Dashiell Hammett A 75th-Anniversary Tribute
IN THIS ISSUE: The month's most-wanted reads • New novels by Kris Nelscott, Paul Doherty, Carole Nelson Douglas, Robert S. Levinson and others • Readers rate the latest releases from Val McDermid, John Harvey, Barbara D'Amato and Hartley GoodWeather • Plus: Ruth Rendell talks about Inspector Wexford's roots, Peter Robinson's hometown headache, and other news from the world of mystery
Pierce's Picks for September
Babel (Orion UK), by Barry Maitland. Detective Chief Inspector David Brock is brought in to investigate the brutal slaying of a university professor in London's Docklands district. When the motive for this murder appears to be political, it provokes both headlines and interest from Brock's protégé, Kathy Kolla, who -- though she's on leave, following her experiences in Silvermeadow (2000) -- begs to take part in the case.
Better to Rest (NAL), by Dana Stabenow. Alaska state trooper Liam Campbell probes the mystery surrounding a downed World War II army plane, found frozen into a glacier. This is Stabenow's fourth Campbell mystery.
Blue Wolf in Green Fire (Lyons Press), by Joseph Heywood. Making a return appearance, after his debut in 2001's Ice Hunter, is conservation officer-turned-detective Grady Service, who here confronts poachers, secretive FBI investigators and a group of animal-rights protestors responsible for releasing a rare (and omen-fraught) blue wolf back into the wild.
Children of Cain (Berkley Prime Crime), by Miriam Grace Monfredo. The final volume in Monfredo's Cain trilogy, backdropped by the U.S. Civil War's bloody Peninsula Campaign of 1862, finds Treasury agent Bronwen Llyr trying to warn General George B. McClellan of pending battlefield doom, while she matches wits with American proto-private eye Allan Pinkerton.
Death of a Stranger (Ballantine), by Anne Perry. The brothel slaying of a railroad magnate shocks London society and leads to the beating of three prostitutes, who seek help at Hester Monk's clinic. Meanwhile, her detective husband is hired to investigate a young socialite's fiancé, who may be helping to defraud his railroad firm. Readers of this 12th chronicle starring the amnestic Monk should expect revelations about his past.
A Deeper Shade of Blue (Hodder & Stoughton UK), by Paul Johnston. After knocking out five futuristic crime novels featuring Edinburgh detective Quintilian Dalrymple (including last year's The House of Dust), Johnston introduces a new series set in Greece. On the trail of a missing woman, private eye Alex Mavros leaves Athens for the island of Trigono, where the mysteries only seem to multiply. How did a young couple drown in a fishing net? And how does this relate to a millionaire's nervousness and old bones stored beneath a bed? Mavros has to figure it all out before a terrible crime is repeated.
The Last Place (Avon), by Laura Lippman. Hired to check out whether domestic violence was behind several unsolved Maryland murders, Baltimore P.I. Tess Monaghan is puzzled to discover that the cases in questions are not all they seemed to be. Vexed and on the verge of quitting, her interest is recharged by an ex-cop whose obsession with one death helps her to see things in a new and frightening way.
A Loyal Character Dancer (Soho Press), by Qiu Xialong. Returning for a second case (after his introduction in the Anthony Award-winning novel Death of a Red Heroine), Chief Inspector Chen Cao of the Shanghai Police Bureau is assigned to take part in a joint Chinese/American action against illegal immigration. But this operation depends on finding the wife of a witness in an important criminal trial, who has disappeared from her village in Fujian. Observations of modern China and the sexual tension between Chen and a woman U.S. marshal increase the story's appeal.
The Shadow Dancer (Berkley Prime Crime), by Margaret Coel. Wyoming's expansive Wind River Reservation reverberates with the rhythms of music and foot stomping, as followers of James Sherwood -- also known as "Orlando" -- resurrect the old Shadow Dance religion and its promises of a New World paradise. Not even a murder will deter these true believers from their cause. But does Orlando know more about the killing than he's telling? To find out, Coel's twin series sleuths -- Arapaho attorney Vicky Holden and Father John O'Malley -- will have to learn his dance.
Shrink Rap (Putnam), by Robert B. Parker. The third outing for Parker's other Boston private eye, Sunny Randall, finds her acting as a bodyguard to Melanie Joan, a best-selling romance novelist, whose ex-husband -- a controlling psychiatrist -- is stalking her. To solve the case, Sunny will not only have to explore the psychology of manipulation, but go into therapy herself.
