All Cry Chaos
Hank Wagner

Shortly after capturing Bosnian war criminal Stipo Banovic, Inspector Henri Poincare (pronounced "Pwon-Ka-Raaay") of Interpol finds himself investigating the murder of internationally famous mathematician James Fenster, who was killed in a meticulously planned explosion: The bomb, powered by rocket fuel, blew in a crowded hotel, but only one room was affected. The leads in the case are many, unfortunately, no one clue provides Poincare with a clear idea of any of the whos, whats, or whys needed to bring the killers to justice. As Poincare grinds his way to a solution, he finds himself questioning his life and profession. He also finds himself and his family in considerable danger, as investigations current (Fenster) and past (involving Banovic) converge, placing those he loves squarely in the sites of ruthless criminals.

Although it feels like a late entry in an established series, All Cry Chaos is in fact Rosen's first novel. Clearly, he has been living with this idea and these characters for a long while, as indicated by the sense of depth in his cast and his plotting—one has the impression that, if asked, Rosen could tell you exactly what each character, no matter how minor, was doing a day, a week, even a year before they appear in the narrative. Add in Rosen's sharp, lucid prose, and his way of rendering complex mathematical and scientific concepts like fractals sexy and engaging, and you get an involving, high-concept, but eminently readable thriller, easily one of the best first novels of the past couple of years.

Teri Duerr
2011-09-29 18:58:29

Shortly after capturing Bosnian war criminal Stipo Banovic, Inspector Henri Poincare (pronounced "Pwon-Ka-Raaay") of Interpol finds himself investigating the murder of internationally famous mathematician James Fenster, who was killed in a meticulously planned explosion: The bomb, powered by rocket fuel, blew in a crowded hotel, but only one room was affected. The leads in the case are many, unfortunately, no one clue provides Poincare with a clear idea of any of the whos, whats, or whys needed to bring the killers to justice. As Poincare grinds his way to a solution, he finds himself questioning his life and profession. He also finds himself and his family in considerable danger, as investigations current (Fenster) and past (involving Banovic) converge, placing those he loves squarely in the sites of ruthless criminals.

Although it feels like a late entry in an established series, All Cry Chaos is in fact Rosen's first novel. Clearly, he has been living with this idea and these characters for a long while, as indicated by the sense of depth in his cast and his plotting—one has the impression that, if asked, Rosen could tell you exactly what each character, no matter how minor, was doing a day, a week, even a year before they appear in the narrative. Add in Rosen's sharp, lucid prose, and his way of rendering complex mathematical and scientific concepts like fractals sexy and engaging, and you get an involving, high-concept, but eminently readable thriller, easily one of the best first novels of the past couple of years.

The Bad Always Die Twice
Cheryl Solimini

All signs point to hardboiled. Start with the classic pulp cover—black sheers and slit skirt, leather and velvet. Then note the author, Cheryl Crane: The daughter of much-married movie legend Lana Turner, Crane made tabloid headlines herself in 1958, at age 14, for stabbing her mother's gangster lover to death. The title echoes The Postman Always Rings Twice, James M. Cain's steamy melodrama whose film version earned Turner the best reviews of her career. And a blurb by L.A. Confidential's James Ellroy doesn't hurt either

But noir this is not. In her bright and breezy fiction debut (she already has two nonfiction memoirs under her belt), Crane paints her home turf with more glitter than grit. Even as she winks at the excesses of Tinsel Town's past and present, Crane's affection and compassion for its denizens—hungry for fame, money, sex, love or all of the above—shines through. She has wisely chosen Nikki Harper, a local realtor (like Crane), as the down-to-earth amateur PI. Nikki turns from high-end condo listings to low-rent crime investigating when her best friend and agency partner, Jessica Martin, discovers Rex March, a has-been '70s sitcom star, dead in her bed wearing nothing but gold lamé bikini briefs. The double indignity: Rex had supposedly already entered Syndication Heaven, killed in a plane crash six months ago.

