchester's supposed serial killer (in the process, ignoring his commander's doubts as well as questions of motive), Benwell determines to move against the pornographer. But the odds of his succeeding seem to worsen with the day, as his high-powered career, his marriage and his sanity all commence to crumble. Amidst his disintegration, he becomes delusional about the dried lumps of chewing gum that litter Manchester's streets, which does nothing to help his relationship with his latest client. Another source of concern: A figure is watching Benwell -- stalking him, actually -- just waiting for his world to collapse. For you see, this ad exec owns a prized Porsche.
If you've not read Simms' work before, Killing the Beasts is a great starting point to enter his realm of madness. But be aware -- like the drugs that Tom Benwell takes, Simms' writing is addictive in the extreme. -- Reviewed by Ali Karim
Boston novelist Joseph Finder seems to have found a niche for himself in the overcrowded world of fictional thrillers, conjuring up espionage and intrigue within the polished corridors of American Big Business. And as he proved so memorably in last year's Paranoia, he really knows how to manipulate his readers -- in the best sense -- pulling them along with short chapters, cliffhangers aplenty and enough red herrings to stock a Norwegian fishing boat for the winter.
His sixth novel, Company Man (St. Martin's Press), only confirms his skills. Finder tells this tale from the viewpoint of Nick Conover, the troubled CEO of an office furniture manufacturer, the Stratton Corporation, once the largest employer in Fenwick, Michigan. Although Conover deserves credit for trying to rear his two young children alone, following the car-accident death of their mother, he is not well liked in Fenwick. No wonder: He's just had to pink-slip half of Stratton's 10,000 employees (many of whom he's known since his own working-class childhood), thanks to post-Iraq war downturns in the U.S. economy and competition from Chinese imports.
Thus begins a cover-up that only expands Conover's world of woes. It doesn't take long for Major Case Team detective Audrey Rhimes to discover that all is not as it seems, either at Stratton or in the Conover household. She brings her own problems to this case (her husband was among the recently laid-off workers, and he's gone searching for solace at the bottom of a bottle), which helps motivate her dogged pursuit of Conover. As Rhimes digs up evidence against the CEO -- information that could shatter his life and family -- Conover finds it increasingly difficult to hold himself together, or to trust those around him, even his new romantic interest. And as he reveals a conspiracy taking place behind his back, and apparently engineered by Stratton's financial director with the approval of the company's venture-capitalist owners, Conover's future -- not to mention his sanity and very life -- lies in the balance.
Company Man really works. The tale hooks you from page 1, and keeps you reading even when your eyes want to close at the end of a day. Finder's characters are firmly established, and he has an uncommon grasp of corporate America's convoluted politics. My sole reservation here is that Finder ties up all the loose ends of his plot just a bit too neatly for my taste. But that's a minor gripe, and one unlikely to stop readers from enjoying this confidently wrought thriller. -- A.K.
Stuffed (Dell) marks the welcome return of the New York City taxidermy specialist Garth Carson, introduced three years ago in Brian W. Wiprud's highly regarded Pipsqueak, which won a Lefty Award and was one of January Magazine's favorite reads of 2002. Written in first-person, this rompish sequel has the wisecracking Carson on the trail of a stuffed white crow, which he purchased in Vermont as a birthday present for his long-suffering girlfriend, Angie -- but which is subsequently stolen by masked men, together with most of Carson's rentable taxidermy collection.
Did I mention Wiprud's reputation for literary zaniness? His talent along those lines is much in evidence here. Yet for all of this new novel's quirky observations about bear gallbladders and discount moose heads (and oh, so many other things), there's a darker side to Stuffed as well -- one that carries Carson and Angie deep beneath the civilized veneer of New England society and into the realm of the fanatics who make a life's mission of collecting things.
This is a very different sort of book -- part caper, part comedy and part mystery. It might be a welcome change, if you've been reading primarily earnest crime fiction of late. Stuffed can only enhance Wiprud's standing as a star among writers of fast-paced comic mysteries, and any wordsmith who can make you laugh out loud one minute, and shiver the next is well worth exploring. His third Garth Carson novel, Trampoline Nude, should be bouncing out of bookshops in the summer of 2006. -- A.K.
In the News
Naomi Hirahara, the Pasadena, California, author of Gasa-Gasa Girl ("RS" 3-4/05), clues the Pacific News Service in to the reasons she writes about Japanese Americans, similarities between her father and her series protagonist, Mas Arai, and her third Mas novel, tentatively titled Snakeskin Shamisen. Read more.
Mitch Cullin, whose Sherlock Holmes novel, A Slight Trick of the Mind, has attracted plenty of praise over the last two months, talks with the Dallas Morning News about his reputation as a cult writer, the unexpected difficulties he's faced at a time when Holmesian yarns seem to be turning up as regularly as summer bees, and how he "had to dispose of the canon" in order to compose his own Sherlock story. Read more.