The 13 Culprits (Crippen & Landru), by Georges Simenon. This baker's dozen of puzzle mysteries by the famed French author, written originally for Détective magazine before World War II, introduces Monsieur Froget, the "Examining Magistrate," who interrogates a diverse series of misfits to discover not whodunit, but how and why. Culprits is the first complete English translation of these Froget tales.
New and Noteworthy
It would take some effort to not find Billy "Smokey" Dalton an appealing character. Introduced in the Edgar-nominated novel A Dangerous Road (2000), by Kris Nelscott, Smokey is a black unlicensed private eye, somewhere around 40 years old. He grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, palled around as a kid with future civil-rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., and lost his parents in a lynching. When we first met him, it was 1968 and he was living in Memphis, Tennessee. But after King was assassinated in Memphis early that same year, Smokey fled to Chicago, taking with him a 10-year-old boy named Jimmy Bailey, whose knowledge of King's murder put his life at risk. The pair have been more or less hiding out in the Windy City ever since, Smokey under the guise of "Bill Grimshaw," with Jimmy passing as his son.
Just before Christmas, 1968, the wife of black dentist Louis Foster hires Smokey to investigate her husband's knifing death. His body was found propped against a tree in a public park, far from his home, on a day when he'd mysteriously left work early. "It's been three weeks," Mrs. Foster tells the detective, "and the police won't even return my calls. They say he should have known better than being out alone. They said there's too many murders to solve all of them. ... I've spent all my time since he died trying to get help on this, and no one is listening." Smokey isn't shocked to hear that Chicago's mostly Caucasian constabulary has not jumped all over the Foster case; though the law can seem too black and white at times, he never expects it to be colorblind. Yet the P.I. is surprised when his inquiries appear to endanger the life of both Saul Epstein, a young freelance photographer whose shots of the Foster crime scene may shed light on that murder, and Epstein's black girlfriend, Elaine Young. And he can't help but be startled by suggestions that Foster's demise is one small part of a larger homicidal pattern, related to the dentist's interest in a racially evolving neighborhood and revealing a killer with close ties to Chicago Mayor Richard Daley's legendary "political machine."
If this was all Smokey had to contend with in Thin Walls, it would be enough. But it's not. He must also try to prevent Jimmy from becoming involved with a clique of pubescent street punks, a responsibility that finds our hero trying to reason with switchblade-wielding bullies. ("Think of me as a gang of one," Dalton tells a gang leader, outside of Jimmy's school. "My son is my turf. Cross into my turf and we'll have conflict. Stay away from my turf and we'll ignore each other forever. Is that clear?") What's more, Smokey is bodyguarding his wealthy white friend, Laura Hathaway, who's determined -- rather naïvely, it seems at first -- to wrest control of her late father's corporation from its patronizing pack of male managers. Though this latter subplot, drawing unsubtle comparisons between racism and sexism, never gains much hold on the reader, it does allow Laura to show her depth and mettle, and it opens the way for a change in this younger woman's drifting relationship with Smokey.
After writing two previous books backdropped by headline-making incidents of the late 1960s -- the King assassination and, in Smoke-Filled Rooms (2001), Chicago's Democratic National Convention riots -- Nelscott (a pen name of science fiction author Kristine Kathryn Rusch) shows that events sprung solely from her imagination can keep things rolling in Thin Walls. This tale depends on a thoughtful weaving together of Smokey's three undertakings and a finely delineated secondary cast. Especially well used in these pages is Jack Sinkovich, a sometimes-brutal white cop conditioned toward racist attitudes, who winds up working with Dalton to solve the Foster killing and butting heads with a black detective whose own racial prejudices are knee-jerk in nature. Meanwhile, Smokey -- bearing a troubled history that makes him question absolutists of any color or conviction -- fights for fairness wherever he can find it. Comparisons between Smokey Dalton's exploits and Walter Mosley's stories about Easy Rawlins (including Bad Boy Brawly Brown) are inevitable and reflect well on Nelscott's work. More densely plotted than Mosley's recent novels, but equally stimulating, Thin Walls is likely to send readers back in search of this series' previous installments.
