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 Dashiell Hammett A 75th-Anniversary Tribute

Dashiell Hammett A 75th-Anniversary Tribute




















January Magazine's Crime Fiction Report, September-November 2005

Edited by J. Kingston Pierce

IN THIS ISSUE: The season's most-wanted reads • A prodigious assortment of fresh fiction from Peter May, Sandra Scoppettone, Michael Kronenwetter, Denise Hamilton, Charlie Huston, Roger Jon Ellory and many others • Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys invade the world of manga-style graphic novels • John Rebus' bicycle mishap; Steve Hockensmith's Holmes in chaps; some forgotten Wilkie Collins on tap, and much more news from the world of mystery • Plus: Stuart M. Kaminsky as Grand Master, and John le Carré takes a Dagger to his art

Pierce's Picks for September-November

Beneath the Snow (Orion UK), by Caroline Carver. After scientist Lisa McCall disappears into a snowstorm in outback Alaska, her estranged sister, Abby, leaves England to join the rescue effort. But when Abby discovers her sibling's research materials missing too, she suspects Lisa might have run fatally afoul of her opponents in the oil industry. From the author of Blood Junction (2001).

Berlin (Atlantic Books UK), by Pierre Frei. In Occupied Berlin, 1945, the body of an attractive young woman is discovered under a subway station platform. German Detective Klaus Dietrich and his American military police counterpart, Captain John Ashburner, quickly begin investigating, only to realize that this homicide is in some manner connected to the slayings of other women in Berlin's French and Russian quadrants. While the city around them struggles to recuperate from the devastation of war, Ashburner and Dietrich pursue an enigmatic motorcyclist and try to figure out what ties these horrible crimes together.

Churchill's Triumph (Headline UK), by Michael Dobbs. The fourth entry in Dobbs' series of Churchill novels (after Churchill's House, 2004) finds the British prime minister gathering with Franklin D. Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin at Yalta, to plan a no-more-war future for Europe. But Churchill's sometimes strained association with his fellow leaders portends a power struggle of worldwide significance.

Cinnamon Kiss (Little, Brown), by Walter Mosley. With his adopted daughter ill in the summer of 1966, Easy Rawlins needs money. But rather than aid his friend Mouse in a robbery, he goes to work looking for a San Francisco attorney said to have fled to Los Angeles with mysterious documents and his beautiful assistant. Flower children, a Nazi-related plot, and dead bodies ensue.

Dead by Popular Demand (Justin, Charles & Co.), by Teddy Hayes. CIA "wet-ops" agent turned Harlem tavern owner Devil Barnett, introduced in last year's Blood Red Blues, agrees help out a group of London rap musicians, Dancehall Dogz -- two members of which are viciously murdered on the eve of their first U.S. tour. Devil is soon cast into the world of rap promoters, shady club owners, illegal CD distribution, drugs and testosteronic vendettas. On the road to solving this case, he'll encounter a charismatic minister, deal with straight-up whores and whorish band managers, and cope with a paramilitary group that's a little too interested in helping him close the case. While Devil leads these escapades, it's Harlem that's the real star of Hayes' tale.

Dead Game (Chronicle Books), by Kirk Russell. Ex-DEA agent John Marquez, now heading up an undercover unit of the California Department of Fish and Game, faces off against poachers who are intent on gutting sturgeon for the price of their caviar. Though hampered by budget cuts that have reduced his force significantly, Marquez strives to turn one poacher against a former KGB agent who's entered the business of black-market caviar, and after that scheme flames out, he lets a Russian-born field guide meet clandestinely with the owner of a specialty-foods store -- only to have the guide disappear. This is the third Marquez eco-thriller, after Shell Games and Night Game.

The Devil's Own Rag Doll (St. Martin's Minotaur), by Mitchell Bartoy. As World War II rages overseas, the murder of a young white heiress in Detroit's black section threatens to spark riots at home. Maimed Detective Pete Caudill must do what he can (and some of what he shouldn't) to quell the violence, while also finding justice amid heated tempers, sexual deviancy and talk of communist plots.

End in Tears (Hutchinson UK), by Ruth Rendell. As Chief Inspector Reginald Wexford struggles to cope with the latest pregnancy of his single-mom daughter, and fends off criticism from a journalist who's distinctly unimpressed with his investigative methods, he is also called upon to solve what appears to be the "accidental murder" of a driver clobbered by a chunk of concrete.

Fiddlers (Harcourt), by Ed McBain. Coming out in the still-fresh wake of the author's death, this 55th 87th Precinct novel finds Detective Steve Carella and his colleagues investigating the murder of a blind violinist -- which soon becomes a series of shootings using the same gun, committed by a man who's trying to find final satisfaction in his life through revenge.

Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her (Harcourt), by Melanie Rehak. This has been a rather remarkable year for classic Midwestern girl gumshoe Nancy Drew, with at least two prose novels and an expanding line of original graphic stories (see "Two Guys, a Girl and a Pell-Mell Pace" below) being inspired by the titian-haired teenage detective. In Girl Sleuth, poet and critic Rehak investigates the real-life trio of characters who gave Nancy her start: Edward Stratemeyer (who birthed Nancy back in 1929) and his daughter, Harriet Stratemeyer Adams, along with journalist Mildred Wirt Benson, who developed the authorial pseudonym (later adopted by others) of "Carolyn Keene" and, through her ghostwriting, put Nancy in peril for decades. Rehak does a fine job of acquainting readers with 20th-century book-publishing history, as well as explaining Ms. Drew's longevity and acceptance by later feminists.

The Great Stink (Harcourt), by Clare Clark. Throughout the 1840s and 50s, London -- then the largest city on the face of the planet -- was plagued, both in nose and reputation, by an overabundance of sewage and the threats of disease attending that plenitude. The Victorian metropolis finally established a commission to check over and replace labyrinths of antiquated sewer systems, and to rid the British capital of an estimated 200,000 fetid cesspits. Clark's debut novel springs from that history, giving us William May, a junior engineer and battle-scarred veteran of the Crimean War, whose imprecise remembrance of a murder he may or may not have observed in the filthy tunnels running beneath the city leads to his becoming the prime suspect, and being jailed for the transgression. Clark's re-creation of the period and its players on all economic levels makes The Great Stink a sweet find.

Have Mercy on Us All (Simon & Schuster), by Fred Vargas. Originally published in France in 2001, Have Mercy gives us Joss Le Guern, an out-of-work seaman who's lately taken up the unnecessary but nonetheless fulfilling job of town crier in a Parisian square, reading news and messages left for him in a makeshift mailbox. But when those communications take on an ominous tone, matching medieval warnings predicting the onslaught of the Black Death (bubonic plague), thoughtful but bumbling Chief Inspector Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg catches the case, linking the messages to peculiar backward 4s that have started to appear on apartment doors. Following the discovery of a blackened corpse showing symptoms of the plague, Adamsberg, his steadier assistant, Adrien Danglard, and a medieval scholar with a suspect past must get to the bottom of it all -- before a new scourge can be unleashed upon the City of Lights.

The Killing Art (Morrow), by Jonathan Stantlofer. New York City cop turned art historian Kate McKinnon is drawn back into criminal investigation, after a painting by Willem de Kooning, loaned to a museum by Kate's late and wealthy husband, is slashed. With Detective Monty Murphy, she goes looking for the person responsible for mutilating both artworks and the collectors who owned them.

Kolchak: The Night Stalker Chronicles (Moonstone). Following ABC-TV's new resurrection of the 1974-75 cult TV series Kolchak: The Night Stalker (which starred Darren McGavin and is said to have inspired The X Files), it was probably inevitable that tie-in books would follow. But this 320-page anthology is better than you might expect. It contains 26 short adventures featuring the original Carl Kolchak, disheveled reporter and dogged investigator of the paranormal, written by authors such as Max Allan Collins, Stuart M. Kaminsky, Ed Gorman, Gary Phillips and Peter David. Just remember to take these tales with a grain of salt ... and maybe a clove of garlic or two.

The Lighthouse (Knopf), by P.D. James. Introverted Scotland Yard Commander Adam Dalgliesh heads for an exclusive island off the Cornish coast, where he's expected to (discreetly) solve a strange murder. But difficulties among his team members, Dalgliesh's own doubts about his future with Emma Lavenham, and another vicious killing promise to further complicate the case.

Lost Stories (Vince Emery), by Dashiell Hammett. With a thoughtful introduction by Joe Gores, this volume boasts 21 Hammett tales that have either not been available for decades, or haven't previously been collected. For each, editor Vince Emery supplies information about how the author's life influenced the story, or was influenced by it. A must-have for Hammett lovers.

The Man With the Iron-On Badge (Five Star), by Lee Goldberg. Detouring from his usual task of writing Diagnosis Murder novels, Goldberg presents us instead with Harvey Mapes, a Southern California security guard who's hired by one of the wealthy residents of a gated community to follow his wife. As one might expect, this seemingly straightforward assignment turns out to have more than a few intriguing turns, leading to an unexpected close. This is supposed to be the first entry in a new series.

Murder Ancient and Modern (Crippen & Landru), by Edward Marston. This first short-story collection from Marston, best known for his Nicholas Bracewell mysteries, covers 2,000 years of crime. The tales' plots turn variously on efforts to save the life of Emperor Charlemagne, the theft of Lord Nelson's statue from Trafalgar Square and homicide in the ancient Holy Land.

The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes: The Novels (Norton), by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, edited by Leslie S. Klinger. It's easy to forget, in light of Holmes' popularity, that Conan Doyle only wrote four novels in which he appeared. Most of what we know of the adventures of Holmes and Dr. John Watson comes from 56 short stories, which Klinger collected last year's Edgar Award-winning two-volume set, The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Short Stories. Now comes the single-volume follow-up containing A Study in Scarlet (1887), The Sign of Four (1889), The Hound of the Baskervilles (1901) and The Valley of Fear (1914). As before, this 1,878-page volume is illustrated with Sidney Paget's original illustrations for the Strand Magazine, as well as dust jackets from early editions of the novels and period photographs. Klinger's annotations cover everything from the identity of Watson's wives to the treatment of typhoid and the art of the violin (which the editor may understand better than Holmes ever did). A gorgeous must-have for any connoisseur of the Great Detective.

The Next Ex (Mira), by Linda L. Richards. Sometimes it doesn't pay to do people favors. That's certainly true for Manhattan stockbroker turned L.A. day-trader Madeline Carter, who, in her second adventure (after 2004's Mad Money), agrees to teach day-trading techniques to Keesia, the overindulged fifth wife of prominent film producer Maxi Livingston. Keesia learns quickly, and intends to use her new knowledge to build herself a nice little nest egg. But just as Madeline and she are growing closer, Keesia's corpse turns up at a swank party. And then Maxi's previous spouses start to drop dead. Tagged as a principal suspect, Ms. Carter can only protect herself by ferreting out whoever was actually responsible for selling Keesia's life short.

Philip Marlowe's Guide to Life (Knopf), by Raymond Chandler; edited by Martin Asher. This 96-page compendium of Marlowe's cleverest and most relevant-to-our-time quotes from Raymond Chandler's novels and short stories covers everything from booze ("Alcohol is like love. The first kiss is magic, the second is intimate, the third is routine. After that, you take the girl's clothes off") to crime ("We're a big rough rich wild people and crime is the price we pay for it, and organized crime is the price we pay for organization") to a man's needs ("I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance, I needed a vacation, I needed a home in the country. What I had was a coat, a hat and a gun"). The ideal gift for Chandler enthusiasts in need of one.

