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 Dashiell Hammett A 75th-Anniversary Tribute

Dashiell Hammett A 75th-Anniversary Tribute




























January Magazine's Crime Fiction Report, July 2002


IN THIS ISSUE: The month's most-wanted reads • New books from G.M. Ford, John Shannon, Stuart M. Kaminsky, J. Robert Janes and others • Readers rate the latest releases from Lynne Murray, Jane Haddam, Barbara Seranella and Truly Donovan • Foul play on the fairway and other news from the world of mystery • Road to Perdition author Max Allan Collins reveals his five favorite mob hits • Plus: nominations are in for the 2002 Macavity, Barry and Herodotus awards

Pierce's Picks for July

a.k.a. Sheila Doyle (Carroll & Graf/Otto Penzler), by Pat Jordan. Borrowing characters from his short fiction, sports writer/novelist Jordan delivers a sexy, funny, dangerous and otherwise thoroughly entertaining South Florida crime adventure that centers on a recently divorced stage actress and her Cherokee stripper lover, who get mixed up with Rastaferian hit men, neo-Nazi gun runners and vengeful Cuban gangsters.

Bad Boy Brawly Brown (Little, Brown), by Walter Mosley. School custodian and sometimes-P.I. Easy Rawlins, who many thought had enjoyed his final adventure in A Little Yellow Dog (1995), is back, this time trying to help a young man who's fallen in with black revolutionaries in 1964 Los Angeles.

Beggars Banquet (Orion UK), by Ian Rankin. This second short-story collection (after A Good Hanging) from the master of "tartan noir" includes eight stories featuring Inspector John Rebus, together with 13 other tales that -- whether they're macabre (like "The Hanged Man") or sinister ("Someone Got to Eddie") -- "all bear the hallmark of great crime writing," according to the book's advance publicity.

The Big Gamble (Dutton), by Michael McGarrity. The discovery of two corpses in the fire-gutted remains of a Lincoln County, New Mexico, fruit stand has Santa Fe police chief Kevin Kerney digging into the past, since one of the dead was a woman who'd gone missing from his town years ago. Meanwhile, Lincoln County's new deputy sheriff, Clayton Istees -- Kerney's alienated son -- tackles a pair of homicides that only seem unconnected with his father's investigation. To learn how these deaths are linked to a widespread gambling, drug and prostitution ring, you'll have to read the book.

The Blood Doctor (Harmony), by Barbara Vine. Martin Nanther doesn't expect to stumble on secrets when he begins work on a biography of his great-grandfather, who was physician to the royal family under Queen Victoria. But it turns out that the doctor's fascination for blood and hemophiliacs may have had a darker side. Can it also be connected to the death of both that physician's fiancée and son? Obsession and murder go hand in bloody hand in this latest novel from Vine (aka Ruth Rendell).

Blood of Victory (Weidenfeld & Nicholson UK), by Alan Furst. In the thick of World War II, poet and journalist A.A. Serebin heads to Istanbul to win the release of a former lover. But he soon becomes involved with an international espionage network rooted in the Russian émigré communities of Paris, Berlin and Odessa, on the Black Sea. It's another atmospheric thriller from the author of Kingdom of Shadows (2000).

The Funeral Boat (St. Martin's Minotaur), by Kate Ellis. Originally released in Britain in 2000, this police procedural has Detective Sergeant Wesley Peterson, an amateur archaeologist, and his boss Gerry Heffernan trying to identify a skeleton found in Devon. At the same time, Peterson probes the abduction of a Danish tourist, which may be linked to a series of robberies.

Grave Secrets (Scribner), by Kathy Reichs. Two decades after a massacre in Guatemala, forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan participates in the exhumation of a mass grave at the site. She goes on to investigate the disappearance of four young women, including a Canadian ambassador's daughter, and uncover a plan to take advantage of specialized medical technology.

Groucho Marx, Secret Agent (St. Martin's Minotaur), by Ron Goulart. British film director Eric Olmstead faints at a Hollywood party in 1939, after someone dressed as the Grim Reaper whispers in his ear, and he's found dead the next day. But his widow doesn't buy the verdict of suicide. She wants Groucho and his sleuthing sidekick, Frank Denby, to look into the matter. Gunshots, run-ins with FBI agents and Nazi spies follow, with the loquacious Marx getting off the best lines, as usual.

Honor's Kingdom (Morrow), by Owen Parry. As America's Civil War rages on, with the British threatening to side with the Confederacy, Union Major Abel Jones is sent to London. There, he chases a killer who may be a Southern agent, becomes entwined in political intrigues and searches for a warship that could tip the scales of battle in favor of the Confederate cause.

The Moment She Was Gone (Simon & Schuster), by Evan Hunter. Andrew Gulliver isn't surprised to receive a 2 a.m. phone call from his mother, telling him that his sister, Annie, has disappeared; she has been running off regularly for years. But recent suspicions that Annie is schizophrenic make this departure different, sending Gulliver on a chase that will expose a family's collective secrets.