Doherty's initial pair of books suffered from weak character portrayals: Alexander came off as a not very interesting bit player and most of the sleuthing was done by two shallowly conceived Jewish-Egyptian clerks, twins Miriam and Simeon Bartimaeus. Fortunately, when Doherty rethought his series, he dumped the twins and instead awarded the detective role to the fictional Telamon, a physician and childhood friend of Alexander who, like the Macedonian king himself, studied under the great Greek philosopher Aristotle. Asked at one point to explain his responsibilities, Telamon says that while he gives Alexander advice on his health, the conqueror "uses me more for the infection of treason, conspiracy and assassination." There are certainly those intrigues present in The Godless Man. Set in 334 BC, this yarn finds Alexander and his army having just wrested control of Ephesus, an ancient Greek city on the west coast of Asia Minor (present-day Turkey), from Persian King Darius III. However, Alexander's authority in the nervous town is soon undermined by murder. A cabal of prosperous Ephesian politicians whom the conqueror had sworn to protect is burned to death under enigmatic circumstances in a local temple. Then, one of Alexander's old tutors is found, supposedly dead drunk -- emphasis on the "dead" -- floating in a pool at the eerie "rambling mansion" known as the House of Medusa. The brutal slayings of a prominent young courtesan and a secrets-keeping scribe follow, feeding rumors that a high-ranking Persian assassin called "the Centaur" is at work, trying to throw Ephesus into turmoil enough to distract Alexander and his soldiers from moving on to subdue the deep-water port city of Miletus. It falls to Telamon and his quarrelsome assistant, Cassandra, to expose the Centaur as more man (or men) than myth, sort out political executions from others precipitated by greed, and not insignificantly, guard Alexander from revenge killers among the Ephesian citizenry.
The Godless Man starts out slowly, as the reader struggles to become acquainted with an extremely foreign culture, rampant with the distractions of rotting food and corpses, the shouts of fire-eaters and leechers hawking their talents, and gaping social disparities. But as the scrupulous Telamon asserts his sleuthing acumen, asking questions of the high- and low-born, the complications of Greek and Persian politics begin to fit neatly into a classic mystery structure. One enlivened not only by the doctor's participation, but also by Alexander's entertaining egomania and myriad red herrings that succeed in masking the Centaur's true identity until the last. Doherty brings ancient history to life in a way that academicians rarely can.
Jack the Ripper is alive and well (or as well as a madman can be) and extending his homicidal escapades from London to Paris to Prague. Worse, he's imprisoned one of the few people who may know his identity: Penelope "Nell" Huxleigh. A prudish parson's daughter as well as the friend and biographer of opera diva-turned-detective Irene Adler Norton, Nell was last seen in Carole Nelson Douglas' Chapel Noir (2000) being kidnapped after witnessing a bloody orgy on the grounds of Paris' 1889 world's fair. As Douglas concludes that appalling yet appealing narrative in Castle Rouge (Forge), Nell finds herself imprisoned, along with Irene's barrister husband, Godfrey Norton, in a crumbling Transylvanian castle, under the malevolent scrutiny of a Russian secret agent known as Sable and a brutish lust-murderer, Medved, with strange hypnotic powers.
But she hardly knows where to begin in setting the suddenly crazy world to rights. Embark upon a hunt for the Ripper, whose Paris predations have already convinced Holmes of the need to look more closely at that killer's rampage across London's Whitechapel district? Search for Nell, who may in fact be dead, a victim of the same serial-slayer? Or try first to locate Godfrey, who could well be anywhere in the "mountainous, remote" extremities of Eastern Europe? Even as Irene assembles the members of her search party -- daredevil Yankee reporter Nellie "Pink" Bly, British spy Quentin Stanhope and theatrical manager Bram Stoker (who is still suspected of being the Ripper himself) -- and sets off for Prague, following a bloody trail of Ripperlike victims, she has more conviction than confidence that she can bring her loved ones back alive. Meanwhile, Nell and Godfrey make do under the medieval conditions of their captivity -- Godfrey fending off Sable's covetous attentions, at the same time as Nell puts up with an egregious paucity of decent undergarments and ducks Medved's crude, pawing advances. The two prisoners also contrive to escape their castle keep and figure out why they're being held there in the first place.
