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By Jo Ann Vicarel -- Library Journal, 10/01/2008



Loners No More A classic character in the mystery genre has been the loner sleuth, someone who doesn't need a family or companionship. But it is clear that a number of authors are moving in a new direction, with their protagonists discovering that they are part of something bigger than themselves. The late Mickey Spillane created the ultimate detective in Mike Hammer but shows us Hammer's gentler side in his posthumous The Goliath Bone. In Peter May's Blacklight Blue, we find Enzo MacLeod's extended family rallying to protect the forensic scientist from an unknown killer. Robert Greer's Blackbird, Farewell provides a heartwarming peek into a multicultural mix of people who act as family in the sense that all of them care for and help one another. Is the lone detective gone? No, look at the latest entries by James Church (Bamboo and Blood) and Bill Cameron (Chasing Smoke). The plain fact is that it is reassuring to see authors exploring the human condition in ways that give us all hope.

Cameron, Bill. Chasing Smoke. Bleak House: Big Earth. Dec. 2008. c.286p. ISBN 978-1-60648-018-2. $24.95; pap. ISBN 978-1-60648-019-9. $14.95. M

"Skin" Kadash, a Portland, OR, homicide detective and cancer victim, is asked by his partner to look over her notes on three suicides and view the scene of the fourth. All four men suffered from cancer and went to the same doctor, who also happens to be Kadash's physician. Rising crime fiction star Cameron (Lost Dog) has Kadash take a wisecracking, cynical approach to his situation, and this results in a very humane, personal investigation in which our protagonist must navigate the dangerous shoals of police office politics and the ugly fact that someone wants him gone permanently. Highly recommended for all collections.

Church, James. Bamboo and Blood: An Inspector O Novel. Thomas Dunne Bks: St. Martin's. Dec. 2008. c.292p. ISBN 978-0-312-37291-0. $23.95. M

In 1997, while the people of North Korea wait to see if the new dictator will be able to step into his father's shoes, Inspector O (A Corpse in the Koryo; Hidden Moon) has been told to write a report on a murdered woman but has received no information on where her death took place or how she was killed. He also has been selected to protect a mysterious man who may or may not be an Israeli but continues to get permission to visit North Korea. Gifted storyteller Church, who obviously has a vast insider's knowledge of this mysterious country, leads the reader and Inspector O on a complex trail of misdirection and treachery. A third triumph for Church. [Library marketing; see Prepub Mystery, LJ 8/08.]

Davies, David Stuart. Without Conscience: A Johnny Hawke Novel. Thomas Dunne Bks: St. Martin's. Dec. 2008. c.224p. ISBN 978-0-312-38210-0. $23.95. M

In his second adventure after Forests of the Night, Johnny Hawke, a one-eyed veteran and former policeman-turned-PI, witnesses the murder of a cross-dressing man whose suspicious wife had hired Hawke to follow her husband. In 1942 London, the German bombing blitz is in full swing, and the blackouts create a perfect haven for criminals to operate. Davies uses his dramatic wartime setting to pack a real punch in this harsh, gritty mystery but tempers the violence with a memorable cast of characters who show great courage and humanity in the face of danger and a possible German invasion. This is sure to appeal to fans of the World War II mysteries of John Gardner and John Lawton (see the review of his Second Violin, p. 48). Highly recommended.

Donohue, John. Tengu the Mountain Goblin: A Connor Burke Martial Arts Thriller. YMAA. Oct. 2008. c.286p. ISBN 978-1-59439-125-5. $22.95; pap. ISBN 978-1-59439-123-1. $12.95. M

While Connor Burke, an Asian studies professor and black belt, is off critiquing the martial arts training of a U.S. special ops group, a Harvard anthropology student, the daughter of a wealthy Japanese family, is kidnapped in a remote area of the Philippines. Her ransom is paid, but the terrorists also take the man who delivers it. The man is Yamishita, Burke's sensei, or teacher. Burke, his brother Micky, and his police partner, Art, go on their most dangerous mission to a remote part of the world where they have little hope of success. In his third thriller (after Sensei and Deshi), Donohue kicks out prose that is as fluid as the martial arts moves he so eloquently describes. Of course, Barry Eisler's John Rain series comes to mind as a read-a-like.

