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 Dashiell Hammett A 75th-Anniversary Tribute

Dashiell Hammett A 75th-Anniversary Tribute


























January Magazine's Crime Fiction Report, November 2003


IN THIS ISSUE: The month's most-wanted reads • New novels by Mickey Spillane, Barbara Cleverly, Jeffrey Cohen, Deborah Crombie, Marshall Browne, Rochelle Krich and others • Honoring Chester Himes; saying good-bye to Bruce Alexander and Amanda Cross; debating John Mortimer's status as a "babe magnet," and other news from the world of mystery • Plus: the winners of this year's Anthony, Shamus and Macavity awards, and the latest Nero Wolfe Award nominees

Pierce's Picks for November

Amelia Peabody's Egypt: A Compendium (Morrow), edited by Elizabeth Peters and Kristen Whitbread. Devoted fans of Peters' historical Amelia Peabody Emerson series (Children of the Storm, etc.) will enjoy this generously illustrated collection of essays about Egypt's early-20th-century archaeological period, Victorian attitudes toward other cultures and household servants, and even child-rearing philosophies of that time. Confusing fact with fiction (in a good way), there are also secret journal entries from the sleuthing Emersons to be found here.

Barbados Heat (St. Martin's Minotaur), by Don Bruns. U.S. Congressman Robert Shapply, ignoring the importance of artistic expression, has begun a crusade to clean up rap music lyrics. But just before his hearings into the matter begin, he's murdered outside his Washington, D.C., home, and his impresario stepson, Nick Brand, is arrested in connection with the crime. Music journalist Mick Sever (Jamaica Blue, 2002), a former friend of Brand's, agrees to cover this case, which will take him from the nation's capital all the way south to Barbados, and have him facing a list of eccentric suspects that includes Shapply's icy widow.

A Christmas Journey (Ballantine), by Anne Perry. Lady Vespasia Cumming-Gould, a familiar figure from Perry's Thomas Pitt series, finally appears in a case of her own, as a younger woman. Invited to a holiday gathering at a Berkshire estate, Vespasia is on hand for suicide, and must then accompany another woman to Scotland, along the way learning the wrenching truth of this tragedy.

The Con Man's Daughter (Mysterious Press), by Ed Dee. When New York ex-cop Eddie Dunne's grown daughter is kidnapped, he figures it's the work of Yuri Borodenko, the rival of another Russian crime boss for whom Dunne used to work as a "fixer." So he firebombs Yuri's Rolls Royce, only to set off a retaliatory attack that leaves Dunne's former police partner without his head. Did I mention that Dee is a gritty writer? He's also a damnably engaging one, as readers of this standalone will discover.

Destination: Morgue (Arrow UK), by James Ellroy. The author's second volume of previously uncollected works (after 1999's Crime Wave) includes 16 true-crime or autobiographical pieces that he wrote originally for GQ magazine, plus a novella, "Hollywood Fuck Pad."

Disordered Minds (Macmillan UK), by Minette Walters. It's hard to imagine a more depressing premise for a novel: Harold Stamp, a retarded and hermitic 20-year-old, is convicted in 1970 of killing his grandmother -- the one person who even tried to understand him. The conviction was based on questionable evidence, and Stamp withdrew his confession. Yet three years haven't even passed before Stamp commits suicide, a victim of despair. Is there more to these tragedies that meets the eye? Given Walters' reputation for surprising plot twists, you can be on it.

Dying for Dana (Forge), by Jim Patton. Portland, Oregon, prosecutor Max Travis dives into the investigation of a violent robbery, only to meet beautiful, blonde Dana Waverleigh -- the girl of his dreams. Except that Dana's ex-lover is one of the robbers, and he wants Dana to keep him apprised of Max's progress. Meanwhile, an armed meth addict threatens to kill them all.

The Empire of Shadows (St. Martin's Minotaur), by Richard E. Crabbe. Hoping to escape the quotidian hazards of Manhattan, police captain Thomas Braddock heads north with his family in 1889, bound for New York's deeply forested Adirondack Mountains. What he couldn't have anticipated is that his vacation will be interrupted by a hunt for the young Mohawk fugitive Jim Tupper, who, after knifing a construction foreman, hopes to vanish into the Adirondack wilderness of his ancestors. Braddock's pursuit of Tupper is driven largely by the slaying of a maid at a luxurious Adirondacks resort -- a crime for which the cop's adopted son is accused, but which may have been Tupper's work, instead. This is the sequel to Crabbe's exciting debut novel, Suspension (2000).

The Girl with the Long Back (Constable & Robinson UK), by Bill James. Chief Constable Iles' carefully negotiated pact to keep drug dealers on his patch peaceful is coming apart at the seams, leading to violence and putting both him and Harpur at the center of turmoil. This novel is due out in the States in March 2004, from W.W. Norton.

Last Boat to Cadiz (Capra Press), by Barnaby Conrad. With 32 books already to his credit, Conrad -- a former amateur bullfighter, diplomat and nightclub owner -- delivers his first international thriller. Set in 1945, after Adolf Hitler's death, it follows Wilson Tripp, the idealistic young American vice counsel in Seville, as he tries to stop a murderous Nazi officer who's escaping through Spain -- and leaving ruin in his wake.

Men from Boys (Heinemann UK), edited by John Harvey. Mark Billingham, Lawrence Block, Reginald Hill, Dennis Lehane and Peter Robinson are among the authors contributing to this anthology of coming-of-age stories told from a male perspective and covering a variety of historical eras. Also featured here is a novella by Andrew Coburn (Goldilocks, Birthright).

Mr. Timothy (Knopf), by Louis Bayard. Spinning off from Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, Bayard imagines the character of Tim Cratchit all grown up, less disabled and living quietly in a London whorehouse in exchange for tutoring the madam. It's the Christmas season of 1860, and Cratchit is troubled by his discovery of three 10-year-old girls, each branded with the letter "G." Tracking down the third of these young waifs -- and the only one still breathing -- not-so-tiny Tim determines to protect her, a task that will make him the target of a moneyed and malevolent pedophile.

Morituri (Toby Crime), by Yasmina Khadra; translated by David Herman. It's not every day that you read a crime novel set in modern Algiers. Here we find Inspector Llob called in to investigate the kidnapping of Sabrine Malek, the lovely daughter of a local powerbroker. But finding her will force Llob to deal with arms traffickers and Islamic fundamentalists, not to mention the city's usual car bombers, prophets and pimps. The author is actually a former Algerian army officer, Mohammed Moulessehoul, who took a female pseudonym in order to avoid military censorship, before moving to France in 1991.

Never Surrender (HarperCollins UK), by Michael Dobbs. This follow-up to Winston's War (2002) finds new British Prime Minister Winston Churchill surrounded by distrustful and deceitful colleagues in 1940, and about to suffer a serious setback at the Battle of Dunkirk. But Churchill has barely begun to fight, dispatching a young woman as a "secret weapon" to instill confusion in the Nazis and buy the time necessary for British forces to escape Dunkirk, to fight another day. Dobbs deftly blends historical fact with captivating fiction, to dramatize the turning points at which Churchill's success might have turned to shame.

Rendezvous Eighteenth (St. Martin's Minotaur), by Jake Lamar. Ricky Jenks plays piano at a café in Paris and dates a French Muslim woman. His life isn't everything he'd hoped, but he accepts that. Until his estranged cousin shows up, seeking Ricky's help in finding his runaway wife, and a dead whore appears in his apartment building. A very atmospheric thriller, with an appealing protagonist.

Shadow of Death (St. Martin's Minotaur), by William G. Tapply. Ellen Stoddard's campaign to become the first female U.S. senator from Massachusetts could be derailed by the peculiar behavior of her husband, Albert. So her campaign manager employs Boston lawyer Brady Coyne to look into the matter. But when Coyne's private detective perishes in a New Hampshire car blaze, the lawyer takes over the Albert Stoddard case, following leads to a rustic town where violence and homicide are sure to upset the populace. This 20th Coyne novel (after last year's A Fine Line) also finds the likable but relationships-challenged protagonist struggling to cope with the fact that his girlfriend has just moved in with him.

Other Voices

In last year's The Last Kashmiri Rose, Barbara Cleverly debuted an affable detective (Commander Joseph Sandilands), an unusual locale (1920s India) and a flair for atmospheric mystery writing. Ragtime in Simla (Carroll & Graf), the second of three projected books about Sandilands, is a repeat roundup, with this Scottish policeman departing eastern India for the northern highlands of Simla. He thinks he's off for a cool hilltop vacation; naturally, he's in for a complicated bit of sleuthing.

