Art & Culture



Kid's Books









Bangkok Tattoo
by John Burdett
Published by Alfred A. Knopf
320 pages, 2005

First, let me say that Burdett's Bangkok 8 was one of my favorite reads in 2003, and this sequel skyrocketed to the top of my to-be-read pile the moment I picked it out of my mail. I'm not sure why you are wasting time reading this review; you should be running out to the bookstore to get a copy, because Burdett does not disappoint. As in the previous story, Bangkok Tattoo introduces readers to the red-light world of Bangkok through the eyes of Royal Thai Police Detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep, the son of an American soldier and a Thai bar-girl. And again, we start in slam-bang style: Chanya, the star attraction in the brothel run by Sonchai's mother and Vikorn, his boss, is found spaced out on drugs, while at her feet lies the body of a CIA agent, Mitch Turner, who's penis has been cut off and his back flayed. Did I mention that this tale is not for those with low cringe factors? Anyway, Turner's CIA superiors figure that the global bad-guys from Al Qaeda are involved, since the dead op had been assigned to keep watch on the Islamic Terrorist Movement in the region. Meanwhile, Vikorn, who knows that his cathouse is purring along happily mainly because of Chanya's charms, sends her into hiding, rather than let the CIA put her through the ringer; and then he cremates Turner's body. Sonchai decides to dig a little into the case, only to discover that Turner and Chanya were perhaps something more than a one-night fling, that they had something more profound going on -- and that Chanya was in the United States around the time that suicide planes full of Saudis drilled into New York's World Trade Center and the Pentagon. From there, Burdett's tale unravels smartly. Although the anti-U.S. sentiment seems a bit overplayed, the story here is every bit as good as what Bangkok 8 offered, and that's saying a mouthful. If you like your crime fiction exotic, surreal and not too coy about the ways life and business really work in Southeast Asia, then this book's for you. -- Ali Karim

Busted Flush
by Brad Smith
Published by Henry Holt and Company
320 pages, 2005

Like a cold beer with a good friend on a sunny day, Brad Smith's Busted Flush goes down surprisingly easy, a feel-good yarn whose multiple charms linger long after the final page. It all kicks off 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 and a handful of his favorite books and CDs. His destination is Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and a house he's just inherited from a long-lost relative. The conniving local lawyer handling the estate expects Dock to sell the ramshackle old farmhouse; but the former handyman sees the property as a "fixer-upper" more than a lost cause, and decides to stay on. And that's when the real fun starts. The amiable, if occasionally cranky, Dock isn't far along in his renovations before 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 Abraham Lincoln delivering the Gettysburg Address. All of this courtesy of young Willy Burns, a jack-of-all-trades, would-be inventor and the house's original occupant. The discovery thrusts Dock reluctantly into the national spotlight, and before you can say "Cold Mountain," the sharks start to circle. But oh, what sharks -- a colorful collection of carpetbaggers and other miscreants still trying to milk the bloody War Between the States for all they can get, more than a century after the fighting ended. Busted Flush is filled with other larger-than-life characters as well, all drawn with broad but never cartoonish strokes: suitably hissable villains (notably an unscrupulous antiques dealer/scam artist and his redneck assistant), likable heroes (an endearingly nutty professor and a chain-smoking female TV journalist) and a whole bunch of other suitably quirky folks, such as the cheerfully foul-mouthed associate of a rap superstar determined to own "the motherfuckin' Lincoln recording," because Lincoln "set all us motherfuckers free in 1861." Yet, as crazy as things get, Smith is never mean-spirited. He pokes and prods with gentle humor, rather than lacerating with caustic wit, and some of the most effective moments come when he drops his guard and tries a little tenderness. Dock's unassuming persona (an affable combination of Jim Rockford and Huckleberry Finn), the simple pleasure he takes in the hard physical work of renovation and the genuine affection he displays for his late carpenter father are what really make Busted Flush special and even surprisingly touching. This is easily one of my favorite reads of the year. Well done, Mr. Smith. -- Kevin Burton Smith

Cinnamon Kiss
by Walter Mosley
Published by Little, Brown and Company
320 pages, 2005