Private Wars (Bantam), by Greg Rucka. Just what we needed, huh? A female counterpart to James Bond. But British special ops officer Tara Chace is more interesting than one might expect, having quit Her Majesty's secret service in order to give birth to a daughter -- Chace's permanent reminder of her affair with spy Tom Wallace (see the first Chace novel, A Gentleman's Game, 2004). She's only enticed back into the spy biz by a mission to rescue the son of ailing Uzbekistan President Malikov, who is being threatened by his own sister in a power grab. Chace sees this escapade as a chance for vindication. However, her success will depend on trusting people whom she probably shouldn't place any faith in, and dealing with a missing weapons system. Good, adventuresome fun.

The Robert B. Parker Companion (Berkley Prime Crime), by Dean James and Elizabeth Foxwell. Although Parker's Spenser novels (33 of them so far, including the latest, School Days) have come in for a lot of critical abuse over the last decade, the author played a significant role in revitalizing the American private eye novel in the 1970s and 80s. James and Foxwell provide plot summaries for the Spenser stories, as well as for the novels starring Jesse Stone and Sunny Randall, and for his standalones (at least up to and including 2004's Double Play); a recap of characters featured in all of this author's books; a collection of Parker's most quotable observations ("You're almost perfect, you are, a flawless moron." -- The Godwulf Manuscript); and a strangely short and emotionless interview with the author, from which we learn at least that the idea of turning Sunny Randall into a movie character isn't yet dead.

San Francisco Noir (Akashic Books), edited by Peter Marvavelis. The fourth of Akashic Books' "Noir" anthologies (following Chicago Noir) features 15 stories by Bay Area authors, each set in a different neighborhood. Some are darker and more rewarding than others, with Eddie Muller's "Kid's Last Fight," Domenic Stansberry's "The Prison" and David Corbett's "It Can Happen" being standouts.

Shark Island (St. Martin's Minotaur), by Joan Druett. Following up on last year's delightful shipboard historical mystery A Watery Grave, Druett tosses us back into the company of William "Wiki" Coffin Jr., the half-Maori son of a New England sea captain, who serves as a "linguister" with the infamous 1838-42 United States Exploring Expedition. This time out, he's sent with his ship's captain, George Rochester, and his nemesis, Lieutenant Forsythe, to a supposedly uninhabited island off the northwest coast of Brazil to look into reported piracy. Instead, they wind up focusing on a recently wrecked sealing ship and that vessel's odd commander -- whose murder by stabbing is blamed on the volatile Forsythe. It's up to Wiki to absolve his adversary of a crime for which he (and few others) believes him innocent.

Spectres in the Smoke (St. Martin's Minotaur), by Tony Broadbent. It's 1948, and London cat burglar Jethro is recruited again (as in Broadbent's The Smoke, 2002) by the intelligence service MI5, this time to help quash a rebirth of fascism. In a scheme that has him stumbling across a right-wing conspiracy involving the British royal family, Jethro also uncovers an intrigue to bring down Prime Minister Clement Attlee's Labor Government. And if that isn't enough to worry about, the thief must contend with rival gang bosses. Broadbent's portrayals of burglary methods and postwar London are highlights of this series.

Tilt-a-Whirl (Carroll & Graf), by Chris Grabenstein. All is not peaceful on the Jersey Shore, especially when military policeman turned small-town cop John Ceepak is around. While commencing their Saturday morning shift in the summer tourist town of Sea Haven, New Jersey, Ceepak and his partner, Danny Boyle, are confronted by a blood-covered teenage girl. She leads them back to her father, real-estate tycoon Reginald Hart, who's been left for dead on the Tilt-a-Whirl at Sea Haven's rundown amusement park. Hart's daughter, who claims to have witnessed the slaying, pegs the murderer as a drugged-out vagrant called Squeegee. But as Ceepak and Boyle probe further, they come to see this case as more complicated than they'd prefer, and Boyle realizes just how much the older, more focused ex-soldier has to teach him. The debut of a new series.

Total Chaos (Europa Editions), by Jean-Claude Izzo. In the first installment of a crime trilogy by the late French author Izzo, we are introduced to Italian émigré Fabio Montale, a detective in the Mediterranean port city of Marseilles, who seeks to avenge two childhood friends, both of whom have died -- one at the hands of mobsters (it appears), the other done in by police who were watching a mob boss. Yet Total Chaos isn't merely about rough justice; its plot is enriched by the vanishing of Montale's ex-lover and by the reappearance in this cop's life (spent mostly in underworld settings and with lowlife players) of a fourth boyhood friend, Lole, who'd been the mistress of one of his deceased pals. Izzo's loved of Marseilles comes through in every page. (To learn more about Europa Editions, click here.)

The Wheelman (St. Martin's Minotaur), by Duane Swierczynski. Lennon is a mute Irish getaway driver in Philadelphia who, after being betrayed by his heist team, is determined to get back his dough. But he'll have to go through a a pol's hired gun and a rock keyboardist to get it. Swierczynski seems to get such a kick out of writing about eccentric crooks, it's almost criminal.

White Stone Day (St. Martin's Minotaur), by John MacLachlan Gray. This sequel to The Fiend in Human (one of January Magazine's favorite books of 2003) finds 1850s London underworld reporter Edmund Whitty investigating a dubious psychic, mixing with an Oxford don fond of photographing dead children dressed up as real or fictional characters from the past, and searching for the truth about his brother's suddenly mysterious death. Canadian novelist Gray masterfully portrays Victorian London in all of its sprawling corruption, while introducing us to characters (including a precocious girl who seems to know more than the adults around her) who might have escaped from any of a circus' three rings.

Who Was Guilty? Two Dime Novels (Crippen & Landru), by Philip S. Warne/Howard W. Macy; edited by Marlena E. Brenseth. No less interesting than either of the whodunits contained in this volume -- both of which boast complex plots and sharp use of dialect, but seem rather dated more than a century after their composition -- is the mystery of their authors' identities. After what sounds like considerable research, editor Brenseth has concluded that Warne, reportedly the first known African-American mystery writer in the United States, and Macy, an educated, well-traveled and prolific dime-novelist born in Ohio in 1843, were in fact the same person, a biracial wordsmith who enjoyed noteworthy success at the height of the dime-novel era, but died in the early 1890s.

Wolf Point (Unbridled Books), by Edward Falco. Heads must shake at the evident naïveté of Thomas "T" Walker, a middle-aged businessman who, after being busted for child pornography (thanks to his retrieval of a suspect photo from the Internet) stops to pick up a hitchhiking couple on the road from Virginia to Canada. As the trio wheel north, the fetching young Jenny flirts diligently with Walker, as her tightly wound boyfriend, Lester, grows angrier by the mile. The trip gives Falco's protagonist ample time to contemplate his life and past mistakes, all leading to revelations about Jenny and her association with Lester. There's a touch of James M. Cain in this thriller, which Falco buttresses with character exposition that flows from the troubles of our time.


New and Noteworthy

A British journalist and screenwriter who lives in France, Peter May is also known for his China Thriller series, a six-book saga of crime, corruption and government conspiracy set mostly on the Chinese mainland. The initial installment of that series, The Firemaker (St. Martin's Minotaur), is recently out in an American edition, bringing May's friction-charged team of Beijing senior police detective Li Yan and Chicago forensic pathologist Margaret Campbell across the Atlantic for the first time.

Early on in this tale, Campbell and Li have a bumpy version of meeting cute -- her government-issued car hits his bicycle -- and sparks continue to fly from there. The blond Campbell is in China to give a six-week course on autopsies at the police university in Beijing, while the craggy Li is a rising star on the police force. They're forced to overcome their immediate dislike of each other when he needs her to do an autopsy for him. Over the course of the next few days, in between lectures, detecting, jet lag and sampling Chinese cuisine, they naturally progress from antipathy to lust to affection. Oh, and they uncover a vast scientific conspiracy on the side.

May's books (the newest of which, Chinese Whispers, was published in the UK in 2004) are an unusual blend of police procedural and Michael Crichton-style thriller. On his first day in his new job, Li is handed three murders that seem to have nothing in common with one another. Two of the deceased are ordinary joes, but one is a top government official with a heroin addiction, a penchant for young boys and a strange, lingering disease. It's Campbell who uncovers most of the info Li needs, ranging from the official's identity to the reason why he was murdered. Much to his credit, detective Li allows her to do his job for him, only stepping in when things get really hairy and they need to flee in disguise to Mongolia.

Like fellow detective novelist Qiu Xiaolong (When Red Is Black, "The Rap Sheet," 7/04), May focuses on crime in a rapidly evolving China, where capitalism is dismantling communism with vertiginous speed.

But while the Chinese-born Qiu shows the troubling results of such swift change in miniature, documenting the lives of average citizens, May takes the sweeping view: whole neighborhoods plowed under for high-rise developments, the general confusion of Westerners confronting Easterners, and the elaborate schemes of corporations and governments to make a quick buck.

Originally introduced six years ago in Britain, The Firemaker was an early accuser of genetically modified food, positing a preposterous yet creepily possible doomsday outcome for mucking around with DNA. May's other China Thriller books take on similarly controversial topics, ranging from human smuggling to hushed-up sports scandals. A little romance, a dose of grit, a good deal of violence and a liberal helping of conspiracy make this author's work worthwhile page-turners. -- Reviewed by Caroline Cummins

* * *

In the Netherlands, A.C. Baantjer is a bit like Agatha Christie and Georges Simenon combined. Like the former, his sales are huge; his books have sold more than five million copies. Like the latter, Baantjer's slim novels follow the wanderings of a laconic sleuth who quietly goes about his police work and then goes home at night to an even calmer wife. Prostitutes, drug dealers and bartenders are prominent, but this is not the shoot-'em-up world of American police procedurals. As Baantjer writes in the latest English translation of his work, "The homicide detail for the entire city of Amsterdam was smaller than that in a single New York police station."

The adventures of Inspector Jurrian DeKok, based on Baantjer's own career as a homicide detective, have been running since 1963. However, English translations of these novels have been available only since the early 1990s. (For obvious reasons, the protagonist's original Dutch name, De Cock, was modified for an English audience.) The newest series release, DeKok and Murder by Melody (Speck Press; translated by H.G. Smittenaar), follows the graying DeKok and his impulsive younger partner, Vledder, as they try to figure out a trio of stranglings at a dingy boardinghouse. First, two reformed junkies are killed on the same night; then, a few days later, their landlady meets the same fate. Were they all executed by a drug lord? Or did the brother of one of the junkies plot the murders in order to inherit? And why does the world-weary, often short-tempered DeKok have the nagging feeling that one of the dead men was trying to communicate with him on the very night he died?

Baantjer is strong on developing characters from the grimier corners of Dutch life, including the bitter landlady, a gossipy bartender and a reformed burglar. Some things are lost or damaged in translation, however. The unfortunate bartender is saddled with an embarrassing accent that wobbles between mafioso and blackface, and clichés are highlighted with amusing misspellings ("business was brisque," "in the throws of passion"). And the climactic scene, featuring a dramatic confrontation in the Royal Concertgebouw concert hall, is about as melodramatic as the similar crashing conclusion of Alfred Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much.