The Month of the Leopard (Simon & Schuster), by James Harland. Investment bank economist Tom Bracewell's "good groove" is thrown totally off when he returns to his London home one evening and finds that his Estonian wife, Tatyana, has left him. Refusing to simply go on, Bracewell investigates, turning up evidence that Tatyana was making secret trips and keeping Swiss bank accounts, and raising questions about how her vanishing relates to the disastrous plans of a rapacious financier. Fans of intelligent conspiracy yarns will like this one.

The Walkaway (Ballantine), by Scott Phillips. In what's being called a sequel and a prequel to Phillips' debut thriller, The Ice Harvest (2000), retired cop Gunther Fahnstiel escapes from a Wichita memory-loss ward in 1989, only to wander about in search of money he buried long ago in a rock quarry -- money that, unbeknownst to him, has already been unearthed and spent. This novel's second storyline, set in 1952, follows the menacing criminal Wayne Ogden, as he is diligently pursued by a younger Fahnstiel. An engaging read, connecting characters and actions across three decades.

New and Noteworthy

Since reports of outrageous corporate and accounting malfeasance have recently become staples of American media coverage, we can only expect crime fiction to begin generating its own new plots mired in business greed. Early out of the gate with such a work is G.M. Ford. Black River (Morrow), his second novel headlined by Frank Corso, the ponytailed and reclusive ex-New York Times star introduced in last year's Fury, centers on the high-profile prosecution of a notoriously successful former Russian gangster, Nicholas Balagula, who's linked to faulty concrete used in the construction of a Northern California hospital -- a building that was partially destroyed by a seismic tremor, killing 63 people, including 41 children. Corso, having ditched the third-rate Seattle tabloid that helped him regain renown in Fury, has now re-created himself as the author of true-crime books (or "narrative nonfiction," as he facetiously calls his work). With the approval of a straight-laced U.S. attorney general who sounds suspiciously like Janet Reno, he's the only reporter allowed to sit through this latest (of three) Balagula trials. What may finally bring the Russian down is a witness whom the arrogant chief prosecuting attorney says he's managed to turn to the state's advantage.

But instead of a noble fight in and out of court that concludes with justice prevailing, Black River offers a malodorous amalgam of deceptions, cover-ups and prosaic bloodshed that leaves Corso bereft of the moral high ground on which he prefers to stand. "[It's] more like we all just got down in the swamp together and rolled around in the muck," he reflects at the end.

Things start to turn messy when Meg Dougherty, the abusively tattooed photojournalist with whom Corso once enjoyed an affair, stumbles on a couple of Cuban hit men in the middle of an assignment, only to have those assassins take after her, too, fearing what she could tell the cops. During the ensuing car chase, Dougherty plows beneath a moving-company trailer, which peels her Toyota's top back "like a soup can" and lands her in the hospital -- prognosis iffy. Wanting to help and knowing that Dougherty had been covering the discovery of a pickup truck and its redundantly gunshot driver, buried together in a Seattle bridge footing, Corso tries to build on her research. He learns that the late truck driver is Donald Barth, a school district maintenance man whose habitual miserliness doesn't even begin to explain how he was able to pony up tens of thousands of dollars for his estranged son's medical school education. And can it be merely coincidental that a usually reliable foreman who'd been directly work on the bridge where Barth's corpse was found has suddenly gone missing? Author Ford swiftly and assuredly builds the tension from that point forward. As the Balagula prosecution continues, Corso pursues the Barth murder, with the assistance of the dead man's son, all the while trying to keep Dougherty safe from the two Cuban shooters who want to silence her forever ... and maybe take down Corso in the bargain.

Ford has pared his story down nicely to its most volatile essentials, and though you know the twin plot currents of Black River are bound to intersect at some point, it's not obvious how they will do so. Corso remains an engaging figure -- cold and warm in one rangy package, his personality only dribbling out a bit per book, leaving readers to yaw between liking the guy and not. With Dougherty spending most of this tale wrapped in bandages, Ford casts the spotlight instead on a more conventional but nonetheless appealing woman: second-chair prosecuting attorney Renee Rogers, who finds her curiosity about Corso endangering her existence. It can only be hoped that Rogers will return later in this series. Far less believable is Balagula, an almost cartoonish villain who has an appetite for rough sex with boys and none of the redeeming or complicating qualities that can make a fictional bad guy memorable. Fortunately, there's enough complication and interest in the rest of this novel to make up for Balagula's inadequacies. Tense, tender and sometimes humorous, Black River guarantees a thrilling ride.

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One of the things you've got to admire about Californian John Shannon is his commitment to principles. On his Web site, the author recently took to task "a cowardly anonymous reviewer" who'd chided him for including "diatribes against racism" in Streets on Fire (Carroll & Graf/Otto Penzler), his fifth case for technical writer turned "finder of lost children" Jack Liffey.

"First, they aren't diatribes. They are part of the story," Shannon asserts. "Second, I am proud of attacking racism -- the central moral failing of Western Civilization, and I will go on doing so, however I am attacked, as long as I live."

