Wednesday, August 27, 2008

This novel sounds super

An unexpected meeting with his long-lost father thrusts Cal Harper into a high-stakes pursuit of an enigmatic weapon linked to a pair of murders--the killing of Cain in the Bible, and the murder that inspired the creation of the comic-book hero Superman. Say what?!

That, at any rate, is a quick summary of The Book of Lies, Brad Meltzer's lastest piece of suspense fiction. It's Meltzer's seventh piece of suspense fiction, in addition to writing for comic books Justice League of America and Green Arrow. Meltzer's earlier book, The Book of Fate, explored a modern-day conspiracy and a secret code devised by Thomas Jefferson. So if anyone is going to combine an historic artifact with the Man of Steel, Meltzer's the man. Think pitch meeting: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay meets The Da Vinci Code. Now you've got the idea.

A story that appeared recently in USA Today gives some historical background to both the book and the creation of Superman (see link below). For those of us who grew up with Supe and also embraced the book Men of Tomorrow, The Book of Lies looks like a great read.

For more information, go to:

For background, go to:

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

On the shelves

Another Tuesday, another day of top-notch releases:

Silks by Dick Francis and Felix Francis (Putnam, $25.95)
Barrister Geoffrey Mason finds himself caught in the middle of a sinister web of intimidation and danger when he reluctantly becomes involved in the case of jockey accused of killing a fellow steeplechase rider.

Fade Away by Harlan Coben (Dell, $22.00)
After the star player for the New Jersey Dragons disappears without a trace, sports agent Myron Bolitar takes the undercover assignment of his dreams--a position on the team.

The Laughter of Dead Kings by Elizabeth Peters (William Morrow & Co., $25.95)
Irrepressible art historian Vicky Bliss finds her setting off on a wild chase to clear the name of her boyfriend, in this final appearance in the series.

Devil Bones by Kathy Reichs (Scribner, $25.95)
When a plumber discovers the remains of a murdered girl and various dark religious objects in the cellar of a client's house, Temperance Brennan is called in to investigate the case and finds her efforts challenged by vigilante upheavals against Wiccans and occultists.

Also, today in paperback:
Stone Cold by David Baldacci (Vision, 9.99)
Oliver Stone and his colleagues at the Camel Club find their efforts to protect a con artist from vengeful casino king Jerry Bagger challenged by a ruthless killer who targets Stone by threatening to reveal his mysterious past.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Ripley's game. Are you?

Thomas Phelps Ripley's amoral life began in 1955 when Patricia Highsmith's The Talented Mr. Ripley first hit bookselves. Orphaned and raised by an abusive aunt, Tom developed a set of skills -- forgery, lying, impersonation -- that would set him off onto a successful life of crime, including identity theft, art forgery and murder. Such a sweet boy.

Highsmith followed her bad boy for 36 years, chronicling his dastardly doings and double dealings through a series of four additional books: Ripley Underground, Ripley's Game, The Boy Who Followed Ripley and Ripley Under Water.

In October, W.W. Norton will reissue the quintet in a hardcover boxed set selling for $100. With the paperbacks selling at $13.95 (and just try finding a copy of The Boy Who Followed Ripley at your local big box bookstore), this set will be a welcome additon to lovers of Highsmith's little monster.

Friday, August 22, 2008

A couple of Hitches

Donald Spoto, the author of Enchantment: The Life of Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe and The Dark Side of Genius (among other biographies), mines the Hitchcock golden girls in Spellbound by Beauty: Alfred Hitchcock and His Leading Ladies. This is Spoto's third crack at the legendary director, with the latest volume looking at Hitchcock's life and work through his relationships with the actresses in his films (Ingrid Bergman, Grace Kelly, Kim Novak, Tippi Hedren, et al). It's yet another dissection of his films, his fame, his legacy, his unconventional marriage and his obsessions. If they ever decide to put Spoto's Hitchcock trilogy in a box set, I hope the box is coffin shaped. Hitch would have liked that. Spellbound by Beauty (Harmony Books, $25.95) goes on sale Nov. 11.

Interestingly, Hitchcock: The First Three Minutes by Rembert Huser takes a look at Hitchcock's films through their opening title sequences. Huser discusses how a variety of visual and acoustic experimental techniques set the tone for Hitchcock's Hollywood classic films.What! No obsession with blonde hair or fear of policemen!? What's film study coming too? Published by European Humanities Research Centre at an import prices of $69, it arrives in select stores Nov. 30.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Before Sherlock

One of the books I've never been able to suss out is Leaves from the Note-Book of a New York Detective. Published in 1865 by Dick & Fitzgerald, it's a collection of stories told to John Babbinton Williams by a retired New York detective named James Brampton.