Nikki, offspring of '50s silver screen icon Victoria Bordeaux, seems more than a little embarrassed by her megawatt pedigree but is more than willing to flash The Smile (learned at her mother's knee) or some hand-me-down Lakers tickets to get the information she needs to clear her friend. Though Nikki herself prefers a vintage sweater dress and flats to Badgley Mischka and spike-heeled Jimmy Choos, readers also get an insider's guide to Tinsel Town's current fashions and hot spots without alienating those who haven't taken their own stroll along Rodeo Drive or Melrose Avenue. Yet the fun really begins when La Bordeaux takes on a major role, highlighting her and Nikki's enmeshed but endearing diva-and-daughter act. Though herself Turner's only child, Crane has given Nikki at least one half-sibling (from Victoria's nine marriages) who is both poignant and hilarious, and hints of other family skeletons that are sure to be rattled in future entries in this series.

In Crane's critical but not cynical view, everyone in Hollywood is a character in his or her own movie and anyone is capable of murder. So, grab a bucket of popcorn or a box of Junior Mints and enjoy!

Teri Duerr
2011-09-29 19:02:20

All signs point to hardboiled. Start with the classic pulp cover—black sheers and slit skirt, leather and velvet. Then note the author, Cheryl Crane: The daughter of much-married movie legend Lana Turner, Crane made tabloid headlines herself in 1958, at age 14, for stabbing her mother's gangster lover to death. The title echoes The Postman Always Rings Twice, James M. Cain's steamy melodrama whose film version earned Turner the best reviews of her career. And a blurb by L.A. Confidential's James Ellroy doesn't hurt either

But noir this is not. In her bright and breezy fiction debut (she already has two nonfiction memoirs under her belt), Crane paints her home turf with more glitter than grit. Even as she winks at the excesses of Tinsel Town's past and present, Crane's affection and compassion for its denizens—hungry for fame, money, sex, love or all of the above—shines through. She has wisely chosen Nikki Harper, a local realtor (like Crane), as the down-to-earth amateur PI. Nikki turns from high-end condo listings to low-rent crime investigating when her best friend and agency partner, Jessica Martin, discovers Rex March, a has-been '70s sitcom star, dead in her bed wearing nothing but gold lamé bikini briefs. The double indignity: Rex had supposedly already entered Syndication Heaven, killed in a plane crash six months ago.

Nikki, offspring of '50s silver screen icon Victoria Bordeaux, seems more than a little embarrassed by her megawatt pedigree but is more than willing to flash The Smile (learned at her mother's knee) or some hand-me-down Lakers tickets to get the information she needs to clear her friend. Though Nikki herself prefers a vintage sweater dress and flats to Badgley Mischka and spike-heeled Jimmy Choos, readers also get an insider's guide to Tinsel Town's current fashions and hot spots without alienating those who haven't taken their own stroll along Rodeo Drive or Melrose Avenue. Yet the fun really begins when La Bordeaux takes on a major role, highlighting her and Nikki's enmeshed but endearing diva-and-daughter act. Though herself Turner's only child, Crane has given Nikki at least one half-sibling (from Victoria's nine marriages) who is both poignant and hilarious, and hints of other family skeletons that are sure to be rattled in future entries in this series.

In Crane's critical but not cynical view, everyone in Hollywood is a character in his or her own movie and anyone is capable of murder. So, grab a bucket of popcorn or a box of Junior Mints and enjoy!

Getting Off
Kevin Burton Smith

Getting Off is subtitled A Novel of Sex and Violence and boy, they ain't kidding. I can't think of anyone since maybe Mickey Spillance who's offered such a seamless—and deliciously trashy—welding of the two. But whereas Spillane's Mike Hammer books were angsty, revenge driven fantasies of rage, revenge and testosterone, Emerson (actually Lawrence Block) offers a decidedly more female perspective. Or at least as female a perspective as a man who used to be a lesbian can offer.