Linking the Holmes canon to Ripper lore (as Edward B. Hanna did previously in his novel, The Whitechapel Horrors, 1992) and fables about Transylvanian vampires (with which Loren D. Estleman played in Sherlock Holmes vs. Dracula, 1978) appears irresistible. So it's hardly surprising that Douglas should finally have sought her own twist on these combinations, with general success. There's no question that Chapel Noir, which commenced with the discovery of slaughtered prostitutes in a Parisian brothel frequented by Britain's Prince of Wales, satisfied one's expectations of a period suspenser and a fine opportunity to revisit the notorious Saucy Jack in a setting -- Paris -- that was at once unusual and wholly credible. Castle Rouge (which extends Irene Adler's probe of the Ripper atrocities to more than 1,000 pages) should be commended, too, for its arcane intrigues and well-mounted suspense, as well as Douglas' thought-provoking solution to the Ripper's identity, which may have been suggested by circumstances surrounding one of the real suspects in that historic case.
However, this sixth series installment is less rewarding than its predecessor. Its weakness derives in part from the separation of Irene and Nell Huxleigh. Those two work best together, the former's intrepidness balancing out agreeably against the latter's more narrow, disapprobative view of the world. Having to take the lead in lengthy, alternating sections of this new work shows Nell to be the far weaker protagonist, and not even her partnering with Godfrey or their mutual face-offs against Sable, Medved and, in later chapters, Colonel Sebastian Moran (a henchman of Holmes adversary Professor Moriarty) can secure the reader's attention as assuredly as sections of the novel that focus instead on Irene Adler. Furthermore, Castle Rouge doesn't do as well as its forerunner in capitalizing on Pink's capacity for audacious exploits. In her Nellie Bly role, she was the foremost maestra of front-page sensationalism, a single woman who would take on the riskiest assignments in order to get a juicy story for The New York World. Yet Castle Rouge relegates her to the role of Irene's amanuensis, filling in for Miss Huxleigh -- her opposite in so many respects.
Most regrettable, though, may be this tale's early action shift from cosmopolitan Paris to the eldritch backwoods of Bohemia. While Bram Stoker explains that "the region reeks with bizarre legend and folktales," the Transylvanian events recounted here take place primarily inside an alcazar that stands well apart from its surrounding Gypsy villages, which might have provided so much more cultural color.
During a celebration of Stevie's return to California, after three months of triumphant stage work in London (just the thing to counter critical disregard of her TV performances), "retired mobster" Aaron Lodger gives her and Gulliver a previously unknown suite of 11 silkscreen portraits, all of them commissioned in the mid-1980s from Warhol by wealthy art collectors, who wanted to be immortalized in company with their favorite paintings. The gift seems extravagant, but it's soon shown to be dangerous, to boot. A reclusive collector wants the portraits for himself, and he's not above sanctioning murder to get them. But why? Is he just a fanatical fan? Or is it because the portraits provide clues to the whereabouts of valuable paintings, stolen by the Nazis during World War II and later recovered by Allied troops, that somehow never made it back into the hands of their Jewish owners? And what about a mysterious 12th portrait, absent from Stevie and Gulliver's set? What secrets might its discovery disclose? Hungry for a good story, Gulliver is willing to listen to potential buyers of the suite, and to work with a pair of Israeli intelligence agents anxious to learn where those wayward stolen canvases have been secreted for more than half a century.
Like Levinson's three previous Neil Gulliver/Stevie Marriner novels (The Elvis and Marilyn Affair, The James Dean Affair and The John Lennon Affair), Hot Paint combines insider knowledge of America's celebrity culture and clever dialogue with traditional thriller pacing. Some of the situations stretch believability or are hard to follow, a few of the secondary characters (notably, a self-admiring Hollywood director) are wince-provoking caricatures, and casting the hired gunman as a guy who dispenses death even off the clock robs him of the opportunity to develop unexpected, even sympathetic complexities. (Yes, Levinson does insist that the killer loves his kid, but it's not enough.) On the other hand, the author certainly seems to have done his homework on the subjects of printmaking and lithography, and Hot Paint, like its predecessors, is enriched by the relationship between Gulliver and Stevie -- a convincing affinity that so often results in both protagonists falling into trouble, rather than just one or the other. Despite the fact that this new book finds Gulliver growing close to his neighbor, a young Iranian sleepwalker of dreamy proportions, Levinson's two stars seem destined to remain a part of each other's life and endeavors. Other divorced couples should be so lucky.