Before Sandilands even arrives in Simla, his traveling companion, a famous Russian baritone, is shot dead in the car next to him. When the police begin to investigate, murmuring mention is made of the assassination's uncanny similarities to a shooting in the same place the year before. Some authorities attribute the violence to restless natives and their resentment of the British, but Sandilands isn't satisfied. He starts poking around Simla and soon enough, a collection of colonials, all eager to tell him everything and nothing they know, begin to pile their stories at his feet. A little blackmail here, a suspected murder there, a maybe affair over there. Everything smells just a little foxy, and Sandilands winds up enjoying the hunt despite himself.

Two things distinguish Ragtime in Simla from The Last Kashmiri Rose: the women and the detecting. Rose's women were military wives, strong but still accessories to the men. Ragtime's ladies are independent, often non-English (there are a few Frenchwomen among them), and they have elected to come to India as a place to rebuild their lives.

These women quite literally overwhelm both Sandilands and the story: whenever Sandilands suspects that one of them knows something, all he has to do is mention it, and a veritable fountain of sparklingly clever storytelling gushes out. This is a book that is long on tale-telling, while being short on the processes of detection. But who needs proof, when the characters are so eager to spill?

In fact, the various stories here are so compelling -- all about spectacular train wrecks, life during wartime and the seedy glamour of the demimonde -- that the lack of actual sleuthing is largely forgivable. Author Cleverly even throws in a mountaintop chase on horseback for some extra distraction at the end. You can see it all coming, and you don't mind in the least, so long as the ride remains entertaining. Ragtime in Simla would make a swell movie. So what if there's no proof, no real detecting, no mustering of bad guys in the book's concluding pages? Sandilands has had his mountain holiday, and maybe in his next outing, he'll get back to work again. -- Reviewed by Caroline Cummins

* * *

His fame rests largely on his science fiction, but the prolific Isaac Asimov also found time to write about practically everything, from poetry to ecology to religion. Beginning in the 1970s, he started experimenting with the mystery story, and eventually wrote more than 120 short stories and two novels dealing with detection. He's best known in this genre for his Black Widowers series, a set of more than five dozen quick, snappy puzzles featuring a monthly men's dining club. With The Return of the Black Widowers (Carroll & Graf), editor Charles Ardai has selected 10 classic Widowers stories and packaged them together with Asimov's last six uncollected stories about the club. Ardai's edition makes for a fine introduction to this series and a good compendium for collectors.

The Black Widowers (its name based on a club Asimov belonged to called the Trap Door Spiders) is a group of six men -- an artist, a lawyer, a math teacher, a chemist, a mystery writer and a cryptographer -- who meet once a month at a New York City restaurant for dinner in a private room, faithfully attended by the seventh member of the club, the discreet waiter, Henry. Generally, one man hosts, and another is delegated to bring a guest. After coffee, and over brandy, the Widowers begin to grill the guest, starting with the portentous line, "How do you justify your existence?" Inevitably, the guest reveals a problem that needs solving -- a mathematical puzzle, a suspicion that a colleague is thieving, a wife who claims to be a witch -- and the members try to find a rational solution. Just as inevitably, it's the quietly attentive Henry who, in between serving and clearing, has listened to the conversation and understood more than the gentlemen, and can modestly point out the answer. It's Henry who is the detective, and the Black Widowers who provide him with the mysteries.

In the afterword to The Return of the Black Widowers, excerpted from Asimov's 1992 memoir, I, Asimov, the now late novelist admits that the Widowers follow the "classic" form of mystery popularized by Agatha Christie. Neat, tidy and unemotional, the Christie-style puzzler wins the reader over with its charming cleverness and comfortable predictability. Asimov reveals very little about the Widowers over the course of 66 stories; some members are known to be married, but essentially, they are men who come to dinner, argue collegially, discuss the problem of the night and vanish. It's a ritual, both in the eating and the digesting. Asimov claims that part of the fun of concocting the Widowers stories was that they were easier to write than science fiction. They are brief, pleasant treats.

Ardai's anthology includes a blowsy, entertaining foreword by Harlan Ellison and a couple of stories, written in homage to the Widowers by William Brittain and Ardai himself, that are full of self-deprecating references to Asimov. This is a book for fans, and one about an armchair-detective society that is right at home in an armchair itself. Just the thing for a dark winter evening. -- C.C.

* * *

What becomes a living legend most? In Mickey Spillane's case, probably not Something's Down There (Simon & Schuster). Not that this is a bad read, but it's certainly a departure from the testosterone-stoked venom and ferocious narrative drive that have marked Spillane's best works, and it's bound to leave a few fans scratching their heads. After all, this man built his rep writing sharp, hard books about sharp, hard men driven to often violent extremes by their obsessions -- and occasionally right over the edge.

By comparison, Something's Down There is curiously subdued, a meandering shaggy dog story with a slightly fishy smell. It mixes a little Ernest Hemingway and Peter Benchley with a dash of John D. MacDonald and even a sprinkling of middle-aged romance. Retired American spook Mako Hooker has given up the world of violence to become a beach bum in the tropics, living in a seaside shack on the Caribbean's remote Peolle Island, content to drink Miller Lite (once a shill, always a shill) and to fish his life away. The only edge in sight is the horizon, with its spectacular sunsets.

But there's trouble in paradise -- fishing hasn't been so hot lately, and the local Carib fishermen are blaming it on "the eater," a mysterious, shadowy entity they claim lies in wait out there, attacking ships and scaring away the ocean life. Is there really "something down there," some giant prehistoric shark, perhaps? Or is this just more local lore, like the Bermuda Triangle? Or maybe a Hollywood publicity stunt? Or is the eater some sort of a cover-up for or even the unfortunate by-product of some secret government operation? Certainly, there are enough American government operatives and other scoundrels from Mako's past lurking in the area to lend credence to that last theory.

Mako, being a manly man, naturally decides to get involved. But whereas most of Spillane's heroes would do this out of an obsessive sense of duty or honor, when Mako starts nosing around, it seems as much out of pique and annoyance as anything else. And when he's called back into service by his former employer, he goes reluctantly, and with more than a few bones to pick.

Mike Hammer may be driven, but Mako just comes off as a grumpy old man, slightly out of his element. He gripes a lot about the government and Hollywood and feminists and efficiency experts and "broads." And that's another thing -- this book seems curiously dated at times, almost as if it had been shoved into a back drawer in the 1950s, and was only recently dragged out again, to be given a brief, uneven updating (Digital cameras but no cell phones? The "turn of the century" being 1900, not 2000? Veterans from World War II, but not Korea or Vietnam?) and released in time for the holiday buying season.

Still, it's wrong to not like this book for what it isn't. Mako may be a reluctant hero, but like Spillane, he's still a pro, and they both show a sure hand at dealing with "murder, corruption and all that stuff." Taken on it's own terms, Something's Down There is a cheerfully old-fashioned adventure yarn, a little corny and just a little bit racy. And a lot of fun, in a pleasantly retro way. At this stage of the game, I really don't think the 85-year-old Spillane has anything to prove to anyone, least of all some pipsqueak critic from January Magazine.

As Mako (or perhaps the Mick himself) would say, "You better believe it, doll."

Now if only his taste in beer would improve ... -- Reviewed by Kevin Burton Smith

* * *

Looking for a detective who has to prepare his children's breakfasts, help them finish their homework, field phone threats and solve a murder or two? Well, you need search no farther than Jeffrey Cohen's A Farewell to Legs (Bancroft Press). In this witty sequel to 2002's highly praised For Whom the Minivan Rolls, New Jersey freelance writer and stay-at-home dad Aaron Tucker finds himself balancing his domestic duties with murder, stink bombs, a man stalking his wife and the search for the perfect pet.

After convincing his best friend, Jeff Mahoney, to go with him to their high-school reunion -- an event ripe with homicidal opportunities -- Aaron encounters there the source of all their teenage fantasies, former classmate Stephanie Jacobs. Surprisingly, Stephanie appears delighted to be reacquainted with the Jewish-American writer ... at least up until the moment when a phone call informs her that her husband, Louis "Crazy Legs" Gibson, has been killed.

It seems that Gibson, another classmate (remembered for being obnoxious), was discovered stabbed to death in his girlfriend's apartment. Knowing that Aaron has some experience investigating murders, the newly widowed Stephanie begs him to help her with this case, dangling as an incentive the promise that she'll get him a $10,000 job writing about the crime for her friend's newspaper.