Dragging his Sapphic pseudonym out of mothballs for the reinvigorated Hard Case Crime imprint, Block serves up an unapologetically trashy wallow that will appeal to fans of his early pulp fiction tales of serial killers and other homicidal wing nuts that populated countless second-string digests in the late '50s and early '60s, as well as those who adored the soft-porn paperbacks he churned out as Emerson (and a slew of other pen names) right into the '70s. And now, almost four decades later, "Jill" is back, with a gloriously politically incorrect little yarn about small-town Minnesota gal Kit Tolliver who escapes a childhood of incest and tragedy, only to become a hot little minx whose specialty is "romance at short notice." And murder.

Seems Kit (or Grace or Jen or Lucretia or whatever name she's using that week) likes nothing better than rambling into some town, picking up some guy, having some great sex...and then killing the poor sap. It would be easy enough to dismiss this as simply a great author slumming (and the cover illustration is just as unapologetically sleazy and cheesy as the premise), and while there's no doubt this is mostly a lark, Emerson's too good a writer to not want to write the hell out of this. Yes, there are any number of "hot parts." Lots (and lots) of salubrious detail. And lots of people getting off all over the place, in oh-so-many colorful ways. But when Kit has an epiphany of sorts (in a Kansas City bar) and realizes she can never really be free of her past until she's bumped off every man she's ever boinked, the book turns decidedly darker and nastier.

Kit makes a surprisingly effective detective, crisscrossing the country intent on cleaning up her past, keeping in touch with her new BFF, Rita, via the web and a string of steamy long-distance calls, and the inevitable finale is as hot and bothersome as you'd might have expected. Share it with someone you love. But please. Don't kill them afterwards.

Teri Duerr
2011-09-29 19:08:12

Getting Off is subtitled A Novel of Sex and Violence and boy, they ain't kidding. I can't think of anyone since maybe Mickey Spillance who's offered such a seamless—and deliciously trashy—welding of the two. But whereas Spillane's Mike Hammer books were angsty, revenge driven fantasies of rage, revenge and testosterone, Emerson (actually Lawrence Block) offers a decidedly more female perspective. Or at least as female a perspective as a man who used to be a lesbian can offer.

Dragging his Sapphic pseudonym out of mothballs for the reinvigorated Hard Case Crime imprint, Block serves up an unapologetically trashy wallow that will appeal to fans of his early pulp fiction tales of serial killers and other homicidal wing nuts that populated countless second-string digests in the late '50s and early '60s, as well as those who adored the soft-porn paperbacks he churned out as Emerson (and a slew of other pen names) right into the '70s. And now, almost four decades later, "Jill" is back, with a gloriously politically incorrect little yarn about small-town Minnesota gal Kit Tolliver who escapes a childhood of incest and tragedy, only to become a hot little minx whose specialty is "romance at short notice." And murder.

Seems Kit (or Grace or Jen or Lucretia or whatever name she's using that week) likes nothing better than rambling into some town, picking up some guy, having some great sex...and then killing the poor sap. It would be easy enough to dismiss this as simply a great author slumming (and the cover illustration is just as unapologetically sleazy and cheesy as the premise), and while there's no doubt this is mostly a lark, Emerson's too good a writer to not want to write the hell out of this. Yes, there are any number of "hot parts." Lots (and lots) of salubrious detail. And lots of people getting off all over the place, in oh-so-many colorful ways. But when Kit has an epiphany of sorts (in a Kansas City bar) and realizes she can never really be free of her past until she's bumped off every man she's ever boinked, the book turns decidedly darker and nastier.

Kit makes a surprisingly effective detective, crisscrossing the country intent on cleaning up her past, keeping in touch with her new BFF, Rita, via the web and a string of steamy long-distance calls, and the inevitable finale is as hot and bothersome as you'd might have expected. Share it with someone you love. But please. Don't kill them afterwards.