Editors Matthew J. Bruccoli (a Macdonald biographer) and Richard Layman (the co-editor, with Jo Hammett, of last year's acclaimed memoir Dashiell Hammett: A Daughter Remembers) have gathered together here documents that might normally be available only to scholars, but can be appreciated by a wider audience. This work may seem rather copy-heavy at first glance, with the editors providing only brief context to letters, interviews and news articles about the three wordsmiths. However, it's possible to leap almost anywhere into this trove and find a memorable gem. Maybe Chandler's impressions of his fellow crime novelist James M. Cain: "Everything he touches smells like a billygoat. He is every kind of writer I detest, a faux naif, a Proust in greasy overalls, a dirty little boy with a piece of chalk and a board fence and nobody looking." Or Hammett's assessment of the mystery novels he was asked to read, as a reviewer for the New York Evening Post: "It would be silly to insist that nobody who has not been a detective should write detective stories, but it is certainly not unreasonable to ask any one who is going to write a book of any sort to make some effort at least to learn something about his subject. Most writers do. Only detective story writers seem to be free from a sense of obligation in this direction ..." Especially delicious is a letter, written by Macdonald (the pseudonym of Kenneth Millar) to the publisher of Pocket Books, defending his work against criticism that it didn't adequately imitate Chandler's: "I can't possibly accept Pocket Books' notion that Chandler is the last word in the mystery or that I differ from him only to err. With all due respect for his power ... I can't accept Chandler's vision of good and evil. It seems to me that it is conventional to the point of old-maidishness, that it is anti-human to the point of sadism ... My subject is human error. My interest is the exploration of lives. ... [M]y stories lack a powerful contrast between good and evil, because I don't see things that way. I did, partly, when I wrote Blue City; it was about a town where I had suffered, and several of the characters were based on people I hated. But even the murderers in the last five books have seemed more human than 'bad' to me. I would rather understand them than condemn them. I would rather display them in characteristic postures and sum up their lives and the reasons for their lives than cause a self-righteous hero to denounce them or push them around for the sake of action."
For the casual leafer, Hardboiled Mystery Writers also includes pages from these authors' notebooks, photos of the writers and some of the places where they lived, and abundant images of book jackets that often reveal less about the novels themselves than about the times in which they were produced. (Some of the early Chandler paperbacks are the cheesiest, but the jacket on a 1970s British paperback edition of Macdonald's Black Money -- showing a $1 bill tucked betwixt a woman's ample breasts -- could only have seen print during the "sexual revolution.") Bruccoli and Layman have compiled an extraordinary resource for readers who want to know better how this trio of novelists saw their own efforts, as well as how they were viewed by the larger literary world.
Over the past several years, Scottish journalist-turned-thriller writer Val McDermid has grown ever more prolific. In addition to her standalone novels (A Place of Execution, Killing the Shadows), she churns out books for three different series, featuring detectives Kate Brannigan, Lindsay Gordon and the duo of Tony Hill and Carol Jordan. Her newest book, The Last Temptation (released earlier this year in the UK, but new in the States from St. Martin's Minotaur), takes Hill and Jordan from Britain on a tour of the Continent. But browsing museums and lingering in cafés isn't part of their agenda.
Detective Chief Inspector Jordan has been assigned to a dangerous undercover sting operation: Finagle an acquaintance with Tadeusz Radecki, a wealthy Polish businessman based in Berlin, so as to expose his illegal activities in drug running and immigrant smuggling. The key to the operation is Jordan's remarkable resemblance to Radecki's girlfriend, Katerina, who died in a car accident. If Radecki can fall for Jordan's looks, he might also fall for her cover story as a fellow criminal.
As is standard fare in thrillers featuring serial killers, the point of view in The Last Temptation hops back and forth between the good guys and the bad guys, digging uncomfortably close to the psychological bones of both. What makes a killer? Even more intriguing, what makes a profiler? The difference between the two, as usual, isn't much. But to McDermid's credit, her characters are not clichés. She devotes as much time to humanizing the villains as the heroes, and she makes sure that everyone in her enormous cast (cops in three countries, criminals from the Nazi era up through modern times, incidental lovers and relatives) comes across as both believable and memorable. The Last Temptation is plenty scary and gruesome, as befits a good thriller, but McDermid takes care to show the affection between Hill and Jordan, the friendship between cops, and the human cost of working on either side of the law.