Fowler, Christopher. The Victoria Vanishes: A Peculiar Crimes Unit Mystery. Bantam. Oct. 2008. c.323p. ISBN 978-0-553-80502-4. $24. M

Someone is killing middle-aged women in busy London pubs, including one that was torn down 80 years earlier. Only the Peculiar Crimes Unit is capable of getting to the bottom of this intricate tangle. Readers are treated to a startling blend of solid police work, the Peculiar Crimes Unit's unusual investigative methods, and the tips provided by Arthur Bryant's collection of odd friends. The cliff-hanger ending is sure to puzzle the followers of this popular paranormal series (White Corridor; Ten-Second Staircase). Fowler, one of the most original writers working in the mystery genre today, has once again produced a unique and engaging crime novel that will appeal to readers who enjoy unusual crimes and detectives with a British accent.

Greer, Robert. Blackbird, Farewell. Frog, dist. by Publishers Group West. Oct. 2008. c.362p. ISBN 978-1-58394-250-5. $25.95. M

After signing a multimillion-dollar contract to play basketball for the Denver Nuggets, Shandell "Blackbird" Bird is shot to death. His best friend, Damion Madrid, decides to investigate since his godfather, CJ Floyd, is in Hawaii on his honeymoon. Damion gets help from Flora Jean Benson, the former military intelligence agent now running the bail bond company started by Floyd. Damion has two weeks before medical school starts, and he is determined to discover who killed his friend. Every entry in the versatile Greer's CJ Floyd series (The Mongoose Deception) is different in scope and theme. Here, he takes on professional and college basketball, the pressures placed on young men to perform, the media hype, and the organized crime possibilities of point shaving and drug dealing. Much like Les Roberts's mysteries about Cleveland, Greer's books in this series also give readers a strong sense of place (the Denver area) and a rare look at a diverse community that works together regardless of racial and economic barriers. Highly recommended for mystery and African American fiction collections.

Maleeny, Tim. Greasing the Piñata: A Cape Weathers Investigation. Poisoned Pen. Dec. 2008. c.333p. ISBN 978-1-59058-566-5. $24.95. M

When a U.S senator and his son are murdered in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, the senator's daughter hires intrepid San Francisco PI Cape Weathers (Stealing the Dragon; Beating the Babushka) to investigate. Cape finds that every road leads to political payoffs, financial machinations, crime bosses wanting to eliminate the competition, and a cracking good mystery. The repartee between Cape and his Asian Triad-trained assassin sidekick, Sally, offsets the violent and often casual killings of a number of characters. Definitely not for the faint of heart but just right for readers who like a gritty crime novel with a labyrinth of plot twists. [See Prepub Mystery, LJ 8/08.]

May, Peter. Blacklight Blue: The Third of the Enzo Files. Poisoned Pen. Nov. 2008. c.314p. ISBN 978-1-59058-552-8. $24.95. M

In his third outing (after Extraordinary People and The Critic), Scottish forensic specialist Enzo MacLeod, who teaches at a university in southwestern France, is investigating a set of cold cases outlined in a book when he becomes victimized by someone who wants to destroy him and all that he holds dear. Enzo scoops up his extended family and gets them to a safe house while he focuses on one case, the murder of a Parisian rent boy, that might be to the key to his troubles. This complicated tale weaves threads of the past into the present, presenting MacLeod with challenges that he could never have foreseen. An engrossing mystery, especially for readers who like their crimes solved in foreign settings.

Spillane, Mickey with Max Allan Collins. The Goliath Bone: A New Mike Hammer Novel. Harcourt. Oct. 2008. c.274p. ISBN 978-0-15-101454-5. $23. M

During a Manhattan snowstorm, Spillane's legendary Mike Hammer (I, the Jury) saves two Columbia University archaeology students from a violent mugging. It turns out the couple had uncovered what might be the greatest find since King Tut's tomb, the leg bone of Goliath, the biblical giant. Spillane, who died in 2006, entrusted his incomplete manuscript to longtime friend Collins, who completed the work, which serves as a refreshing reminder of a writer who illustrates old-fashioned pride in his priceless body of work.