As is the case with Christie, enjoying Baantjer requires a high level of disbelief suspension. But these books read more like they were penned by the practical-minded Simenon -- right down to their consistently patterned titles (DeKok and the Murder on the Menu, DeKok and the Sombre Nude, DeKok and the Begging Death, etc.) -- which means the fantasy and the reality don't quite click.

DeKok and Murder by Melody is a bit of a gonzo trip, with preposterous plots shaking hands with sober-sided sleuths. But that's the Netherlands for you -- tidy towns and legal prostitution. Maybe that's the secret of Baantjer's success. -- C.C.

* * *

With Kittyhawk Down (Soho Press), the second entry in his Challis series, Australian author Garry Disher returns to his brooding homicide inspector, Hal Challis, and the life and crimes of semi-rural Australia. Like its predecessor, 2004's The Dragon Man ("RS," 9/04), Kittyhawk Down is less about solving crime than it is about figuring out life.

For more than 100 pages, Challis and his coworkers simply go about their ordinary lives, dealing with a drunken teenage party, taking out a risky car loan, suffering through troubled marriages. On duty, they halfheartedly try to solve two cases long gone cold: a drowned man and a missing toddler. But it's not until people start turning up shotgunned to death that they really get down to work.

Disher is fond of seemingly desultory plots that eventually dovetail with the preposterous coincidence of soap opera. The missing toddler is connected to a rapist, who's connected to drugs, which are connected to a local meth producer, who's connected to a marijuana farmer, who's wanted by the police. And so forth. But in Challis' suburbs-meets-farmland world, where everyone knows everyone else anyway, such pat conclusions feel almost possible. And Disher's dry, concise writing keeps the mood of his novels from feeling overblown.

If anything, the ending of Kittyhawk Down comes too soon; there's a definite satisfaction in watching all the characters and motives and actions interlock into a full picture, and Disher cuts off his story without letting every piece of the puzzle snap into place. The suspense, however, isn't tied to the plot so much as to the characters. Will they ever work out their lives? Maybe in the next book. -- C.C.

* * *

With 10 books to her name since 1994 -- two alone this year -- Stella Duffy is nothing if not prolific. Half of her energies go toward more mainstream novels (such as State of Happiness, 2004), while she employs the other half to churn out the Saz Martin crime series. Her fifth and latest Martin installment, Mouths of Babes (Serpent's Tail), is cut from the same rough cloth as its predecessors.

Tough, sexy Londoner Martin -- are lesbian private eyes ever going to be anything but? -- is trying to balance her personal and professional lives, and not doing a very good job of either. Her steadfast lover, Molly, has just given birth to baby Matilda (fathered by a gay friend), and Martin has volunteered to give up detecting for diapers. But when an old school acquaintance turns up on her doorstep, demanding that Martin help him track down other schoolmates from their joint past, Martin can't resist.

For dramatic tension, Duffy relies on a technique she's used in the past: the alternating voices of the heroine and the anti-heroine, mixed in with flashbacks to Martin's history. This is mildly confusing for the first third of Mouths, since it's unclear at times which character is doing the speaking. Duffy also embraces self-consciously arty prose, eliding nouns from sentences and affecting a spoken-poet style: "She's holding onto the tears, knows what her crying does to them, red rags to bulls, furious goring bulls spinning round to beat up on inept goading baby-boy matadors." But the speedball pace soon becomes addictive, and the central question of this book -- what really happened that day on the playground? -- becomes a churning steamroller.

If only the novel's motivations were as convincing. Martin and her long-forsaken schoolmates are afraid of their past coming back to bite them, but it's quickly apparent that the past's bark is more of a yip. Duffy forces her characters into an unfounded panic that spirals into a grim ending, and no one has the common sense to stop the whirligig. Mouths of Babes is a loving look at a pair of mothers trying to make it, tricked out with a melodramatic plot. Maybe Duffy should start a third series instead: Saz Martin, Lesbian Mom. -- C.C.

* * *

D.B. Murphy isn't your typical hard-boiled P.I., stalking the mean streets of some big bad American urban nightmare -- heck, he's not even American. He's Canadian, a former blacksmith, of all things, who's re-created himself as a Prohibition-era private eye, plying his trade in the small town of Owen Sound, Ontario. He's a decent, affable kinda guy, a recent husband and even more recent father, who seems to know (and is known by) everyone in town. Crashing through windows, guns blazing, just isn't DB's style -- he's far more likely to ride his trusty steed, Scotty, to the rescue in Special to the Star (Ginger Press), the fifth entry in Richard J. Thomas' decidedly bucolic series.

As this story begins, D.B.'s recently put his P.I. business on hold so he can take over his late buddy Razor Eddie's lucrative booze-smuggling racket (the United States' Volsted Act of 1919 was very profitable for Canadians, thankyouverymuch). It's a move his wife, Lori, heartily approves of, since, as she tells him, bootlegging "isn't as dangerous as what you were doing." Of course, she turns out to be wrong.

But it's all good fun in a fast-moving, pulpy sort of way, as D.B., aided by an assortment of pals with colorful monikers like Spanky, Frenchy and Oddball (the last of whom lost a testicle in a gun battle), struggles to deliver a shipment of booze on time to Al Capone's Chicago-based mob, using the swanky resort town of Mackinac Island, on Lake Huron, as their drop-off point. And -- oh, yeah -- D.B. also has to figure out which of them is skimming profits from him. Along the way, the boys run into a band of larcenous gypsies, Red Ryan (a notorious real-life bank robber and escapee from Kingston Penitentiary) and his gang, and even rookie reporter Ernest Hemingway, who's on assignment for the Toronto Star (hence this book's title), and who, upon hearing of Oddball's injury, asks D.B.: "Mind if I use it someday in a story?" Seems young Ernest wants to write fiction "someday."

Thomas is no more typical an author than D.B. is a sleuth. A former broadcaster turned full-time writer and champion preserve maker, he penned Gas Head Willy (1995), the first book in this series, during a three-day novel-writing binge. Several more installments in the series -- all purportedly written in the same manner, and none weighing in at more than 150 pages -- have appeared since. Every one has been greatly appreciated, particularly in Owen Sound. And as a further sign of his small-town roots, Thomas now auctions off the names of the characters in his novels to local residents, with the proceeds going to their town's adult literacy program. 

Special to the Star is a light, breezy, old-fashioned read full of close calls, narrow scrapes and wide-eyed acts of derring-do, with little in the way of character development to bog things down -- a clever, slightly more adult version of the Hardy Boys at their best. These books may not be great literature, but they can sure be great fun. Leslie MacFarlane, the proudly Canadian writer of the original Hardy Boys, would approve. -- Reviewed by Kevin Burton Smith

* * *

A more substantial -- though no less entertaining -- take on the small-town sleuth is First Kill, by Michael Kronenwetter, the latest winner of the famous (or is that infamous?) Private Eye Writers of America/St. Martin's Press "Best Private Eye Novel" contest.

(So what is it with P.I. writers named Michael, anyway? The last three winners of this contest have been Michael Siverling, Michael Koryta and now Michael Kronenwetter. Should aspiring scribes consider a name change?)

Despite its rather colorless title, First Kill is a corker, an ambitious breath of fresh air in the P.I. genre. Wisconsin private detective Hank Berlin is no cheesehead -- heck, he doesn't even like the stuff -- but he's no super sleuth, either. Instead, he's a decent, likable businessman, a divorced "weekend father" and an aging Baby Boomer quietly plying his trade from his home office on Red Maple Street in sleepy Pinery Falls, the apparent municipal equivalent of television's Cheers, a place where everybody knows your name. Not only is Liz Drucker, the young widow who shows up asking for help, a former teenage love of Hank's, but her husband, Jake, whose murder she wants investigated, is Hank's former best friend from high school. Adding fuel to the fire here is the fact that Jake was the star reporter for the Pinery Falls Torrent, the town's only newspaper, and the son of the paper's owner and publisher, Wesley Drucker, whose local clout is significant.

Reluctant at first to take the case (his ex-wife, a "hotshot executive," has dumped their 6-year-old son, Harry, in his lap while she's off to France on behalf of the Wisconsin-based Mueller's Cheese Company), Hank lets his old feelings and sympathies take hold, and before you can hum a few lines of Bob Dylan's Tangled Up in Blue, Hank's in the Drucker case way over his head.

By the way, that allusion to Dylan's 1975 ode to the diaspora of the 60s generation is one Hank would appreciate, for in many ways First Kill is all about the fallout from that turbulent era, its crushed ideals, its failed compromises, its lost "innocence," its guilty secrets and most especially, that "goddamn war."

From the song titles that form the names of each chapter (Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel, The Beatles and all the other usual suspects are well represented here) to the increasing number of clues that seem to lead straight back to the past (including Hank's decision to wait out the Vietnam War in Canada, while Jake actually volunteered to go -- and came back a decorated hero), this is a book that is as much about the past as the present, and of how the weight of our yesterdays bears down increasingly on our todays -- and our tomorrows.

It's not that the author has reinvented the private-eye genre -- not by a long shot. But for a first-timer P.I. writer to reach so high, and to invest such well-rendered and recognizable characters with such familiar problems and concerns (work, family, friends and their increasing awareness of their own mortality), while simultaneously grappling with the bigger and apparently timeless issues of war, bravery, patriotism and doing the right thing ... well, the result is a novel packed with unexpected emotional resonance. Kronenwetter's First Kill is by far the strongest winner yet in a highly touted contest that has already introduced us to some very fine writers in the genre. Keep your eye on this guy. -- K.B.S.

* * *

Another dynamite debut was Peter Spiegelman's Shamus Award-winning Black Maps, from 2003. Now Spiegelman has returned with his sophomore effort, Death's Little Helpers (Knopf), and lemme tell ya that the evidence is pretty clear: that first book wasn't a fluke.

Even better, though, is that John March, the well-off but tightly wound New York City-based private detective hero of Maps is back in Helpers, just as emotionally cold, cynical and brooding as ever; at times recalling Ross Macdonald's wet-blanket sleuth Lew Archer, but far closer to the edge and far more prone to violence than ol' Lew usually got. Even a more-or-less stable relationship with smart, sexy neighbor Jane Lu, a "CEO-for-hire" who makes her living saving sinking corporate ships, isn't quite enough to turn this gumshoe into a happy camper. And so, like Archer, he throws himself into his work.

Fortunately, his latest case gives March, the rebellious black-sheep son of a banking clan, plenty to throw himself into. It seems that Gregory Danes, a fallen hero of Wall Street, a disgraced celebrity stock-market analyst nobody listens to anymore, has gone missing. His ex-wife, a bitchy (and instantly unlikable) self-styled "artist," Nina Sachs, couldn't care less what's happened to him, except that she'd sure like those alimony and child-support checks to keep coming. So she hires March to find out where her ex -- and her dough -- have run off to. It seems like a simple enough case; but nothing's ever quite that simple when big money is involved -- and the money's plenty big this time.

Before he's through, March will have to deal with a genial but ruthless Ukrainian gangster, vicious family secrets, a rival private eye who's far less obsessed with scruples than March is, media superstars with more ambition than integrity, and confused young Billy Danes, who just wishes at least one of his parents gave a damn about him instead of using him as a pawn in their endless war.

In fact, it's March's tentative but convincing relationship with his client's son, based on their mutual love of -- of all things -- comic books, that shows March isn't quite the hollow man he appears to be, and adds considerable bite to an already engrossing and finely rendered narrative.