As it turns out, Crazy Legs had more enemies than friends, and more mistresses than can be counted. His fervent support of a right-wing fundamentalist group deepens the mystery of his demise, and Aaron's seductive encounters with Stephanie -- whom his wife, Abby, refers to unsubtly as "Ms. Cleavage" -- only makes his investigation that much harder. A plea from the high-school principal to figure out who's responsible for stink bombs further adds to the pressures on this novel's protagonist.

With the exceptions of Jon Katz (Death by Station Wagon, 1993) and Matt Witten (The Killing Bee, 2001), there aren't many authors whose work features detecting dads. That's unfortunate, because Cohen proves how successfully such characters can be used. He deftly balances his story's criminal puzzles with insights into Aaron Tucker's home life, never venturing into "too cute" territory. Scenes in which Aaron deals with his daughter's tantrums, his wife's subtle manipulations and his son's Asperger Syndrome (an affliction shared by author Cohen's own son) are just as entertaining as the inquiries at the heart of this work. Although Aaron's unrelenting cleverness and quips come close to reducing his adventures to a stand-up routine, Cohen manages to avoid turning A Farewell to Legs into farce, and definitely maintains the tension throughout.

A freelance writer, reporter and, like Tucker, the author of numerous screenplays, Cohen clearly patterns his protagonist after himself. (He explains their similarities and differences in a new Mystery Ink interview.) Aaron is a very likable guy who worships his wife, adores his kids and knows his family's faults sometimes too well. The author's sense of humor is sharp but never bitter, and though the surprising twist at the end of this novel stretches credibility rather severely, Cohen succeeds in living up to the high precedent he set with his first mystery. Whether Legs can inspire a new wave of sleuthing sires is anyone's guess, but it will undoubtedly lead to a third entry in this enjoyable series. -- Reviewed by Cindy Chow

* * *

There's a war fast brewing between architectural preservationists and home remodelers in Rochelle Krich's second Molly Blume mystery, Dream House (Ballantine). The site of this dispute is Los Angeles' normally placid Wilshire area, where HARP -- the more familiar acronym of the Historic Architectural Restoration and Preservation board -- exercises absolute control over changes residents can make to their high-end properties, adding frustration atop the costs and typical restrictions with which those locals must already contend. This seemingly benign situation erupts into violence when preservationists, determined to protect the purity of L.A.'s historic habitats, draw the ire of homeowners hungry for more freedom to renovate.

Molly Blume (introduced in 2002's Blues in the Night) is a freelance reporter and the author of true-crimes books written under the pseudonym Morgan Blake. While on the lookout for stories to tell in her next Crime Sheet column, she stumbles across a series of vandalism attacks on historic abodes. This leads her to an elderly former professor named Oscar Linney, whom she finds wandering about, searching for his home. It turns out that the confused Linney, who suffers from both Alzheimer's and Parkinson's Disease, had been living under the care of his daughter, Margaret Reston. But she went missing from her garden five months ago and is presumed dead. Molly listens closely as Linney tells her, further, that his son-in-law, Hank Reston, was abusing him and about how Margaret had planned to leave her spouse. But as the plot of Dream House rolls along, Molly meets Reston and finds it hard to dislike him.

In fact, the reporter allows herself to be persuaded by Reston to look into Margaret's disappearance, hoping that she can prove he did no harm to his wife. But after Linney dies in a blaze that also destroys his daughter's house, Molly is drawn deeper into the family's woes, and she finds herself questioning a journalistic decision that she fears may have contributed to murder.

As in Krich's previous suspense novels, and in her series featuring L.A. homicide detective Jessie Drake (Shadows of Sin, 2001), Judaism plays a significant role in the lives of Dream House's characters. This author does an admirable job of interweaving religious lore into her mysteries without becoming pedantic or obtrusive. She demonstrates the vitality and seriousness of her protagonist's faith when Molly, a modern Orthodox Jew, is prevented from pursuing investigative leads on the day of the Shabbos. Although the pace of this story lags somewhat in the middle, Krich maintains the reader's interest by expanding on Molly's personal life. Divorced, she has moved into a relationship with her old high-school boyfriend, Rabbi Zack Abrams, whom she reunited with in Blues in the Night. These two are extremely attracted to one another, but (in a twist that contrasts with the gleefully uninhibited sexuality of many crime novels) their religion forbids any pre-marital physical contact. In Dream House, we find their relationship at a critical point, for while Molly loves Zack, she fears that her temperament and occupation would prevent her from being an ideal rabbi's wife. Meanwhile, Molly's family provides another level of personality to this novel. One of seven children, the journo maintains a refreshingly amicable association with her kin. She uses mah jong games with her sisters as opportunities to rehash and rethink her investigations, while she takes advantage of her family's knowledge and neighborhood connections to secure information crucial to her inquiries. Molly also defies common behavior among investigative reporters by sharing her discoveries and theories with police -- even if she does so after a useful time lag. She is a reporter, after all.

Krich's novel uses the subject of historic preservation to good effect, exploring both sides of this sometimes thorny issue fairly and without obvious preachiness. Molly Blume's probe here into vandalism and murder is relatively low-key, with the protagonist interviewing one subject, then another, sorting out truth from lies and secrets. Though such proceedings can be tedious at times, Krich throws in enough red herrings to keep her readers off guard and draw them inexorably toward Dream House's unexpected solution. In the dynamic and determined Ms. Blume she has created a winning character, somebody who allows her intuition and feelings toward individuals to influence her investigations almost as much as the evidence. Krich is sure to gain new fans and please her old ones with this mystery. -- C.C.

* * *

In Bitter Blue (Allison & Busby), Cath Staincliffe's sixth Sal Kilkenny mystery, the Manchester private investigator forgets the main lessons all detectives should have emblazoned on their foreheads: Everybody lies. No one tells the whole truth. And not everybody wants to be helped. This last lesson often applies to clients, as well, as Sal discovers in this not completely satisfying yarn.

Things get off to a brisk start, as Sal returns to her office after the Easter break. Maybe too brisk. Frazzled, having endured a tantrum thrown by her 7-year old daughter, Maddie, Sal barely makes her meeting with a new client, Lucy Loveday. It seems Lucy has been receiving threatening letters and she wants Sal to figure out who's responsible. Complicating matters, Lucy refuses to tell police about this intimidation, and she convinces Sal (against her better judgment) to stay silent, too. Of course, money up front helps keep Sal's lips shut ... Besides, she's distracted by a second case, involving a couple who want her to check out a neighborhood they plan to move into, just to ensure that they won't be bothered by nuisances such as noisy residents, parties or drug trafficking. Following a boring surveillance, Sal quite literally runs into a battered and bleeding woman named Minty who, like Lucy, refuses to seek official support. Add to this a home where the elderly inhabitants are both reclusive and completely negligent about its upkeep, and the neighborhood in question starts to look a bit less than ideal.

Staincliffe, who is herself based in Manchester, England, isn't above larding private torments atop Sal's professional challenges. In Bitter Blue, the P.I.'s platonic roommate, a single father named Ray Costello, seems anxious to push past the restrictive boundaries of their relationship, although he already has a girlfriend. Also, daughter Maddie has suddenly turned sullen and moody; she's even been tormenting one of her fellow students at school. Yet she refuses to tell her mother what is bothering her, causing Sal to fear that she's being led into the parental minefield of a very long adolescence.

However, this novel doesn't lose its focus on detective work. The story follows Sal as she interviews Lucy Loveday's coworkers at a local hotel, only to discover that her new client's life has been filled with heartache and tragedies. As the threats and menace toward Lucy escalate, Sal realizes that the woman has been less than honest with her -- and may even be protecting a possible suspect. Angered by this deception, Sal must decide whether she wants to continue the investigation. Ultimately, compelled to finish what she started and also fearing responsibility for any future attacks on Lucy, Sal makes a choice that will lead toward a tragedy -- one destined to affect her life forever.

If there are faults in Bitter Blue, they are (1) that the conclusion seems so obvious early on, and (2) that Sal doesn't question her client's background more thoroughly. Hey, isn't that one of the opening lessons in Being a Detective 101? Another complaint would be that the secondary investigations here are detailed too quickly, giving readers only teasing hints at what could have been very interesting complications. Still, these weaknesses don't overwhelm. Staincliffe provides numerous entertaining players in Blue and, as in her previous novels (such as Towers of Silence, 2002), she shows that the resolution of a case doesn't necessarily bring a happy ending. Lucy, Mindy, even Sal's own daughter -- all of them refuse assistance, for reasons of their own. Originally drawn to gumshoe work by her desire to help other people, Sal Kilkenny is frustrated as her offers of aid are rejected. Add to this the confusion and guilt this P.I. feels in dealing with young Maddie, and you get a novel that's both compelling and of human scale. -- C.C.

