Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Book Beat

Longtime readers know that I write a column called "Book Beat" for Pomp and Circumstantial Evidence, the magazine for the Magna Cum Murder Mystery Conference. If you don't receive that august publication, or check out my reading blog, enjoy this column for the first time.

The Wandering Ghost by Martin Limon
Two military policemen in 1970s Korea search for a missing female MP, and uncover her ties to a string of murders at the wintry edge of the DMZ, in Martin Limon's military mystery The Wandering Ghost.
Limon's two protagonists, Sueno and Bascomb, follow their own sometimes offbeat code of honor more than strict military protocols as they move through the Red Light districts and the army's corridors of power with equal ease. Sueno, the narrator, remains more reflective, while Bascomb is somewhat more prone to give in to both carnal and violent desires. They bring to mind two of my favorite characters in mystery fiction, Coffin Ed Johnson and Gravedigger Jones, the Harlem policemen who run rampant through Chester B. Himes' memorable detective novels.
Limon also has a real knack for a time and place, reminding me again of some of my favorite authors, Walter Mosely, Michael Connelly, and Ross Macdonald. Limon's stint as an MP in Korea during the time period is obviously what gives the mystery this weight. I will seek out more in this series.

The Turnaround by George Pelecanos
A racial incident between teens that leads to murder in 70s Washington, D.C. reverberates in the lives of the adult survivors in George Pelecanos' compelling The Turnaround.Although Pelecanos is often billed as a crime fiction writer, I have found his work a bit more philosophical, with few easy answers and fewer pat conclusions. I enjoyed his previous two novels, Drama City and The Night Gardener, and find here a lot of similar themes, including parallel storytelling with events in the past and using Washington D.C. as almost a character onto itself. Pelecanos has a clipped style, but a knack for dialogue and interesting characterizations.Pelecanos is a worthwhile read, and I will be on the lookout for his next novel.

Priest by Ken Bruen
Relentlessly downbeat noir from Irish writer Ken Bruen picks up where he left off with highly tarnished detective Jack Taylor at the end of The Dramatist; coming back from a nervous breakdown after accidentally contributing to the death of a child in his care.
Things don't get much rosier from there, as Jack starts to look into the beheading of a pedophile priest and tries to help a friend with a stalker, all the while struggling against alcoholism.
Fairly rough pavement, as one might suspect, but Bruen writes in a dark-humored vein favorably reminiscent of Roddy Doyle, if the author of The Snapper and The Commitments were to turn to hard-boiled detective fiction. But I enjoy Bruen's style and plotting, right up to another punch-in-the-gut finale.

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