Death's Little Helpers is as emotionally rich and delightfully complex as its predecessor, and offers even more shattering proof -- as if, in this era of Enron, et al. any more were needed -- that the world of high finance and capitalistic swashbuckling can be as rife with vicious hypocrisy and corruption as any criminal enterprise. But perhaps even more importantly, Spiegelman never forgets to show us the very human cost of such rampant greed.

And Peter Spiegelman isn't just some simplistic bleeding-heart "down with the capitalistic pigs, man," kind of guy. He presumably knows what he's talking about, since he worked the trenches of Wall Street for 20 years, developing software systems for international banking institutions, before retiring in 2001 to devote himself fulltime to writing fiction. He currently lives in Connecticut, and is actually still a pretty young guy, already well on his way, if Death's Little Helpers is any indication, to a second, apparently successful career as a novelist. Don't you just hate him? -- K.B.S.

* * *

It's been three years since Hieronymus "Harry" Bosch retired from the Los Angeles Police Department and became a private eye. But he finally returns to the blue brotherhood in The Closers (Little, Brown), the 11th installment of Michael Connelly's Edgar-winning series. Frankly, that's too long an absence. As this story opens, Bosch is warned by the chief of police that he's subject to being washed out "without so much as a reason anytime in the course of the year." All that's OK, however, because this is a new Harry Bosch, one who agrees to "follow the rules."

Bosch is assigned here to the LAPD's newly re-branded Open-Unsolved Unit, where he's teamed up once more with Kizmin Rider, and given the case of a 16-year-old girl, Rebecca Verloren, who went missing back in 1988. Verloren was taken from her bed in the middle of a July night, hauled up a hillside behind her family home and shot to death. No one was ever convicted of the crime. But now Bosch and Rider are tossed a bone -- a DNA "cold hit." Skin tissue had been extracted from the murder weapon at the time of the killing, but the technology to analyze that tissue was not available to the original investigators, Ron Green and Arturo Garcia. Only now is it matched to a man named Roland Mackey, a racist felon with a record of hate crimes. The question becomes whether Mackey only once possessed the gun, or was the actual slayer.

Connelly's well-deserved reputation as a pre-eminent mystery writer suffers no tarnishing here. The Closers ranks right up there with the best cop novels I've read this year. Connelly has never been afraid, nor is he here, to take his readers deep into real-time cop investigations, with their inherent paperwork, backroom politics and undercover decoy schemes that sometimes backfire.

Watching Bosch work is invigorating, and it is not only the reader who's energized -- this is a rejuvenated Bosch, as well.

As he read through the catalogs of the city's horrors, Bosch felt a familiar power begin to take hold of him and move in his veins again. Only an hour back on the job and he was already chasing a killer. It didn't matter how long ago the blood had fallen. There was a killer in the wind and Bosch was coming. Like the prodigal son returning, he knew he was back in his place now. He was baptized again in the waters of the one true church. The church of the blue religion.

The rush that this detective feels is tempered, though, by the practical and emotional difficulties of the Verloren case. Bosch's supervisor, Abel Pratt, warns him of the human devastation that open-unsolved cases can cause in family members, and cautions him that "closure is bullshit ... all we do here is provide answers. Answers have to be enough." The wounds of a crime often never heal, and in the case of the Verlorens, their lives effectively ended with the death of their daughter. Sympathy for the parents -- the mother frozen solidly into the year of her daughter's demise, the father spiraling into the abyss of social collapse -- perhaps supersedes that for the actual victim. These people not only lost their only offspring, but they lost themselves too.

Although Bosch is attempting to change his own way of operating, the LAPD remains the same, embroiled in a cloud of political cover-ups. Our hero soon realizes that his assignment to the Open-Unsolved Unit might have been more than mere chance, when he runs up against his old nemesis Deputy Chief Irvin S. Irving, who threatens him. Bosch's claim that he is going to "follow the rules" bends somewhat under the strain of departmental ineptitude and Irving's warning. To Bosch and Rider, it is clear that the original investigators of the Verloren murder were heavily involved in "COA," or Cover Your Ass. Bosch still retains plenty of his former creativity and confrontational fire, almost finding himself held in contempt by a judge, and nearly ejected from the force by an angry police commander. Despite the downside of Bosch's headstrong actions, including alienating partner Rider, his in-your-face style and sharp intelligence lead him to do what his fellow cops failed to accomplish for 17 years -- find justice for the Verlorens. Whether the LAPD likes it or not, Bosch is back carrying a badge, and that's not just closure for his legion of fans, it's a reason to rejoice. -- Reviewed by Anthony Rainone

* * *

Former minor-league baseball player Henry "Hank" Thompson has been living down in Mexico, ever since he had to flee both irate Russian mobsters and the New York police in Charlie Huston's fast-paced and edgy first novel, Caught Stealing. Now, in the sequel Six Bad Things (Ballantine) -- set in 2003, three years after that earlier tale -- we find Hank sitting on part of $4.5 million in stolen cash and attempting to stay sober, while acting as silent owner of a Yucatan Peninsula beach bar, The Bucket. It's not a half-bad life. Hank has become friendly with a local resident named Pedro, whom he employs as the bar's manager. He swims daily in the Gulf of Mexico, and tries his damndest to blend into the casual sunny atmosphere and just chill out. But that proves to be a hard task for Hank, who can't escape his memories of the 14 dead people he left behind in Manhattan -- fatalities he played a significant role in causing.

Having been reminded of Yvonne who liked to roll her own cigarettes, and who is dead because of me. Having been reminded of the six men I've killed, two by accidents of a sort and four in cold blood. And crouched here all night long, wretched and sobbing, I never once feel sorry for myself. Because I'm a maddog killer and I deserve everything I get.

Hank had no actual plans to ditch his beachside retreat, but when a Russian traveler suddenly turns up at his watering hole, intimating that Hank's family could be in danger from gangsters back in the States ... well, that's all this dedicated son needs to hear. He packs up and heads home to Oakland, California. Any fans of Caught Stealing who worried that this sequel might mark a letdown in pace or intensity can relax: Six Bad Things is no sloppy second.

With the intensity of a crackhead on methamphetamines, the novel packs a wallop of quick, potent violence, together with breakneck plotting. The mesmerizing voice of Hank Thompson is no less engaging here than it was the last time out, and since author Huston has stated that his series will be a trilogy, fans might as well start salivating right now for the third and final installment.

One can argue that Hank is a victim of unfortunate circumstances. But he also makes some seriously misguided choices, leading to dire consequences. Returning to Oakland, just east of San Francisco, he knows he has to stay under the radar of local law enforcement. Yet, while trying to purchase a used car, he gets caught up in a dysfunctional relationship between the car's owner and his girlfriend, which ends with the volatile Hank nearly beating several men to death. Then, not long after reuniting with his parents, he's recognized by the same guys he encountered in the car-buying fiasco, and averts capture only by escaping to Las Vegas.

It's in Nevada's largest, glitziest gambling city that he hopes to find his friend Tim from New York, "a jazz head and boozer" and dealer to whom he'd sent the bulk of his ill-gotten dough before leaving Mexico. However, Tim -- who thinks Russian gangsters are dogging his tail, as well -- didn't happen to tell Hank where, precisely, in Vegas to find him. So our hero turns to an old high-school buddy, "T," who dresses like Elvis Presley (complete with oily pompadour and sideburns), has a dog named Hitler, and works as a DJ in a Vegas strip club. A drug dealer, T finds solutions to all his problems in tablet form, and it's not long after Hank asks for his aid that danger rears its head again, imperiling T and leaving Hank to make hard, deadly choices.

Some of those choices revolve around Rolf, an acquaintance of Hank's who has followed him north from Mexico. Rolf and his sidekick, Sid, are sociopaths and stone-cold killers. While Sid misguidedly admires Hank for his outlaw status, Rolf merely wants a share of Hank's swag. By the time Rolf and Sid are done here, they'll have left Hank with another pile of bodies to shoulder. One wonders whether the calculating mobsters might actually be more welcome than the spontaneously violent Rolf and Sid. That seems to be Hank's thinking, as well, for after finding himself in a drugged stupor at the end of a blood-slicked road, he finally joins forces with the Russians.

Readers are likely to worry more than a bit about the direction Hank Thompson is headed in his next adventure. The persona that this ill-fated but good-hearted protagonist has "found" in himself is perhaps an id that holds no redemption for him. Still, with steeled nerves and bated breath, we're all ready to jump ahead at his side. -- A.R.

* * *

Faye Quick is a dame in every sense of the word. She smokes, she packs a "rod" and most importantly, she's a gumshoe who seems eminently capable of running New York City's A Detective Agency while her boss, Woody Mason, is off dodging bullets in World War II. Faye's not just a private dick in a skirt -- this 26-year-old ex-secretary boasts great gams, chooses a different lipstick for each day of the week and definitely has an eye for soldier boys -- although she's dodging commitment until the end of the war, just to keep her heart from getting broken. In Sandra Scoppettone's This Dame for Hire (Ballantine), Faye Quick has the patter down pat, and will prove herself more than able to take the place of the boys who are away fighting in Europe and the Pacific.

On her way home from dinner one night in 1943, Faye happens upon the body of beautiful young Claudette West. So the P.I.'s hardly surprised when the deceased's parents want to hire her to solve Claudette's murder. Faye doesn't particularly like the dead woman's father, Porter West -- he's demanding, bull-headed and snobbish -- but she can't resist taking a case over which she quite literally stumbled.

However, what starts off as a simple investigation, in which the number-one suspect is a jilted boyfriend, soon becomes far more complicated when it's discovered that Claudette was pregnant -- and there's no shortage of candidates who could have left her in that delicate condition. The maybe-daddys include a fake Rockefeller, a Don Juan-ish professor and a mysterious new paramour whom no one has seen. Faye will do whatever it takes to solve this case, from consulting her psychic friend, Anne Fontaine, to pumping the attractive detective Johnny Lake for information. Meanwhile, Faye's "tomato" of a secretary is juggling her bad-boy beaus; Faye's clingy neighbor is intent on taking her home to meet his mother; and our tough-on-the-outside heroine can't stop worrying about her boss, who is in the thick of fighting overseas.

Scoppettone is the award-winning author the Lauren Laurano series (Let's Face the Music and Die, Gonna Take a Homicidal Journey, etc.), as well as police procedurals (Donato and Daughter, for instance) written under the pseudonym "Jack Early." The patter and period slang in This Dame for Hire help establish the story's mood. But what Scoppettone does most brilliantly here is to re-create the setting of 1940s Manhattan -- a place where women and senior citizens threatened to outnumber able-bodied men on the sidewalks; where sugar rations have made lemon meringue pies a luxury; and where women draw lines up the backs of their legs to simulate the nylons that they can't buy any longer in stores, because of the material needs of war. Readers should have no difficulty visualizing New York sites as Dame portrays them, from East Side tenements, to posh Park Avenue, to USO dances, during which sailors are shown a refreshingly innocent good time. Faye Quick has sass and gumption, but never to the point of parody. This novel is a tribute to noir fiction at its best, featuring a female protagonist who can hold her own against any other 40s peeper. Let's hope that neither World War II, nor Faye's career, ends at any time soon. -- Reviewed by Cindy Chow

* * *

Family. You can't live with them, you can't smother them in their sleep. At least, not without making future family reunions awkward. In Jeffrey Cohen's hilarious (and hilariously titled) new novel, As Dog Is My Witness (Bancroft Press), New Jersey freelance writer and stay-at-home dad Aaron Tucker discovers that some family members can be tolerated while other "Family" relations result in murder.

