The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin, by Josh Berk, introduces overweight, snarky, and profoundly deaf Will Halpin. He’s left the safety of the “deaf school” for Carbon High School, and he’s ready to take on anything using his lip-reading skills and texting to communicate with the hearing world. It’s not easy, and it gets worse when Will and his only friend, class nerd Devon Smiley, are involved in what may or may not be an accidental death during a class field trip to a local abandoned coal mine. Was the popular, if caddish, football star pushed to his death? Suspects include an overly friendly teacher, a loutish school bus driver, and even the boy’s father’s political enemies. Research reveals new possibilities in an old local mystery, and Will solves both cases, and discovers not only a murderer but some family connections he never knew he had. A very different detective, and a look at a “hidden” disability.
In The Morgue and Me, by John C. Ford, Christopher Newell takes on what is supposed to be a menial position in the town morgue as a summer job before starting college. He finds himself hip-deep in small-town scandal when he realizes that his boss has blatantly lied on a death certificate. There’s a dead man in the morgue with bullet holes in his chest and no one except Christopher seems to care about how he got them.
Christopher enlists the help of a hot-looking, tough-talking reporter, a stoner buddy, and several of his classmates to solve this mystery. Along the way he discovers that the world of the private detective holds many perils that television shows and movies prefer to ignore. The language of these teens is rough, but that’s the way it is, even in a small-town morgue!
Members of the International Thriller Writers cover key titles in their genre. Thriller is a notoriously flexible (and expandable) term, but Allison Brennan’s compact list of characteristics (“high stakes, something personal at risk, and strong pacing”) will do. Subjects range chronologically from Lee Child on Theseus and the Minotaur (1500 B.C.) to Steve Berry’s celebration of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code (2003), the single exception to the 2000 cutoff date. Each essay includes a summary and appreciation of the book discussed, usually with a biography of the author. Among the contributors are major names in the field, and books covered include classics by Homer, Shakespeare, Defoe, and Dumas; early science fiction by Poe, Verne, and Wells; and horror landmarks like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
Well represented are inevitable names like John Buchan, E. Phillips Oppenheim, W. Somerset Maugham, Eric Ambler, Geoffrey Household, and Graham Greene; and less expected mystery crossovers like Agatha Christie and Mickey Spillane. Writing on Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles, Laura Benedict harmonizes thriller and detection, while Kathleen Sharp on a surprising cinematic inclusion, King Kong, resuscitates Edgar Wallace’s claim to its authorship. The last third or so of the list concentrates on living contemporaries, including John le Carré, Len Deighton, Joseph Wambaugh, Clive Cussler, Ken Follett, Thomas Harris, Tom Clancy, Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and Peter Straub; and recently deceased writers like Ross Thomas, Michael Crichton, John D. MacDonald, and Robert Ludlum. Appearing both as authors and subjects of essays are Lee Child, Katherine Neville, Justin Scott, editor Morrell, Gayle Lynds, David Baldacci, Jeffery Deaver, Sandra Brown, James Grady, and John Lescroart.
The selections and the essays are generally excellent, making the book a fine introduction to the range of thrillers. Quibbles over inclusions are inevitable. I was disappointed not to see Manning Coles, Donald Hamilton, Victor Canning, or Charlotte Armstrong. Scott Turow would have been a better choice to represent the legal thriller than John Grisham, who like Spillane is more a commercial phenomenon than an artistic trailblazer. In the “What About Murder?” test kitchens, I tried a couple of the hundred I’d previously missed. Nelson DeMille’s The Charm School (1988) is intelligent and absorbing, a true genre classic, and I’m grateful for the tip; but I can’t imagine why a novel as derivative and definitively dreadful as James Patterson’s Along Came a Spider (1992) was included.
“I am basically a mystery reader but I do read some fantasy such as books from Mercedes Lackey, Barbara Hambly and Jim Butcher. When I read the synopsis for Rosemary and Rue, the first October Daye novel from Seanan McGuire, I thought here’s another one that will pretend to be a mystery but is really an "urban fantasy." Then I started the book. It was a true PI novel, but with mythological references and a storyline that called to my imagination. I was thrilled there was a second book available—A Local Habitation. That one is even better. These are books I can read again and maybe even again to get all of the twists and turns and snappy dialogue."
“I would like to recommend Let The Dead Lie by Malla Nunn (With Malla towards Nunn?). Set in South Africa, this second in a series is very good at presenting life before segregation ended there. A bit brutal in spots, but well worth your time.”
Carol Goodman’s Arcadia Falls: “The absolutely perfect gothic mystery.”
Anything by Erin Hart. “She writes about the bog people in Ireland—a contemporary American paleontologist and an Irish detective...fascinating and excellent stories.”