Calling Mr. King
M. Schlecht

It's a depressingly regular occurrence: some poor, overworked stiff hits the wall and "goes postal." But what happens when a stone cold killer ices one mark too many and starts to lose it? Maybe he develops an interest in Georgian-style homes and makes his new target the art and architecture section of the local bookstore. At least, that's what Mr. De Feo, a former editor at ARTnews magazine, has imagined in this entertaining debut from an author clearly drawing from what he knows.

An American hit man based in London, our assassin is only identified by who he is not. When the telephone rings and his handlers ask for "Mr. King," it's his signal to answer, "No, you have the wrong number," and then call back on a pay phone for job details. Flirting with a young grad student on a trip back to New York, he attempts to impress as "Sir Peter Chilton," an independently wealthy Brit with a Georgian house on the Thames, and almost seems to believe it himself.

In short, Mr. Not King Nor Chilton is having a midlife, mid-career crisis, questioning his choice of profession for the first time. Morals don't exactly enter into it. He's simply ready for a change of scenery, to be alone with a stack of books, and naive enough to complain bitterly when his bosses just don't understand his new passion for J.M.W. Turner. Meaning they are unhappy. Meaning watch it, pal.

But as his assignments take him to Paris to the British countryside to New York to Spain, the nascent aesthete progressively loses interest in, you know, killing people. And when his Barcelona contact happens to mention Antoni Gaudí—forget it. It's time to buy a guidebook, brush up on Catalan modernism, and take a stand in the name of Art.

Teri Duerr
2011-09-29 19:19:02

It's a depressingly regular occurrence: some poor, overworked stiff hits the wall and "goes postal." But what happens when a stone cold killer ices one mark too many and starts to lose it? Maybe he develops an interest in Georgian-style homes and makes his new target the art and architecture section of the local bookstore. At least, that's what Mr. De Feo, a former editor at ARTnews magazine, has imagined in this entertaining debut from an author clearly drawing from what he knows.

An American hit man based in London, our assassin is only identified by who he is not. When the telephone rings and his handlers ask for "Mr. King," it's his signal to answer, "No, you have the wrong number," and then call back on a pay phone for job details. Flirting with a young grad student on a trip back to New York, he attempts to impress as "Sir Peter Chilton," an independently wealthy Brit with a Georgian house on the Thames, and almost seems to believe it himself.

In short, Mr. Not King Nor Chilton is having a midlife, mid-career crisis, questioning his choice of profession for the first time. Morals don't exactly enter into it. He's simply ready for a change of scenery, to be alone with a stack of books, and naive enough to complain bitterly when his bosses just don't understand his new passion for J.M.W. Turner. Meaning they are unhappy. Meaning watch it, pal.

But as his assignments take him to Paris to the British countryside to New York to Spain, the nascent aesthete progressively loses interest in, you know, killing people. And when his Barcelona contact happens to mention Antoni Gaudí—forget it. It's time to buy a guidebook, brush up on Catalan modernism, and take a stand in the name of Art.

The Widow's Secret
Lourdes Venard

In Victorian London, a prostitute is murdered in Covent Garden—not generally an event to attract much notice. But widow Bella Wallis and her small band of friends do notice. Wallis, nearing 40, is a woman "wrapped in mysteries," as one character describes her. One of Wallis' many secrets is that she writes sensationalist novels under the pen name Henry Ellis Margam, using real-life villains for her characters. With the murder of prostitute Welsh Alice, she has found one of the worst such villains.

She and her team trace a crested cigar case found at the murder scene to Lord Freddie Bolsover, an out-and-out snake. The more they investigate, the more horrors they find he has perpetuated. Wallis figures to use him for her next book, but she's surrounded by men who would do even more: employee Capt. Percy Quigley; Charles Urmiston, who was wronged and left destitute by Bolsover; and Billy Murch, a shadowy acquaintance of Quigley's. These men follow Bolsover to France, with plans to kill him, and so Wallis, reluctantly, follows them.

