Whodunit: A gun just waiting to go off
Fuminori Nakamura’s The Gun could very well open with the staccato notes of the theme to Rod Serling’s “The Twilight Zone.” Picture, if you will, a rainy night in Tokyo. A bedraggled walker on an urban river pathway comes upon an inert form on the ground, the head encircled by a pool of congealed blood. A .357 Magnum is found nearby, one spent shell in the chamber. Japan is a remarkably gun-free country, so it’s a heady experience indeed for average guy Nishikawa to be in possession of this deadly weapon—a weapon with (count ’em) four bullets remaining. No matter that he’s begun to have feelings for a beautiful young woman, it’s the gun that occupies virtually all of his waking thoughts. The psychological downward spiral into obsession is what drives this book, and during my reading, I couldn’t help but think that Alfred Hitchcock could have created a brilliant film adaptation.
One of the great setups for a suspense novel is the premise of an off-the-books loner, a modern-day Robin Hood who battles injustice anonymously (or at least with little fanfare), under the radar of the law. John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee is one; Andrew Vachss’ Burke is another; Lee Child’s Jack Reacher is a third. Add to this elite group Evan Smoak, the “Nowhere Man” of Gregg Hurwitz’s new thriller, Orphan X. Trained from childhood as a plausibly deniable intelligence agent, Smoak learned skills that would serve his masters well: espionage, betrayal and assassination. What they didn’t factor into the equation is that Smoak might use these skills to distance himself from the program and disappear like smoke. And that he would reappear as the legendary Nowhere Man, a hired gun that’s extraordinarily difficult to engage, but once engaged, is a worthy adversary to pretty much any opposing team. Smoak’s life is turned upside down when he becomes the prey of an enforcer whose skills are very much on par with his own. Readers can expect nonstop relentless action, très cinématique—speaking of which, it has already been optioned for a film by Warner Bros.
A FAMILY MATTER
The bond between brothers can be one of the most durable on the face of the earth, so it was truly horrific for CIA agent Sam Capra to watch the execution of his brother, Danny, which was captured on video by the terrorists allegedly responsible. As Jeff Abbott’s The First Order opens, half a dozen years have passed since Danny’s untimely death, but the pain is still lodged deep in Capra’s psyche, a thorn that cannot be removed. Capra is an ex-CIA agent now, but old skills die hard, and when he gets some evidence that his brother’s death may have been faked, it’s a straw he will grasp at with every fiber of his being. Trouble is, the same evidence suggests that Danny has gone on to become one of the world’s premier contract killers, and that he’s plotting the murder of the president of Russia. If he’s successful, the repercussions could be global and monumental, so Capra launches a one-man crusade to deter his brother from completing this ill-advised mission. This is a thoroughly riveting addition to one of the most compelling espionage series in modern fiction.
TOP PICK IN MYSTERY
I’ve always admired Håkan Nesser’s suspense series featuring now-retired detective Van Veeteren, in part because the books are reminiscent of Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct novels. Both feature a dry sort of humor that is intelligent and appealing, and they’re both set in fictitious locations (in Nesser’s case, Maardam) that bear a marked resemblance to real-world cities but still allow the authors to tweak the milieu to suit the narrative. Although the setting is somewhere in continental Europe, Nesser’s dialogue is very English in tone (and I mean good English, like Ruth Rendell or Reginald Hill, thanks to the very capable translation work of Laurie Thompson). In Hour of the Wolf, cop-turned-antiquarian-bookseller Van Veeteren’s son has turned up murdered, and he becomes very involved (perhaps too involved) in the investigation. But Van Veeteren is something of a latecomer to this story; the early chapters focus on the cover-up of a vehicular homicide, set against the contrapuntal narrative of the Maardam police department running a murderer to ground. Hour of the Wolf was first published in Swedish in 1999 (as Carambole), and it’s taken far too long to reach our shores (must have gotten lost in the U.S. mail). Like all the Van Veeteren novels, it was worth the wait.