I can't believe it's been 15 years since we were first introduced to Ezekiel "Easy" Rawlins in Devil in a Blue Dress. Like Little Scarlet, the previous entry in Mosley's popular series, Cinnamon Kiss is a dynamite read -- one that should cement this author's reputation as a writer working at the top of his profession. The story here kicks off two years after Los Angeles' Watts Riots of 1965, which so keenly backdropped Scarlet, and this time, Mosley provides more twists and turns than a grand-prix race. As ever, Easy is in need of hard cold cash, only this time it's because his adopted daughter, Feather, requires medical care for a rare and potentially fatal blood disease. Raymond "Mouse" Alexander, Easy's regular psychopathic sidekick, offers the private eye a route to putting his money woes behind him -- but he'll have to engage in armed robbery. Instead, Easy leaves L.A. and heads north to San Francisco, tracking a wealthy attorney and his assistant (and lover), Cinnamon Cargil, who are involved with Nazi documents and have gone missing. This tale poses the knotty moral questions of whether it can be right to do wrong, and whether ends might sometimes justify means. But more importantly, we see the change in late-60's West Coast America, as the Summer of Love comes into full flower and pushes the specter of racism into the shadows -- at least for a while. Cold dead bodies pepper Easy's trail, as do the warm bodies of women who see Easy as a comfort in their complex lives. A welcome aspect of the hunt for Nazi papers and Cinnamon's wayward attorney is the plethora of minor characters who come to form an integral part of this novel's narrative. As Easy Rawlins' venture into being a bona fide detective takes greater shape, we also are confronted with a seriously deranged villain who wears a snakeskin jacket and is someone whom our flawed hero must wait through many pages to confront. I thought Little Scarlet would be a hard act to follow; but this latest episode in one of the most consistently fascinating crime series around has it beaten, hands down. Excellent and not to be missed. -- Ali Karim

The Colorado Kid
by Stephen King
Published by Hard Case Crime
184 pages, 2005

How do you review a book without totally destroying the author's intent or ruining the book's most important plot twist? That's the problem raised by horrormeister Stephen King's outrageous new novel, The Colorado Kid, an honest-to-goodness paperback original (emphasis on "original") from the retro-pulp specialists at Hard Case Crime. There's some fine sleight-of-hand here -- the cover illustration (a babe in a little black dress clutching a microphone offers readers a peek at her damn fine gams), the page count (a mere 178 pages, plus a very brief must-read afterword), and the yarn's clean, tight prose style all conspire to suggest (at least at first) that this is nothing so much as good ol' pulp fiction, the sort of thing someone like John D. MacDonald or Dan J. Marlowe (to whom the book is dedicated) might have cranked out for Gold Medal, circa 1957. And at first glance, that's exactly what we seem to have: an enjoyable way to knock off a few hours, and nothing more. Stephanie McCann, a young journalism student from the big city is serving a summer internship on The Weekly Islander on Moose-Lookit Island off the coast of Maine, when she slowly becomes intrigued by a "real-life mystery," the still-unsolved death of a man found dead on a local beach 20 years ago. The story is fed to her (and the reader) in bits and pieces by her elderly editor and his 90-year-old feature writer, two salty old coots who may -- or may not -- know more than they're telling. But by the novel's end, it becomes clear that it's King himself who's the one with the real hidden agenda. Because what he's really served up is not the nice safe little literary exercise we expected, but a sharp, savvy, honest-to-God post-modern meta-mystery novel that tears into the very guts of the genre, by daring to ask why we tell stories and why we read mysteries. Fortunately, even when he aims high, King never forgets that he's first and foremost a storyteller, and he baits his trap appropriately. The slightly meandering (but never dull) narrative is intentional -- not the result of the self-indulgence King is frequently accused of, but a key part of this book's underlying theme and appeal. And, of course, part of the illusion. Yeah, it's probably the kind of trick only someone with the commercial clout and stature of King could get away with (another point the author may be trying to make), but as tricks go it's a good one -- one that will cause mystery buffs to argue about and scratch their heads over for a long time to come. Read it. Discuss among yourselves. -- Kevin Burton Smith

Crusader's Cross
by James Lee Burke
Published by Simon & Schuster
336 pages, 2005