After a less than successful meeting with Hollywood filmmakers to discuss their optioning his screenplay, The Minivan Rolls for Thee (based, evidently, on the adventures chronicled in Cohen's first Tucker outing, 2002's For Whom the Minivan Rolls), our hero returns home to discover that a friend of his, who's also the co-founder of an Asperger's Syndrome support group, desperately needs his help defending an Asperger's-stricken boy accused of murder, Justin Fowler. And if that isn't stressful enough, Aaron's hated brother-in-law and his family will soon be descending upon and bunking with the Tuckers. Glad for the distraction from dealing with the in-laws from hell, Aaron agrees to defend Justin -- even though the young man was found with the murder weapon, has a love of firearms and, by the way, confessed to the killing. Meanwhile, Aaron agrees, too, to help his best friend run a sting operation, in order to discover who could be sabotaging his car-repair business. Stretched at all ends and battling with mobsters, as well as a yuppie brother-in-law and the holiday season, Aaron is grateful at last for assistance from a completely unexpected source: his Asperger's-afflicted son, Ethan.

In this third Aaron Tucker novel (after 2003's A Farewell to Legs ["RS," 11/03]), Cohen expertly weaves information about Asperger's Syndrome into a delightfully amusing mystery plot. Problems arising from his wife's support of her brother, in opposition to her immediate family, turn out to be as obstructive as the interference of mobsters in this tale. But readers will cheer when it's discovered that neither threat is as daunting as it appeared. The always likable Aaron Tucker continues to be a joy to follow, as he copes with his family, the Family and the quotidian challenges of folding laundry. Is it selfish to wish that more problems should plague Aaron, only so we will see him in more adventures down the road? -- C.C.

* * *

If ever there was a "dream team" for writing procedural mysteries, it would seem to be the partnership of Michael Baden, a former New York City medical examiner and consulting forensic pathologist for the FBI, and Linda Kenney, his wife and a Court TV litigator. Their respective careers leave them more than qualified to create powerful crime fiction. Yet their first collaborative effort, Remains Silent (Knopf), is a rather mundane, if competent exploration of a psychiatric hospital's experimentation and corruption.

The previous confrontation between stylish legal firecracker Philomena "Manny" Manfreda and New York deputy chief medical examiner Dr. Jake Rosen ended in the demolition of Manny's court-case-of-the-moment. So she's a more than a bit leery when Rosen refers a potential client to her. Nonetheless, Patrice Perez could certainly use Manny's help. The bones of her father, Korean War vet James Albert Lyons -- who mysteriously disappeared in 1963 from Turner Medical Hospital -- have suddenly turned up during excavation on a new shopping mall, and Patrice wants to understand how they came to be there. Since Rosen was instrumental in this grim discovery, he has every intention of pursuing the case further. To set up the inevitable will-they-or-won't-they scenario, his and Manny's personalities must clash -- as they soon do. He's the disheveled doctor type; Manny believes that the appearance of success is necessary in order to achieve it, and as a result she drives a Porsche, wears designer togs, and has an impressive address (even though her apartment is actually rather small, and she often eats dinner out of a soup can, in order to stretch her dollars). Almost before you can say Moonlighting, Rosen and Manny find themselves as attracted to one another as they are annoyed by each other's quirks. Together, they wind up dodging cops and breaking the law, in order to find the truth behind those mislaid remains. Someone, it appears, is determined to eliminate the evidence in this case, even if that requires bombing Rosen's home and violently attacking both him and Manny.

Enjoying advance praise from Ann Rule, Linda Fairstein and Kathy Reichs, Remains Silent is destined to garner attention. And it shows many strengths, including the character of Jake Rosen, who shows himself to be appealing, smart and determined. This novel's plot is also tight -- but perhaps too tight; just as quickly are clues are destroyed and witnesses eliminated, new ones conveniently emerge.

Not surprisingly, given Baden's background, Remains Silent excels in presenting forensic material and explaining its significance in ways that are both compelling and comprehensible. It's only odd that co-author Kenney's legal acumen isn't allowed to shine as strongly. In this tale, Rosen handily trumps the somewhat arrogant Manny, and the pair spend more time investigating than battling it out in court. Funny, too, is that the attraction between Manny and Rosen should be one of the weakest elements of this work. You'd think that married authors could pull off a budding relationship rather more smoothly and credibly. But Manny's superficiality and practice of cursing at Rosen quickly grows annoying, and her fantasizing about Rosen's touch -- even when he's got them all over a corpse during an autopsy -- is just plain wrong.

Baden and Kenney definitely have the knowledge to create riveting thrillers. It's a shame that their writing skills merely pass the bar, and never shine in the process. The verdict: Remains Silent is a fast-paced, readable book that never lives up to its potential. -- C.C.

* * *

As Shakespeare would attest, no one likes lawyers -- least of all the lawyers themselves. So it's hardly surprising that nearly every American mystery featuring an attorney must at some point find the character either justifying or reassessing his/her choice of profession. And when the death penalty is involved, the moral and ethical situation creates even more cause for contemplation. In the legal thriller Blood of Angels (HarperCollins), what could have been just another ho-hum examination of the risks inherent in state-sanctioned execution instead proves to be an enjoyable surprise, as author Reed Arvin presents a refreshingly original and complex portrayal of an attorney at both the lowest and highest points of his career.

Although he's deeply troubled by his last sight of Wilson Owens, shortly before Owens' execution by lethal injection, Thomas Dennehy, the sympathetic assistant district attorney for Davidson County, Tennessee, at least feels some satisfaction in knowing that justice was meted out to the man responsible for coldly murdering two people in a Nashville grocery-store robbery.

So it comes as a shock when Georgetown University professor Philip Buchanan, head of the Justice Project, which investigates death-penalty cases, announces that another man -- a "lifer" at a penitentiary -- has confessed to Owens' crimes. The timing couldn't be worse, as Dennehy is right in the middle of prosecuting a magnetic Sudanese refugee named Moses Bol, who's been charged with slaying a white woman, Tamra Hartlett. The Hartlett case engenders accusations of racism and incites protests from both Sudanese and white neighborhood groups; it also brings to the fore a Presbyterian pastor named Fiona Towns, who claims that she was with Bol at the time of the attack. Dennehy believes that firebrand Fiona is willing to do anything to save Bol's life, and his attraction to her plagues him, as he knows that he must rip the pastor to shreds before a jury. As the Owens and Bol investigations develop and are tried in court, nearly every activist group available takes one side or the other, and tensions around the Nashville courthouse increase as the media prepare for an onslaught of hostility and emotions.

But halfway through Blood of Angels, the story suddenly shifts gears. From a courtroom mystery, it turns into a thriller, as Dennehy learns of a threat from his past -- someone who's influencing these cases and targeting everything the lawyer holds dear, from his truck and his cat, to his best friend and his 11-year-old daughter, Jazz. Leaving behind office backbiting, racism and legal maneuvering, author Arvin leaves his protagonist to face an enemy as relentless as he is conniving and ruthless.

While it may not rival Arvin's previous legal thriller, The Last Goodbye ("RS," 3/04), Blood is still a complicated and witty mystery, with interweaving plots and ample surprises. One of this author's strengths is delivering well-developed and complex heroes. Professionally, Thomas Dennehy is at his best; personally, though, he's a mess. Although his wife loved him, his career always came first, resulting in a divorce that now has his beloved daughter living with a prosperous stepfather who can provide everything that Dennehy cannot. As he discovers that his career has put his family at risk, the Nashville prosecutor must decide whether to continue the life he's been leading, or to listen to those who believe he is destroying himself, little by little. Though John Grisham has pretty much cornered the market on writing about attorneys who turn their backs on their professions, Reed Arvin provides enough twists and turmoil to make it all seem fresh. This is an engaging legal thriller that doesn't disappoint. -- C.C.

* * *

After Clara Marshall and her two daughters vanished from their home, the repercussions spread quickly throughout their small English village. Suspicion fell immediately on Clara's estranged husband, Richard, but he claimed that she'd been engaged in an affair, and had taken their children and run off. No proof was ever found to invalidate his claim, and the missing trio never turned up anywhere. Not until 27 years later do divers, exploring a sunken Nazi E-boat, finally discover the partial remains of a woman's body, soon to be identified as that of Clara Marshall. With the police now intent on prosecuting Richard Marshall for killing his entire family, Hilary Bonner's When the Dead Cry Out (St. Martin's Minotaur) unrolls as an enthralling police procedural, in which the investigators are as driven and tormented by tragedy as the victims.

The disappearance of Clara and her children affected no one more than Karen Meadows and John Kelly. Karen, only 13 years old at the time of these disappearances, saw her own family fall apart in the aftermath, as her mentally fragile mother provided just a wee bit too much comfort to Richard Marshall. Both ashamed and protective of her mom, Karen never mentioned to anyone the relationship between her mother and Marshall, and she still believes she may have withheld evidence crucial to solving those disappearances. Now a police detective inspector, Karen vows to do everything she can to prosecute Richard Marshall for the deaths of his family.

John Kelly, meanwhile, was a novice reporter when Clara and her daughters went missing, and he's continued to search for them ever since. His mother, Angela, was young Lorraine Marshall's teacher, and Angela Kelly was convinced that she had ignored the girl's cry for help, when Lorraine claimed that her father had "got rid" of Clara, shortly before the two girls themselves disappeared.

Plagued by guilt, Angela Kelly eventually committed suicide, thus contributing to the tide of heartbreak that began with the Marshall family's destruction. Aided by Karen Meadows, Kelly is now determined to punish Richard Marshall. But his blind obsession may lead the reporter to bring about further tragedies in a place where some secrets are best kept hidden.

Bonner, a Fleet Street journalist and veteran author (Moment of Madness, 2003), delivers here an atmospherically gloomy British police procedural that demonstrates how some crimes never lose their power to destroy anyone involved. That includes cops such as DI Meadows. Karen has allowed herself to be consumed by her job. Her personal life reflects a stellar lack of judgment, highlighted by her latest choice of a lover: the much younger -- and married -- detective sergeant she supervises. Her eventual arrest of Richard Marshall only begins the cat-and-mouse game they will play, with each harboring secrets that could break the other. If you're looking for a book that can entertain even while documenting horrific tragedies stretching across generations, When the Dead Cry Out is the title to find. -- C.C.

* * *

Following the harrowing incidents that nearly killed him in Memorial Day ("RS," 6/04), Mick Callahan thought he was finally moving on with his life and his career. But a phone call from a woman to whom he owes the greatest debt drags him back to Nevada, and in Harry Shannon's Eye of the Burning Man (Five Star), Mick finds himself once more in the midst of the violence he so sought to escape.

After tanking his prosperous Beverly Hills psychology practice and TV show, as a result of abusing drugs, alcohol and women, Mick redeemed himself through a backwater radio program in the tellingly named Dry Wells, Nevada. Now once again at the top of his game, hosting a different broadcast show in California, Mick has found a job he likes, a very hot girlfriend and some much-needed sobriety. But a violent attack costs him his lover, and the reappearance of a young woman he knew only as either Mary or "Skanky" nearly costs him everything else. This drug addict had risked her own life when she rescued Mick from vicious kidnappers (in Memorial Day), and now she desperately needs his help. Feeling compelled to repay his debt to her, Mick tries to lead her down the difficult path to recovery from addiction, while also protecting her from an anonymous assailant. But after she disappears once more, Mick discovers that all routes lead toward the strange "Burning Man" festival in Nevada, a Woodstock-like event, only without the redeeming inclusion of memorable music.

