Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Book Beat

Longtime readers know that I write a book review column for Pomp and Circumstantial Evidence, the quarterly magazine of the Magna Cum Murder Mystery Conference in Muncie, Indiana. For those who do not receive this august periodical, here is this issue's latest reviews:

McCarthy is probably best known for ALL THE PRETTY HORSES and the two Western-tinged novels that follow, but this hard-bitten, clear-eyed look at the modern border war being fought over drugs in Texas and Mexico is a worthy successor. Here we find a world-weary sheriff, close to retirement, who doesn’t understand the brutality of the drug wars but is determined to solve the mystery of a shootout in the middle of nowhere. McCarthy’s prose style, written in an oral history fashion, takes a bit of getting used to if you haven’t read one of his novels, but soon the riveting story will sweep you along.

THE HOT KID by Elmore Leonard
I am a longtime fan of Elmore Leonard’s crime novels but have found his last few leaning more towards a comedic side, BE COOL and TISHOMINGO BLUES among them. Although enjoyable, I have always liked Leonard’s chrome-hearted Detroit novels the best. Thus was I pleasantly surprised to read THE HOT KID, and find Leonard baring his teeth once again in this Prohibition-era crime story filled with gangsters, gun molls, and true-blue G-Men dedicated to bringing them down. Peppered with wry humor, but with a tommy gun backbeat, THE HOT KID shows Leonard back in fighting form.

JAR CITY by Arnaldur Indridason
A cop with a handful of personal problems finds solace in solving a string of unsolved deaths leading back to a young girl’s gravesite, a photo of which is a cryptic clue at the site of a suspected rapist’s murder. This first novel from Icelandic crime novelist Arnaldur Indridason features a trio of sardonic and weathered cops who could be dropped into any police procedural from Ed McBain to Joseph Wambaugh, but with plenty of local color to make it a worthwhile read. The culture and politics of Reykjavik, and Iceland as well, become a character in itself for the uninitiated.

THE ROGUE’S GAME by Milton T. Burton
Old-fashioned noir potboiler showcases a gambler with a troubled dame on his arm who blows into a secretive, high-stakes poker game in a small town with revenge on his mind. How our mysterious protagonist’s intricate plot unfolds is admirable right up to a surprisingly saber-rattling denouement. Burton has the right feel for the dime novels of old but adds some contemporary flavor that makes this one go down in a satisfying way.

Give me a shout at johnoakdalton@hotmail.com.

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