This 14th Dave Robicheaux tale is a really beautiful piece of writing by one of America's most lyrical crime novelists. Crusader's Cross has its roots back in 1958, when Dave and his half-brother, Jimmie, were working along America's Gulf Coast. It was there they met Ida Durbin, a prostitute who was trying to escape the shackles of her seedy life. Jimmie and Ida fell in love and hatched a plan to flee to Mexico; but before they could depart, Ida was kidnapped by her pimp and a couple of dodgy cops, and for the next 40 years, no one knew what had become of her. But then, one day, a dying childhood friend tells former New Orleans homicide detective Dave Robicheaux all he knows about Ida Durbin's fate. Afterward, Dave -- now in his 60s, widowed and retired -- decides, with Jimmie's help, to try tracking down Ida. But the trail is more treacherous than they imagined. Not only does it lead to Louisiana's prominent Chalon family, but it's slippery with drugs, prostitution and, of course, Southern politics. Crisscrossing this yarn is the case of a serial killer operating out of Baton Rouge, which Dave also takes on, after recruiting his former police partner, the violent Cletus "Clete" Purcel, to help. The strength of Crusader's Cross, though, does not come from its plot; instead, it comes from the characters, its lyrical writing style and the peeks Burke allows us into how the Deep South works ... and doesn't. Dave Robicheaux is a good man, standing up for the underdogs. And Crusader's Cross is a damn good book, reminding us of why Burke has drawn both international attention and multiple awards for his work. -- Ali Karim

The Cutting Crew
by Steve Mosby
Published by Orion (UK)
320 pages, 2005

Steve Mosby hit the headlines in 2003 when his debut novel, The Third Person, was launched as part of Orion's International "New Blood" series. The author's follow-up is a noirish crime-fantasy, which could easily take the label "future noir." The Cutting Crew's hero is Martin, a former police officer (now single after his marriage failed), who's tracking his missing friend, Sean, who's vanished into the shadows of a city in the future. That unnamed metropolis has districts named after animals (e.g. Wasp, Horse, Rabbit, et al). Then bodies start turning up, and soon the vigilante activities of Martin and Sean and their cabal become revealed, as a political conspiracy -- which had been concealed within the shadows of an inter-district boxing tournament -- is suddenly unearthed This is crime fiction at the cutting edge and extremities of the genre: grim, brooding, but not without black humor and insight. It's very different, let me say that. But if you enjoyed Paul Johnston's Sherlock Award-winning tales about a futuristic Edinburgh, Scotland, featuring maverick investigator Quint Dalrymple (Body Politic, The Bone Yard, Water of Death, The Blood Tree and The House of Dust), or delighted in entering the world of Michael Marshall's The Straw Men, then Mosby's second novel might be right up your alley. Just beware of some real viciousness. You have been warned. -- Ali Karim

The Death Collectors
by Jack Kerley
Published by Dutton
336 pages, 2005

I loved Jack Kerley's debut novel, The Hundredth Man (2004). But, believe it or not, The Death Collectors is even better, a genuinely bold and solidly told adventure that had me up and reading far past midnight. Kerley is a former advertising writer, but the strength of his narrative composition will make him a crucial player in crime fiction -- even if he does favor serial-killer plots, which are now such a plague across the genre. The Death Collectors finds Mobile, Alabama, police detectives Carson Ryder and Harry Nautilus linking the recent killing of a suspected motel prostitute with the death of serial killer and artist Marsden Hexcamp, murdered in a courtroom back in 1972. Hexcamp, with assistance from his followers, conducted a murder spree across the U.S. Gulf Coast 30 years ago, and now he seems to be directing those acolytes again -- from beyond the grave. The trail leads our heroes (who again received help from Ryder's homicidal and incarcerated brother, Jeremy) to a previously missing lawyer and a strange group of collectors, who savor the trophies of serial killers and are ruthlessly pursuing the missing works of Hexcamp. In the midst of all this, along comes Dee Dee Danbury, a local newspaper reporter who takes a shine to Ryder. However, as this story reaches it's zenith, our two detectives and Danbury discover just how close to the edge they really are. Heavily influenced by the Charles Manson murders, this is a really fast read. But don't crack the spine unless you have nothing planned for the evening and can really sink into Kerley's yarn. If you thought the serial killer subgenre had seen its best days already, think again. -- Ali Karim