* * *

Despite the image its title conjures, Morgue Mama: The Cross Kisses Back (Poisoned Pen Press) is not a mystery featuring a ghetto Kay Scarpetta. The morgue in question here is the library of Hannawa, Ohio's Herald-Union newspaper, and "Mama" is Dolly "Maddy" Madison Sprowls, the librarian and guardian of that newspaper's archives. While many mysteries feature crusty newspaper librarians who hinder as much as help detectives, C.R. Corwin's debut novel places its archivist in the limelight. The resulting story is a refreshing and welcome entry to this genre.

Having spent four decades building up a reputation for intimidation (the only time people call her "Morgue Mama" is behind her back), the 67-year-old Maddy is more than slightly shocked when rookie police-beat reporter Aubrey McGinty refuses to be bullied. Instead, Aubrey wants Maddy's help in piecing together what she thinks could be a career-making story, about the poisoning death -- live on television! -- of their small town's best-known (among many) evangelist, Buddy Wing. Not convinced by the quick confession to this crime of Sissy James, the abused ex-girlfriend of a rival preacher, Tim Bandicoot, Aubrey -- heeding that classic Watergate-era dictum, "follow the money" -- initiates inquiries into the Reverend Wing's Heaven Bound Cathedral as well as his many detractors. Not surprisingly, Sissy isn't the only person who could have clipped Wing. Other plausible suspects include members of a splinter group that broke away from the late pastor's church; Wing's alleged illegitimate son; and the slippery Bandicoot, "Buddy Wing's one-time heir-apparent." Feeling the need to rein in Aubrey's reckless enthusiasm, even as she admires the 24-year-old's brashness and confidence, Maddy finds herself dragged into a murder case that exposes old secrets and may result in her own overdue but very permanent retirement.

Author Corwin, a former newspaper reporter living in Akron, Ohio, offers in Morgue Mama an enjoyable twist on the conventional investigative partnership between a crusty veteran and a naïve new kid on the block. Maddy, who's lived in Hannawa ever since she was a "timid eighteen-year-old," is an intriguing, complex and deceptively sharp figure who mourns recent changes in the reporting biz, even as she recognizes their inevitability. She nicely contrasts and complements Aubrey, who at times shows the very tabloidish sensibilities that turn Maddy's stomach, especially when it comes to the young reporter's hunger for headlines, no matter the cost to folks involved in a story.

This novel's behind-the-scenes perspective on newspapers can be fascinating and humorous (as when editors struggle to determine how best to treat a profanity-laced quote in their "family" broadsheet). At times, though, Corwin over-explains her characters' actions and techniques to the point that her story bears an uncomfortable resemblance to a how-to manual for reporters.

My other quibble about this book is that its author violates the creed of modern mysteries by not playing fair. Crucial information discovered by Maddy along the way is withheld until the very close of Morgue Mama. While this guarantees a surprise ending, it also leaves readers feeling more than a bit cheated. Still, it's hard not to approve of a novel that features such an entertaining pair as Maddy Sprowls and Aubrey McGinty. Expect sequels. -- C.C.

* * *

When reading Elliot Light's second Shep Harrington mystery, Chain Thinking (Bancroft Press), be prepared to experience some serious species guilt. In this follow-up to Lonesome Song (2002), Light forces his readers to question man's right to own and experiment on our closest relatives, chimpanzees. He also challenges our definition of what makes us human. Since chimps are able to feel, rationalize and communicate with others, what makes them any less "human" than we are?

As the book begins, small-town Virginia attorney Shep Harrington is getting back on his feet after three years spent in prison on a bogus fraud charge. Now living on the farm he inherited from Reilly Heartwood, whose murder he solved in Lonesome Song, Shep is slowly rebuilding his practice and creating a family with the ragtag group of tenants he also inherited from Reilly.

It's a woman connected with Reilly who soon gets Shep back into trouble, immerses him in the world of animal testing and puts his hard-earned freedom in jeopardy. She is Sydney Vail, a former soap-opera star whose career came to an end when an attacker threw acid in her face. Turning up at Shep's farm, Sydney seeks refuge not for herself but for Kikora, a chimpanzee she has stolen from a drug-testing lab. Shep wants to help in Reilly's absence, and his conscience is definitely pricked by the human-like Kikora, who has learned to communicate through sign language. So he prepares a legal case designed to protect the chimp against slavery and painful experimentation. But after Sydney is arrested for the murder of Dr. Celia Stone, the scientist from whom Kikora was "liberated," Harrington is embroiled in a controversy that puts more at risk than just an animal's life. With police convinced that Sydney is a killer, Shep must decide whether he's willing to challenge their verdict and endanger his fragily restored career by trying to save Kikora from unspeakable torture.

Shep Harrington is a sympathetic character, whose sense of irony and sardonic humor have kept him going through imprisonment, the loss of his career and divorce. In Chain Thinking, he admirably takes on a company that employs most of his town's residents and has the power of legal precedence behind its actions. This doesn't leave him much time for a personal life, but that may be OK: his relationship with ambitious and impulsive reporter Cali McBride isn't progressing, and he's not sure he really wants more out of it. Unfortunately, at a mere 211 pages this novel doesn't leave much room in which to expand upon its two other most interesting players, Sydney Vail and Celia Stone. We're never told, for instance, how that long-ago acid assault affected the ex-soap star. Nor do we hear much about the damaged Ms. Stone, a woman who has alienated everybody except her chimps. How she developed into such a pathetic figure might have been an intriguing back story, but we'll never know.

Light never claims that he's presenting here an unbiased view of animal experimentation. Indeed, Chain Thinking contains nary a syllable of sympathy for the medical industry, and it includes at the back information about environmental and animal protection groups. By making the drug that's being tested on Kikora a diet medication, the author even avoids any moral quandaries that might have arisen had it been a treatment for cancer or AIDS. As Shep recalls in these pages, African Americans, women, children and the mentally challenged have all been considered, at one time or another, property without rights. His creator then asks, why shouldn't chimps -- our closest relatives, able to communicate with us -- be protected, too? Though some readers will be angered or unsettled by such questions, Chain Thinking isn't a pedantic exercise. Filled with humor and wit, it's a winning mystery with a conscience thrown in as a bonus. -- C.C.

* * *

"He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you." -- Friedrich Nietzsche

Words worth considering, especially in today's rocky world. However, the backdrop of The Eye of the Abyss (St. Martin's Minotaur), Marshall Browne's first installment in a thrilling new series, featuring -- incredible as this may seem -- a banker for a hero, is Germany in 1938. Adolf Hitler's scourge is on the ascendancy and the world is poised for a second world war. On an otherwise uneventful morning, Franz Schmidt, the chief auditor for Wertheim & Company, an old family owned banking institution ensconced in a provincial German city, is informed that his employer has taken on a prestigious new client: the Nazi Party. Large amounts of cash are being moved into Wertheim's coffers and the party is installing one of its own, a hard-eyed officer named Frederick Dietrich, to oversee the account. Thus begins this riveting tale of the evil men may do, especially when sanctioned by an unseeing populace.

A few years earlier, Herr Schmidt had gone to the aid of a Jewish man who was being beaten by brown-shirted thugs, and amid that melee lost an eye in a particularly horrible manner. Although it is part of this banker's outwardly wooden, unemotional nature not to fuss about things, one can't help but wonder if resentment doesn't percolate somewhere deep beneath his surface.

Or should we simply accept Schmidt at face value, trust that he's really gotten over his terrible loss and gotten on with life? And a pleasant life it certainly is. He has an important job that suits him, a good marriage, a charming child and, maybe, just maybe, if he and his family and friends all look the other way, the dark events happening in their country will leave them relatively unscathed.

Moral men caught up in the maelstrom of immoral times have it particularly hard, especially when playing the hero is the last thing on their minds. But there is more going on at Wertheim's than meets the eye. When it is revealed that the bank president's executive secretary, Lilli Dressler, is half Jewish, her fate is sealed by the odious, eagle-eyed Dietrich. Schmidt finds himself drawn to help the sultry and enigmatic Frau Dressler as he's caught up in a shadowy alliance with Lilli's father, Klaus Dressler, an honorable cop desperate to save his daughter. Almost against his will, Schmidt takes the first few cautious steps that will soon unravel the placid nature of his life, place him and his imprudent friend Heinrich Wagner in jeopardy, and push him into a dangerous conspiracy against the Third Reich.