In an interview with The New Zealand Herald, British novelist and stand-up comic Mark Billingham (The Burning Girl, Lifeless) says he actually likes to promote his novels before crowds; talks about the deliberate differences between real-life coppers and his fictional ones; and wonders why American readers "tell me I'm going to go to hell because my characters swear too much. It's weird. They'll happily read about murder and all manner of perversion and evil and yet if you swear at the same time, that's unacceptable, and I find that very strange." Read more.
Seventy-five-year-old Ruth Rendell, who has a new Inspector Wexford novel, End in Tears, coming out (from British publisher Hutchinson) in October, talks with fellow crime writer and London Telegraph contributor Marianne McDonald about The Minotaur, her latest "Barbara Vine" book, as well as her myriad phobias and why she has no wish to get married again. Read more.
"As if the great Canadian wilderness didn't have enough dangers of its own -- what with the blizzards, bears and bugs -- crime writers, particularly those with a literary bent, have increasingly taken to littering its scenic splendour with corpses." So remarks Brian Bethune, in a brief piece for Maclean's magazine that applauds the work of Giles Blunt (Black Fly Season), among other Canadian crime writers. Read more.
Now here's an unusual idea, likely to spark imitations elsewhere around the globe. According to the Edinburgh Scotsman, authors Ian Rankin, Alexander McCall Smith and Irvine Welsh are teaming up to write "a book of interlinking stories about Edinburgh." That book, to be titled One City, will be launched during a December 9 event at the Edinburgh Festival Theatre, and will be sold to raise money for charity. Read more.
Cuban detective novelist Leonardo Padura Fuentes, who has two translated books just out -- Adiós Hemingway in the States, and Havana Red in the UK, both featuring Lieutenant Mario Conde -- talks with Shots contributor Stephen Wilkinson about the universality of corruption, the transformation of Cuban crime fiction, the persecution of homosexuals in his island nation and the future of his Conde series. Read more.
The London Observer opines that it's time to get past prejudices against reading crime fiction in translation, and explore the wider world of works from Norway, France, Spain, Sweden and elsewhere. European mysteries are more often compelling than their American ones, says novelist Nicci Gerrard (aka Nicci French) because "life is not cheap. While the American style is more hard-hitting, with high body counts and terrorists dropping from the sky, European books are more intimate." Read more.
In an interview with Kansas' Johnson County Sun, Sara Paretsky explains that the impetus for her latest V.I. Warshawski yarn, Fire Sale, was her concern "about the added pressure being put on the working class under a global economy." She adds that her next novel will be a standalone, set in Kansas, that focuses on "the clash of cultures that occurred during the Bleeding Kansas period [of the 1850s] and those that occur today between conservatives and liberals, and rural and urban societies." Read more.
The Morning News Webzine serves up a lengthy interview with Chicagoan Kevin Guilfoile, in which the first-time author of Cast of Shadows discusses his position on cloning, his "nice guy" rep, his serial addiction to novelists and his fondness for "great comic novels." Read more.
The Noir Originals Web site is jammed with interesting new material, including interviews with Vicki Hendricks and Richard Marinick. But most interesting of all may be Jim Winter's interview with Rob Kanter, who once upon a time wrote novels featuring Detroit P.I. Ben Perkins (The Back Door Man, Concrete Hero) and is apparently due out soon with Trouble Is What I Do, a collection of Perkins short stories from Point Blank Press. Read more.
In a short interview with The Japan Times, German-reared author Ingrid J. "I.J." Parker (Rashomon Gate, The Hell Screen) talks about why she chose to set her novels in 11th-century Kyoto (despite the fact that she has never set foot in Japan); how her protagonist, Ministry of Justice official Sugawara Akitada, compares with filmmaker Kurosawa's swashbuckling samurai; and how, when penning historical fiction, it may be necessary to "break some rules and do some violence to the material to create a believable world for modern readers." Parker's third Akitada novel, The Dragon Scroll, is due out from Penguin in late June. Read more.
Although British thriller writer Robert Goddard (Sight Unseen) deserves much more in-depth treatment, his interview on the Macavity's Web site at least touches on his influence over the covers of his novels, his disappointment with the TV version of Into the Blue and the possibility of a third Harry Barnett adventure. Read more.
Variety reports that Paramount Pictures has optioned Lee Child's new thriller, One Shot, which features popular series tough guy Jack Reacher. According to the paper, Tom Cruise -- whose recent out of control publicity performances have probably done nothing to enhance his marketability -- will be the co-producer, through his company C/W Productions. Read more.