With all of McDermid's tightly wound and sharply executed plotting, it's a shame that the conclusions of The Last Temptation depend on inexplicable mistakes and bad timing on the part of the cops. And given the amount of effort expended on the bad guys, it feels a bit unfair that they aren't allowed their say at the end. Still, the ride is a satisfying one, and since Hill and Jordan are series detectives, there's every chance that we'll hear more about them again. -- Reviewed by Caroline Cummins, Berkeley, California
What would you do if you knew that by pursuing a truth you could prevent the torment of hundreds of families, yet destroy your own? That dilemma faces Dr. Dooley McSweeney in Barbara D'Amato's White Male Infant (Tor). Three years ago, this New York surgeon and his lawyer wife, Claudia, adopted a red-haired, green-eyed boy they were told was a Russian infant. But medical tests now show that their son, Teddy, received a medication that wasn't even available in the Russian orphanage from which he supposedly came.
Meanwhile, Gabrielle Coulter and her videographer and sometimes-lover, Justin Craig, are busy documenting the horrors of Russian orphanages. However, their work is suddenly halted by a violent and tragic attack that destroys their tapes and leaves their room vandalized with patriotic slogans. Gabrielle has suspicions about the true motives behind this attack and vows to stay in Russia until she can prove her theories. Her investigation eventually converges with both McSweeney's and that of two FBI agents, who are posing as prospective parents seeking to adopt a made-to-order baby. These agents are themselves fascinating, with one willing to gain weight to portray a Midwestern housewife and the other scarred by his own personal tragedies.
D'Amato's descriptions of Russian orphanages are graphic, horrific and heart-rending. Especially moving are those scenes depicting the "damaged" children who have no hope of ever being adopted. While many American families are happy to have a source of white babies (over whom potential parents are able to pick and choose, as if they were buying produce), few think of the conditions that led to those infants being put up for adoption. The scenes in White Male Infant that focus on Gabrielle's investigation and the FBI sting show D'Amato's trademark police-procedural realism (last exhibited in Authorized Personnel Only, 2000), and the author shows here her enviable skill at creating suspense and tension. While readers who appreciated the lighter tone of D'Amato's Hard Road (2001), the most recent installment in her Cat Marsala series, may find McSweeney's tortuous situation in this new standalone a bit difficult to take at first, they won't be disappointed in the long run. -- Reviewed by Cindy Chow, Kaneohe, Hawaii
Anyone who's ever fallen under the spell of a crime fiction series knows that a fascinating character keeps you turning the pages even if a book's plot is merely so-so. This is the case with DreadfulWater Shows Up (HarperFlamingo Canada), the eponymous first book in a promised series about Thumps DreadfulWater, an ex-cop-turned-landscape photographer who moonlights doing crime scene work for the sheriff's office in Chinook, Montana.
The murder victim is a hotshot programmer with the out-of-town company that's setting up the resort casino's computer security system. On the trail of the teenage suspect (who has gone missing), Thumps spots plenty of shady characters, from the resort's picture-perfect Native American security guard, Cooley Small Elk, to Cooley's ex-con brother and the high-rolling employees of the computer firm. Thumps takes himself seriously even when no one else does, and the contrast between his quiet dignity and the neuroses of the flamboyant folks who try to foil his investigation gives this book unexpected depth and ironic tension.
Canadian novelist Thomas King (Green Grass, Running Water), writing here under the pen name Hartley GoodWeather, presents the initial installment of this new series as if it was in fact the second or third. As a result, DreadfulWater Shows Up is free of the laborious scene-setting that hampers so many introductory novels and gets right to the story with appealing characters, including pragmatic real-estate agent Ora Mae Foreman, stubborn tribal administrator (and Thumps' current girlfriend) Claire Merchant, and Chinook's surly but smart sheriff, Benjamin "Duke" Hockney. King/GoodWeather drops tantalizing references to a serial murder case in Northern California, still unsolved, that cut short Thumps' law-enforcement career but still haunts him. It's clear that the author plans more outings for Thumps, and likely that most people who read this wry and compelling novel will want to be there when DreadfulWater shows up again.
Now penniless and about to turn 60, Sloane returns from two years behind bars to find his art studio vandalized. Amid the wreckage he discovers an urgent letter from a famous woman sculptor who'd been his lover 30 years earlier in New York City. She's achieved the success that has eluded him, but is now dying of cancer. Sloane arrives at her deathbed in Italy just in time for her to tell him a secret about their past, one that transforms him into an amateur sleuth. Giving the slip to the British investigators who are still pressuring him to reveal the identity of his partner in those long-ago forgeries, Sloane flies to New York to look for a jazz singer who may be the daughter he never knew he had -- only to find her under the spell of a sadistic, possibly homicidal impresario.
