Tuesday, September 30, 2008

New this week

This week has a lot to offer mystery readers. Whether it's Deep South gentry, historical fiction or modern-day espionage, there's plenty of great reading in store.


The Dra
ining Lake by Arnuldur Indridason (Minatour, $24.95) When the water level of an Icelandic lake suddenly falls following an earthquake to reveal a skeleton half-buried in its sandy bed, Inspector Erlendur, Elinborg, and Sigurdur Oli look into the long-unsolved disappearance of a young, left-wing student during the Cold War.

The Tale of Briar Bank by Susan Wittig Albert (Berkley, $23.95) Beatrix Potter looks into the death of Mr. Wickstead who had recently discovered a treasure.

A Spoon
ful of Poison: An Agatha Raisin Mystery by M.C. Beaton (Minatour, $24.95) When poisoned jam shows up at a church festival booth, Agatha Raisin finds herself looking into murder.

The Catch b
y Archer Mayor (Minatour, $24.95) When a state trooper is killed during a routine traffic stop, Joe Gunther follows the trail of clues to a drug smuggling ring out of Canada.

Hell Bent by William Tapply (Minatour, $24.95) Attorney Brady Coyne takes on the case of a war vet after a woman from his past asks for help.

Coyote's Wife by Aimee and David Thurlo (Tor, $24.95) Ella Clah investigates an attack on a powerful Navajo politician's son.

Too Clo
se To Home by Linwood Barclay (Bantam Dell, $22.00) Derek Cutter suddenly becomes the prime suspect in a small-town murder case.

Hounded to Death by Rita Mae Brown (Ballantine, $25.00) Sister Jane Arnold, Master of Foxhounds, finds herself caught up in a mystery involving the theft of a valuable hound and the disappearance of a wealthy pet food manufacturer.

The Whiskey Rebels by David Liss (Random, $26.00) A former spy for Washington during the Revolution follows a murder trail that leads to Alexander Hamilton and to rebellious whiskey-makers opposed to a tax on their products.

Oct. 1
Given Day
by Dennis Lehane (William Morrow, $27.95) A 1919 Boston Police strike sets the stage for an epic tale of a family whose lives mirror the political unrest of an America.

Hardly Knew Her by Laura Lippman (William Morrow, $23.95) Baltimore private investigator Tess Monaghan returns in this compendium of the short stories.

Friday, September 26, 2008

O, you beautiful doll

Declan Burke's The Big O (Harcourt, $24.00) is a noir hybrid of murder and merriment.

Burke handles a wide cast of characters including: a doctor's receptionist who picks up extra money through blackmail and the occasional convenience store robbery; a house painter whose main source of income is kidnapper for hire; a disgraced plastic surgeon with an ill-conceived scheme to make some quick money; and a bubbleheaded ex-con with violence on his mind. Oh, and did I mention the one-eyed dog?

The book hits the ground running as if Quentin Tarantino and Buster Keaton had a love child who could write. Burke (who's previous Eight-Ball Boogie is available only in an imported edition) has a fine ear for dialogue and a great sense for plotting. Peopled by second-rate criminals plotting third-rate schemes, it's inevitable that the worst-laid plans of these men fall apart with everyone converging for a bloodspattered finale ... and even that's amusing.

There have been few novelists who could plot tightly, create well-developed characters and write laugh-out-loud dialogue -- Burke is a welcome new addition.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Lightning strikes

This has been a good year for narrative histories. In April we got Kate Summerscale's The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective (a case that inspired the birth of detective fiction) and in May came Paula Uruburu's American Eve: Evelyn Nesbit, Stanford White, the Birth of the "It" Girl, and the Crime of the Century (which undertook to look at Nesbit's life, loves and the murder of architect Sanford White).

For those with a penchant of reading crime and history (a la Devil in the White City) comes a new entrant: American Lightning: Terror, Mystery, Movie-making, and the Crime of the Century by Howard Blum (Crown Forum, $24.95). Yes, C
rime of the Century appears in this title also; since the Sanford White case was in 1906, it was the first Crime of the Century, but the century was very, very young.

In American
Lightning, Pulitzer Prize-winner Blum brings together numerous threads to weave a tapestry of America in the first decade of the 20th Century. In October of 1910, an explosion ripped through the offices of the Los Angeles Times, killing 23 workers. It was the culmination in a series of attacks that gripped the nation. This was a time of bomb-throwing anarchist, and war between labor and management. Detective William J. Burns, dubbed the "American Sherlock Holmes" by the Times of London, is brought in from Chicago to investigate. Was it union assassins or management goons who blew the building up? Before CSI, how did a detective work such a huge case? Burns' doggedness uncovers a nest of villains, but his success seems short lived as land swindlers, a mayoral election and the American labor movement muddy the waters.

Into this melting pot of players come filmmaker D.W. Griffith and attorney Clarence Darrow. Blum interlaces their lives through the investigation and trial, chronicling Griffith's rise, Darrow's fall and the birth of public relations.

American Lightning is a fascinating exploration of the birth of 20th century America, and it will be a welcome addition to any non-fiction lover's bookshelf.