Devils in the Mirror
by Lesley Horton
Published by Orion (UK)
352 pages, 2005

I thoroughly enjoyed Lesley Horton's previous British police procedurals, Snares of Guilt and On Dangerous Ground, both of which featured Detective Inspector John Handford and Detective Sergeant Khalid Ali, a pair of cops who work the racially diverse West Yorkshire beat. Part of the enjoyment I find in this series comes from the author's grasp and deft employment of the English language -- and considering her teaching background, that expertise comes as little surprise. What is surprising, however, is her grasp of the issues confronting the police in West Yorkshire, especially those related to young people. Such an understanding is most evident in Devils in the Mirror. This time around, Handford and Ali are investigating the apparent ritual slaying of black schoolgirl Shayla Roberts, a troubled student who had accused one of her teachers of committing sexual assault, but who was also discovered to be a pathological liar. Horton piles on the troubles -- Handford's wife works at the school Shayla attended, while Ali is partnered with a racist colleague -- and then weaves her story through a succession of subplots involving a large array of characters. Balancing the themes of racial conflict, religious fervor and criminal gangs among children, this is a very complex tale that stretches far from the druid altar upon which Shayla Roberts was found. If you like your police procedurals peppered with social realism, then Horton's devilish Mirror is well worth looking into. -- Ali Karim

The Great Stink
by Clare Clark
Published by Harcourt
368 pages, 2005

Throughout the 1840s and 50s, London -- then the largest city on the face of the planet -- was plagued, both in nose and reputation, by an overabundance of sewage and the threats of disease attending that plenitude. The Victorian metropolis finally established a commission to check over and replace labyrinths of antiquated sewer systems, and to rid the British capital of an estimated 200,000 fetid cesspits. Clark's debut novel springs from that history, giving us William May, a junior engineer and battle-scarred veteran of the Crimean War, whose imprecise remembrance of a murder he may or may not have observed in the filthy tunnels running beneath the city leads to his becoming the prime suspect, and being jailed for the transgression. Clark's re-creation of the period and its players on all economic levels makes The Great Stink a sweet find. -- J. Kingston Pierce

Killer Swell
by Jeff Shelby
Published by Dutton
256 pages, 2005

Surf's up, and so is Jeff Shelby, whose energetic debut novel, Killer Swell, 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 be mistaken for just another beach dude whose acumen and professionalism are easily missed behind a façade of cheap T-shirts, equally cut-rate living arrangements 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 -- and Braddock's ex-girlfriend -- Kate, she turns immediately to him for help. Soon, our hero (alternately assisted and endangered by sidekick Carter Hamm, a wisecracking, womanizing ex-jock) goes off to quiz Kate's friends and family, mix it up with thugs and federal agents, and learn more than he actually wanted to know about his ex-inamorata's life. This includes the discovery that her husband is a serial cheat; that Kate did time in drug-rehab programs; and that this former "golden child" had mortgaged her shapely ass to the DEA, agreeing to help bring down a drug kingpin 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. Oh, and then he complicates things still further 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." Despite its overdependence on loaded weaponry and the too-convenient discovery of a corpse, there's a lot to like about this series debut. Private eyes haven't had this much fun at the beach since TV's Riptide. -- J. Kingston Pierce