The New York Times examines how Janet Evanovich's family has transformed the Eleven On Top author "from a failing romance writer who once burned a box of rejection letters on her curb into a mini-industry whose success is beginning to emulate the sprawling domains of authorial heavyweights like James Patterson." Read more.
Fellow Montana wordsmith William Kittredge (Owning It All, Hole in the Sky) contributes his own reflections on Crumley, the writer, and Crumley, the drinker, to the Missoula Independent. Read more.
Batya Gur, the first Israeli crime novelist to earn a worldwide reputation, died of cancer at her home in Jerusalem on May 19. She was 57 years old. A literary critic and educator, Gur began her career as a novelist in 1988 with the publication of The Saturday Morning Murder, which introduced compassionate, Moroccan-born Chief Inspector Michael Ohayon, who would go on to appear in four more books. The newest one available in the States is Bethlehem Road Murder (2004). Read more.
Joseph Garber, a workaholic businessman who, late in life, took to penning thrillers (Vertical Run, Whirlwind), died on May 27 of an apparent heart attack at his home near San Francisco. He was 61. Read more.
J.D. Cannon, the actor who played cigar-chewing New York City chief of detective Peter B. Clifford in the 1970-77 TV series McCloud (opposite Dennis Weaver) died on May 20 at his upstate New York home. He was 83. Read more.
Finally, let us bid a fond farewell to Eddie Albert, who -- though probably best remembered for his role as city slicker-turned-farmer Oliver Douglas in TV's Green Acres -- also played retired cop Frank McBride in the 1975-78 crime series Switch (which co-starred Robert Wagner, playing ex-con man Peterson T. Ryan). Albert died in late May at age 99. Read more.
CUFF NOTES: Buzzworthy publisher Hard Case Crime reports that it has signed noir novelists Ken Bruen (The Magdalen Martyrs) and Jason Starr (Twisted City) to co-author a novel called Bust. In a recent e-note, Hard Case editor Charles Ardai reported that "Bust tells the story of sleazy New York businessman Max Fisher, who hatches a plot to kill his wife with the help of his Irish-American executive assistant and an ex-IRA hit man of her acquaintance. Naturally, things go horribly wrong." The book is due out next spring. ... "Rap Sheet" contributor Anthony Rainone shares this bit of news, gleaned from a recent Manhattan reading by Elmore Leonard: "He stated that he is currently working on a sequel to [his newest novel] The Hot Kid, which is set 10 years later. This sequel will move the action into 1944 and World War II. Specifically, Leonard will be writing about the housing of German POWs in Oklahoma. He also mentioned that he is writing a 12-part serial for The New York Times Magazine (no publication date yet, but probably within a year), which I believe he said will also focus on those POWs." ... Mark Billingham informs readers of his newsletter that "I've just about finished a first draft of what will be the sixth Tom Thorne novel, which at the moment is called Buried (cue the review which reads 'It should be'). That's almost certainly what it will stay called, unless I have a rush of blood to the head and change it to Harry Potter and the Hideous Series of Slayings. Or possibly Cracking the Code to the Guide of the Code to The Da Vinci Code First Anniversary Special Edition Coffee Table Pop-up Book ... Guide." ... There's lots of terrific stuff in the spring issue of Mystery Scene, including a sprightly cover story about author and Texas gubernatorial candidate Kinky Friedman, penned by January's own Kevin Burton Smith, a profile by the ever-talented Tom Nolan of MI-5 chief-turned-novelist Stella Rimington (At Risk) and a retrospective on the work of prolific British writer H.R.F. Keating. Best Headline Award goes to MS's look back at fictional female P.I.s of the 1930s and 40s (also by Smith), titled "Eye Witness: These Dicks Were Janes." ... Meanwhile, P.J. and Traci Lambrecht, the mother-daughter writing team known as P.J. Tracy, win cover acclaim in the April/May edition of Mystery News. It gives them a chance to atone for their years of writing romance novels ("something like 18") and to plug their latest Monkeewrench gang book, Dead Run. Inside, Stephen Miller interviews British hard-boiler Ray Banks, author of The Big Blind, and Virginia Knight gets medieval with Sharon Kay Penman. ... The spring issue of Mystery Readers Journal gets all artsy on us, with contents that include Amy Navratil Ciccone's study of architecture-related mysteries, Mary Helen Becker's look at humor in the art mysteries of Nicholas Kilmer and Iain Pears, and Sharan Newman's intriguingly titled essay, "'The Da Vinci Code' as Art Mystery?" ... Although it's got to be one of the least attractive publications still in print, Crime Scene continues to make a good showing, contentwise. Issue #6 includes an interview with Harlan Coben, a piece about the selling of Brit wonder John Connolly, and new fiction by both David Bowker and David White. Editor Jon Jordan's blog promises that Issue #7 will profile Barry Eisler (Killing Rain), tip us to Victor Gischler's favorite crime movie, and deliver what will undoubtedly not be the final word on publisher Hard Case Crime. ... And still more reasons to live: Henning Mankell's next Inspector Kurt Wallander novel, The Man Who Smiled, is due out in September, together with editor Vince Emery's Lost Stories of Dashiell Hammett, which should feature 21 long-out-of-print tales from the Continental Op's pop; while Max Allan Collins' Road to Paradise (the sequel to last year's superb Road to Purgatory) is set to hit U.S. bookstores in December, and Edward Wright's Red Sky Lament, the third of his historical thrillers featuring cinema cowboy-turned-detective John Ray Horn, is coming in January 2006 from UK publisher Orion. Yee-haw!