If Shannon was a hack, nobody would care about this exchange. But he's a good writer getting better with each book, and the way he incorporates real-life social and political concerns into his gritty fiction gives it a resonance that more escapist mysteries lack. Streets on Fire is an excellent example. The yarn has Liffey being hired by Bancroft Davis, a noted civil-rights campaigner of the 1960s, to find his adopted son, Amilcar, and the boy's white girlfriend, both of whom disappeared on prom night after a run-in with members of a skinhead motorcycle gang called the Bone Losers. Liffey is pretty sure that the students are dead, and he understands how explosive this investigation might be. ("All you had to do was mix sex, race, and crime, and you'd make the front page in L.A. for weeks.") Yet, even as Los Angeles stirs to another boil of ethnic unrest, following the police chokehold death of a black Muslim baseball star, Shannon's unlicensed P.I. makes himself unpopular with both urban black separatists and suburban white supremacists by inquiring into Amilcar's fate. Liffey is no more popular at home; his lover, Marlena Cruz, has been slowly retreating from him ever since she began attending a fundamentalist millenarian church. Fortunately, his teenage daughter, Maeve, has come to visit for a while, and that, on top of Liffey's latest case, is enough to distract the detective from his personal woes.

Shannon occasionally descends into stereotypes. The racist, gun-toting leader of a Christian right-wing cabal in Streets on Fire is just too transparently despicable to be credible. ("Two hundred years from now," he tells a follower, "we'll be known by some as the Washington Lincolns of Euro-America, the guys who built it and held it together.") Most of the other players, though, are better dimensioned. That includes the dogged but decent Jack Liffey, who in the novel's galvanizing finale finds himself hurt and being wheelbarrowed through the burning, anarchical streets of South Central L.A. by Nancy Drew-wannabe Maeve and her intuitive young black friend. How far Liffey has come from his debut, in The Concrete River (1996). For a few years, it looked as if he might be confined to paperback-only purgatory. But last year's publication of The Orange Curtain brought him and Shannon the attention they'd always deserved. If the author keeps turning out books with the same heart and soul and, yes, social relevance as Streets on Fire, this series (with its next installment, City of Strangers, due out next spring) might make inroads with the audiences of Michael Connelly, Gary Phillips and others who are reinvigorating the field of L.A.-based crime fiction.

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Jerome Charyn fans, take note. The Isaac Quartet (Four Walls Eight Windows) comprises the first four of Charyn's novels about New York City police inspector Isaac Sidel: Blue Eyes, Marilyn the Wild, The Education of Patrick Silver and Secret Isaac. Together, these establish Sidel's domain, a mythologized burg filled with corrupt cops, cynical pols and captivating losers.

At the center of this byzantine realm sits Sidel -- or "Isaac the Pure," as he's often known. Tough and incorruptible, but also neurotic and given to slobbish behavior, Sidel is a character one does not easily forget. It had been years since I'd read Charyn's series (the last installment was Citizen Sidel, published in 1999), yet in paging through this 610-page omnibus, I found myself being seduced all over again by the author's poetic writing style and often comic twists of plot, even by his pessimistic attitudes about society. What ties the stories in this volume together is Manfred "Blue Eyes" Coen, a street cop and Ping-Pong fan who is Sidel's protégé, until the latter nudges Coen toward eternity, in Blue Eyes (originally published in 1975). Marilyn the Wild is a prequel, in which Sidel's errant daughter, Marilyn, falls in love with Coen and incites her father's jealousy. The Education of Patrick Silver has a family of Peruvian pimps infecting Sidel with a tapeworm, which unravels his psyche and leaves him dreaming that Coen is still alive. And in Secret Isaac, Sidel -- now the police commissioner of New York -- encounters a beautiful hooker with a scarlet "D" branded on her cheek and sets off for Ireland to find the man who disfigured her, along the way internalizing the worm and the ghost of Coen that has come to haunt him so.

Lawrence Block once said that Charyn possesses "the richest imagination in contemporary letters." Certainly the four novels collected here demonstrate his ability to conjure fantasy from the feeble stuff of reality. These aren't books for everyone; the most conventional is Blue Eyes (which Charyn says in his introduction was inspired by his reading of Ross Macdonald's 1959 turning-point novel, The Galton Case), and even that demands an expansion of one's perceptions of crime fiction. But it's hard not to be charmed by this author's artistry and bone-level affection for society's dispossessed.

* * *

Stuart M. Kaminsky has spent the last 25 years writing 22 books about only three and a half years in the life of bumbling Hollywood P.I. Toby Peters. The first entry in Kaminsky's series, Bullet for a Star (1977), opened in the summer of 1940 and had Peters working for the daring Errol Flynn. His latest, To Catch a Spy (Carroll & Graf/Otto Penzler), begins at the end of 1943 and finds Toby being hired by the dashing Cary Grant. Despite this apparent lack of evolution, Kaminsky continues to attract readers to his series with a combination of humor, charm and eccentric characterizations. As one critic put it, Kaminsky "is Raymond Chandler by way of the Marx Brothers."

Toby's initial thought, when Grant hands him a leather pouch containing $5,000, is that the photogenic former Archibald Leach is facing extortion of some kind. But the British-born star disabuses him of any such notion in To Catch a Spy. "I'm not being blackmailed over some crime or sexual indiscretion," Grant insists. "It's more important than that." He wants Toby to make a late-night swap of the cash for some "compromising documents." Unfortunately, the messenger Peters is supposed to meet in L.A.'s Elysian Park is shot before the exchange can be made and perishes after mouthing the words, "George Hall." It's not much to go on, but with the encouragement of Grant -- who's on assignment for British Intelligence Services -- the detective stays on the case, which leads him to another corpse, a collection of Nazi sympathizers and a perilous confrontation on a moonlit cliff above Laurel Canyon.