Eye of the Abyss is, by turns, nail-bitingly suspenseful, erotic, pragmatic and heart-wrenching. It is one of those wonderfully involving novels that is hard to put down and so hard to leave when you reach the last page. This reviewer spent an entire night reading, captivated by the impassive Herr Schmidt and his intense, deceptively low-key heroics. The scene in which the grinning, wolfish Dietrich attempts a ludicrous seduction of our dour banker is by itself worth the price of this book. Australian author Browne, the creator of another, widely lauded series, featuring a one-legged Italian cop, Inspector Anders (Inspector Anders and the Ship of Fools, 2002), is definitely a man whose talents deserve close watching. I, for one, intend to keep my eyes peeled. Happily. -- Reviewed by Yvette Banek

* * *

Writing legal thrillers with a consistently strong narrative voice, compellingly human protagonists and an ability to turn what might have been dry legal dramas into engaging and fast-paced reads is an art form. One that former defense attorney Joseph T. Klempner has mastered. With five books to his credit, including Flat Lake in Winter (1999) and Irreparable Damage (2002), he now brings us Fogbound (St. Martin's Minotaur), a story that surpasses its predecessors. From page one, the reader is seamlessly inserted into the life of August Jorgenson, a retired federal circuit court judge who's now living a reclusive life at a lighthouse out in the New Jersey marshes, away from telephones, televisions and the judicial system to which he had devoted so much of his life. With most of his days spent netting shrimp in the company of his old Labrador, Jake, Jorgenson is ill-prepared for the arrival on his doorstep of three representatives from Trial TV. And what those three -- Jessica Woodruff, Tim Harkin and Ray Gilbert -- ask him to do would almost be funny, if a man's life weren't at stake.

Jorgenson hasn't practiced as a trial attorney for 33 years. Yet this trio want him to step out of his peaceful, hermetic existence and go before the U.S. Supreme Court. Inmate Wesley Boyd Davies has one last shot at commuting his death sentence to life imprisonment, and this principled old jurist may be just the guy to make that shot count. However, Jorgenson refuses to help. At least initially.

But Woodruff has done her homework. She knows that before he retired, Jorgenson was famous for his ardent opposition to the death penalty -- an opinion that helped keep him off America's highest bench. Capitalizing on that knowledge, she persuades the former judge to go see the prisoner for himself before rejecting his case.

Davies, we're told, was condemned to death for murdering an 11-year-old girl. When asked, he'd led the police to her buried body and the shovel used to inter her. A seemingly airtight case -- except for one flaw: Davies is incapable of saying whether he committed the crime or not. The prisoner is autistic and totally incapable of normal social interaction. He can't begin to tell Jorgenson the real story of that 11-year-old's death. But Davies is also an idiot savant, able to communicate through the incredibly lifelike drawings he makes. What those drawings contain compels Jorgenson to take Davies on as a client and look well beyond what the Trial TV folks have spoon-fed him about this case. The show's higher-ups don't hide the fact that they hope to showcase their anti-death penalty stance -- and boost their ratings, to boot. However, as Jorgenson patiently unearths evidence and witnesses who were never part of Davies' original trial, he discovers that his goals and Trial TV's are vastly at odds. Different enough, that when the TV lawyers rethink the idea of having their hand-picked, octogenarian jurist go before the Supreme Court, they will stop at nothing to be sure he never gets there.

Fogbound is about legal ambition versus the value of one man's life; about the whole truth versus the convenient truth. August Jorgenson's dogged determination to secure real justice for his client, a man he realizes has been railroaded, is related by Klempner with a passion and plausibility rarely found in legal thrillers. -- Reviewed by Jennifer Jordan

* * *

Michael McGarrity's Kevin Kerney returns for an eighth time, in Everyone Dies (Dutton), as a Santa Fe police chief who's been to hell and back enough times to know the way with his eyes closed. Looking forward to the imminent birth of a new son, Kerney has decided to take a few weeks off, spend the time with his wife, Lieutenant Colonel Sara Brannon, a U.S. Military Police officer who has recently been posted to the Pentagon -- a barely-spoken-of career change that will take her away from Kerney and their newly remodeled house.

But Kerney's pleasant anticipation of that time off is marred by the murder of Jack Potter, a gay former assistant district attorney, who is shot in front of the local county courthouse. The crime launches McGarrity's protagonist into an investigation that will leave him just steps ahead of a vicious and highly intelligent serial killer -- a psycho who has the police chief and everyone he holds dear in his sights.

Finding little evidence at the crime scene, Kerney has his team explore Potter's past. In the course of it, they stumble across an unstable ex-boyfriend, who is currently the partner of a gardener who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder and tends, under pressure, to disassociate to his Vietnam War experiences. When the agitated boyfriend meets a violent end at the hands of a SWAT team under the chief's direction, Kerney thinks he's encountered the worst of his troubles. However, it's then that the killer's attention turns to Kerney's household. The sadistic killing of his beloved horse, Soldier, and Sara's discovery of a poisoned rat on their front porch closely follow Potter's demise. A second victim with ties to Kerney is found with her throat slit and an ominous note that reads, "Everybody Dies." When another slain rodent turns up at his house, accompanied by a note conveying a more direct threat, Kerney pulls together every resource at his disposal to protect his family and apprehend the party responsible for this nerve-shattering carnage.

The writing here is disturbing and meticulously wrought. The tensions of the investigation and between this story's characters are played to maximum, satisfying effect. Readers familiar with the Kevin Kerney novels will recognize Everyone Dies as integral to the series' slow transformational process. More and more attention is now being paid to the day-to-day life of Kerney -- chief of police, expectant father and husband to a career army officer. The protagonist's strong but complicated relationship with his spouse, and the deepening bonds between Kerney and his grown son Clayton Istee (recently discovered in The Judas Judge, 2000), have become principal focuses of these books. Far from harming the series, such changes have actually strengthened it.

Michael McGarrity's ability to draw on his experiences as a former investigator with the New Mexico Public Defender's Office, an ex-sheriff in Santa Fe County and as a trained psychotherapist brings a degree of realism to his writing that few other authors can match. -- J.J.

* * *

Now May You Weep (Morrow), the ninth installment of Deborah Crombie's popular series featuring Scotland Yard Superintendent Duncan Kincaid and recently promoted Detective Inspector Gemma James, explores conflict between cousins on a visit to Scotland. After Gemma's friend Hazel Cavendish decides to take a cookery class in the Highlands town of Innesfree, she persuades Gemma to come along with her, hoping this will distract the detective from ruminations over her recent miscarriage. And yes, this trip will supply plenty of distraction, but none of it involves cooking.

Hazel is returning to northern Scotland after a long absence. Her leave-taking was precipitated by a Capulet-meets-Montague relationship with Donald Brodie, the charming son of a local whiskey distiller, that drove her from her homeland and into England. There she built a comfortable, wedded life and began to forget about the passion she had once known. Until Brodie re-enters her life, determined to have his "Juliet" back, even at the cost of her English marriage. What Gemma doesn't understand until it's too late is that Hazel is using their visit to the Highlands simply as cover for an assignation with this long-lost lover. This doesn't sit well with Gemma, or with many people in Innesfree, including John and Louise Innes, who run the bed-and-breakfast in which they're staying -- and don't take kindly to would-be home-wreckers. Also unhappy to see Hazel back: Heather Urquhart, her cousin and Brodie's plant manager, who is after Brodie's shares of the distillery; Alison Grant, a onetime lover of Brodie's, who finds herself on the outs with him ever since Hazel's return; and Tim Cavendish, Hazel's hubby, who's all too aware of where she went for the weekend, and why.

Naturally, murder ensues. A shot breaks the misty peace of an early morning, and Gemma's instincts tell her to seek its source. She finds Donald Brodie lying in a stand of trees, dead from a point-blank shotgun wound to the chest. Gemma switches to investigation mode in a matter of minutes, realizing that the dearth of defensive wounds means he must have known his killer.

However, Gemma is off her patch and not in charge. Detective Chief Inspector Alun Ross is the lead investigator on this homicide, with Gemma being relegated to the uncomfortable role of a civilian under suspicion. Rather than sit back quietly, though, and bury her thoughts about who might have dealt Brodie his final hand, she dives into an off-the-record inquiry, assisted by her boyfriend, Kincaid, who has taken the train north from London to join her -- at the same time, setting aside his own worries about losing his son, Kit, in a custody battle with the boy's grandmother.