Nominees have been announced for the 2005 Anthony Awards, named in honor of premier U.S. critic Anthony Boucher. This year's contestants:
Best Novel: The Killing of the Tinkers, by Ken Bruen (St. Martin's Minotaur); The Madman's Tale, by John Katzenbach (Ballantine); Blood Hollow, William Kent Krueger (Atria); By a Spider's Thread, by Laura Lippman (HarperCollins); California Girl, by T. Jefferson Parker (HarperCollins); and Out of the Deep I Cry, by Julia Spencer-Fleming (St. Martins Minotaur)
Best First Novel: Uncommon Grounds, by Sandra Balzo (Five Star); Until the Cows Come Home, by Judy Clemens (Poisoned Pen Press); Retribution, by Juliane P. Hoffman (Putnam); Whiskey Sour, by J.A. Konrath (Hyperion); and Dating Dead Men, by Harley Jane Kozak (Doubleday)
Best Non-Fiction: Famous American Crimes and Trials, by Frankie Bailey and Steven Chermak (Praeger Publishers); Men's Adventure Magazines, by Max Allan Collins, et al. (Taschen); Blue Blood, by Edward Conlon (Riverhead); The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Short Stories, edited by Leslie S. Klinger (Norton); and The Ballad of the Whiskey Robber, by Julian Rubinstein (Little, Brown)
Best Paperback Original: Cold Case, by Robin Burcell (Avon); Putt to Death, by Roberta Isleib (Berkley Prime Crime); Blue Blood, by Susan McBride (Avon); The Halo Effect, by M.J. Rose (MIRA); and Twisted City, by Jason Starr (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard)
Best Short Story: "Voodoo," by Rhys Bowen (Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, November 2004; "The Widow of Slane," by Terence Faherty (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, March/April 2004); "It's Crackers to Slip a Rozzer the Dropsey in Snide," by Ted Hertel Jr. (from Small Crimes, edited by Michael Bracken; Betancourt/Wildside); "Hunter Trapper," by Arthur Nersesian (from Brooklyn Noir, edited by Tim McLoughlin; Akashic Press); and "Wedding Knife," by Elaine Viets (from Chesapeake Crimes, edited by Donna Andrews; Quiet Storm)
Best Cover Art: Brooklyn Noir, art by Sohrab Habibion; edited by Tim McLoughlin (Akashic); Fade to Blonde, art by Gregory Manchess; by Max Phillips (Hard Case Crime); Whiskey Sour, art by Sal Barracca/Bradford Foltz Design; by J.A. Konrath (Hyperion); Good Morning Darkness, art by Robert Santora; by Ruth Francisco (Mysterious Press); and Monkology, art by Michael Kellner; by Gary Phillips (Dennis McMillan)
The much-coveted Anthonys will be handed out during Bouchercon, to be held in Chicago in early September.
The Private Eye Writers of America has announced its nominees for the 2005 Shamus Awards. And the contenders are ...
Best P.I. Novel: Fade to Clear, by Leonard Chang (St. Martin's Minotaur); The Wake-Up, by Robert Ferrigno (Pantheon); After the Rain, by Chuck Logan (HarperCollins); Choke Point, by James Mitchell (SMP); and While I Disappear, by Edward Wright (Putnam)
Best Paperback Original P.I. Novel: Call the Devil By His Oldest Name, by Sallie Bissell (Dell); Shadow of the Dahlia, by Jack Bludis (Quiet Storm); London Blitz, by Max Allan Collins (Berkley Prime Crime); Island of Bones, by P.J. Parrish (Pinnacle Books); and Fade to Blonde, by Max Phillips (Hard Case Crime)
Best First P.I. Novel: Little Girl Lost, by Richard Aleas (Five Star); The Last Goodbye, by Reed Arvin (HarperCollins); The Dead, by Ingrid Black (St. Martin's Minotaur); Aspen Pulp, by Patrick Hasburgh (St. Martin's Minotaur); and Some Danger Involved, by Will Thomas (Simon & Schuster)
Best P.I. Short Story: "Hasidic Noir," by Pearl Abraham (from Brooklyn Noir, edited by Tim McLoughlin; Akashic Press); "Burnt Wood," by Mitch Alderman (Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine [AHMM], July 2004); "Trumpeter Swan," by John F. Dobbyn (AHMM, January-February 2004); "Dog on Fire," by Gregory S. Fallis (AHMM, May 2004); and "Tricks" by Steve Hockensmith (AHMM, August 2004)
Lifetime Achievement: Sara Paretsky
Again, awards will be handed out during Bouchercon.
