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Whodunit: To the depths of a parent's worst nightmare
Bryan Reardon’s fiction debut, Finding Jake, pushes all the right buttons: a timely, ripped-from-the-headlines premise; grab-you-by-the-collar pacing; and a cast of troubled, finely drawn and sympathetic characters. We have all watched raw news footage of horrifying events like this too many times in recent years: a mass murder at a Pennsylvania high school, with one alleged gunman dead by his own hand and the other, Jake Connolly, missing. Stay-at-home dad Simon Connolly cannot believe his son capable of the acts attributed to him by the media and the parents of the slain students, but the evidence is damning: Jake’s “loner” demeanor; violent texts found in his cell phone archive; and worst of all, his blood spatter found at the scene of the carnage. The police appear not the slightest bit interested in finding a “missing teenager”—they want to “apprehend the suspect”—so Simon launches his own search for Jake, hoping against hope that his knowledge of his son will lead him to the boy before the police can run him to ground. Simon recounts this story in the first person, cutting from Jake’s infancy to the modern day, ratcheting up the tension with each successive chapter. This is an uncommon retelling of an all-too-common contemporary American story.
GRAB A QUICK BITE
The year 1950 marked the release of a film noir classic, D.O.A., the strange tale told in flashback of a man investigating his own soon-to-be-fatal poisoning by a “luminous toxin” for which there is no antidote. Olen Steinhauer’s modern-day espionage novel, All the Old Knives, offers an equally noir story set almost entirely at a trendy bistro in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, where two ex-spies/ex-lovers play a lethal game of cat-and-mouse over hors d’oeuvres and Chardonnay. At issue is the botched handling of an airliner hijacking six years before—and a few loose ends that could expose the truth behind the narrative that has been tacitly accepted over the years. At least one of the dining pair has some guilty knowledge—perhaps complicity—of the fallout of the hijacking, which resulted in the deaths of 120-odd passengers and crewmembers. Steinhauer displays an affinity for espionage, closed-room suspense and plot twists, placing him definitively in the first rank of modern mystery writers.
WALK THE LINE
The latest installment of James Carlos Blake’s acclaimed Wolfe Family saga, The House of Wolfe, finds narrator Rudy Wolfe and several members of his outlaw family headed south of the border to rescue a kidnapped cousin, held for ransom along with 10 members of a Mexican high-society wedding party. There are no “good guys” here, although there are some that the reader will root for over others. The bad guys, on the other hand, are truly bad, including an unscrupulous financier with his hand in every illegal pie to be found in Mexico City, and a truly poisonous interrogator whose fiendish imagination is matched only by his sociopathic tendencies (this fellow, it should be mentioned, is in the employ of the protagonists). Blake’s literary suspense novels are firmly rooted in the hard-edged, morally ambiguous tradition established by Elmore Leonard, James Crumley and James Ellroy. Fast-paced, atmospheric, violent and relentlessly cinematic, The House of Wolfe is not to be missed.
TOP PICK IN MYSTERY
A handful of contemporary espionage writers can be counted on to deliver complex and unerringly atmospheric historical suspense novels each time they put pen to paper. Philip Kerr, David Downing and Alan Furst jump to mind, but no such list would be complete without Joseph Kanon, whose Leaving Berlin weaves together a pair of seemingly unconnected but pivotal events of the early post-WWII era: the Berlin airlift of 1948-1949 and the Communist witch hunts of the McCarthy era. The glue that binds these events is Jewish writer Alex Meier, who escaped from the Nazis to find asylum in the U.S., only to have the rug pulled out from under him thanks to his Communist leanings in his youth. He manages to broker an eleventh-hour deal to go back to his native Berlin in the employ of the U.S. intelligence service. If he is successful in his espionage efforts, his past will be conveniently expunged, and he will be allowed to remain in the States. As you might imagine with a first-rate spy novel, that will turn out to be a big if, and there is a fair bit of double-crossing (with the inevitable bloodshed in its wake). Interestingly, Kanon introduces real-life characters in the book, such as poet/playwright Bertolt “Bert” Brecht, although Kanon offers the disclaimer that these characters “appear only as I imagine them to have been.” If one were to ask fans today which book Kanon is best known for, the answer would have to be 2001’s The Good German. Pose that same question a year from now, and the answer will be Leaving Berlin.