Grant and Peters make an entertaining, if contrasting pair -- the imperturbable and acrobatic actor with the rumpled, taco-eating Jewish gumshoe. ("I'm no beauty," Toby confides. "My nose is almost flat, my hair is dark but showing more than a little gray. I'm compact, meaning I'm somewhere between five-eight and five-ten depending on where I measure myself. I look like a washed-up boxer who had ten too many fights. In my profession ... the look was perfect.") Every time Grant steps into a scene, the story seems to take on more life, more light. However, Toby does a pretty good job of driving this zany plot, together with his unusually suspect cast of supporting oddballs, including Irene Plaut, his addled landlady; his neighbor, Gunther Wherthman, a brainy Swiss translator and refugee from The Wizard of Oz's munchkin cast; and Toby's office mate, Dr. Sheldon Minck, "the sixth-floor-forceps-wielding escapee from dental hell." Kaminsky's dialogue is fast and funny, his wartime atmospherics are restrained, and his affection for Tinsel Town's heyday is both palpable and endearing. To Catch a Spy (evidently a play on the Grant film title To Catch a Thief) doesn't set a new standard for period American private eye fiction, but like the B-movies of yore, it's satisfying escapist fare.

* * *

While To Catch a Spy shares a general time frame with Flykiller (Orion UK), J. Robert Janes' 12th adventure for Sûreté detective Jean-Louis St-Cyr and his unlikely partner, Gestapo Oberdetektiv Hermann Kohler, is rooted in a world of much greater cynicism and more dire circumstances. Its plot connects politics to deadly "games of love, lust, rape and predator power."

As World War II enters what appears to be its final disastrous stage in Europe, St-Cyr and Kohler are sent to Vichy, a once-famous spa town in south-central France, which is now headquarters to the government of Unoccupied France. Céline Dupuis, a blond, 27-year-old cabaret dancer, has been found knifed to death in the Hall des Sources. Clad in a nightgown with a decollétage of antique lace, a black choker around her neck and wearing only a single diamond earring, she'd supposedly been on her way to a tryst with war hero turned Nazi puppet Henri Pétain, the premier of Unoccupied France, who has "a legendary reputation as a tombeur de femmes, a Casanova." Does that mean Pétain was to blame for this tragedy? A cigar band left near the body hints at the possibility -- the premier is, after all, fond of his cigars. But the recent slayings of two other young women tied romantically to Vichy political elders suggests something more sinister. Could these women have been unnecessary casualties in a series of assassination attempts on their prominent lovers? Were they capped by members of the French Résistance? Or might the motives for their murders be personal rather than political, a result of jealousy? Although the need to solve these crimes seems obvious, high-ranking members of the Vichy government make it clear to St-Cyr and Kohler that they'd prefer mystery over scandal. But the gruesome murder of a fourth woman -- this time, a pregnant 23-year-old linked to the sous-director of the Bank of France -- followed by revelations that all of the late mistresses knew each other and had knowledge of extensive black market dealings, only makes the detectives more obstinately determined to separate those who are guilty merely of hypocrisy from those to blame for the homicides.

Toronto author Janes paints a dismal picture of war-ravaged France, a place of extreme shortages, where people wear wooden-soled shoes, smoke tobacco scavenged from whatever cigarette butts they can collect, and keep "meat on the hoof in their flats and rooms" -- chickens, pigeons, cats and guinea pigs, "the latest Paris food fad." His series (which began with Mayhem, 1992) has evolved equally vivid, middle-aged protagonists: St-Cyr, "the constant questioner," who "talks" with corpses, has taken a chanteuse girlfriend since the bombing deaths of his wife and little son, and has been targeted by the Résistance as a Nazi sympathizer; and Kohler "the watcher," a former Munich cop and bomb-disposal expert who's risen in the Gestapo ranks despite being a disloyal "lampooner of the Führer and Nazi doctrines," and wants nothing more as the war winds down than to escape the turmoil with a pair of women friends, Giselle and Oona. The murders in these books are often grisly, the stories sometimes thick enough with players that it's hard to keep them separate, and the dialogue so dominant that describing Janes' books as My Dinner with Andre, only with action, isn't completely unreasonable. Though Flykiller is not as tightly plotted as its predecessor, Beekeeper (one of January's favorite books of 2001), it still provides an artful and innovative approach to the wartime mystery.

* * *

Can one really have too many comprehensive guides to crime fiction? Perish the thought. Whether it's Bruce F. Murphy's The Encyclopedia of Murder and Mystery (1999), or Rosemary Herbert's The Oxford Companion to Crime and Mystery Writing (1999), or the late William L. DeAndrea's Encyclopedia Mysteriosa (1994), they all increase the reader's knowledge of this genre.