Woven neatly through Now May You Weep is a parallel tale that begins in Carnmore, Scotland, in 1898. Told through snatches of remembered dreams as well as diary entries, it details the events, good and bad, that bound the Brodies to the Urquharts. And it is this story that leads to the novel's climatic end. Unfortunately, that closing is an egregious cliché, introduced with ample red herrings and broad clues. The tie-in between the modern mystery and Crombie's related history of the two families involved could have had emotional impact and an impassioned conflict. Instead, our heroine is put in mortal danger and cut off from all help as she confronts an angry antagonist bent on relating the whole story. Crombie's rabid fans will undoubtedly be well sated by this book. But I, for one, would have liked to see this author raise the bar with her dénouement. -- J.J.

* * *

Lost Souls (Weidenfeld & Nicholson UK) is a painful but compulsory read. British novelist Michael Collins writes in a manner so fine and so subtle that one may miss the silken threads of plot wrapping tighter and tighter. A powerful first-person narrative instantly involves readers in the plight of Collins' protagonist. All we can do is read on as the man stumbles in the dark, just beyond the limits of safety.

A small-town Midwestern cop named Lawrence (no last name is ever revealed) feeds his dog, Max, and himself after a long Halloween night in 1984. Both man and dog have a serious case of separation anxiety, even two years after Lawrence's divorce. They both lead a pretty sedate day-to-day existence, so they're looking forward to a long weekend at a cabin in the woods. But then a phone call destroys this apathetic existence and reveals a tiny but important fissure in their town's existence. A 3-year-old girl is missing. Her mother, Lisa Kendell, passed out on her living room couch after putting her daughter to bed. A cold draft awakened her to an open front door and her missing child.

At the crime scene, Max sniffs among a pile of leaves on the street in front of the Kendell house. Pushing that dead foliage aside, Lawrence discovers the broken wings of an angel costume. It's obvious that the 3-year-old has been dead for hours, and equally clear -- from the presence of zig-zagging tire tracks leading away from the leaves -- that the child perished in a hit-and-run accident. Questions are asked, and it turns out that a pickup truck, owned by the town's star quarterback, 18-year-old Kyle Johnson, was spotted earlier, tearing away from the Kendall place. This is bad news, indeed, because the town's hopes of winning the upcoming state football playoffs rest on Johnson's shoulders. So it's no surprise, really, when the mayor and police chief let Lawrence know, in no uncertain terms, that it would be better for everyone if his investigation led away from Kyle Johnson.

Covering up crimes isn't remotely Lawrence's style, but the mayor holds a past transgression and the hollow promise of a better future over his head. Lawrence figures he has no choice but to comply. He goes to Johnson house and disregards all evidence pointing to Kyle. He even grants the quarterback forgiveness and penance, after the boy's hasty confession.

Lawrence's promise to the mayor begins a slow, insipid whirlpool that eventually pulls all of Collins' players down. Too many people, with too much to hide from themselves and others, cause everything to implode. They have all turned from a truth that hides in plain sight. A truth that hurts. As he emerges from the undertow for the last time, Lawrence grasps what has really happened and realizes that, all along, he had the power to do something about it.

Collins established his sharp, narrative abilities with The Keepers of Truth (2000) and The Resurrectionists (2002). His characters are like wolves who bite their own paws off to free themselves from self-made steel traps. Slightly existentialist, and definitely haunting, Lost Souls is a perfect example of how the most beautiful and haunting prose can find a home within the crime fiction genre. -- J.J.

* * *

As a descendant of the late-19th-century's infamous Dalton Gang, and a former chief dispatcher for a city police department in northeastern Oklahoma, Deborah Morgan (who now lives in Michigan with her author husband, Loren D. Estleman) boasts a unique perspective on criminal behavior and investigation. Her books have ranged from historical westerns to modern-day detective stories, but they ultimately escape true genre type-casting by virtue of their sharp characterizations and settings that feel both authentic and familiar.

Anybody who has avoided Morgan's work because they refuse to read cozies should know that she doesn't write cozies, either. When you pick up one of her novels, you'll find a well-crafted tome that may look like a cozy on the outside, but reads like a fast-paced thriller inside. A fine example is The Marriage Casket (Berkley Prime Crime), the third volume in her Antique Lover's Mystery series.

Jeff Talbot, an ex-FBI agent-turned-antiques picker (introduced in Death Is a Cabaret, 2001), has lucked onto a true treasure trove. A man named Nathan Rose has sold him the entire contents of two buildings in Seattle, left to him by his recently deceased aunt, Verena Rose. Jammed practically from ceiling to floor, and wall to wall, with potential riches, this excavation of arcana could prove to be terrifically profitable for Talbot. Yet there's so much to sort through. Spying what may be an Aubusson rug in the first building, Talbot moves furniture around and rearranges boxes in order to reach and roll up the rug. Only well into this process does he notice a slight staining in the weave. His FBI-honed instincts suddenly kick in, and he goes back to the area of floor the rug had previously covered. There, he finds a reddish-brown patch that doesn't look to be very old. Talbot sighs, because he recognizes a homicide scene when he sees one. His picking will have to come to a halt until it's resolved.

Further investigation reveals a murder weapon (if not yet a victim), and that weapon, in turn, leads back to none other than Nathan Rose. Although Rose is soon arrested, Talbot is convinced he didn't kill anybody. Still, without evidence as persuasive as what little the police already have, there's not much that can done to free Rose from jail. The detective in charge of this case, Mike Gadzinski, is no soft touch, but at least Talbot has his ear. He convinces Gadzinski to conduct additional DNA testing on the weapon, while Talbot resorts to good old-fashioned footwork and gut instincts to uncover the truth behind that puzzling bloodstain. Nobody could have foreseen, though, that the resolution to this crime would reside in Aunt Verena's eccentric accumulation of items over many years, or that the killer's identity would have been hidden for just as long. Talbot finds that the deeper he digs, the deeper the dangers he finds. And as the storm drain of deceit breaks open, the people he loves will be pulled into a literal sink-or-swim situation.

The Marriage Casket is a splendid thriller, despite its lack of graphic violence and starkly menacing antagonists. Providing Jeff Talbot with the keen intelligence of a former intelligence operative, but the settled life of a happily married antiques picker, gives readers a break from the hoard of damaged modern protagonists. Yet Morgan steers clear of sugar-coating her fictional crimes. A balance expertly struck. -- J.J.

* * *

Chill Waters (Wings ePress), Joan Hall Hovey's choppy and predictable third novel, opens with a teenage girl returning from her latest date -- only to be savagely murdered by a man waiting for her in the shadows. Now leap ahead several years, to Rachael Warren's 45th birthday. Needing a fresh start, after having discovered her husband in a dalliance with his new administrative assistant, Rachael drives to her new but familiar home, what used to be her grandmother's house on Jenny's Cove (a fictionalized St. Andrews), near St. Clair, Manitoba, Canada.

Mildly lost, Rachael stops to get directions at a roadside convenience store. There she encounters owner Iris Brandt, who unnerves her, though she's not really sure why. Brandt just seems to recognize Rachael, and a shadow of fear crosses the shopkeeper's eyes as a result. Returning to the road, Rachael feels as though she's being watched. Later, walking down a path to the beach at Jenny's Cove, quelling a desire to just keeping marching on into the frigid inlet, Rachael notices large shoeprints leading out of the water -- but none going into it. Again shaking off the feeling of being covertly observed, she runs to the house as a storm breaks. But she does not go unnoticed. "Like a bad dog with an unsuspecting deer in its sights," Hovey writes, "he watched her run up to the house. His narrowed eyes tracked her movements until she was inside. Then he lowered the binoculars and grinned. Soon."

Meanwhile, 16-year-old Heather Myers, already in the hospital with her eyes swollen shut after a savage beating, is murdered. Any sense of Jenny's Cove being safe is shattered. When, soon after, the local high school is vandalized, a firebomb is thrown through the window of the local post office and a Rachael's house is broken into, a fog of evil seems to enshroud the town.

Rachael's fears are only exacerbated when Iris Brandt tells her, "You're in danger, Rachael. Terrible danger."

There's so much foreshadowing of danger in this story, that Rachael has to be extraordinarily naïve not to run screaming into the night early on. She's certainly given ample reasons to do just that. She begins receiving frightening phone calls, finds a savaged bird in her house and discovers that someone has been hiding out in her spare cabin. Then a newcomer, Martin Dunn, offers to move into that cabin, and Rachael doesn't refuse, despite her feeling that something isn't quite right with the man.

