Monday, December 10, 2007

Book Beat December 2007

My latest BOOK BEAT column for "Pomp and Circumstantial Evidence," the magazine of the Magna Cum Murder Mystery Conference:

STALIN’S GHOST by Martin Cruz Smith
Rewarding new entry in the long-running series about Russian police detective Arkady Renko, from Martin Cruz Smith. Every installment reflects something new in the political landscape of Russia, and this one is no different as Renko, long politically out of favor, is put on what seems to be the ludicrous case of several subway passengers seeing Stalin’s ghost. This becomes a jumping-off point for a typically tangled web of lies and murder that stretches all the way from Chechnya back to the New Russia. Really solid entry in the series.

A CINDERELLA AFFIDAVIT by Michael Fredrickson
Very chewy legal thriller features an inexperienced criminal lawyer whose client is killed, and how the lawyer’s insistence on clearing his name uncovers connections to police corruption and an east coast crime lord. Paints a vivid portrayal of various citizens in Boston from the lowest snitch to the future governor, and dense with courtroom scenes; a strong debut from Michael Fredrickson.

VOICES by Arnaldur Indridason
Icelandic crime novelist Arnaldur Indridason is back with mournful Reykjavik policeman Erlendur Sveinsson in tow, this time finding a murdered Santa in a compromising position over the holidays in a nice hotel. Indridason’s writing is dark and often darkly comic, full of clear-eyed observations and hard-boiled plotting; but what I enjoy most is his parallel storytelling, plumbing the depths of his flawed protagonist as his own life is revealed in the tragic crimes he investigates. A new favorite of mine.

LOST by Michael Robotham
Rough-hewn London copper Vincent Ruiz returns in Robotham’s sophomore mystery, which opens with Ruiz shot up and left for dead in the Thames after a botched undercover job. He recovers, but memory gaps leave his colleagues suspicious and the detective straining for answers as he pieces together what happened. A kidnapped girl is at the center of it all, and Ruiz races the clock to save the girl and his reputation. Strong characters buoy a somewhat rickety plot, but remains interesting throughout.

The first in Lee Child’s long-running Jack Reacher series features the hard-nosed ex-military man turned drifter on a “you killed my brother” bent through a sleepy Southern town. Child rather cheerily strains believability, as within a matter of a few days Reacher has the town’s police force answering to him and has bedded the only female police officer in town, and routinely fights four or five men at a time. But Child’s interesting characters, keen eye for detail, and brisk plotting glosses over the gaps.

Absolutely bleak noir, in the Hard Case Crime series of forgotten classics of the genre, from one of my favorite little-known pulp writers David Goodis. Here a frigid wife with repressed memories is in conflict with an alcoholic husband while trying to patch up their marriage at a resort. Bursts of violence shatter their reconciliation, though Goodis allows for the faint whiff of redemption in the closing pages, amidst the spatter. The Hard Case Crime series continues to please with one of my favorite entries in the series to date.

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