Now add The Mammoth Encyclopedia of Modern Crime Fiction (Carroll & Graf) to your must-have list. Compiled by Mike Ashley, a British editor of numerous short-story anthologies, this browsable new reference work concentrates on fiction -- books primarily, but also movies and TV series -- produced since World War II. So, don't look here for lengthy bios of Edgar Allan Poe, Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie or Raymond Chandler and his fellow creators of the American hard-boiled school. Instead, Ashley gives a good accounting of the men and women who've made the most of what those masters left behind -- people as familiar as Ross Thomas, Reginald Hill and Sara Paretsky, along with rising stars like Robert Crais, Robert Wilson, Denise Mina and Peter Temple. That Australian Temple is included demonstrates this volume's welcome international scope. Rather than being overwhelmed by U.S. authors (who dominate here only when it comes to private-eye fiction), Ashley's book features an estimable range of British novelists and others, such as Batya Gur (Israel), Howard Engel (Canada) and Janwillem van de Wetering (Netherlands). In addition to offering briefs on prominent writers, Ashley gives suggestions of other crime fictionists who do similar work. The Loren D. Estleman entry, for instance, directs readers to Lawrence Block and James Ellroy, while the bio of Japanese author Masako Togawa suggests that fans try tales by the UK's Minette Walters. Although readers well-versed in this field might question Ashley's failure to include such signal talents as Stephen Booth, Paul Johnston, John Farrow and Henning Mankell, it's good to see some exceptional writers who haven't produced anything in a long while -- like California novelist Arthur Lyons and Cincinnati's Jonathan Valin -- represented in these pages. And such an encyclopedia can't help but surprise even longtime readers of the genre. I admit, for instance, that I didn't know pseudonymous British wordsmith Susanna Gregory, most familiar for her series about 14th-century doctor/detective Matthew Bartholomew (A Plague on Both Your Houses), has a second set of books to her credit, written under the name "Simon Beaufort" and led by 12th-century Crusader Sir Geoffrey Mapplestone. Nor was I aware that Robert Irvine, who in the 1980s and early 90s penned a distinctive series of tales about Salt Lake City P.I. Moroni Traveler, has more recently been writing (with his wife, and under the pen name "Val Davis") old-aircraft-related mysteries, featuring archaeologist Nicolette "Nicky" Scott. Flipping through this paperback is likely to double the list of authors and titles you know you haven't enough time to read.

On top of all this, Ashley packs his 780 pages with lists of crime movies and TV shows. While the films (from All the President's Men to Year of the Dragon) might at least be rentable, the write-ups on small-screen dramas make one either wistful (who can forget Michael Mann's period cop serial, Crime Story?) or wince (what the hell was Stephen J. Cannell thinking when he created Hardcastle and McCormack?). Appendices catalogue crime fiction award winners, related magazines and Web sites, and key characters and series. Well-researched, eminently readable and easy to use, The Mammoth Encyclopedia of Modern Crime Fiction is a killer find.

Other Voices

A Ton of Trouble (St. Martin's Minotaur), the fourth book in Lynne Murray's series about unapologetically plus-size sleuth Josephine Fuller (following Larger Than Death, Large Target and At Large), is anything but heavy. Ton is featherlight in the sense of its being deft and subtle, the novel's noticeable romantic overtones complementing a provocative whodunit plot.

Fuller, a Seattle-based consultant and amateur detective, is in San Francisco to evaluate a social-service agency that has applied to the Madrone Foundation for a major grant. Flying into the Bay Area a few days early, Fuller hopes to precede business with pleasure -- she's arranged a lunchtime rendezvous with Thor Mulligan, a security consultant who's also in town from Seattle. In case that doesn't pan out, she has an invitation from the all-too-appropriately named Wolf Lambert, a producer of porn films, to visit his winery in nearby Sonoma. When her date with Mulligan gets crashed by two of his business associates, Fuller heads north to Wolf's winery, only to find a dead body upended in a wine barrel and a ripe bunch of suspects.

What sets A Ton of Trouble apart from the burgeoning field of amateur-detective novels is Murray's attention to detail. She has obviously taken the trouble to learn the subtleties of both the wine business and the soft-porn industry -- the latter of which, we learn, has a subgenre catering to viewers who like big women. Her cops, thugs and private-eye friends are all believable, and only a subplot involving the social-service agency lapses into caricature (when one of its women executives emerges as a shrill and vengeful stalker). Fuller's attitude about her weight is anything but self-deprecatory, and as it turns out, her knowledge about the psychology of big women -- and their admirers -- is a key to solving this engrossing mystery. -- Reviewed by Karen G. Anderson, January contributing editor

* * *

Though high school may have been the best of times for some people, for Elizabeth Toliver it was the worst. Tormented and nicknamed "Betsy Wetsy" by the "in-crowd," she was eventually nailed shut inside a snake-filled outhouse until she'd screamed for an hour and flayed the skin from her arms in an attempt to escape. As we learn in Somebody Else's Music (St. Martin's Minotaur), by Jane Haddam, it was during this traumatic event that Liz's tormentors discovered the body of their classmate, Michael Houseman, with his throat slit open. That murder, however, was never solved.