Also to be announced at Bouchercon will be the winners of the 2005 Barry Awards, given out by Deadly Pleasures magazine. The contestants are:
Best Novel: The Enemy, by Lee Child (Delacorte); Alone at Night, by K.J. Erickson (St. Martin's Minotaur); Darkly Dreaming Dexter, by Jeff Lindsay (Doubleday); Remembering Sarah, by Chris Mooney (Atria); Little Scarlet, by Walter Mosley (Little, Brown); and Hard Revolution, by George Pelecanos (Little, Brown)
Best First Novel: Relative Danger, by Charles Benoit (Poisoned Pen Press); Walking Money, by James O. Born (Putnam); The Coroner's Lunch, by Colin Cotterill (Soho Press); Skinny Dipping, by Claire Matturro (Morrow); Some Danger Involved, by Will Thomas (Touchstone); and The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafón (Penguin)
Best British Crime Novel: The Burning Girl, by Mark Billingham (Little, Brown UK); The Dramatist, by Ken Bruen (Brandon UK); Flesh and Blood, by John Harvey (Heinemann UK); Tokyo, by Mo Hayder (Bantam Press UK); The Crime Trade, by Simon Kernick (Bantam Press UK); and First Drop, by Zoë Sharp (Piatkus UK)
Best Paperback Original: The Librarian, by Larry Beinhart (Nation Books); Into the Web, by Thomas H. Cook (Bantam); Tagged for Murder, by Elaine Flinn (Avon); Last Seen in Aberdeen, by M.G. Kincaid (Pocket); The Confession, by Domenic Stansberry (Hard Case Crime); and Twisted City, by Jason Starr (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard)
Best Thriller: Scarecrow, by Matthew Reilly (Thomas Dunne/St. Martin's); Rain Storm, by Barry Eisler (Putnam); Bagman, by Jay MacLarty (Pocket Star); Whirlwind, by Joseph Garber (HarperCollins); A Death in Vienna, by Daniel Silva (Putnam); and Paranoia, by Joseph Finder (St. Martin's Minotaur)
Best Short Story: "Cold Comfort," by Catherine Aird (from Chapter and Hearse and Other Mysteries, St. Martin's Minotaur); "The War in Wonderland," by Edward D. Hoch (from Green for Danger, edited by Martin Edward; Do-Not Press); "Facing Up," by Melodie Johnson Howe (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine [EQMM), July 2004); "Rumpole and the Christmas Break," by John Mortimer (The Strand Magazine, No. XIV); "Murder, the Missing Heir and the Boiled Egg," by Amy Myers (from Criminal Appetites, edited by Jeffrey Marks; Silver Dagger Mysteries); and "Ledgers," by Neil Schofield (EQMM, July 2004)
Members of Mystery Readers International have narrowed down their candidates for the 2005 Macavity Awards. Making the cut are:
Best Novel: The Killing of the Tinkers, by Ken Bruen (St. Martin's Minotaur); Cold Case, by Robin Burcell (Avon); Darkly Dreaming Dexter, by Jeff Lindsay (Doubleday); High Country Fall, by Margaret Maron (Mysterious Press); California Girl, by T. Jefferson Parker (HarperCollins); and Playing with Fire, by Peter Robinson (Morrow)
Best First Novel: Uncommon Grounds, by Sandra Balzo (Five Star); Summer of the Big Bachi, by Naomi Hirahara (Delta); Whiskey Sour, by J.A. Konrath (Hyperion); Dating Dead Men, by Harley Jane Kozak (Doubleday); and Misdemeanor Man, by Dylan Schaffer (Bloomsbury)
Best Non-Fiction: Famous American Crimes and Trials, by Frankie Bailey and Steven Chermak (Praeger Publishers); Just the Facts: True Tales of Cops and Criminals, by Jim Doherty (Deadly Serious Press); The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Short Stories, edited by Leslie S. Klinger (Norton); Latin American Mystery Writers: An A-to-Z Guide, by Darrell B. Lockhart (Greenwood Press); and Forensics for Dummies, by D.P. Lyle, MD (Wiley Publishing)
Best Short Story: "Viscery," by Sandra Balzo (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine [EQMM], December 2004); "The Widow of Slane," by Terence Faherty (EQMM, March/April 2004); and "The Lady's Not for Dying," by Alana White (Futures Mystery Anthology Magazine, Winter 2004)
Winners will be announced during Bouchercon.