The strongest and certainly most alluring aspect of Shannon's second Mick Callahan novel is the dramatic, and yet very believable, transformation of its protagonist. From his first appearance in Memorial Day, where he was callous, self-involved and narcissistic, Mick has grown into someone who can accept his own weaknesses and responsibilities, almost to a fault. As a friend and fellow Alcoholics Anonymous member tells him, "Look up 'neurotic' in the dictionary. It has your picture next to it." While Shannon's two novels can definitely be read out of order and on their own, it's by consuming them together that the reader truly experiences the development of Mick's character. Although it includes the surprising and tragic loss of a familiar player from this series, the noirish Eye of the Burning Man, with its cynical patter and ceaseless action, never fails to entertain. Shannon, a former actor, singer and songwriter, tops himself in this follow-up to his successful mystery debut, and promises to deliver more of the same high-quality storytelling in the future. -- C.C.

* * *

The plot of David Morrell's tremendous new novel, Creepers (CDS Books), is what Hollywood would label "high concept." The "creepers" in question are urban infiltrators, men and women wont to outfit themselves with caving equipment, and then break in to and explore derelict buildings. Sure, it's illegal; but the creepers resist pilfering or damaging anything they happen across during their clandestine adventures. They just want photographs of themselves at the abandoned sites. But under the direction of Morrell (who previously wrote Nightscape, one of January Magazine's gift-book picks for 2004), such inner-city speleology take on a determinedly dark cast.

Morrell's protagonist in these pages is Frank Balenger, a former U.S. Army Ranger and Iraq war vet, who, disguised as a New York Times reporter, joins a cadre of creepers determined to invade the seven-story Paragon Hotel, a 1910 relic built by an eccentric industrialist and located in Asbury Park, New Jersey, before a demolition team can erase that structure's existence from the world. The group is led by a down-on-his-luck professor named Robert Conklin, but also features teacher Vincent Vanelli and a couple of graduate students, Rick and Cora Magill. The infiltration team members soon realize that everything is not as it seems, and that at least two among them boast agendas beyond the thrills to be had in a spooky old hostelry.

The Paragon holds secrets (gangsters used to convene there, murders occurred on the premises, and gold was rumored to have been hidden in the walls), and evils that were once cloaked in darkness are no longer dormant. Furthermore, Balenger and company aren't the only ones poking around the hotel. Others have their own interests in this place -- and no compunction against eliminating rivals.

Morrell's latest thriller is propelled by tense dialogue and even tenser situations, and its story combines elements of horror, adventure, and crime. Nightmares are made of components not nearly so unsettling as what Creepers offers. The reader is never quite sure what the hell is happening, and because no one is who he seems here, there are some very satisfying shocks along the way. This is a major book for 2005 -- but definitely not intended for claustrophobics or anyone fearful of the dark. -- Reviewed by Ali Karim

* * *

Blending fact and fiction, Roger Jon Ellory's A Quiet Vendetta (Orion UK) retells the story of organized crime in America and how the criminal underworld has ridden the shifting winds of U.S. politics right up to the present day. In some ways, Vendetta reminds me of Robert Littell's masterwork, The Company, which retold the history of the CIA through a series of vignettes, blending real people together with fictional characters to create a kaleidoscopic vision in which it is impossible to discriminate reality from make-believe. Ellory ploughs a similar furrow here.

The story starts out conventionally enough with a Detective Verlaine of the New Orleans Police Department investigating a dead body found in the trunk of a vintage automobile. This murder was extremely brutal, with the victim displaying a representation of the Gemini constellation carved into his back. The corpse appears to be sending a signal of some sort -- a warning, perhaps? But to whom? Facts follow upon one another in disheartening succession. The first problem is that the victim is a bodyguard, responsible for looking after a 19-year-old woman. The second problem is that the woman happens to be Catherine Ducane, the daughter of Charles Ducane, the governor of Louisiana. And she's now missing. Soon, FBI agents grab the case from Verlaine, and a mysterious, elderly Cuban gent named Ernesto Perez contacts the investigative team, telling them that he has Ms. Ducane and is looking to cut a deal. Strangely, though, what he wants in exchange for her release is to speak with Ray Hartmann, a beleaguered attorney from a Washington-based organized-crime task force. Hartmann is soon brought into the investigation, and then kidnapper Perez turns himself in. However, Perez won't reveal where the woman is being kept, or how long she has left to live -- at least not until he is allowed to spill out his whole tale, which forms the backbone of this gripping narrative.

Perez's story is unraveled like the skin of a banana, one strip peeled back at a time. He's an habitué of a brutal realm, in which he evolved into a psychopathic enforcer and hit man for the underworld. Through Perez's eyes, we see how Cuba and it's politics infected America, we see Castro, we see the Kennedys, we see the rise of Las Vegas and Atlantic City, and we see how the tendrils of organized crime pervade the pillars of influence. Most frighteningly, we witness the pervasive power of immorality. There are images in Vendetta that are terrifying, including Perez's first killing: the random attack on an encyclopedia salesman.

No less disturbing is that Perez's appetite for murder develops into part of his reason to live, even though his criminal career impinges on the life of his family. The biggest puzzle in Vendetta is: Why does Perez want to tell his life's tale to Hartmann? It's a question that isn't answered until the very end, and the answer fills in a horrific image that continues to linger in my head.

Brutal at times, but beautifully written, with thickly textured passages that one hopes to savor, A Quiet Vendetta is a novel to get lost in, a long ride into the darkness. Ellory (who also wrote Ghostheart, another of January's 2004 gift-book picks) has created here an epic novel of the Italian Mafia that will remind you of Mario Puzo's The Godfather, but which never tries to copy that earlier, classic work. -- A.K.

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John Galligan's The Blood Knot (Bleak House) grabs, yanks and hauls the reader in with the lure of intelligent, atypical and dark prose. A chronological sequel to Galligan's The Nail Knot (2003), The Blood Knot stands boldly on its own and is an unexpected pleasure. It's a hard-boiled fly-fishing mystery. Maybe noir fly-fishing. What it isn't is dry, mechanical, boring fly-fishing.

Galligan's protagonist is Ned Oglivie, aka The Dog, a character living on the fringes in a place (backwoods Wisconsin) where the fringes are unknotted, frayed and libel to trip you up if you dare to walk across them. He's living there by choice, knowing he'll move on to a possibly more out-there place soon enough. In the midst of an extended fishing trip, The Dog stumbles across the body of Annie Adams, known as The Barn Lady (because she likes to paint pictures of barns), floating in a stream, her easel left behind on a bridge overlooking the watercourse. Also on that bridge is 10-year-old Deuce Kussmaul, a half-Amish, half-redneck boy The Dog calls The Avalanche Kid. Kussmaul is taking potshots at Adams' corpse with his Chipmunk .22. This is not good. The Dog owes The Avalanche Kid's meth-using mother, Eve Kussmaul, a hearty debt of gratitude for helping to get him stitched up after a vicious beaver bite. Eve is an Amish woman who was kicked out by her family of misfits after she got pregnant with the aforementioned Kid and then married his beer-swilling bully of a father, known as King Midas. Through Galligan's eyes, we see Midas as anything but golden:

King Midas suppressed some beer-gas into his flannelled shoulder and stepped out toward me. He was a sizeable guy, if you measured lengthwise where the flannel split above the belt buckle that anchored a pair of filthy discount blue jeans. He was barefoot and hammer-toed, and his extreme blondeness cast an eerie sleet-white across the pinkness of his unshaven skin. I experienced what I thought was a brief bolt of clarity, vis-à-vis Eve Kussmaul being ex-Amish: if my sister married a guy like King Midas, we'd kick her out of the family too.

Trying to stay afloat in a chaos peopled by the amorous Amish, backcountry bullies and the occasional well-intentioned cop, The Dog finds himself hemmed in by a conscience he didn't know he had and by a felled oak that blocks his escape. He figures The Avalanche Kid is being set up for murder. That's the only thing The Dog is sure of. Well, that and that he might have rabies. When Eve asks him to help her son, The Dog wants to say no. Instead, he limps along through late-night stakeouts, arrests and fists full of warning, learning along the way more than he ever wanted to know about how things go on the wrong side of nowhere.

In The Blood Knot, author Galligan has concocted a meticulous plot that is as original as it is peculiar. The reader will find him- or herself mesmerized by the rockslide of events heading The Dog's way, wondering until the last page if he'll have the capacity to get out of the way before he's buried for good. The book may well be the freshest catch of the season. -- Reviewed by Jennifer Jordan

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There is no question that Denise Hamilton has talent and an ability to spin a compelling tale. Unfortunately, in Savage Garden (Scribner), this is offset by an unappealing protagonist and a story line that doesn't live up to it's potential.

Eve Diamond is as hard as her last name. A member of the B team at the Los Angeles Times, hoping not to slip down to C grade, she grasps at opportunities that will get her a byline, while she holds off the competition with subterfuge and a snarl. In Garden, Diamond is dragged, not exactly kicking and screaming, into what would be a front-page story about an actress, the unpredictable and talented Catarina Velosi, who fails to appear for the open curtain of a play that could save her floundering career. Along with her boyfriend, Silvio Aguilar, who happens to be the best friend of the guy who wrote this play especially for Velosi, Diamond sets off for the missing actress' apartment, where she finds a broken screen and spots of blood, but no other sign of the diva herself. Silvio is more upset than Diamond cares to admit, and the reporter is torn between her need to get inside Silvio's head and getting a scoop that isn't even on the news radar yet. When Silvio is hauled in for questioning, her distrust of him and her need to get to the bottom of this situation increase twofold.

However, when the intrepid Ms. Diamond finally reaches her office, she discovers she has a new, unwanted partner in Felice Morgan, a hot new African-American newsie who hits the scene and quickly sniffs out the story Diamond wants for herself. Diamond grumbles, but then starts to wonder whether Morgan's story is for real, or if she's another journalistic fraud, like Jayson Blair.

As Diamond and Morgan follow the leads in the Velosi case, competition is fostered when Morgan stumbles upon a related story on her own time. Diamond's only inside track is Silvio's best friend from childhood, the moody and decidedly unfriendly playwright Alfonso Reventon, and his jealous and hard-drinking wife, Marisela. With suspects spanning the gambit, from Velosi's drug-dealing neighbor, to the actress' former drama couch, to her producer on the make, Diamond comes to realize that she's on the trail of something big. When she ends up looking down the barrel of a gun, these thoughts are confirmed.

Savage Garden could have been a contender, but ends up being a pretender, instead. Author Hamilton, herself an L.A. Times reporter, touches only the surface of her theme of Latinos rising from the barrio and facing a very white Hollywood, as she plays it against the failings of a minority-first hiring system and her heroine's rampant insecurities. By trying to do too much, Hamilton has accomplished little. This story's climax and subsequent unveiling of the "real" mastermind are trite and downright silly. What strength there is in this novel (the fourth Eve Diamond book, after 2004's Last Lullaby) rests on Hamilton's depiction of Felice Morgan and her struggle to rise to the top of the journalism world. -- J.J.

Two Guys, a Girl and a Pell-Mell Pace

Is the world ready for teenage sleuths with eyes the size of Ping-Pong balls?

