New in crime fiction: Cleverly, Estleman, Koryta, Penny
Adam Woog rounds up crime fiction for the dog days of August: Barbara Cleverly's "Not My Blood," Loren Estleman's "Burning Midnight," Michael Koryta's "The Prophet" and Louise Penny's "The Beautiful Mystery."
Special to The Seattle Times
Barbara Cleverly lives up to her surname with her intricate, erudite and witty books about Scotland Yard detective Joe Sandilands, the latest being "Not My Blood" (Soho, 352 pp., $25).
It's 1933, and the cop receives a late-night phone call: Jackie Drummond, the young son of Sandilands' old friends, is in London. He's run away from boarding school, convinced that he accidentally killed a teacher. Protecting Jackie is serious enough; adding to Sandilands' worry is a suspicion that he may be Jackie's father. Subsequently looking into the death of the brutish teacher reveals another blood-related concern: a harrowing plot involving, among other monstrous topics, eugenics.
Cleverly is a terrific plotter, and her prose highlights a keen sense of place, character and dialogue (especially the charged banter between Sandilands and his precocious, rapidly maturing ward, Dorcas Joliffe). Adding to the pleasure are Cleverly's unpretentious references to literary classics. Fans of P.D. James, take note: Here's a worthy colleague.
The mean streets of Detroit are far from Cleverly's relatively genteel setting. "Burning Midnight" (Forge, 285 pp., $24.99) is Loren Estleman's 22nd book about Amos Walker, who strolls those streets and is arguably today's chief preserver of all things hard-boiled.
Walker is a classic gumshoe: a lone wolf with danger for a middle name, a shabby office and plenty of wisecracks, booze and smokes. He's also got the requisite policeman adversary, John Alderdyce, who surprises Walker by soliciting his help.
A member of Alderdyce's extended family, Ernesto Pasada, is caught in the crossfire between rival Latino gangs in Detroit's Mexicantown, and Walker swaggers in to straighten things out. At book's end Walker's old nemesis, a smooth Eurasian criminal named Charlotte Sing, drops in — a shameless lead-up to the next book's plot and clear proof that, lucky us, Walker will return.
Michael Koryta's "The Prophet" (Little, Brown, 432 pp., $25.99) uses a time-honored premise — love and hate between conflicting brothers — to craft an excellent thriller. Or is it the other way around? Either one works.
In their small Ohio town, Adam and Kent Austin are well-known figures. Kent is the success story: coach of the high-school football team, volunteer minister in the local prison. Adam's the slacker, eking out a living as a bail bondsman and occasional P.I. Both are haunted by a tragedy: Years earlier, their teenage sister was kidnapped and murdered, and each of the brothers has always held himself responsible.
Now, a new crime — the murder of another young woman — triggers powerful memories for Adam, who publicly announces his intent to murder the killer in his sister's name. Strong stuff, though I have one caveat: Non-sports fans may want to skim the book's long stretches devoted to play-by-plays of football games.
Could a book by Louise Penny have a better title than "The Beautiful Mystery" (Minotaur, 384 pp., $25.99)?
The title, like Penny's fiction, has multiple layers. First is the crime: the murder of the choir director of a monastery in the deep woods of Quebec. Then there's the joyous but inexplicable emotions the monks' glorious liturgical singing invokes. And there's the disconnect between the monks' vows of silence and their renowned singing. And then, of course, there's the mystery of religion itself.
Penny's longtime protagonist, Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, has to deal with some private struggles of his own as he investigates the murder, far from his home turf. In particular, he's still dealing with the haunting aftermath of a hostage case that went very wrong. For the reader, meanwhile, there's a final beautiful mystery to contemplate: How does Penny consistently write such luminous and compassionate books?
Adam Woog's column on crime and mystery fiction appears on the second Sunday of the month in The Seattle Times.