While only 284 pages, the story unfolds leisurely in stylish prose, revealing Wallis' secrets along the way. The strength of the book is the characters, who don't always act as we expect. Wallis herself is an intelligent, strong woman, yet one who would exact justice only from a distance, and who is conflicted in her personal relationships. The Widow's Secret is the first in a planned series, and Thompson manages to bring his Victorian manhunt to a satisfying conclusion while leaving readers with some very tantalizing threads for the next book.

Teri Duerr
2011-09-29 19:24:15

In Victorian London, a prostitute is murdered in Covent Garden—not generally an event to attract much notice. But widow Bella Wallis and her small band of friends do notice. Wallis, nearing 40, is a woman "wrapped in mysteries," as one character describes her. One of Wallis' many secrets is that she writes sensationalist novels under the pen name Henry Ellis Margam, using real-life villains for her characters. With the murder of prostitute Welsh Alice, she has found one of the worst such villains.

She and her team trace a crested cigar case found at the murder scene to Lord Freddie Bolsover, an out-and-out snake. The more they investigate, the more horrors they find he has perpetuated. Wallis figures to use him for her next book, but she's surrounded by men who would do even more: employee Capt. Percy Quigley; Charles Urmiston, who was wronged and left destitute by Bolsover; and Billy Murch, a shadowy acquaintance of Quigley's. These men follow Bolsover to France, with plans to kill him, and so Wallis, reluctantly, follows them.

While only 284 pages, the story unfolds leisurely in stylish prose, revealing Wallis' secrets along the way. The strength of the book is the characters, who don't always act as we expect. Wallis herself is an intelligent, strong woman, yet one who would exact justice only from a distance, and who is conflicted in her personal relationships. The Widow's Secret is the first in a planned series, and Thompson manages to bring his Victorian manhunt to a satisfying conclusion while leaving readers with some very tantalizing threads for the next book.

A Mortal Terror
Bob Smith

It's World War II and the Allies in Italy are pushing toward Rome via Anzio when two American officers are murdered. One, a lieutenant, has a ten of hearts card in his hand, and the other, a captain, has the jack of hearts in his. The fear that an officer-murdering psychopath could be moving up the ranks sends shock waves through the senior staff, prompting General Eisenhower to send his nephew Lt. Billy Boyle, a former Boston cop, to investigate. When a Major is murdered and the queen of hearts found on his body, Billy knows he has to act fast.

In the sixth entry of this exciting series, Billy faces finding a killer while violence erupts all around him. He narrows his search down to a specific unit, but as the fighting at Anzio rages, his suspects are being slaughtered by German forces faster than Billy can eliminate them as suspects.

This is a thrilling, fast-paced book, a great yarn wonderfully told. The mystery ploy is top notch with the "who," "why," and "how" aspects of the murders as puzzling and suspenseful as anyone could wish. The historical/military aspects of WWII are accurately presented and the battle of Anzio, with all the confusion, mayhem and carnage of war, is described with authentic reality. Author Benn skillfully blends the mystery of the murders and the violence of the war into one fantastic, satisfying whole. If you haven't already been hooked by this series, this book will do it and have you reaching back for the previous five.

Teri Duerr
2011-09-29 19:29:39

It's World War II and the Allies in Italy are pushing toward Rome via Anzio when two American officers are murdered. One, a lieutenant, has a ten of hearts card in his hand, and the other, a captain, has the jack of hearts in his. The fear that an officer-murdering psychopath could be moving up the ranks sends shock waves through the senior staff, prompting General Eisenhower to send his nephew Lt. Billy Boyle, a former Boston cop, to investigate. When a Major is murdered and the queen of hearts found on his body, Billy knows he has to act fast.