The Crime Writers of Canada announced the winners of its 2005 Arthur Ellis Awards on June 9. Congratulations go out to:
Best First Novel: Dark Places, by Jon Evans (HarperCollins Canada) -- reviewed in "RS" 6/04
Also nominated: Death in the Age of Steam, by Mel Bradshaw (RendezVous Press); Raw Deal, by Rick Gadziola (ECW Press); Mad Money, by Linda L. Richards (MIRA); and The Border Guards, by Mark Sinnett (HarperCollins Canada)
Best Novel: Fifth Son, by Barbara Fradkin (RendezVous Press)
Also nominated: The Last Good Day, by Gail Bowen (McClelland & Stewart); The Magyar Venus, by Lyn Hamilton (Berkley Prime Crime); Playing with Fire, by Peter Robinson (McClelland & Stewart); and Sweep Lotus, by Mark Zuehlke (Dundurn)
Best Short Story: "Crocodile Tears," by Leslie Watts (from Revenge: A Noir Anthology, edited by Kerry J. Schooley; Insomniac Press)
Also nominated: "The Robbie Burns Revival," by Cecilia Kennedy (from The Robbie Burns Revival & Other Stories; Broken Jaw Press); "Sound of Silence," by Dennis Murphy (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, December 2004); "Death of a Dry-Stone Wall," by Dennis Murphy (Storyteller, Summer 2004); and "Sunnyside," by Coleen Steele (Storyteller, Summer 2004)
Best Non-Fiction: The Irish Game: A True Story of Crime and Art, by Matthew Hart (Viking Canada)
Also nominated: Mobsters, Gangsters and Men of Honour, by Pierre de Champlain (HarperCollins Canada); Night Justice: The True Story of the Black Donnellys, by Peter Edwards (Key Porter Books); Instruments of Murder, by Max Haines (Viking Canada); and Crime School: Money Laundering, by Chris Mathers (Key Porter Books)
Best Juvenile: The Beckoners, by Carrie Mac (Orca Book Publishers)
Also nominated: Thread of Deceit, by Susan Cliffe (Sumach Press); The Hippie House, by Katherine Holubitsky (Orca Book Publishers); Kat's Fall, by Shelley Hrdlitschka (Orca Book Publishers); and Sea Chase, by Curtis Parkinson (Tundra Books)
Best Crime Writing in French: Les Douze Pierres, by Ann Lamontagne (Vents d'Ouest)
Also nominated: La Souris et le rat, Jean-Pierre Charland, (Vents d'Ouest); Le Transmetteur, by Jacques Diamant (Stanke); Virgo intacta, by Louise Levesque (La Veuve noire); and La Femme de Berlin, by Pauline Vincent (Libre Expression)
Derrick Murdoch Award: Max Haines, "for years of giving new life to old crimes."
Malice Domestic announced the winners of its 2005 Agatha Awards during an April 30 banquet in Virginia. They are:
Best Novel: Birds of a Feather, by Jacqueline Winspear (Soho Press) -- reviewed in "RS" 6/04
Also nominated: We'll Always Have Parrots, by Donna Andrews (St. Martin's Minotaur); By a Spider's Thread, by Laura Lippman (Morrow); High Country Fall, by Margaret Maron (Mysterious Press); and The Pearl Diver, by Sujata Massey (HarperCollins)
Best First Novel: Dating Dead Men, by Harley Jane Kozak (Doubleday)
Also nominated: Till the Cows Come Home, by Judy Clemens (Poisoned Pen Press); Arson and Old Lace, by Patricia Harwin (Pocket); I Dreamed I Married Perry Mason, by Susan Kandel (HarperCollins); and The Clovis Incident, by Pari Noskin Taichert (University of New Mexico Press)
Best Non-Fiction: Private Eye-Lashes: Radio's Lady Detectives, by Jack French (Bear Manor Media)
Also nominated: The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Short Stories, edited by Leslie S. Klinger (Norton)
Best Short Story: "Wedding Knife," by Elaine Viets (from Chesapeake Crimes, edited by Donna Andrews; Quiet Storm)
"The Butler Didn't Do It," by Maria Y. Lima (from Chesapeake Crimes); and "The Two Marys," by Katherine Hall Page (from Mistletoe and Mayhem; Avon)
Best Children's/Young Adult Novel: Chasing Vermeer, by Blue Balliett (Scholastic Press)
Also nominated: Betrayal at Cross Creek, by Kathleen Ernst (American Girl); and Green Streak, by Daniel J. Hale and Matthew LaBrot (Top Publications)
The Mystery Writers of America announced the recipients of its 2005 Edgar Allan Poe Awards during a gala banquet in New York City on April 28:
Best Novel: California Girl, by T. Jefferson Parker (Morrow)
