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Whodunit: Skillful red herrings in an English police procedural
Crotchety Detective Superintendent Peter Diamond returns in Peter Lovesey’s clever new mystery, Another One Goes Tonight. Diamond is a bit out of his element in his 16th adventure, plucked from his customary duties to investigate a single-vehicle road accident involving a police car. The driver was killed in the crash, and the second officer was seriously injured. But the team of first responders didn’t notice another victim, an elderly cyclist pitched far off the roadside. The incident threatens to be a PR nightmare for the police department, so Diamond is tasked with damage control. The cyclist turns out to be a member of a loosely knit group of train aficionados, several of whom have recently died under suspicious circumstances. Punctuating the crisp police procedural text are several italicized notes—apparently from a serial killer. But Lovesey is a master of misdirection; just when you think you have it all sussed out, you’ll find yourself back at square one, without so much as a clue.
CLASSIC CAR CRIMES
Martin Walker’s engagingly droll series featuring Bruno, Chief of Police, is a longtime favorite of mine. Fatal Pursuit centers on shenanigans involving an iconic Bugatti automobile that went missing during World War II and could fetch tens of millions of dollars at auction. Recently, documents have been unearthed that suggest that the car may be secreted away somewhere near Bruno’s hometown of St. Denis, France. The timing could scarcely be better, for St. Denis is hosting its first-ever car rally, and the streets are filled with classic Jaguars, Citroëns, hot-rodded Volkswagens and, of course, Bruno’s well-used 1954 Land Rover. But when there are avaricious car collectors at hand and a multimillion-dollar car is their potential holy grail, it should come as no surprise that someone is willing to stoop to murder to secure the prize. Readers can expect great plot and great milieu, but the icing on the gâteau is Bruno himself. Of all the cops in all the cop books I’ve read, he is the one whose home I would like to visit, to partake in one of his delicious-sounding meals and perhaps a bottle of Bergerac red.
READY FOR TAKEOFF
Shane Kuhn’s standalone novel The Asset poses the compelling question of how far one will go in the service of one’s country, especially in times of national emergency, heavy secrecy and plausible deniability. The man named Kennedy suffers from what he calls “terminal illness,” a product of the endless succession of airports he visits in his consultancy work as a security expert for the TSA. And expert he is, having been well trained by the Israelis, who have thwarted every single potential incident of terrorism aboard a flight out of Israel. Kennedy strives to achieve that standard in the United States. But lately there have been disturbing rumblings about large-scale munitions purchases in the lax-law countries that were once part of the Soviet Union. The rumors swirl around an opportunistic suspect who goes by the name of Lentz. Kennedy is drafted as the somewhat reluctant team leader of a group of exceptionally talented misfits, including a hacker or two, several mercenaries and a pop singer who displays a remarkable natural proficiency at espionage. Together they must bring down Lentz before Lentz brings down the country. My suggestion: Don’t read this timely, edge-of-the-seat thriller on an airplane.
TOP PICK IN MYSTERY
James Sallis’ atmospheric and disturbing Willnot isn’t exactly a mystery of the “crime-investigation-resolution” type. It is rather more like real life, with some motivations left ambiguous and some loose ends never to be tied up. And it is all the more compelling for that. To describe the book with any adherence to the plot is to leave the reader of the review somewhat puzzled. There is a small-town doctor who is part Atticus Finch, part Truman Capote, a kindly but pragmatic observer of the human condition from the perspective of a gay man in the rural South. There is a clearing in the forest, containing the bones of a number of people who may or may not have been murdered. There is a furtive paramilitary fellow who displays a propensity for getting himself and those around him in the line of fire, in the literal sense. And there is a backstory that involves 1950s sci-fi writers, both famous and obscure. Some books are character driven; others are plot driven. Willnot is prose-driven—a rarity, and a most welcome one.