In the sixth entry of this exciting series, Billy faces finding a killer while violence erupts all around him. He narrows his search down to a specific unit, but as the fighting at Anzio rages, his suspects are being slaughtered by German forces faster than Billy can eliminate them as suspects.

This is a thrilling, fast-paced book, a great yarn wonderfully told. The mystery ploy is top notch with the "who," "why," and "how" aspects of the murders as puzzling and suspenseful as anyone could wish. The historical/military aspects of WWII are accurately presented and the battle of Anzio, with all the confusion, mayhem and carnage of war, is described with authentic reality. Author Benn skillfully blends the mystery of the murders and the violence of the war into one fantastic, satisfying whole. If you haven't already been hooked by this series, this book will do it and have you reaching back for the previous five.

Harbor
Hank Wagner

Like many mystery novels, the abrupt disappearance of a young child provides the backdrop for Harbor, set in a seaside town on the edge of the icy Baltic Sea. As in those novels, the book explores the effect the child’s disappearance has on those left behind, in this case, the inhabitants of a tiny island fishing village off the coast of Sweden, near Stockholm, and of the six year old girl's parents, Anders and Cecilia. Like many a missing-child novel, a parent is compelled to search for his child, despite the heavy odds against ever finding her alive.

It’s here though that this tale veers off in a wildly different direction, as this book has been penned by the Swedish author, John Ajvide Lindqvist, currently one of the hottest writers in the horror genre.

Having done fresh takes on vampires (Let the Right One In) and zombies (Handling the Undead), Lindqvist tackles several new horror tropes in Harbor, touching on magic, possession, ghosts, haunted houses, insular towns trying to appease supernatural forces (think Shirley Jackson's classic short story, "The Lottery"), and ancient, Lovecraftian entities. That he handles these disparate elements so well while giving them a unique spin is a blessing to readers. That his writing remains compelling even in translation (despite some obvious gaffes, sentence-wise) is further reason to celebrate.

Most significant is the fact that the author has written a huge, sprawling, genre-crossing novel, a story about a man's search for his child, and a metaphor for humanity's uneasy relationship with forces greater than our own, here represented by the sea, an unforgiving character in it's own right. For that reason, Harbor, a massive, expansive, character-driven, revelation of a book, makes for satisfying reading.

Teri Duerr
2011-09-29 18:53:22

lindqvist_harborA missing child provides the backdrop for Harbor, a Swedish genre-crossing suspense.

Plugged
M. Schlecht

Keeping New Jersey sleazy, Plugged is full of fake boobs, Irish gangsters, dirty cops, and a sea of salty language. And like a double shot of Jameson on an empty stomach, the buzz comes on quick. Daniel McEvoy is ex-Irish army and now-bouncer at Slotz, a low-rent strip club/casino. Does it sound like this doorman needs a little ambition in his life? Well there's nothing like committing unpremeditated murder to light a fire under your expat ass.

Colfer's prose is generous with the jokes and nimble with plot twists. For starters McEvoy must deal with the consequences of having knifed a mobster in the office of his friend, Zeb, who, by the way, is missing and presumably dead. Zeb's about the only friend the Irishman has, a shady pill dealer and part-time hair transplant surgeon who counts McEvoy as a paying customer. As he tries to get a handle on things, undesirable new challenges multiply, and before you know it McEvoy has a nude police woman handcuffed to the radiator in his apartment. But really, he's a good guy! Things happen, okay?

Wildly unbelievable, but you knew that already, Plugged is what a Jason Bourne movie would look like on a low...lower...keep going...budget. Relying on his somewhat faded military training, McEvoy manages a serviceable reaction to obstacles thrown in his way, reading situations for danger and coming out with most of his newly grown hair intact.