Years later, Liz -- now a famous author engaged to a former rock star -- returns to her hometown of Hollman, Pennsylvania, to care for her mother. But this move resurrects old hostilities. Liz's fiancé eventually hires ex-FBI agent Gregor Demarkian -- the "Armenian-American Poirot," last seen in 2001's True Believers -- to find out who's been defaming his betrothed in the press. Arriving in Hollman, Demarkian is baffled by the townspeople's disregard of the Houseman murder and their hostility toward Liz. Far from admiring Liz for her accomplishments, her old high-school classmates resent her having achieved the sort of success that they believe should have been theirs, instead. In time, their hatred sparks violence and, finally, murder.

Haddam keeps her long-running series fresh by developing suspects and victims who are as fascinating and entertaining as her recurring cast. She makes her characters real, sympathetic and horrific, whether it's a 500-pound former beauty, a library worker who despises reading and readers, or a principal who blames the targets of schoolyard taunts for being "different." Bennis Hannaford, Demarkian's ever-entertaining and lovely companion, makes only a cameo appearance in these pages, as do other Cavanaugh Street regulars, but they aren't missed. This is one of Haddam's best Demarkian outings yet, a riveting mystery for anyone who remembers the power that some teenagers can wield over their peers.

Miranda "Munch" Mancini has come a long way from her drug-taking, biker chick, ex-con days. She's now trying to live the straight life, working as a mechanic, operating a small limo business and planning to rear her adopted daughter in a new home. She's even godmother to her former probation officer's child. But her tranquility is about to be shattered in No Man Standing (Scribner).

Barbara Seranella's new novel finds Munch being approached by her former best friend, Ellen Summers, who's just been released from prison and come to Los Angeles looking for her help. It seems Ellen's mother and stepfather were recently brutally murdered by someone who wants the $150,000 in Ellen's possession -- money she took from a psychopath who had tried to kill her. Munch wants to aid her friend in sorting things out, but she has problems of her own: she's being stalked by the ex-wife of a man she once dated. Besides, Munch isn't sure whether Ellen is telling her the truth, and she worries for the safety of her 8-year-old daughter, Asia. The appearance of Ellen's long-lost birth father, who seems intent on strategically recording everything about his daughter's life, adds to the confusion. In the end, Munch goes to bat for her friend, only to find herself pursued by the killer on Ellen's tail as well as by the FBI and local police.

Seranella's characters are wonderfully entertaining, from stripper Ba-Boom-Da to Rico Chacón, the homicide detective who's investigating the Summers murders and rapidly winning Munch's heart. Munch herself has grown and matured dramatically from her first appearance, in No Human Involved (1997). She's become a strong woman who believes in justice, if not always the law. No Man Standing is an enthralling read -- suspenseful, witty and extremely satisfying. -- Reviewed by Cindy Chow, Kaneohe, Hawaii

* * *

While I enjoy reading about smart protagonists, and protagonists who do a good job, I also like Truly Donovan's Lexy Connor -- featured in the new novel Winslow's Wife (Writer's Showcase/iUniverse) -- because she is caring, nice and interesting. She's an older, heavy woman who lives on her own terms near Boulder, Colorado. She has a taste for good food, good clothes and a love of her Highland terrier, Molly. I have little patience with animals in mysteries; Molly is simply part of Lexy's life (a bit much at times), but she's cute. And I do have a soft spot for cute.

While she does read a lot of mysteries, Lexy never makes the mistake of thinking she's in a book. She is honestly interested in what people tell her, which is a great way to get them talking.

At the start of Winslow's Wife, Lexy encounters Caroline Hewitt, someone she knew from high school back in New York. As Caroline later confesses, this wasn't a chance meeting. John Hewitt, Caroline's consultant husband, has disappeared. While the police think he went off on his own, Caroline is worried, and knowing that Lexy was able to solve an interesting puzzle before (in Donovan's first book, Chandler's Daughter, which -- alas -- did not receive much attention), she asks for her help. Caroline says she'll hire a detective, but she also wants the assistance of someone she knows.

As was the case in Chandler's Daughter, Lexy's new investigation leads into the past. It connects with the 20-year-old story of a woman who was convicted of killing her husband, an extremely egocentric and controlling would-be artist, by setting fire to his studio in the mountains of upstate New York. The woman died soon after she was imprisoned. How that case ties into the disappearance of Caroline's husband proves to be a winning tale, as the reader is taken back to upstate New York in order to track down all the players and learn what really happened all those years ago. -- Reviewed by Andi Shechter, Seattle, Washington

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

Just the thing for those teed-off summer mystery readers out there: The Waterboro (Maine) Public Library has compiled an extensive list of golf-related crime fiction on its Web site, including everything from William Bernhardt's new Final Round and Keith Miles' Bermuda Grass to older works, such as Agatha Christie's Murder on the Links (1923). Read more.

In a revealing exchange on the Mystery Readers International site, Val McDermid talks with fellow novelist Ian Rankin about the evolution of Scottish crime fiction, her habits as a "ferocious outliner" and her sixth Lindsay Gordon novel, Hostage to Murder, due out next year. Read more.