Webb, Betty. The Anteater of Death. Poisoned Pen. Dec. 2008. c.261p. ISBN 978-1-59058-560-3. $24.95. M

When a zoo trustee is found dead in Lucy the anteater's enclosure at the Gunn Landing Zoo on the central California coast, zookeeper Teddy Bentley decides to nose around because she believes poor Lucy has been framed. Soon Teddy finds that people she has known all of her life have secrets that may have led to murder. Webb, author of the well-written Lena Jones PI series, not only presents a clear picture of what it is like to work in a zoo but also introduces an engaging new protagonist who will appeal to mystery buffs who enjoy light animal mysteries. [See Prepub Mystery, LJ 8/08.]

Westerson, Jeri. Veil of Lies: A Medieval Noir. Minotaur: St. Martin's. Nov. 2008. c.280p. ISBN 978-0-312-37977-3. $24.95. M

In medieval London, disgraced knight Crispin Guest, convicted of treason for plotting against Richard II and stripped of his estates, ekes out a living as the Tracker, finding things for people. In his first case, he is hired to determine who killed a wealthy merchant who is believed to be in possession of a religious relic—a cloth bearing the face of Jesus and possessing magical powers. Brimming with historical detail and descriptions of life in 1383 London, Westerson's mystery debut is a brilliant tale of survival in a hostile environment, where anything can lead to death. Fans of medieval mysteries will put this on their reserve list. Highly recommended. [See Prepub Mystery, LJ 7/08.]

Mysteries in Brief
Barber, Christine. The Replacement Child. Thomas Dunne Bks: St. Martin’s. Oct. 2008. c.271p. ISBN 978-0-312-38554-5. $23.95. M

Set in Santa Fe, NM, this inaugural winner of the Tony Hillerman Prize for best debut novel set in the Southwest revolves around the murders of two women on the same night. Investigating the cases separately are journalist Lucy Newroe and police detective Gil Montoya. The story, loaded with detail about Santa Fe’s cultural diversity and the personal problems of the main characters, has a shocker of an ending. For collections where Southwestern mysteries circulate.

Carlson, Steve. Final Exposure. Thomas Dunne Bks: St. Martin’s. Oct. 2008. c.276p. ISBN 978-0-312-38384-8. $24.95. M

Rebecca and David Collier give up their high-paying jobs, move to the California coast, and begin new careers in photography and writing. One day a man appears at their door and shoots Rebecca in the head and critically wounds David. In his mystery debut, Carlson (Almost Graceland) skillfully parcels out suspense and keeps the pages turning.

Danielewski, Cynthia. Still of the Night. Avalon: Thomas Bouregy. Oct. 2008. c.198p. ISBN 978-0-8034-9918-8. $23.95. M

While celebrating the birthday of a police captain on a rented yacht, New York police detective Jack Reeves finds the body of a murdered woman floating in the ocean. This short, to the point mystery by a six-time mystery author (Night Fire, Night Moves) is recommended for most collections.

Hamand, Maggie. The Resurrection of the Body. MAIA, dist. by Dufour. Nov. 2008. c.202p. ISBN 978-1-904559-30-6. $19.95. M

On Good Friday, a man is murdered in a London church. On Sunday, his body disappears from the morgue, leaving many believing that this is a retelling of the Easter story. Vicar Richard Page wants to find the killer but has to stifle his disbelief that anything miraculous could have happened. An unsettling mystery for larger collections.

Newman, Gary. The Ruffian on the Stair. Soho Constable. Nov. 2008. c.288p. ISBN 978-1-56947-543-0. $25. M

When writer Seb Rolvenden receives his late grandfather’s papers and a notebook, he senses a book in the material. Seb’s research leads him to a Victorian murder and some unexpected insights into his family. For those who like English mysteries involving historical research in the tradition of Josephine Tey’s Daughter of Time.