Killing for England
by Ian McDowall
Published by Piatikus Books
320 pages, 2005

This is the fourth installment of Ian McDowall's police-procedural series (after Perfectly Dead, 2003), all of the books set in the fictional English city of Crowby. It's a town situated in the southern part of the British Midlands, but its name is derived from "the place of the crow," and so it is fitting that carrion birds lurk in the shadows and hide from Detective Chief Inspector Frank Jacobson and Detective Sergeant Ian Kerr, the two defenders of the law in these intriguing tales. This time around, McDowell's leading men face the suicide of Darren McGee, a young black guy found floating in the river Crow. McGee has a history of mental illness and previous, failed suicide attempts; yet, in Killing for England, his cousin, journalist Paul Shaw, comes to Crowby insistent that McGee was the victim of a racially motivated murder. Jacobson and Kerr are not convinced -- at least not Shaw, himself, is found murdered. From there, the investigation leads them into the alleyways and bedsits of Crowby's underworld, a place where drink and drugs and racism are the only ways that some folks can cope with the world around them. And, backdropped by the distant roar of death-metal guitars, our two detectives eventually piece together why a young black man found himself floating in the river. I am constantly surprised that McDowall is not as well known as other authors who plough the police-procedural field. If John Harvey or Peter Robinson are to your taste, then McDowall should also be your man, and Killing for England is a good place to start your exploration of his talents. -- Ali Karim

The Lincoln Lawyer
by Michael Connelly
Published by Little, Brown and Company
416 pages, 2005

OK, so I really wanted more of L.A. detective Harry Bosch (last spotted in The Narrows, reviewed in "The Rap Sheet," 9-11/05). But instead, in The Lincoln Lawyer, author Connelly gives us Michael "Mickey" Haller, a Los Angeles criminal defense attorney and the son of a superstar advocate, who conducts his business out of the back of a car (a Lincoln Continental, of course). As big as a fan as I am of Bosch, I rather liked this interlude in Connelly's writing career, this novel wherein he invades the territory of John Grisham and Scott Turow, and in my opinion comes up trumps. The tale here finds Haller, who normally scratches out a living going from court to court, defending lowlife criminals, landing himself a rich "franchise client": Louis Roulet, a millionaire real-estate agent accused of brutally attacking a prostitute. Money is no object to Roulet's overbearing mother, who wants her son cleared. But the defense case appears strong enough to carry the day -- perhaps too strong. Is Roulet really an innocent man ... and would Haller even recognize such a creature, after defending obvious scumbags for so many years? The Lincoln Lawyer reaches fever pitch when we finally get into the courtroom, because sitting on the district attorney's team is Maggie Mcpherson, referred to as both "Maggie McFierce" and also as the ex-Mrs. Haller, Mickey's first wife. And it is there that Connelly's plot takes a sharp turn. Mickey soon realizes that not all the criminals in this case are located in the dock, and Maggie sees that Mickey needs help. This is top-notch entertainment, not only character driven but with a real acknowledgment of the gray areas between right and wrong. -- Ali Karim

Locked Rooms
by Laurie L. King
Published by Bantam Books
416 pages, 2005

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 California's Bay Area, the more she's plagued by dreams involving the "locked rooms" that give this eighth book in Laurie King's 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. -- J. Kingston Pierce

Lost Stories
by Dashiell Hammett; edited by Vince Emery
Published by Vince Emery Productions
352 pages, 2005

Publisher, editor and Hammett freak Vince Emery has been promising the imminent release of Dashiell Hammett's Lost Stories, the first in Emery Production's proposed "Ace Performer" series of books about the Pinkerton detective turned detective story master, for what seems like ever. Well, the book is finally here, and it was well worth the wait. This collection of 21 long-lost goodies is a worthy finishing touch to what has turned into a banner year for Hammett aficionados, marking as it does the 75th anniversary of the book-length publication of his acknowledged masterpiece, The Maltese Falcon, back in February and rewarding fans with the long overdue (and so far, surprisingly successful) late-summer release of the entire series of Thin Man movies on DVD. The "stories" part of this handsomely presented volume's title may not be totally accurate; some of these pieces aren't so much stories as brief vignettes, experiments in tone and style, or "offhand scribbles," and the illustrated Thin Man radio play included here was -- as Emery bluntly points out -- almost certainly not written by Hammett himself. But there's no doubt about the "lost" status. Many of these odds and sods haven't seen the light of day since they were first published in magazines back in the 1920s and 30s, and are appearing here for the first time ever in book form. But Lost Stories goes far beyond simple historical curiosity, thanks to a introduction by fellow private eye turned crime scribe Joe Gores, who passionately argues that Hammett is not just one of the great mystery writers, but one of the greatest writers of his time (it was Raymond Chandler, no crime-writing slouch himself, who dubbed Hammett the "Ace Performer," from which the series draws its title). Still, the real treat here isn't Gores' fiery and well-argued opening shot, or even Hammett's writing (truthfully, a handful of these pieces are decidedly minor); no the best part of Lost Stories is the fascinating, illuminating and richly detailed context of Hammett's life into which Emery lovingly places each and every entry, offering readers a sort of parallel biography of a great writer honing his craft and making this book far, far more than a mere collection of disparate literary kitchen scraps. By weaving Hammett's stories and the story of the always colorful and controversial Hammett himself together, Emery has offered anyone who gives a damn about good writing in general, and crime fiction in particular, a veritable feast -- and something to really chew on. -- Kevin Burton Smith

