Once I d been a good detective in Kripo, but that was a while ago, before the criminals wore smart gray uniforms and nearly everyone locked up was innocent. Read more...
Once I d been a good detective in Kripo, but that was a while ago, before the criminals wore smart gray uniforms and nearly everyone locked up was innocent. Being a Berlin cop in 1942 was a little like putting down mousetraps in a cage full of tigers.
The war is over. Bernie Gunther, our sardonic former Berlin homicide detective and unwilling SS officer, is now living on the French Riviera. It is 1956 and Bernie is the go-to guy at the Grand-Hotel du Cap-Ferrat, the man you turn to for touring tips or if you need a fourth for bridge. As it happens, a local writer needs just that, someone to fill the fourth seat in a regular game that is the usual evening diversion at the Villa Mauresque. Not just any writer. Perhaps the richest and most famous living writer in the world: W. Somerset Maugham. And it turns out it is not just a bridge partner that he needs; it s some professional advice. Maugham is being blackmailed perhaps because of his unorthodox lifestyle. Or perhaps because of something in his past, because once upon a time, Maugham worked for the British secret service, and the people now blackmailing him are spies.
As Gunther fans know, all roads lead back to the viper s nest that was Hitler s Third Reich and to the killing fields that spread like a disease across Europe. Even in 1956, peace has not come to the continent: now the Soviets have the H-bomb and spies from every major power feel free to make all of Europe their personal playground."
Whodunit: Tough luck for our favorite Los Angeles burglar
There was a time when I thought that Lawrence Block’s character Bernie Rhodenbarr (The Burglar Who . . .) was the definitive fictional housebreaker, but that title has been surrendered by unanimous decision (mine) to Timothy Hallinan’s cat burglar extraordinaire, Junior Bender. Contract burglaries are fraught with the possibility of unanticipated eventualities, and in his latest adventure, King Maybe, Junior has a bad feeling from the get-go. It’s strange that he doesn’t have to steal anything; he simply has to break into the office of a despised Hollywood big shot, open a file cabinet and read the contents of a file. But as he soon discovers, “simply” is anything but the correct adverb in this case. What starts out as a bit of Tinseltown sleuthing quickly ramps up to cold-blooded murder, and guess who’s the intended fall guy? Hallinan is an engaging writer, well versed in the history and folklore of Los Angeles, and is insightfully wry and wickedly funny. And really, who else could insert a vignette about Japanese wasabi-flavored Kit Kat bars into a Hollywood noir mystery? You’ve got to love that.
ENJOY THE RIDE
Adrenaline junkies need look no further than Matthew Quirk’s Cold Barrel Zero for their next fix. The action is relentless and exceptionally inventive. One small example: A chase scene features a getaway vehicle that is, of all things, a FedEx truck. This might not seem like the vehicle of choice for eluding police, but the cops’ complacency quickly changes to dismay when said getaway truck turns into the FedEx Distribution Center at shift-change time, becoming immediately camouflaged amid the identical trucks heading out in every direction. The driver of the FedEx truck is John Hayes, onetime Army Special Forces hero, now in disgrace and sought by the government. His companion is Thomas Byrne, once an Army combat medic, now an itinerant surgeon, trying with limited success to keep his mind from drifting back to the battlefield. Once upon a time, the two served together and trusted one another implicitly; now the status of their relationship is anyone’s guess, with the possibility of deadly betrayal lurking around every corner. This is a must-read for fans of Jason Bourne or Jack Reacher.
BERNIE OFF DUTY
Philip Kerr fans have followed the adventures of Berlin cop Bernie Gunther through World War II and the postwar reconstruction. Now, as The Other Side of Silence opens, it’s 1956, and Gunther has put his former life behind him. He no longer lives in Germany, but rather on the French Riviera. His marriage is finished, and he’s working as a concierge at a high-class resort hotel. But things take a turn for the dramatic when Gunther is summoned to the home of writer W. Somerset Maugham, first for bridge, then as a go-between to handle the delicate matter of blackmail payment, hush money to prevent the photos of Maugham’s gay lifestyle from becoming tabloid fodder. And there are darker forces at work as well: Maugham was a British spy (in the novel and in real life) and once had as house guests Anthony Blunt and Guy Burgess, both later identified as Soviet spies. If this were to come out, governments could topple. It’s always a great pleasure to watch Kerr deftly weave fact and fiction, history and mystery, in one of the finest modern suspense series.
TOP PICK IN MYSTERY
Bill Beverly’s Dodgers will be one of the most talked-about debut novels of the year. Think Attica Locke’s Black Water Rising or Dennis Lehane’s A Drink Before the War—it’s that good. Fifteen-year-old East is an unassuming sort of kid for a gangbanger. He has never met his father, but he works for his father’s brother, a well-connected drug dealer. East’s job is to monitor the comings and goings at a Los Angeles crack house, a kind of early warning system to keep dealers and users safe from the authorities. But somehow the cops skirt East’s defenses, and in the ensuing gun battle, a young girl is caught in the crossfire. East knows he has to face the music for this, but he’s surprised to be chosen as part of a four-man hit squad, sent halfway across the country to eliminate a witness who can testify against one of the gang members. This takes East well out of his comfort zone, as he has never before left LA, and he’ll learn some unexpected truths about himself, his companions and the road. This unpretentious literary crime novel will upend your notions of the sort of character with whom you might empathize.