The plot of Chill Waters strongly resembles that of the first Halloween movie -- only without the feisty protagonist. Although Hovey obviously intended to slowly build up suspense in these pages, she lacks the necessary subtly, and instead delivers one clumsy clue after another, broken up by point-of-view shifts that only interrupt her story's flow. There was potential here, but the actual results are disappointing. -- J.J.

In the News

Chester Himes' efforts to become an author in 1940s Southern California are recounted in a thoughtful and engagingly penned piece in the November issue of Los Angeles magazine. Senior editor R.J. Smith opines that Himes, who as an African-American male found most avenues of employment (including those in Hollywood) closed to him, was "the great writer that L.A. let get away." Furthermore, Smith makes the case that Himes should be remembered for more than Cotton Comes to Harlem (1965) and his several other detective novels. Read more.

There are now so many mysteries and thrillers being set in Florida's largest, flashiest and most polychromatic city, that the Miami New Times feels compelled to ask, "Is the crime novel the Great Miami Novel?" Read more.

Bruce Cook, better known to mystery readers as Bruce Alexander, author of the Sir John Fielding series, died in Los Angeles on November 9, after suffering a stroke. He was 71. A former journalist and editor, Cook published his first crime novel in 1988: Mexican Standoff, featuring Mexican-American P.I. Antonio "Chico" Cervantes. However, it was his subsequent series about Fielding, the real-life 18th-century magistrate who created London's first police force, the Bow Street Runners, that brought him the greatest acclaim. The Price of Murder, his 10th adventure for Fielding and his young protégé, Jeremy Proctor, was published this last fall.

Virginia Lanier, the author of six novels (including the recently published A Bloodhound to Die For) featuring Georgia dog trainer and amateur sleuth Jo Beth Sidden, died on October 27 at her home in Fargo, Georgia. She was 72 years old. An Anthony Award winner (for her 1995 novel, Death in Bloodhound Red) Lanier didn't begin writing mysteries until she was 62. Read more.

Spanish novelist Manuel Vázquez Montalbán, the creator of private eye, ex-CIA agent and gourmet Pepe Carvalho, died on October 18 at age 64. The author, who was imprisoned during the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco, introduced Carvalho in Yo maté a Kennedy ("I Have Killed Kennedy," 1972), though the first book in this series to be translated into English was The Angst-Ridden Executive (1977). Among the literary awards Montalbán picked up over the years was the Planeta, Spain's equivalent of the Booker Prize. Read more.

Hall of Fame jockey-turned-novelist Bill Shoemaker died at his Southern California home on October 12. He was 72 years old. During his 41-year riding career, Shoemaker won four Kentucky Derby races, most recently in 1986. Five years later, he was paralyzed from the neck down in a car accident. Following in the footsteps of Dick Francis (and reportedly with the help of a ghost writer), Shoemaker took up penning race-track mysteries, producing Stalking Horse (1984) and two subsequent books in a series featuring jockey-turned-restaurateur Coley Killebrew. Read more.

Carolyn Heilbrun, a noted feminist, Columbia University English professor and the author -- under the pen name Amanda Cross -- of academic mysteries starring rich, brilliant and beautiful professor-detective Kate Fansler, committed suicide in her New York City apartment on October 9. She was 77. Although the first entry in her Fansler series, In the Last Analysis, was published in 1964, it wasn't until eight years alter -- after she'd received tenure (the first woman in the Columbia English department to be so honored) -- that Heilbrun admitted to being the best-selling Cross. Her 1981 novel, Death in a Tenure Position, won the Nero Wolfe Award. Read more.

David Williams, who was a London advertising exec before he turned to full-time novel-writing, died on September 26 at age 77. Although he may be best known for his initial crime series, featuring urbane merchant banker Mark Treasure (introduced in Unholy Writ, 1976), with 1994's Last Seen Breathing this Welsh-born author introduced a second sleuth, Chief Inspector Merlin Parry, of the South Wales Constabulary, who solves crimes along with his sidekick, Sergeant Gomer Lloyd. Read more.

Which are the "100 greatest novels of all time"? Britain's spirited Guardian newspaper includes many of the usual suspects (Don Quixote, Gulliver's Travels, Frankenstein, Moby-Dick, etc.), but doesn't ignore works of crime fiction. Also making the cut: Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White (23), Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep (56), John Le Carré's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (78), James Ellroy's L.A. Confidential and other notable works of mystery or espionage fiction. Read more.

John Mortimer -- "babe magnet"? That's how the 80-year-old creator of Horace Rumpole is described in a witty Guardian profile. The piece goes on to call this author's new memoir, Where There's a Will (Viking UK), "very cross"; extol the mixing of law with theater; and quote Mortimer's advice to his many readers: "If you can find a streak of vulgarity in yourself, nurture it." Read more.

Interviewed for the Mystery Readers International Web site by fellow novelist Cara Black, Shanghai-born author Qiu Xiaolong talks about the chance of romantic entanglements for his series sleuth, Chief Inspector Chen Cao (A Loyal Character Dancer), the use of poetry in his fiction, and how his initial ignorance about publishing actually helped him succeed as a novelist. Read more.

Jon Cleary tells the Sydney Morning Herald that Degrees of Connection (HarperCollins Australia), his 20th and latest police procedural featuring Inspector Scobie Malone, will be his last crime story. "I've known writers who have written two or three books too many and when I found myself making notes on a serial killer, I thought, no, you're scraping the bottom of the barrel, because that's the cliche in crime fiction," explains the 86-year-old author, whose next book will be a love story. Read more.

Laura Lippman says in a Mystery Ink interview that the choice to write her latest novel, Every Secret Thing, as a standalone rather than as the eighth installment of her Tess Monaghan series was not "a calculated decision on my part," and that she is already planning another one-off, this story "centering on a shooting in a school that's not really a school shooting." Read more.

Publishers Weekly isn't going out on much of a limb with its choices of "nine promising authors" in the crime-writing genre, but there are certainly tidbits of information in that feature worth finding. We learn, for instance, that Eric Garcia (whose third Vincent Rubio novel, Hot and Sweaty Rex, is due out in March) is heavily involved in a 2004 SciFi Channel series based on his unique Rex series. We're also told that Karin Slaughter (A Faint Cold Fear) "intended to write historical novels" before turning to thrillers, and that Jonathan King has a third installment of his Max Freeman series, Shadow Men, being readied for publication next April. The other writers profiled here are Colin Harrison, David Corbett, Barry Eisler, David Rosenfelt, Jonnie Jacobs and Michael McClelland. Read more.


Last Rewards

The 34th Bouchercon World Mystery Convention, held in Las Vegas, Nevada, in mid-October, produced a bevy of award winners ... and losers. There seemed to be extraordinary agreement among the people who nominated and then named award recipients this year, with Michael Connelly, Julia Spencer-Fleming, Eddie Muller, S.J. Rozan and Jim Huang, among others, being given several opportunities to pick up commendations. The biggest disappointments may have been the lack of prizes for The Mammoth Encyclopedia of Modern Crime Fiction, by Mike Ashley, and David Corbett's first novel, The Devil's Redhead. And some of 2002's most captivating works -- including Stephen Booth's Blood on the Tongue, Craig Holden's The Jazz Bird, John Shannon's Streets on Fire and Michael Marshall's The Straw Men -- didn't even make the short lists for recognition at Bouchercon 34. Maybe next year's presentations in Toronto will produce more surprises. Here's hoping ...