Speaking of Rankin, in mid June he was awarded the OBE (Order of the British Empire) by Queen Elizabeth in recognition of his services to crime writing. The Edinburgh author said he was "honored," despite his 10-year-old son's concern that the OBE sounds "nerdy." Read more.

Championing the willingness of Walter Mosley and other crime novelists to tackle societal ills such as racism, a too-short article in Newsweek says that in modern American literature, "mystery writers have social realism almost all to themselves." Read more.

According to USA Today, Michael Connelly's City of Bones is only one of a variety of genre works rushing to incorporate references to the September 11 disasters in New York City and Washington, D.C. Read more.

UK author Mo Hayder (Birdman, The Treatment) talks to Shots magazine about the origins of her series protagonist, Jack Caffery, her struggles with the work of Don DeLillo and her time spent working in a Japanese hostess club (which was the inspiration for her forthcoming third novel). Read more.

Joan Hess is interviewed on Suite about her two mystery series, set in Arkansas (the Arly Hanks/Maggody series and the Claire Malloy series), her writing routine, her favorite authors and her idea of fun: "to kill people who annoy me." Read more.

Inspired by the death last month of Mildred Wirt Benson, who produced many of the earliest Nancy Drew mysteries, novelist Emily Jenkins writes in Salon about the history and appeal of fiction's most famous "girl detective." Read more.

The magazine PetLife asks Kris Neri, Carole Nelson Douglas and Alex Matthews what it is about cats "that so compels writers to include them in their [mystery] stories." Read more.

ON NEWSSTANDS ONLY: Book magazine reports in its July/August issue that 84-year-old tough-guy novelist Mickey Spillane has "just about nailed what he promises is his final book in the [Mike] Hammer series. ... Spillane won't reveal the title or release date of his upcoming book, but he's willing to offer this much: Mike and voluptuous secretary Velda get married." Hammer was last seen in Black Alley (1996). ... Marion Arnott, who won the 2001 CWA/Macallan Short Story Dagger for "Prussian Snowdrops," has a wonderfully aberrant new yarn, "Marbles," in Crimewave 6: Breaking Point, the latest edition of Britain's critically acclaimed, semi-annual crime fiction magazine. The same issue contains tales by Mat Coward and Conrad Williams, plus a surprisingly predictable entry ("Bare Bones") from Martin Edwards, author of the psychological thriller Take My Breath Away.

Top 5 Gangster Novels

In anticipation of the July 12 U.S. premiere of Road to Perdition, a 1930s-era gangster film starring Tom Hanks and Paul Newman, and based on Max Allan Collins' 1998 graphic novel of the same name, I asked the author for a list of his favorite mob-connected thrillers. "Off the top of my head," Collins suggests the following five titles (with descriptions by yours truly):

The Glass Key, by Dashiell Hammett (1930). In this tale of friendship and political corruption, Ned Beaumont, the right-hand man to big-city boss Paul Madvig, turns detective after a senator's son is murdered and Madvig is accused of the crime. Beaumont owes Madvig for pulling him "out of the gutter," but their relationship can't withstand the pressures of the investigation as well as the influences of the senator's daughter, who comes between these two men.

The Godfather, by Mario Puzo (1969). It's the story of Don Vito Corleone, the patriarch of a New York Mafia clan, whose benevolent exterior hides a limitless capacity for destructive power, and whose control over the underworld seems firm at the time of his death. Puzo hadn't even wanted to write this book, which became one of the 10 best-selling novels of all time.

Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye, by Horace McCoy (1948). The same author who brought us They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (made into the 1969 Sydney Pollack film) wrote this hard-boiled saga of "Ralph Cotter." An educated but amoral man, Cotter escapes from a prison farm to a city, where he intends to gain control over the corrupt establishment. And for a while, he's definitely in charge of his own fate, using blackmail and bribery to get his way. But Cotter doesn't realize what he's in for or what personal demons he'll face when he hooks up with a millionaire's manipulative daughter.

Little Caesar, by W.R. Burnett (1929). Burnett, who moved to Chicago at the pinnacle of Al Capone's reign, captures the Prohibition-era crook to a tee in this story -- heavy with dialogue and period slang -- that traces the meteoric rise and precipitous fall of Cesare Enrico Bandello, a former street punk who, after becoming a mob chief, must continually prove his toughness.

The Deep, by Mickey Spillane (1961). One of only five non-series novels Spillane has published over the past 55 years, The Deep tells of a long-absent gang member who returns to his old turf, intending to reinstate himself in an urban landscape where youth gang members have become full-scale, grown-up gangsters.

For further adventures in the world of organized crime, pick up the handsome graphic-novel reprint of Road to Perdition (illustrated by Richard Piers Rayner) or Collins' novelization of the new film, both of which are currently available. Several of Collins' novels about Chicago P.I. Nate Heller are also linked intimately to mid-20th-century American gangsterdom: True Detective (1983), True Crime (1984), The Million-Dollar Wound (1986), Neon Mirage (1988) and his new Chicago Confidential.