Also nominated: Evan's Gate, by Rhys Bowen (St. Martin's Minotaur); By a Spider's Thread, by Laura Lippman (Morrow); Remembering Sarah, by Chris Mooney (Atria); and Out of the Deep I Cry, by Julia Spencer-Fleming (St. Martin's Minotaur)
Best First Novel by an American Author: Country of Origin, by Don Lee (Norton)
Also nominated: Little Girl Lost, by Richard Aleas (Hard Case Crime); Relative Danger, by Charles Benoit (Poisoned Pen Press); Cloud Atlas, by Liam Callanan (Delacorte); Tonight I Said Goodbye, by Michael J. Koryta (St. Martin's Minotaur); and Bahamarama, by Bob Morris (St. Martin's Minotaur)
Best Paperback Original: The Confession, by Domenic Stansberry (Hard Case Crime) -- reviewed in "RS" 1-2/04
Also nominated: The Librarian, by Larry Beinhart (Nation Books); Into the Web, by Thomas H. Cook (Bantam); Dead Men Rise Up Never, by Ron Faust (Dell); and Twelve-Step Fandango, by Chris Haslam (Dark Alley)
Best Critical/Biographical: The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Short Stories, edited by Leslie S. Klinger (Norton)
Also nominated: Latin American Mystery Writers: An A-to-Z Guide, by Daniel B. Lockhart (Greenwood Press); Booze and the Private Eye: Alcohol in the Hard-Boiled Novel, by Rita Elizabeth Rippetoe (McFarland & Co.); and The Life of Graham Greene, Vol. 3: 1956-1991, by Norman Sherry (Viking)
Best Fact Crime: Conviction: Solving the Moxley Murder: A Reporter and a Detective's Twenty-Year Search for Justice, by Leonard Levitt (Regan Books)
Also nominated: Ready for the People: My Most Chilling Cases as Prosecutor, by Marissa N. Batt (Arcade Publishing); Forensics for Dummies, by D.P. Lyle, MD (Wiley Publishing); Are You There Alone?: The Unspeakable Crime of Andrea Yates, by Suzanne O'Malley (Simon & Schuster); Ballad of the Whiskey Robber: A True Story of Bank Heists, Ice Hockey, Transylvanian Pelt Smuggling, Moonlighting Detectives, and Broken Hearts, by Julian Rubinstein (Little, Brown); Green River, Running Red: The Real Story of the Green River Killer -- America's Deadliest Serial Murderer, by Ann Rule (Free Press)
Best Short Story: "Something About a Scar," by Laurie Lynn Drummond (from Anything You Say Can and Will Be Used Against You; HarperCollins)
Also nominated: "The Widow of Slane," by Terence Faherty (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine [EQMM], March/April 2004); "The Book Signing," by Pete Hamill (from Brooklyn Noir, edited by Tim McLoughlin; Akashic Press); "Adventure of the Missing Detective," by Gary Lovisi (from Sherlock Holmes: The Hidden Years, edited by Michael Kurland; St. Martin's Minotaur); and "Imitate the Sun," by Luke Sholer (EQMM, November 2004)
Best Young Adult: In Darkness, Death, by Dorothy and Thomas Hoobler (Philomel Books)
Also nominated: Story Time, by Edward Bloor (Harcourt Children's); Jude, by Kate Morgenroth (Simon & Schuster Children's); The Book of Dead Days, by Marcus Sedgwick (Wendy Lamb Books); and Missing Abby, by Lee Weatherly (David Fickling Books)
Best Juvenile: Chasing Vermeer, by Blue Balliett (Scholastic Press)
Also nominated: Assassin: The Lady Grace Mysteries, by Patricia Finney (Delacorte Books for Young Readers); Abduction!, by Peg Kehret (Dutton Children's); Looking for Bobowicz, by Daniel Pinkwater (HarperCollins Children's); and The Unseen, by Zilpha Keatley Snyder (Delacorte Books for Young Readers)
Best Play: Spatter Pattern (Or, How I Got Away With It), by Neal Bell (Playwrights Horizons)
Also nominated: Eliot Ness: An Untouchable Life, by Max Allan Collins (The Art House); and An Evening of Murder and the Like, by Edward Musto (Barrow Group Studio Theatre)
Best Television Episode Teleplay: Law & Order: Criminal Intent -- "Want," teleplay by Elizabeth Benjamin, story by René Balcer and Elizabeth Benjamin
Also nominated: Law & Order: Criminal Intent -- "Conscience," teleplay by Gerry Conway, story by René Balcer and Gerry Conway; Law & Order: Criminal Intent -- "Consumed," teleplay by Warren Leight, story by René Balcer and Warren Leight; Law & Order: Criminal Intent, "Pas De Deux," teleplay by Warren Leight, story by René Balcer and Warren Leight; and Monk -- "Mr. Monk and the Girl Who Cried Wolf," teleplay by Hy Conrad