In a True Light soars on this breathtaking and masterfully crafted opening. But once Sloane reaches New York, the novel loses some of the precision that makes its initial European scenes so arresting. Harvey (best known for his Charlie Resnik series) seems to use a broad, less effective brush in developing his secondary American characters, including the singer's sadistic lover, a cold-blooded and pragmatic mob boss, and the tough-but-hip police team -- one gay male and one female -- who aid Sloane in his quest. However, the insider's view of the New York art scene, used as the backdrop for Harvey's story, dazzles. In a True Light will be a delight for aficionados of the truly literary mystery. -- Reviewed by Karen G. Anderson, a January contributing editor
You, too, can have your say in "Other Voices." To submit mini-reviews of recent releases (preferably no more than 300 words apiece), click here. Reviews may be edited for length, clarity and grammar.
In the News
Ruth Rendell -- whose 19th Inspector Wexford novel, The Babes in the Wood, is due out in the UK in November -- is profiled at length in The Guardian. She talks about her family's past, her husband's death, her wish to please herself first through her fiction, and Wexford's roots as a "circumstantial necessity." Read more.
A spirited Washington Post profile of Walter Mosley looks at his upbringing in a "hippie time," his future writing projects (he plans to follow Easy Rawlins through the 1960s -- Vietnam, the Watts riots and the Summer of Love) and a storytelling style he calls "Alien Script." Read more.
Following on the heels of January's recent conversation with Sparkle Hayter, fellow "tart noir" novelist Stella Duffy (Fresh Flesh) offers her top-10 list of "tart" titles in The Guardian. Making the list are everything from Liza Cody's Bucket Nut to Trixie Belden and the Mystery of the Emeralds, by Kathryn Kenny. Read more.
In a conversation with Michael Connelly, posted at the Mystery Readers International (MRI) Web site, Peter Robinson talks about the origins of evil, the difficulties of keeping series fiction fresh and the advantages of writing about England from his present home in Toronto, Canada. Read more.
**BONUS: At the end of the MRI piece, Connelly asks Robinson what question he wished had been raised during their interview, but was not. Robinson's suggestion: "If you could go back to the beginning and change anything about [your series protagonist, Detective Chief Inspector Alan] Banks, what would you change?" Though Connelly didn't press Robinson for an answer, "The Rap Sheet" did. Here's the author's response:
"What made me think of the question was writing [my] forthcoming book, Close to Home [due out in February 2003]. Much of the story deals with Banks returning to the place where he grew up, to his parents' house, because the bones of a school friend who disappeared in 1965 have been discovered buried in a nearby field. I thought I was being very clever when I gave Banks Peterborough as a hometown. I'm Peter, and he's from my 'borough.' There's also a Peterborough quite close to Toronto -- home to, believe it or not, a Peter Robinson College (nothing to do with me!).
"The thing was, though, that I'd never been to Peterborough, only passed through it on the train to London. So when it came time to send Banks back home to relive his adolescence, he had to do it in a place I knew very little of, beyond the fact that it has a beautiful cathedral.
"Anyway, I did go and spend some time there, bought some books about the place, and got in contact with a very helpful woman called Jenny Mogford, who works on the www.peterborough.net Web site. Jenny dug out all sorts of details for me, in addition to putting me in touch with local police. I did it in the end, but it was a lot harder than it need have been.
"So if I could change anything about Banks, I'd have him come from Leeds!"
"The Rap Sheet" is written exclusively for January Magazine by crime fiction editor J. Kingston Pierce. Authors and publishers are encouraged to e-mail Pierce with information about new and forthcoming books.
January/February 2005 | October-November 2004 | September 2004 | July 2004 | June 2004 | April 2004 | February/March 2004 | January 2004 | November 2003 | September/October 2003 | July/August 2003 | June 2003 | May 2003 | April 2003 | March 2003 | February 2003 | January 2003 | December 2002 | November 2002 | October 2002 | September 2002 | August 2002 | July 2002 | June 2002 | May 2002 | Rap Sheet #1 | Rap Sheet #2 | Rap Sheet #3 | Rap Sheet #4 | Rap Sheet #5 | Rap Sheet #6 | Rap Sheet #7 | Rap Sheet #8 | Rap Sheet #9 | Rap Sheet #10 |