Last Rewards

Nominations for the 2002 Macavity Awards have been announced. Winners are chosen by members of the reader/fan organization Mystery Readers International and will be announced in October, during Bouchercon. This year's nominees are:

Best Mystery Novel:

Mystic River, by Dennis Lehane (Morrow); The Deadhouse, by Linda Fairstein (Scribner); Folly, by Laurie R. King (Bantam); Tell No One, by Harlan Coben (Delacorte); and Silent Joe, by T. Jefferson Parker (Hyperion)

Best First Mystery Novel:

The Jasmine Trade, by Denise Hamilton (Scribner); Blindsighted, by Karin Slaughter (Morrow); Open Season, by C. J. Box (Putnam); and Perhaps She'll Die, by M.K. Preston (Intrigue)

Best Bio/Critical Mystery Work:

Writing the Mystery: A Start to Finish Guide for Both Novice and Professional, by G. Miki Hayden (Intrigue); Seldom Disappointed: A Memoir, by Tony Hillerman (HarperCollins); The History of Mystery, by Max Allan Collins (Collectors Press); My Name's Friday: The Unauthorized but True Story of Dragnet and the Films of Jack Webb, by Michael J. Hayde (Cumberland House); and Who Was that Lady? Craig Rice: The Queen of Screwball Mystery, by Jeffrey Marks (Delphi Books)

Best Mystery Short Story:

"My Bonnie Lies," by Ted Hertel (from The Mammoth Book of Legal Thrillers, edited by Michael Hemmingson; Carroll & Graf); "Bitter Waters," by Rochelle Krich (from Criminal Kabbalah, edited by Lawrence W. Raphael; Jewish Lights); "The Would-Be Widower," by Katherine Hall Page (from Malice Domestic 10, edited by Nevada Barr; Avon); and "The Abbey Ghosts," by Jan Burke (Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, January 2001)

For more information about the Macavity Awards, go to the Mystery Readers International Web site.

* * *

Deadly Pleasures has identified the nominees for its 2002 Barry Awards. Winners, chosen by that magazine's subscribers and visitors to its Web site, will be announced in October, during Bouchercon. The nominees are:

Best Novel:
Tell No One, by Harlan Coben (Delacorte);
A Darkness More Than Night, by Michael Connelly (Little, Brown); Purgatory Ridge, by William Kent Krueger (Pocket); Mystic River, by Dennis Lehane (Morrow); Silent Joe, by T. Jefferson Parker (Hyperion); and Bad News, by Donald E. Westlake (Mysterious Press)

Best First Novel:
Open Season, by C. J. Box (Putnam); Third Person Singular, by K.J. Erickson (St. Martin's Minotaur); Chasing the Devil's Tail, by David Fulmer (Poisoned Pen Press); Perhaps She'll Die, by M.K. Preston (Intrigue); Blindsighted, by Karen Slaughter (Morrow); and Bubbles Unbound, by Sarah Strohmeyer (Dutton)

Best British Crime Novel:
Dancing with the Virgins, by Stephen Booth (HarperCollins); Blood Junction, by Caroline Carver (Orion); The Killing Kind, by John Connolly (Hodder & Stoughton); Dialogues of the Dead, by Reginald Hill (HarperCollins); Death in Holy Orders, by P.D. James (Knopf); and Killing the Shadows, by Val McDermid (HarperCollins)

Best Paperback Original:
Rode Hard, Put Away Dead, by Sinclair Browning (Bantam); Death Is a Cabaret, by Deborah Morgan (Berkley Prime Crime); The Fourth Wall, by Beth Saulnier (Warner); Straw Men, by
Martin J. Smith (Jove); and Killing Gifts, by Deborah Woodworth (Avon)

For more information about the Barry Awards, go to the Deadly Pleasures Web site.

* * *

Lastly, the Historical Mystery Appreciation Society has announced the nominees for its 2002 Herodotus Awards, honoring the best historical fiction published in 2001. Again, the winners will be announced during Bouchercon. The contenders are:

Best First Historical Mystery Novel:
Murphy's Law, by Rhys Bowen (St. Martin's);
Carter Beats the Devil, by Glen David Gold (Hyperion); Mute Witness, by Charles O'Brien (Poisoned Pen Press); The Right Hand of Sleep, by John Wray (Knopf); and The Birth of Blue Satan, by Patricia Wynn (Pemberley Press)

Best Historical Mystery Novel:
The Last Kashmiri Rose, by Barbara Cleverly (Carroll & Graf);
The Good German, by Joseph Kanon (Henry Holt); Brothers of Cain, by Miriam Grace Monfredo (Berkley Prime Crime); Call Each River Jordan, by Owen Parry (Morrow); and Island of Tears, by Troy Soos (Kensington)

Best Historical Mystery Short Story:
"Kiss of Death," by Max Allan Collins (in Kiss of Death; Crippen & Landru); "The Invisible Spy," by Brendan DuBois (in The Blue and the Gray Underground, edited by Ed Gorman; Forge); "Hobson's Choice," by John Lutz (in The Blue and the Gray Underground, edited by Ed Gorman; Forge); "Beyond the Lost Man Mountains," by Anne Weston (in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, July/August 2001); and "A Perfect Crime," by Derek Wilson (in The Mammoth Book of More Historical Whodunnits, edited by Mike Ashley; Robinson)

For more information about the Herodotus Awards, go to The Historical Mystery Appreciation Society Web site.


"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.

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