Best Novel: City of Bones, by Michael Connelly (Little, Brown)

Also nominated: Murder in the Sentier, by Cara Black (Soho); North of Nowhere by Steve Hamilton (St. Martin's Minotaur); Hell to Pay, by George P. Pelecanos (Little, Brown); and Winter and Night, by S.J. Rozan (St. Martin's Minotaur)

Best First Novel: In the Bleak Midwinter, by Julia Spencer-Fleming (St. Martin's Minotaur)

Also nominated: The Devil's Redhead, by David Corbett (Ballantine); An Eye for Murder, by Libby Fischer Hellman (Poisoned Pen Press); The Blue Edge of Midnight, by Jonathon King (Dutton); and The Distance, by Eddie Muller (Scribner)

Best Paperback Original: Fatal Truth, by Robin Burcell (Avon)

Also nominated: Black Jack Point, by Jeff Abbott (NAL/Onyx); Six Strokes Under, by Roberta Isleib (Berkeley Prime Crime); Paint It Black, by P.J. Parrish (Pinnacle/Kensington); and A Killing Sky, by Andy Straka (Signet)

Best Critical: The Died in Vain: Overlooked, Underappreciated and Forgotten Mystery Novels, edited by Jim Huang (Crum Creek Press)

Also nominated: The Mammoth Encyclopedia of Modern Crime Fiction, by Mike Ashley (Carroll & Graf), and Intent To Sell: Making the Genre Novel, by Jeffrey Marks (Deadly Alibi Press)

Best Short Story: "Too Many Cooks," by Marcia Talley (in Much Ado About Murder, edited by
Anne Perry; Berkeley Prime Crime)

Also nominated: "To Live and Die in Midland, Texas," by Clark Howard (in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine [EQMM], Sept/Oct 2002); "Murder in the Land of Wawat," by Lauren Haney (in The Mammoth Book of Egyptian Whodunnits, edited by Mike Ashley; Carroll & Graf); "Bible Belt," by Toni L.P. Kelner (in EQMM, June 2002); and "A Man Called Ready," by Bob Truluck (in Measures of Poison, edited by Dennis McMillan; Dennis McMillan Publications)

Best Cover Art: Measures of Poison, edited by Dennis McMillan (Dennis McMillan Publications), jacket design by Michael Kellner

Also nominated: Murder in the Sentier, by Cara Black (Soho), jacket design by Cheryl L. Cipriani; The Terra-Cotta Dog, by Andrea Camilleri (Viking), jacket design by Paul Buckley ; The Eye of Cybele, by Daniel Chavarria (Akashic), painting by Jennifer Harris, jacket design by Melissa Farris; and Paradise Salvage, by John Fusco (Overlook Press), jacket photograph by Larry Rostant

(presented by the Private Eye Writers of America)

Best P.I. Novel: Blackwater Sound, by James W. Hall (St. Martin's Minotaur)

Also nominated: North of Nowhere, by Steve Hamilton (St. Martin's Minotaur); The Last Place, by Laura Lippman (HarperCollins); Hell to Pay, by George P. Pelecanos (Little, Brown); and Winter and Night, by S.J. Rozan (St. Martin's Minotaur)

Best First P.I. Novel: The Distance, by Eddie Muller (Scribner)

Also nominated: Westerfield's Chain, by Jack Clark (St. Martin's Minotaur); The Bone Orchard, by D. Daniel Judson (Bantam); Open and Shut, by David Rosenfeld (Mysterious Press); and Private Heat, by Robert Bailey (M. Evans)

Best Paperback Original P.I. Novel: The Poisoned Rose, by D. Daniel Judson (Bantam)

Also nominated: Cash Out, by Paul Boray (NAL); Juicy Watusi, by Richard Helms (Back Alley Books); The Lusitania Murders, by Max Allan Collins (Berkley Prime Crime); and Paint It Black, by P.J. Parish (Pinnacle/Kensington)

Best P.I. Short Story: "The Second Coming," by Terence Faherty (EQMM, November 2002)

Also nominated: "Setting Up the Kill," by J. Michael Blue (Hand Held Crime, Summer 2002); "Aftermath," by Jeremiah Healy (in Most Wanted, edited by Robert J. Randisi; NAL); "Second Story Sunlight," by John Lutz (in Most Wanted, edited by Robert J. Randisi; NAL); and "The Jewels of Atlantis," by James Powell (EQMM, November 2002)

The Eye Award (for lifetime achievement): Sue Grafton

(nominated and voted on by members of Mystery Readers International)

Best Novel: Winter and Night, by S.J. Rozan (St. Martin's Minotaur)

Also nominated: Nine, by Jan Burke (Simon & Schuster); Savannah Blues, by Mary Kay Andrews (HarperCollins); City of Bones, by Michael Connelly (Little, Brown); and Jolie Blon's Bounce, by James Lee Burke (Simon & Schuster)

Best First Novel: In the Bleak Midwinter, by Julia Spencer-Fleming (St. Martin's Minotaur)

Also nominated: A Valley to Die For, by Radine Trees Nehring (St. Kitts Press); The Blue Edge of Midnight, by Jonathon King (Dutton); and The Distance, by Eddie Muller (Scribner)

Best Critical/Biographical: They Died in Vain: Overlooked, Underappreciated and Forgotten Mystery Novels, edited by Jim Huang (Crum Creek Press)

Also nominated: The Mammoth Encyclopedia of Modern Crime Fiction, edited by Mike Ashley (Carroll & Graf); The Art of Noir: The Posters and Graphics from the Classic Era of Film Noir, by Eddie Muller (Overlook Press); and Intent to Sell: Marketing the Genre Novel, by Jeffrey Marks (Deadly Alibi Press)

Best Short Story: "Voice Mail," by Janet Dawson (in Scam and Eggs; Five Star)

Also nominated: "Boot Scoot," by Diana Deverell (Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine [AHMM], October 2002); "The Adventure of the Rara Avis," by Carolyn Wheat (in Murder, My Dear Watson, edited by Martin H. Greenberg, Jon Lellenberg and Daniel Stashower; Carrol & Graf); "An Empire's Reach," by Brendan DuBois (AHMM, November 2002); "Too Many Cooks," by Marcia Talley (in Much Ado About Murder, edited by Anne Perry; Berkley Prime Crime); and "Bible Belt," by Toni L.P. Kelner (EQMM, June 2002)

(winners chosen by subscribers to Deadly Pleasures magazine)

Best Novel: City of Bones, by Michael Connelly (Little, Brown)

Also nominated: Without Fail, by Lee Child (Putnam); The Hearse Case Scenario, by Tim Cockey (Hyperion); North of Nowhere, by Steve Hamilton (St. Martin's Minotaur); Hell to Pay, by George P. Pelecanos (Little, Brown); and Winter and Night, by S.J. Rozan (St. Martin's Minotaur)

Best First Novel: In the Bleak Midwinter, by Julia Spencer-Fleming (St. Martin's Minotaur)

Also nominated: The Devil's Redhead, by David Corbett (Ballantine); Not All Tarts Are Apple, by Pip Granger (Poisoned Pen Press); The Blue Edge of Midnight, by Jonathon King (Dutton); The Distance, by Eddie Muller (Scribner); and Buck Fever, by Ben Rehder (St. Martin's Minotaur)

Best British Novel: The White Road, by John Connolly (Hodder & Stoughton UK)

Also nominated: Scaredy Cat, by Mark Billingham (Little, Brown UK); The Master of Rain, by Tom Bradby (Bantam UK); The Business of Dying, by Simon Kernick (Bantam UK); Diamond Dust, by Peter Lovesey (Little, Brown UK); and The Yeare's Midnight, by Ed O'Connor (Constable UK)

Best Paperback Original: Cold Silence, by Danielle Girard (Onyx)

Also nominated: Black Jack Point, by Jeff Abbott (Onyx); Fatal Truth, by Robin Burcell (Avon); The Bone Orchard, by D. Daniel Judson (Bantam); Prison Blues, by Anna Salter (Pocket); and Pipsqueak, by Brian Wiprud (iUniverse) 

The Don Sandstrom Memoiral Award for Lifetime Achievement in Mystery Fandom: Mary Maggie Mason

* * *

On October 22, the The Crime Writers' Association presented its annual Ellis Peters Historical Dagger to Andrew Taylor for his latest novel, The American Boy (HarperCollins UK). Also short-listed for that award were: The White Russian, by Tom Bradby (Bantam Press UK); The Advocate, by Marcello Fois (Harvill Press UK); London Dust, by Lee Jackson (Arrow UK); Blood on the Wood, by Gillian Linscott (Virago UK); Dissolution, by C.J. Sansom (Macmillan UK); and The Bridge of Sighs, by Olen Steinhauer (Century UK)

* * *

Finally come the nominees for the 2003 Nero Wolfe Award. This commendation is presented by The Wolfe Pack, a group celebrating the works of Rex Stout and his best-known creation, the reclusive detective Nero Wolfe. This year's nominees are ...

  • Gone for Good, by Harlan Coben (Delacorte)
  • The Weeping Buddha, by Heather Dunn MacAdam (Akashic Books)
  • In the Bleak Midwinter, by Julia Spencer-Fleming (St. Martin's Minotaur)
  • Open and Shut, by David Rosenfelt (Mysterious Press)
  • Winter and Night, by S.J. Rozan (St. Martin's Minotaur)

A winner will be announced on December 6, during the Black Orchid Banquet held in New York City.


"The Rap Sheet" is compiled 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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