Best Television Feature or Mini-Series Teleplay: State of Play, by Paul Abbott (BBC America)
Also nominated: Prime Suspect 6: The Last Witness, by Peter Berry (Granada TV and WGBH Boston); Death in Holy Orders, by Robert Jones, based on the novel by P.D. James (BBC Worldwide); Amnesia, by Chris Lang (BBC America); and "The Darkness of Light," Wire in the Blood, by Alan Whiting (Coastal Productions)
Best Motion Picture Screenplay: A Very Long Engagement, screenplay by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, based on the novel by Sebastien Japrisot (2003 Productions)
Also nominated: The Bourne Supremacy, screenplay by Tony Gilroy, based on the novel by Robert Ludlum (The Kennedy/Marshall Company, Universal Pictures, Hypnotic); Collateral, by Stuart Beattie (DreamWorks SKG); I'm Not Scared, screenplay by Francesca Marciano, based on the novel by Niccolo Ammaniti (Miramax Films); and Maria Full of Grace, screenplay by Joshua Marston (HBO Films)
Robert L. Fish Memorial Award: Thomas Morrissey for "Can't Catch Me" (from Brooklyn Noir; Akashic)
Grand Master: Marcia Muller
Ellery Queen Award: Carolyn Marino, vice president/executive editor, HarperCollins
Raven Awards: Cape Cod Radio Mystery Theatre (founded by Steve Oney); DorothyL listserv (founded by Diane Kovacs and Kara Robinson); Murder by the Book, Houston, Tex. (Martha Farrington, owner)
Special Edgar Awards: David Chase (writer/producer, The Sopranos); Tom Fontana (writer/producer, Homicide: Life on the Street)
The Simon & Schuster-Mary Higgins Clark Award: Perfect Sax, by Jerrilyn Farmer (Morrow/Avon); The Drowning Tree, by Carol Goodman (Ballantine); Scent of a Killer, by Christiane Heggan (MIRA); Grave Endings, by Rochelle Krich (Ballantine); and Murder in a Mill Town, by P.B. Ryan (Berkley Prime Crime)
Last but not least, the Short Mystery Fiction Society announced in April the winners of its 2005 Derringer Awards for short mystery and crime stories:
Best Flash Story: "The Big Guys," by J.A. Konrath (from Small Bites, edited by Garrett Peck and Keith Gouveia; Coscom Entertainment)
Also nominated: "Housesitter," by J.K. Cummins (Futures Mysterious Anthology Magazine, summer 2004); "Sand Scam," by Nick Andreychuk (Crimestalker Casebook, Fall 2004,); "Theda," by Beverly Brackett (Flash Fantastic, November 2004); and "Widow's Peak," by S.A. Daynard (from Riptide: Crime Stories by New England Writers, edited by Skye Alexander, Kate Flora, Susan Oleksiw; Level Best Books)
Short-Short Stories: "The Test," by Mike Wiecek (from Woman's World, November 20, 2004)
Also nominated: "Experience Required," by Michael Giorgio (Lunatic Chameleon, March 2004); "Sweet Smell of Success," by Beverle Graves Myers (from Who Died in Here?, edited by Pat Dennis; Penury Press); "The Big Store," by Stephen D. Rogers (Hardluck Stories, Spring 2004); and "Up in Smoke," by Jan Christensen (Futures Mysterious Anthology Magazine, January/February/March 2004)
Mid-Length Short Stories: "Viscery," by Sandra Balzo (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine [EQMM], December 2004)
Also nominated: "Brethren of the Sea," by Joan Druett (Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine [AHMM], November 2004); "Freddie Swings In," by David Terrenoire (from Fedora III, edited by Michael Bracken; Betancourt & Company); "Hilly Palmer's Last Case," by Duane Swierczynski (Plots With Guns, September/October 2004); "Phillie's Last Dance," by Ray Banks (Shots, March 2004)
Longer Short Stories: "Secondhand Heart," by Doug Allyn (from AHMM, January/February 2004)
Also nominated: "God's Dice, " by David White (The Thrilling Detective Web Site, Spring 2004); "A Sunday in Ordinary Time," by Terence Faherty (EQMM, August 2004); "The Franklin Fiasco," by Beverle Graves Myers (AHMM, September 2004); and "The Girl in Apartment 2A," by G. Miki Hayden (from Dime, edited by Babs Lakey; Quiet Storm)
"The Rap Sheet" is compiled 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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