The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew books have appealed to young readers for well over 70 years, and the characters have appeared not only in hundreds of novels but also in film and TV adaptations. Over those decades, loyal fans have seen their champions endure everything from ham-handed, "politically correct" revisions to being re-imagined as pop stars and even -- AAARRGGHHH!!! -- Shaun Cassidy.

But the latest incarnation of these beloved teenage sleuths may be the most peculiar yet: The Hardys and Ms. Drew have starring roles in two new series of fast-paced, pocket-size manga-style graphic novels.

The popularity of manga, the freewheeling Japanese school of comic-book illustration known for its sharp-jawed, pointy-nosed, big-eyed characters, has swept through the playgrounds and living rooms of North America over the last few decades, and shows no sign of abating. Manga now encompasses everything from re-imaginings of old-school icons such as Spider-Man and Star Wars to popular made-in-Japan anime (Japanese animation) on the order of Sailor Moon and Pokemon. So it's not exactly a shock that Frank and Joe and Nancy are getting their own tune-ups. The folks over at Papercutz, the new manga imprint of Simon & Schuster, have high hopes, and even though the books under consideration here are the just first in each respective series, subsequent volumes are already hitting the streets (and in fact, four-volume gift sets will be in the stores just in time for Christmas).

So forgive me if it took a while to get my head around this hyperactive fast-forward twist on my childhood heroes. In The Hardy Boys: The Ocean of Osiyra, written by Scott Lobdell and illustrated by Lea Hernandez, the sleuthing siblings are still whiter-than-white, but now they're almost too whiter-than-white to look at. Fenton Hardy, the boys' dad, is not just a successful private detective anymore -- he's "inarguably the most brilliant detective in the world." He's also, of course, conveniently absent (some things never change). Which is a good thing, since it's a boy's boy's boy's world here: clean-cut, well-scrubbed Frank and Joe are no longer mere teenage amateur detectives, but "undercover brothers" working for the U.S. government; two happening guys with all the latest gadgets working on behalf of ATAC (American Teens Against Crime). In Osiyra, they're jet-skiing, chopper-riding swashbucklers continent-hopping from small-town Bayport, U.S.A., to Paris and the Middle East in pursuit of a legendary artifact -- and intent, in the bargain, on rescuing their poor hapless (but no longer "fat") buddy Chet Morton. Right on their heels come their long-suffering girlfriends, Callie and Iola, who have been reduced to broad female caricatures -- a Betty and Veronica act better suited to a 1950s sitcom. But, except for the decidedly retro take on the girls (maybe the publishers plan on attracting a horde of 12-year-old neocons?), the whole thing seems a little too self-consciously "now." Young readers are subjected to a steady barrage of pop-culture references -- American Idol potshots, PalmPilots, cybercafés, video games. And the whole thing seems too frantically, almost desperately paced. The inconsistent and occasionally rushed feel of the artwork doesn't help, either.

By comparison, Nancy Drew: The Demon of River Heights, doesn't try to be all things to all people; instead, it asks readers to meet it halfway -- and as such, it is the superior read, retaining more of the original series' charm, aiming less for the A.D.D. James Bond/XXX crowd and more for the Scooby-Doo brigade. The plot, written by comics vet Stefan "The X-Files" Petrucha, is (relatively) subdued, more self-assured, less self-consciously "edgy," with the case at hand (the search for two missing film students) and the ultimate crime (a real-estate scam driven by good ol' greed) more down to earth than the issues of vital "national security" that Frank and Joe are trucking in. Mind you, Demon still delivers monsters, abandoned mines, deep dark woods (including a clever Blair Witch nod) and the like, but by keeping this yarn low-key, sticking close to Nancy's hometown and making sure that her companions Bess Marvin and George Frayne, although drawn with broad strokes, are never treated merely as two-dimensional comic relief (ironic, perhaps, considering the medium), we end up with an engaging tale that updates the franchise without totally recreating it. It helps tremendously that the art, by Sho Murase, is more consistent and less rushed-feeling than is true in Osiyra. Murase even works in some pretty nifty digital effects, giving this book a cleaner, more polished look.

My prognosis? Well, the artwork in either of these manga series won't bother a generation weaned on the cut-rate Saturday-morning animation of Yug-i-oh and its ilk, but a bigger problem is the stories themselves. I read the Hardy and Drew series in the 60s, and even then there was no serious attempt to make the characters particularly cool or hip -- but for many of us, that was part of the charm and escapist nature of these adventures. Despite all their gung-ho exploits, Frank, Joe and Nancy lived in a safe, mostly benign world of "roadsters" and "chums," a clean, well-kept, almost timeless small-town suburbia that seemed a little quaint and old-fashioned even then; an almost-possible place where crime inevitably involved haunted houses, secret passageways and hidden treasure, and where kids just a bit older than us, without any super powers or real advantages beyond a little courage and pluck, could become hometown heroes.

Still, anything that gets children in this plugged-in, amped-up age to read is a good thing. And maybe it's time Nancy and Frank and Joe did move into the new millennium. But in aggressively insisting on what is and focusing so obsessively (and self-consciously) on now, are the publishers cheating our allegedly short-attention-spanned kids a little on what could be? -- Kevin Burton Smith

In the News

Scottish novelist Ian Rankin tells the Sunday Herald that his next John Rebus novel -- the penultimate installment of that award-winning series, by the way -- will be set during this year's G8 Summit at Gleneagles, and include a scene in which George W. Bush collides with the Edinburgh detective while he's out for a spin on his bicycle. In other news, Rankin "hinted that the imminent smoking ban will be a convenient moment to retire the hard-drinking, nicotine-addicted Rebus and send him to Australia for his 60th birthday," and that "Rebus's sidekick, Siobhan Clarke, ... is unlikely to have an affair with him, but could reveal other sexual preferences." Read more.

Caleb Carr, acclaimed author of The Alienist and this year's The Italian Secretary (and recently defeated in his first bid for public office, as a legislator in New York's Rensselaer County), talks with the Australian Age about living in the shadow of his violent, Beat Generation father, his efforts to breathe new life into Sherlock Holmes, and his preference to be seen not as a literary novelist. Read more.

Speaking of the immortal Holmes (and when, it seems, are we not?), the San Francisco area's MetroActive site carries an interview with local boy Steve Hockensmith, whose debut mystery novel, the cleverly titled Holmes on the Range, is due out in early February 2006 from St. Martin's Minotaur. The story, set in the "rough-and-tumble world of cattle branding, bed lice and freshly severed prairie oysters, is an exploration of a time that was a breeding ground for crime: the Wild West, an unsettled, lawless, frontier land. It's also a respectful nod to the Sherlock Holmes stories of Arthur Conan Doyle." Read more.

The latest update of The Thrilling Detective Web Site offers a lengthy and fascinating interview with Rob Kanter, author of the Detroit-set, P.I. Ben Perkins series (Concrete Hero, 1994), who has a new book of Perkins short stories, Trouble Is What I Do, out from Point Blank Press. Read more.

Good news for Wilkie Collins fans: The 19th-century novelist's long-forgotten legal thriller, The Dead Alive, is to be reissued in December, thanks to the efforts of Rob Warden, head of the Center on Wrongful Convictions at Northwestern University's law school. The story is based on a real-life case of two Vermont farmers falsely accused of murder. John Grisham provides an introduction. Read more.

Convinced that Americans want to revisit old TV crime shows such as The A-Team, Miami Vice and Knight Rider, NBC Universal Cable Entertainment is planning to introduce a new 24-hour cable channel, SLEUTH, on January 1, 2006. According to a news release, "The new channel will feature crime and mystery classics from NBC Universal's extensive library of feature films, classic television shows, reality series and documentaries." Personally, I don't consider The A-Team or Knight Rider "classics." I'll hold out, instead, for honest and underappreciated gems such as City of Angels, The Snoop Sisters and Banyon. Read more.

Michael Kilian, a longtime and prolific Chicago Tribune columnist who also wrote historical mystery novels and, for a time, the Dick Tracy comic series, died on October 26 after a lengthy bout with liver ailments. He was 66 years old. Crime-fiction enthusiasts might recognize Kilian best as the author of a Civil War series starring Union spy Harrison Raines, the sixth and newest entry in which is Antietam Assassins (Severn House), released earlier this fall. He also wrote a series of 1920s mysteries featuring New York City art gallery owner Bedford Green and his "famously beautiful assistant" Sloane Smith. Read more.

San Francisco-based McAdam/Cage Publishing, which last year introduced Australian novelist Peter Temple to American audiences with the standalone thriller Identity Theory (originally published Down Under as In the Evil Day), now follows up with the publication of Temple's first two Jack Irish crime novels, Bad Debts and Black Tide. For those of you who haven't previously discovered Irish, he's a gambler, cabinet-maker, cook, loner and Australian solicitor-cum-sleuth. He appeared in 2003's White Dog (one of January's gift-book picks for that year) and has won for Temple the prestigious Ned Kelly Award. To read more about Temple and his Australian inspiration, click here.

Shots features fresh interviews with Harlan Coben and Lee Child.

While it's a DVD, rather than a book, this news will nonetheless be of interest to crime-fiction fans: The first season (1974) of James Garner's outstanding private-eye TV series, The Rockford Files, is due out in a three-disc set on December 6. In addition to the pilot film and 23 episodes, I understand that this collection includes an on-camera interview with Garner himself. I can't wait! Read more.

DreamWorks has announced plans to revive the character of spy-turned-"remover" Matt Helm, introduced in Donald Hamilton's Death of a Citizen (1961) and later featured in a quartet of movie spoofs starring Dean Martin. Helm subsequently returned in an eponymous 1975 TV series starring Tony Franciosa. Variety reports that DreamWorks has hired scriptwriters Michael Brandt and Derek Haas "in a high six-figure deal" to work on the new picture. Read more.

Don Adams, who played super-secret agent Maxwell Smart in the classic TV series Get Smart (1965-70) passed away on September 25, following a lengthy battle with lung lymphoma. He was 82 years old. Read more.

"[T]hese days what is perhaps most striking about Nick and Nora [Charles] is not their easy blend of comedy and drama or their balanced sexual dynamic, but rather their carefree booziness," The New Republic writes in its tribute to the Dashiell Hammett-inspired "Thin Man" movies of the 1930s and 40s, the last five of which have finally been released on DVD. "In modern American movies, the consumption of alcohol is limited largely to fraternity pledges, lost souls, and the occasional Billy Bob Thornton character." Read more (free registration required).

Recent converts to crime fiction might be interested in a short retrospective on John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee novels, published originally in The Wall Street Journal, but helpfully (for those of us who aren't Journal subscribers) picked up by Sarah Weinman's Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind blog. Read more.

Last Rewards

The Nero Wolfe Society has chosen its shortlist of nominees for its 2005 Nero Wolfe Award. Those contenders are:

  • A Spectacle of Corruption, by David Liss (Random House)
  • The Enemy, by Lee Child (Delacorte)
  • The Drowning Tree, by Carol Goodman (Ballantine)

A winner will be announced during the Black Orchid Banquet, to be held in New York City on December 3.