We all know that Sherlock Holmes was the original analytical detective whose observations of small details proved him to be the master detective, but works like 1864's Experiences of a French Detective and The Autobiography of a London Detective certainly filled the gap between Poe and Conan Doyle, between sensational and analytical.

Now comes word that Leaves from the Note-Book of a New York Detective will be republished this October by Westholme Publishing in a paperback edition at $14.95. Told in the first person and transcribed from Brampton's diary by John B. Williams (a doctor, we must note), it lays out 29 cases in which Brampton's powers of observation proved indispensable. Some of his methods and observations are echoed in the Holmes canon.

But unlike Holmes,Brampton's cases are mere fiction, but it should be interesting to read them in the strong historical light that shines from Sherlock Holmes.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Judy, Judy, Judy

Back in 1930, Nancy Drew hit the scene and the girl detective was born. While she aged only two years in the course of a decade, and lived with her father and a servant, she had plenty of time in her post-high school days to volunteer, or engage in the arts while sniffing out criminals in River Heights. She was a girl's girl, living well and living positively in Depression Era America.

She was followed in 1932 by Judy Bolton, a more realistic young woman who matured over the life of the series. The first book, The Vanishing Shadow, was based on the author's experiences during the Austin (PA) flood of 1911. Judy's life is full with a brother, two parents and two serious suitors, and she eventually marries in book 10, The Riddle of the Double Ring. And unlike Nancy, Judy was written from start to finish by her creator, Margaret Sutton.

Now Applewood Books, which resurrected the old Nancy Drews, has begun to republish the Judy Bolton series, complete with original cover art and illustrations by Pelagie Doane.

While the first 20 are now available in paperback at $14.95, you also may find some stores carrying the Judy Bolton Set (five hardcovers at $60). If you've done the math, the set of five hardcovers saves you $15 over the price of the first five paperbacks.

It doesn't take an amateur detective to figure that one out.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Comic valentine

I don't read graphic novels.

Well, that's a bit of a stretch. I don't read many graphic novels. Once I get past Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman, very little of it interests me, although I'm open to discovery.

While graphic novels are just that -- novel length and graphic (in all senses), I grew up on short-form comic book stories (and wish I had kept some of those old ones, like Fantastic Four No.1 and Hulk No.1 (he wasn't even green back then!) and Green Lantern No.1. I could retire on the comic books that got thrown away).

But I especially liked the detective comics: Secret Agent X-9, The Spirit and others collected by an older cousin who kept his black-and-white treasures stashed away in a tall cardboard barrel inside the kneehole of an old desk. We'd pull the barrel out, pop open the top and and spend hours poring over them, marveling at a heroic close call or checking out the gams on some sweet dame (preposterously pretentious at a very young age) and enjoying the mayhem that ensued.

So I was very happy to see The Mammoth Book of Best Crime Comics (Running Press, $17.95), a collection of noir comics that spans the genre from the early 1930s to the present time. Here is a Dashiell Hammett-written Secret Agent X-9 adventure and Will Eisner's Spirit, along side Ms.Tree, Mike Hammer and drawn by a stable of artists from Jack Kirby to Paul Grist.

This is a great collection brimming with dames, deception and dark alley doings. And as in life, even noir heroes can encounter a grisly end.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Good week for mystery and suspense

We may be in the dog days of August but the mix of today's new releases is far from being a dog's breakfast. It's more of a potpourri of intrigue.
Here (in no particular order) are the titles:

Rough Justice by Jack Higgins

Agent Blake Johnson joins forces with British operative Harry Miller to stop a Russian officer in the act of torching a mosque

First Daughter by Eric Van Lustbader
ATF agent Jack McClure attempts to rescue the kidnapped daughter of the newly elected president.

The Hanged Man, a Tarot Card Mystery by David Skibbins
A paraplegic hacker and a tarot card reader go undercover to help a dominatrix wrongly accused of murder.

Paint the Town Dead by Nancy Bell
A real estate mogul is killed and sends a Texas county judge on a quest for the killer.

Deception's Daughter by Cordelia Frances Biddle

The disappearance of the heiress sends Martha Beale on a search for answersin 19th-century Philadelphia society. By the author of The Conjurer.

The Highly Effective Detective Goes to the Dogs by Richard Yancey

Teddy Ruzak discovers the body of a man whom he had befriended the day before and launches a personal investigation when the police dismiss his suspicions of foul play.

Deadly Beautiful by Sam Baker
Reporter Annie Anderson is back in the world of investigative journalism when she sets out to uncover the link between a missing supermodel and a vicious serial killer.

A Mortal Curiosity by Ann Granger
Lizzie Martin goes on the hunt for a missing child with the help of Scotland Yard detective Benjamin Ross.

Yellow Moon by Jewell Parker
RhodesVoodoo, vampires and more haunt this second installment of a trilogy that began with Voodoo Season