Whodunit: Two agents race against time to foil the Führer
Today is British diplomat Hugh Legat’s anniversary, but it’s not exactly a festive one. As Robert Harris’ latest thriller, Munich, opens, the year is 1938; the world hovers on the brink of war as Hitler’s army mobilizes at the Czechoslovakian border. Legat’s wife meets him for lunch in London directly after her appointment to have their kids fitted for gas masks. Their celebratory lunch is quickly interrupted by a summons to 10 Downing Street, where a decision will be made with regard to declaring war against Germany. Meanwhile, in Berlin, German diplomat Paul Hartmann stands knee-deep in a plot to halt Hitler. Legat and Hartmann were university pals, and now they will find themselves standing between Hitler and a New World Order. Harris has built a career upon painstakingly researched what-if stories centered on World War II, and with Munich, he weaves fiction into the fabric of history without even the tiniest hint of a seam. This is a fine addition to a fine writer’s oeuvre.
DOUBLE THE TROUBLE
Two rival storylines vie for the reader’s attention in Andrew Grant’s third Cooper Devereaux novel, False Witness. The first thread involves a series of killings, each victim being a young woman on her 21st birthday, with the added commonality of each having given up a child for adoption. The second, of a rather more personal nature, is the deathbed offer of an extortionist who claims to have evidence exonerating Alabama police detective Devereaux’s disgraced father. The serial killer storyline is a race against the clock, as the killer seems to be ramping up both in body count and in the time between killings. There is a bit of backstory necessary to the narrative, as False Witness is the third installment in the series, but Grant offers up enough detail to propel the story forward while still leaving some surprises for those who read the earlier books. And, in the fashion of the best mysteries, just when you think you have arrived at the denouement, Grant hits you with one last twist to take you to a place you had no expectation of visiting.
Christopher J. Yates sets the tone in the first few pages of his latest thriller, Grist Mill Road, chronicling a shooting that virtually defines the term “senseless crime.” The year is 1982. Three kids—one shooter (Matthew), one victim (Hannah) and one witness (Patrick)—were all the tender age of 12 when Matthew fired 49 shots. The fact that the pellets were BBs was the only thing that saved Hannah’s life. Fast-forward 26 years. All three live in New York City, and Hannah and Patrick are married to one another. A high-tension chance encounter all these years later is about to prove life altering. You’d think that it would be pretty cut and dried—that your sympathies would lie with the victim, that you would feel abhorrence for the shooter and perhaps something between those two poles regarding the mute witness. But the reality is somewhat more complex than that, as the reader discovers again and again that a person is not defined by the worst thing he has ever done.
TOP PICK IN MYSTERY
To read a Dave Robicheaux novel is to get the distinct sense that author James Lee Burke has personal experience with every feeling or characteristic portrayed on the pages therein, be they heartwarming or excruciating: an alcoholic’s demon-plagued life; the love and loss of a good woman; friendships that transcend conventional explanation; and a strong, if not always accurate, moral compass. This time out, in the 21st installment of the series, titled simply Robicheaux, the embattled (and “embottled”) detective must come to terms with the distinct possibility that he is responsible for the very murder he is investigating. Conflict of interest, you say? Not so much in rural Louisiana, where corruption is the blue-plate special of the day, and it’s served up with hefty side orders of racism, ignorance and crippling poverty. Burke paints conflicting pictures of his beloved adopted state, sometimes as a romantic, Maxfield Parrish-esque, Spanish moss-covered utopia awash in shades of cobalt and amber. Other times it’s a stark, black-and-white expressionist woodcut laden with social disarray. And in doing so, he completely rises above the genre for which he is best known. That Burke can convey all of this and still craft a hell of a mystery driven in equal parts by character, plot, history and milieu is nothing short of incredible.