* * *

The Mystery Writers of America has announced that Stuart M. Kaminsky will soon be entering its rarified pantheon of Grand Master authors. Presentation of this honor will be made during the 60th annual Edgar Awards dinner gala, to be held in New York City on April 27, 2006. The 71-year-old Kaminsky, probably best recognized for having penned a clever series of 1940s Hollywood mysteries starring P.I. Toby Peters (Now You See It, 2004), is also the author of series featuring Chicago police detective Abe Lieberman, Moscow Police Inspector Porfiry Rostnikov and dour South Florida sleuth Lew Fonesca. As a Grand Master, Kaminsky joins an exclusive list that includes Robert B. Parker, Elmore Leonard, P.D. James, James M. Cain, Raymond Chandler and last year's pick, Marcia Muller.

* * *

The British Crime Writers' Association has made known the recipients of its 2005 Dagger Awards. And the winners are …

Gold Dagger (for the top crime novel of the year): Silence of the Grave (Harvill Press UK), by Arnaldur Indridason

Silver Dagger (for the year's runner-up): Deadly Web (Headline UK), by Barbara Nadel

John Creasey Dagger (for first books by unpublished writers): Running Hot (Maia Press UK), by Dreda Say Mitchell

Ian Fleming Steel Dagger (for the best adventure/thriller novel in the vein of James Bond): Brandenburg (Orion UK), by Henry Porter

Gold Dagger for Non-Fiction: On the Run (Hutchinson UK), Gregg and Gina Hill

Debut Dagger (for unpublished authors of fiction): The Woman Before Me, by Ruth Dugdall

Short Story Dagger: "No Files on Frank" (Sherlock Magazine), by Danuta Reah

Dagger in the Library (nominated and judged by librarians and awarded to a body of work, not just a single title): Jake Arnott

Ellis Peters Historical Dagger: C.J. Sansom's Dark Fire (Macmillan), with special mention going to Iain Pears' The Portrait (Harper Perennial Original)

Cartier Diamond Dagger: Ian Rankin

Finally, the Dagger of Daggers -- meant to acknowledge the all-time greatest crime novel that has ever won the Gold Dagger -- goes to John le Carré's The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1963).

The winners were announced during a ceremonial luncheon in London on November 8. For more analysis of this year's Dagger presentations, click here.

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The North American Branch of the International Association of Crime Writers has selected Prince of Thieves, by Chuck Hogan, to receive the 2004 Hammett Prize. Other nominees: The Havana Room, by Colin Harrison; The Madman's Tale, by John Katzenbach; California Girl, by T. Jefferson Parker; and Playing with Fire, by Peter Robinson. The award was given out during Bouchercon, in September.

* * *

Due to the tardiness of this latest "Rap Sheet," I come a bit late -- but no less enthusiastically than I would have otherwise -- to news of the books that received awards during the 36th Bouchercon World Mystery Convention, held in Chicago, Illinois, in September. In the individual categories, this year's winners were:

Best Novel: :
Blood Hollow, by William Kent Krueger (Atria)

Also nominated: The Killing of the Tinkers, by Ken Bruen (St. Martin's Minotaur); The Madman's Tale, by John Katzenbach (Ballantine); By a Spider's Thread, by Laura Lippman (HarperCollins); California Girl, by T. Jefferson Parker (HarperCollins); and Out of the Deep I Cry, by Julia Spencer-Fleming (St. Martins Minotaur)

Best First Novel: Dating Dead Men, by Harley Jane Kozak (Doubleday)

Also nominated: Uncommon Grounds, by Sandra Balzo (Five Star); Until the Cows Come Home, by Judy Clemens (Poisoned Pen Press); Retribution, by Juliane P. Hoffman (Putnam); and Whiskey Sour, by J.A. Konrath (Hyperion)

Best Non-Fiction: Men's Adventure Magazines, by Max Allan Collins, et al. (Taschen)

Also nominated: Famous American Crimes and Trials, by Frankie Bailey and Steven Chermak (Praeger Publishers); Blue Blood, by Edward Conlon (Riverhead); The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Short Stories, edited by Leslie S. Klinger (Norton); and The Ballad of the Whiskey Robber, by Julian Rubinstein (Little, Brown) 

Best Paperback Original: Twisted City, by Jason Starr (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard) -- one of January's gift-book picks for 2004

Also nominated: Cold Case, by Robin Burcell (Avon); Putt to Death, by Roberta Isleib (Berkley Prime Crime); Blue Blood, by Susan McBride (Avon); and The Halo Effect, by M.J. Rose (MIRA)

Best Short Story: "Wedding Knife," by Elaine Viets (from Chesapeake Crimes, edited by Donna Andrews; Quiet Storm)

Also nominated: "Voodoo," by Rhys Bowen (Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine, November 2004; "The Widow of Slane," by Terence Faherty (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, March/April 2004); "It's Crackers to Slip a Rozzer the Dropsey in Snide," by Ted Hertel Jr. (from Small Crimes, edited by Michael Bracken; Betancourt/Wildside); and "Hunter Trapper," by Arthur Nersesian (from Brooklyn Noir, edited by Tim McLoughlin; Akashic Press)

Best Cover Art: Brooklyn Noir, art by Sohrab Habibion; edited by Tim McLoughlin (Akashic)

Also nominated: Fade to Blonde, art by Gregory Manchess; by Max Phillips (Hard Case Crime); Whiskey Sour, art by Sal Barracca/Bradford Foltz Design; by J.A. Konrath (Hyperion); Good Morning Darkness, art by Robert Santora; by Ruth Francisco (Mysterious Press); and Monkology, art by Michael Kellner; by Gary Phillips (Dennis McMillan)

(presented by the
Private Eye Writers of America)

Best P.I. Novel: While I Disappear, by Edward Wright (Putnam) -- one of January Magazine's favorite books of 2004

Also nominated: Fade to Clear, by Leonard Chang (St. Martin's Minotaur); The Wake-Up, by Robert Ferrigno (Pantheon); After the Rain, by Chuck Logan (HarperCollins); Choke Point, by James Mitchell (St. Martin's Press)

Best Paperback Original P.I. Novel: Fade to Blonde, by Max Phillips (Hard Case Crime)

Also nominated: Call the Devil By His Oldest Name, by Sallie Bissell (Dell); Shadow of the Dahlia, by Jack Bludis (Quiet Storm); London Blitz, by Max Allan Collins (Berkley Prime Crime); and Island of Bones, by P.J. Parrish (Pinnacle Books)

Best First P.I. Novel: The Dead, by Ingrid Black (St. Martin's Minotaur)

Also nominated: Little Girl Lost, by Richard Aleas (Five Star); The Last Goodbye, by Reed Arvin (HarperCollins); Aspen Pulp, by Patrick Hasburgh (St. Martin's Minotaur); and Some Danger Involved, by Will Thomas (Simon & Schuster)

Best P.I. Short Story: "Hasidic Noir," by Pearl Abraham (from Brooklyn Noir, edited by Tim McLoughlin; Akashic Press)

Also nominated: "Burnt Wood," by Mitch Alderman (Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine [AHMM], July 2004); "Trumpeter Swan," by John F. Dobbyn (AHMM, January-February 2004); "Dog on Fire," by Gregory S. Fallis (AHMM, May 2004); and "Tricks" by Steve Hockensmith (AHMM, August 2004)

Lifetime Achievement Award: Sara Paretsky

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

Best Novel: The Killing of the Tinkers, by Ken Bruen (St. Martin's Minotaur)

Also nominated: Cold Case, by Robin Burcell (Avon); Darkly Dreaming Dexter, by Jeff Lindsay (Doubleday); High Country Fall, by Margaret Maron (Mysterious Press); California Girl, by T. Jefferson Parker (HarperCollins); and Playing with Fire, by Peter Robinson (Morrow)

Best First Novel: Dating Dead Men, by Harley Jane Kozak (Doubleday)

Also nominated: Uncommon Grounds, by Sandra Balzo (Five Star); Summer of the Big Bachi, by Naomi Hirahara (Delta); Whiskey Sour, by J.A. Konrath (Hyperion); and Misdemeanor Man, by Dylan Schaffer (Bloomsbury)

Best Non-Fiction: Forensics for Dummies, by D.P. Lyle, MD (Wiley Publishing)

Also nominated: Famous American Crimes and Trials, by Frankie Bailey and Steven Chermak (Praeger Publishers); Just the Facts: True Tales of Cops and Criminals, by Jim Doherty (Deadly Serious Press); The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Short Stories, edited by Leslie S. Klinger (Norton); and Latin American Mystery Writers: An A-to-Z Guide, by Darrell B. Lockhart (Greenwood Press)

Best Short Story: "The Widow of Slane," by Terence Faherty (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine [EQMM], March/April 2004)

Also nominated: "Viscery," by Sandra Balzo (EQMM, December 2004), and "The Lady's Not for Dying," by Alana White (Futures Mystery Anthology Magazine, Winter 2004)

(winners chosen by subscribers to
Deadly Pleasures magazine)

Best Novel: The Enemy, by Lee Child (Delacorte)

Also nominated: Alone at Night, by K.J. Erickson (St. Martin's Minotaur); Darkly Dreaming Dexter, by Jeff Lindsay (Doubleday); Remembering Sarah, by Chris Mooney (Atria); Little Scarlet, by Walter Mosley (Little, Brown); and Hard Revolution, by George Pelecanos (Little, Brown)

Best First Novel: The Shadow of the Wind, by Carlos Ruiz Zafón (Penguin)

Also nominated: Relative Danger, by Charles Benoit (Poisoned Pen Press); Walking Money, by James O. Born (Putnam); The Coroner's Lunch, by Colin Cotterill (Soho Press); Skinny Dipping, by Claire Matturro (Morrow); and Some Danger Involved, by Will Thomas (Touchstone)

Best British Crime Novel: Flesh and Blood, by John Harvey (Heinemann UK)

Also nominated: The Burning Girl, by Mark Billingham (Little, Brown UK); The Dramatist, by Ken Bruen (Brandon UK); Tokyo, by Mo Hayder (Bantam Press UK); The Crime Trade, by Simon Kernick (Bantam Press UK); and First Drop, by Zoë Sharp (Piatkus UK)

Best Paperback Original: Tagged for Murder, by Elaine Flinn (Avon)

Also nominated: The Librarian, by Larry Beinhart (Nation Books); Into the Web, by Thomas H. Cook (Bantam); Last Seen in Aberdeen, by M.G. Kincaid (Pocket); The Confession, by Domenic Stansberry (Hard Case Crime); and Twisted City, by Jason Starr (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard)

Best Thriller: Rain Storm, by Barry Eisler (Putnam)

Also nominated: Scarecrow, by Matthew Reilly (Thomas Dunne/St. Martin's); Bagman, by Jay MacLarty (Pocket Star); Whirlwind, by Joseph Garber (HarperCollins); A Death in Vienna, by Daniel Silva (Putnam); and Paranoia, by Joseph Finder (St. Martin's Minotaur)

Best Short Story: "The War in Wonderland," by Edward D. Hoch (from Green for Danger, edited by Martin Edward; Do-Not Press)

Also nominated: "Cold Comfort," by Catherine Aird (from Chapter and Hearse and Other Mysteries, St. Martin's Minotaur); "Facing Up," by Melodie Johnson Howe (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine [EQMM), July 2004); "Rumpole and the Christmas Break," by John Mortimer (The Strand Magazine, No. XIV); "Murder, the Missing Heir and the Boiled Egg," by Amy Myers (from Criminal Appetites, edited by Jeffrey Marks; Silver Dagger Mysteries); and "Ledgers," by Neil Schofield (EQMM, July 2004)


"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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