When a mystery author has a backlist, there are expectations that the new work will be both different and the same. Surprises are good, as long as they fit within genre boundaries and reader tolerances. In his 14th book, Since We Fell, Dennis Lehane asks us to trust him. A lot. But Lehane knows what he’s doing.
Rachel Childs is as damaged as any good noir protagonist should be, having been raised by a self-centered celebrity mother who refuses to divulge the identity of Rachel’s absent father. Rachel becomes a television journalist, marries a producer and has a breakdown on air. She loses her job and her status-seeking husband, only to replace them with agoraphobia and panic attacks. When she runs into Brian, the investigator who helped her find her father, he is patient, kind, nurturing — everything she needs to heal. They marry and all goes well. Until, of course, it doesn’t.
Plot twists and blind curves in the second half pile up as the cinematic and pulpy pages fly by. The thriller lover will throw hands in the air, shouting, “Finally,” while the character-study reader, white knuckled, will wonder what just happened. For those who need it all one way or the other, I recommend finding another book. For open-minded others, enjoy the ride.
If prodigiously talented Anthony Horowitz served up another “Foyle’s War” or “Midsomer Murders,” or wrote another Alex Rider series for young adults, no one would be surprised. His latest effort, however, presents as something else entirely. Magpie Murders is a full-length murder mystery, a gift for lovers of golden age classic crime (think Agatha Christie). Make that a pair of wrapped and beribboned delights. Horowitz nests two interlinked whodunits, one in a 1950 English village and the other in contemporary London. Lucky for his readers, no one told him either one would have been enough.
Susan Ryeland is the editor for Alan Conway, a successful, disliked writer who commits suicide just as he finishes his latest effort for financially floundering
Cloverleaf Books. When the last three chapters go missing, Susan is convinced it’s murder. As she reads the latest exploits of investigator Atticus Pund, she discovers that there are disturbing connections between this work of fiction and the fact of her dead author.
Requisite detectives, sidekicks, busybodies, vicars and aristocrats perambulate the countryside. Puzzles, tricks, anagrams and allusions propel the plots. With enough dead bodies, red herrings and clues to fill two books, some readers may find too many players to keep straight. Make a list of the two sets of dramatis personae. The payoff is a surfeit of reading pleasure.
Don Winslow fans assume precision and performance from their man. As many times as he has delivered the goods, his 20th book, The Force, is still a sneak punch to the gut. It’s a story that reads like an exposé (think “Serpico”) with details so authentic and disturbing, expect to question his definition of fact versus fiction.
Detective First Grade Dennis John Malone of the NYPD heads Da Force, an elite group of cops as dirty as the gangsters, drug dealers, gang bangers and madams they hunt. Throughout, the dialogue is fast, sharp and clever. After a failed marriage Malone falls for a “heart-cracking, blood-heating, eye-popping beautiful” heroin addict. When he assassinates a drug lord and helps himself and his brethren to some of the proceeds, the story takes off like a pit bull on speed through the streets of New York City. Stephen King called this book similar to “The Godfather” but “with cops.” With cred like this, the forthcoming movie practically casts itself.
Amidst the raunchy fun lie two problems: A reader could legitimately be put off by the raw, racist rhetoric that seasons much of the dialogue; and then there’s the fact that although this is a corrupt cop, he is also a sympathetic character. What does this say about us? Reader discomfort notwithstanding, Winslow has created a morally complex fictional world too vital to stay on the page.
Shirley Fergenson is a mystery lover and a bookseller at The Ivy Bookshop.