The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes: The Novels
by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; edited by Leslie S. Klinger
Published by W.W. Norton & Company
928 pages, 2005

It's easy to forget, in light of Sherlock Holmes' indefatigable popularity, that Conan Doyle only wrote four novels in which he appeared. Most of what we know of the adventures of Holmes and Dr. John Watson comes from 56 short stories, which Klinger collected in last year's Edgar Award-winning two-volume set, The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Short Stories. Now comes the single-volume follow-up containing A Study in Scarlet (1887), The Sign of Four (1889), The Hound of the Baskervilles (1901) and The Valley of Fear (1914). As before, this 928-page collection is handsomely punctuated with Sidney Paget's original illustrations for the Strand Magazine, as well as images of dust jackets from early editions of the novels and period photographs. Klinger's annotations cover everything from the identity of Watson's wives to the treatment of typhoid and the art of the violin (which the editor may understand better than Holmes ever did). A gorgeous must-have for any connoisseur of the Great Detective. -- J. Kingston Pierce

Philip Marlowe's Guide to Life
by Raymond Chandler; edited by Martin Asher
Published by Alfred A. Knopf
96 pages, 2005

This 96-page compendium of Marlowe's cleverest and most relevant-to-our-time quotes from Raymond Chandler's novels and short stories covers everything from booze ("Alcohol is like love. The first kiss is magic, the second is intimate, the third is routine. After that, you take the girl's clothes off") to crime ("We're a big rough rich wild people and crime is the price we pay for it, and organized crime is the price we pay for organization") to a man's needs ("I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance, I needed a vacation, I needed a home in the country. What I had was a coat, a hat and a gun"). Some of the quotes here are familiar from having been repeated elsewhere ("The minutes went by on tiptoe, with their fingers to their lips"; "It was a blonde. A blonde to make a bishop kick a hole in a stained glass window"), while other, more obscure selections remind us of the riches we've forgotten by not rereading Chandler more frequently ("She had an iron smile and eyes that could count the money in your hip wallet"; "Cops are like a doctor that gives you aspirin for a brain tumor, except that the cop would rather cure it with a blackjack"). The ideal gift for Chandler enthusiasts in need of one. -- J. Kingston Pierce

Road to Paradise
by Max Allan Collins
Published by William Morrow
304 pages, 2005