Riskin, Boris. Deadly Bones. Five Star: Gale Cengage. (Jake Wanderman Mystery). Nov. 2008. c.341p. ISBN 978-1-59414-715-9. $25.95. M

When an antiques dealer is murdered in his shop, his daughter hires Jake Wanderman (Scrambled Eggs), a retired Shakespeare teacher with a penchant for snooping, to find out why. The trail takes this Sag Harbor resident to New York City and to Jerusalem and back. A mixed bag of unwarranted killings and an unfocused plot make this an optional purchase.

Additional Mysteries
Lawton, John. Second Violin: An Inspector Troy Thriller. Atlantic Monthly. Nov. 2008. c.432p. ISBN 978-0-87113-991-7. $24. F
In 1939 Vienna, Freud is permitted to move to London while many other Jews are murdered, Churchill is out of power, and appeasement is the plan. Soon, Jews and German and Italian refugees in London are being sent to internment camps. Newspaper tycoon Alex Troy rails against Prime Minister Chamberlain's policies; his son Rod, a journalist, is interned on the Isle of Man as a noncitizen, and his second son, Frederick, a London cop, is nearly alone in investigating the murders of several rabbis as the Germans begin bombing London in 1940. Frederick suspects a serial murder plot, perhaps by high-profile, anti-Semitic politicians. Lawton has written five novels featuring Frederick Troy of Scotland Yard (A Little White Death), but this sixth is chronologically the first, setting the scene for the established characters in this literate popular series. Lawton is immensely skilled at bringing to life the tensions and fears of London during the Blitz and deftly mixes historical and fictional figures. Weaving complex characters and plot threads from Kristallnacht to Fleet Street, he builds a suspenseful story that long remains in the reader's memory. Highly recommended.—Roland Person, formerly with Southern Illinois Univ. Lib., Carbondale

Mankell, Henning. The Pyramid: And Four Other Kurt Wallander Mysteries. New Press. 2008. 400p. tr. from Swedish by Ebba Segerberg with Laurie Thomson. ISBN 978-1-56584-994-5. $26.95.
In these four stories plus novella, Mankell answers readers’ questions about his popular detective by going back to the beginning. Starting with "Wallander’s First Case" in 1969, the Swedish author traces the development of the promising 21-year-old policeman who becomes a detective inspector with a difficult case in "The Pyramid" in late 1989, just before the start of the first mystery in the series, Faceless Killers. From the start, Wallander shows promise but lacks patience as he intuitively ferrets out answers to cases while pondering social issues, and the dissolution of his marriage parallels the increasing problems in Swedish society. Wallander’s concerns beyond his cases (which come down to matters of love or money in these pages), as well as his all-too-human failings in personal relationships, have contributed to his well-deserved appeal far beyond his native Sweden. Although first published in 1999 in Europe, this book doesn’t add to the chronological confusion caused by foreign mysteries not being translated sequentially; it serves instead as a welcome prequel to an exceptional run and an essential addition to the Wallander series.—Michele Leber, Arlington, VA

Stone, Nick.  The King of Swords. HarperCollins. Dec. 2008. c.576p. ISBN 978-0-06-089731-4. $24.95. M
A bizarre death in a Miami primate park sets the tone for Stone's second mystery (after Mr. Clarinet), which only gets stranger. What starts out as a standard murder investigation soon leads hard-boiled detective Max Mingus and his partner, Joe, into the underworld of Haitian voodoo. Their probe brings the partners into contact with a pimp, his tarot card-reading mother, a corrupt cop whom they can't sniff out, and an almost-mythical Haitian crime lord named Solomon Boukman. The Miami setting and Haitian voodoo backdrop give Stone's interesting noir thriller added weight. Mingus isn't an original antihero, but his bad habits and dedication to his profession make him an endearing character. This series entry builds on Stone's award-winning debut, with Mingus more complex this time and resulting in an even better read. Recommended for public libraries where crime fiction is popular.—Craig Shufelt, Fort McMurray P.L., A.B.


Author Information
Jo Ann Vicarel, a branch manager and head of Reader's Advisory Team Services, Cleveland Heights-University Heights P.L., OH, has reviewed for LJ since 1982 and wrote the Mystery column from 1985 to 1987





 

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