If anybody is remembered in years to come for having best mined America's 20th-century criminal past for fictional purposes, it will certainly be the prolific Max Allan Collins. His award-winning Nate Heller P.I. series (Angel in Black, Chicago Confidential) has gone behind the scenes of real-life misdeeds (the Lindbergh baby kidnapping, the assassination of Louisiana politician Huey Long, Los Angeles' infamous Black Dahlia murder, etc.), while his four novels (from Dark City to Murder by the Numbers) featuring Eliot Ness -- he of "Untouchables" fame but rather more touched-by-disappointment life -- added further to our understanding of the ways in which law enforcement was practiced, and sometimes misapplied, during the century now passed. And paralleling both of those series has been Collins' trilogy of dramatic tales following son-of-a-gunman Michael O'Sullivan Jr. Introduced as a boy in the 1998 graphic novel Road to Perdition (which was made into a Tom Hanks film in 2002), O'Sullivan -- adopted after the killing of his father, and changing his name to Satariano -- reappeared in the bang-up adventure Road to Purgatory (one of January's favorite books of 2004). He's back for what's most likely a final time in Road to Paradise, a novel that skips 30 years ahead of its predecessor, to 1973. We find Satariano now managing the Cal-Neva Lodge and Casino at Lake Tahoe, positioned right on the border between California and Nevada. Although still officially a "made man," a member and beneficiary of the Chicago Outfit, Satariano looks to have found himself a peaceful existence at last. Fifty years old, with a boyish face framed by "dark brown Beatle-banged hair only lightly touched with gray at the temples," and partial to gray sharkskin suits, Satariano thinks he's left his killer heritage behind. He's still married to his high-school sweetheart, the former Patty Ann O'Hara, and they've been favored with a couple of children, Mike Jr. and Anna. But -- hey, you knew this was coming, right? -- things are about to change. For one, high-school graduate Mike has volunteered to serve in the Vietnam War, tremendously upsetting his mother, a vocal war opponent who thought her son had escaped the bloody battlefields of Southeast Asia by drawing a high draft-lottery number. And then "Saint" Satariano, as Collins' protagonist has come to be known in his late-term legitimacy, risks his own future and that of his family by refusing an assignment from mob boss Sam "Mooney" Giancana (newly back in the States after an exile to Mexico) to put the hit on another, even more unpredictable gangster. When Satariano is soon thereafter framed for the assassination anyway, he considers it in the best interests of his loved ones to enter the government's fledgling Witness Protection Program. Yet a relocation to Tucson, Arizona, and a change of name (the Satarianos become the Smiths) does nothing to ensure the family's life expectancy. A single unnecessary act of violence, and Michael O'Sullivan-Satariano-Smith steers once again for the road of revenge, this time accompanied by his attractive, talented and (conveniently) firearms-trained daughter. There's neatness in the fact that Road to Paradise brings the life of Collins' protagonist full circle. Yes, a mid-book subplot concerning the worrisome disappearance of Anna Satariano does seem rather contrived and unlikely; but it doesn't take away from the enjoyment readers will find in this character-rich, tension-suffused novel that brings the 1970s back to life (Flip Wilson, anyone?) and suggests one solution to a headline-grabbing death that, in history books, has gone officially unsolved. While Paradise concludes Collins' "Road" trilogy, the author acknowledges that he has left "certain loose ends that may some day lead to another novel." We can only look forward to the day. -- J. Kingston Pierce

by Brian M. Wiprud
Published by Dell
384 pages, 2005 

Stuffed marks the welcome return of New York taxidermy specialist Garth Carson, introduced in Wiprud's highly regarded and award-winning novel Pipsqueak (which won a Lefty Award and made it onto January Magazine's favorite reads of 2002 list). Written in first-person, this lighthearted romp has Carson on the trail of a stuffed white crow that 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. It appears that the whole world wants this prized creature, for reasons that are far from clear. Together with Angie and their muscular Russian handyman, Otto, Carson wants to find out -- and to get his feathered find back in the process. But along the way, they run into madmen and freaks of all kinds, while the police and feds seem to have no greater grasp on reason than the folks who stole Carson's stuffed critters. For all of its quirky observations about bear gallbladders, discount moose heads and 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 fanatics who make it their life's mission to collect things. This frantically paced tale is part caper, part comedy and part mystery. It can only enhance Wiprud's standing in the firmament of comic mystery writers. Any wordsmith who can make you laugh out loud one minute, and shiver the next is well worth exploring. -- Ali Karim

War at Home
by Kris Nelscott
Published by St. Martin's Minotaur/Thomas Dunne
352 pages, 2005

In the summer of 1969, black private eye Smokey Dalton, his adopted son, Jimmy, and street-smart orphan Malcolm Reyner set off in an old panel van from Chicago to New Haven, Connecticut, in search of Daniel Kirkland, a black merit-scholarship student who's failed to show up for classes at Yale University. Could his disappearance have to do with Daniel's involvement in the anti-Vietnam War movement -- and rumors of bombs waiting to go off? As Daniel's trail leads onward to New York City, Smokey finds himself confronting a vengeful sniper and his own mortality, as well as the awful realization that Daniel Kirkland may not be as innocent as his mother believes. Nelscott (a pseudonym of science fiction author Kristine Kathryn Rusch) is producing a powerful, emotionally rich series that reminds us of just how much America hasn't evolved over the last four decades. -- J. Kingston Pierce


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