Teri Duerr
2011-09-29 19:36:17

Keeping New Jersey sleazy, Plugged is full of fake boobs, Irish gangsters, dirty cops, and a sea of salty language. And like a double shot of Jameson on an empty stomach, the buzz comes on quick. Daniel McEvoy is ex-Irish army and now-bouncer at Slotz, a low-rent strip club/casino. Does it sound like this doorman needs a little ambition in his life? Well there's nothing like committing unpremeditated murder to light a fire under your expat ass.

Colfer's prose is generous with the jokes and nimble with plot twists. For starters McEvoy must deal with the consequences of having knifed a mobster in the office of his friend, Zeb, who, by the way, is missing and presumably dead. Zeb's about the only friend the Irishman has, a shady pill dealer and part-time hair transplant surgeon who counts McEvoy as a paying customer. As he tries to get a handle on things, undesirable new challenges multiply, and before you know it McEvoy has a nude police woman handcuffed to the radiator in his apartment. But really, he's a good guy! Things happen, okay?

Wildly unbelievable, but you knew that already, Plugged is what a Jason Bourne movie would look like on a low...lower...keep going...budget. Relying on his somewhat faded military training, McEvoy manages a serviceable reaction to obstacles thrown in his way, reading situations for danger and coming out with most of his newly grown hair intact.

Bye Bye, Baby
Kevin Burton Smith

Who killed Marilyn Monroe? In the long-awaited 13th novel-length adventure (after 2002's Chicago Confidential) to feature historical gumshoe Nate Heller, the ex-Chicago cop turned "private eye to the stars," Heller finds himself involved (very, very involved, in fact) in the life—and subsequent death—of the troubled sex symbol.

The usual suspects are trotted out and a multitude of names dropped—the mob, assorted Kennedys, the CIA, Sinatra, etc.—and Collins is careful not to weird out on us. Instead, as in previous forays where Heller "solved" the Lindbergh kidnapping, the disappearance of Amelia Earhart, the murder of Bugsy Siegel, and other 20th-century mysteries, Collins sticks to the facts and reasonable conjecture, avoiding the mouth-drooling, History Channel–ready conspiracy theories that so often mar books like this. As always, Collins comes clean with the reader in an extensive afterword that details his research, cites his sources, and admits where he occasionally fudges things. But once again, he makes a compelling and convincing case.

It's 1962, and both Nate and Marilyn are flying high. His A-1 Detective Agency has offices in Chicago, Los Angeles, and Manhattan, and he's enjoying the high life, rarely getting his hands dirty, doing "mostly PR and management duties." Meanwhile, his old pal Norma Jean isn't doing too shabbily either. Despite a few rough years of personal problems, broken marriages, and a reputation for being difficult to work with, she's slowly taking back control of both her life and her career, studying scripts, and settling into her new house in Brentwood, Los Angeles.

When a very public smear campaign by Fox Studios raises her ire, she hires Nate to have her phone tapped in case she has to defend herself. But Nate soon discovers that the blonde bombshell's home is already bugged—by numerous groups, for various purposes. When Marilyn is found dead and promptly labeled a "probable suicide," Nate realizes things don't add up, and the "big bad private eye" gets back in the game.

Sure, the tsunami of name-dropping gets a little predictable (does Nate really have to have known everyone?) and buffs may dispute some of the facts, but Collins offers a smart, heady mind game that plays fair with all concerned, while delivering the kind of hardboiled action he's known for. Even better news, though, is that Bye Bye, Baby is the first in a planned trilogy that will also cover the murders of John and Robert Kennedy. Welcome back, Nate.

Teri Duerr
2011-09-29 19:41:07

Who killed Marilyn Monroe? In the long-awaited 13th novel-length adventure (after 2002's Chicago Confidential) to feature historical gumshoe Nate Heller, the ex-Chicago cop turned "private eye to the stars," Heller finds himself involved (very, very involved, in fact) in the life—and subsequent death—of the troubled sex symbol.

The usual suspects are trotted out and a multitude of names dropped—the mob, assorted Kennedys, the CIA, Sinatra, etc.—and Collins is careful not to weird out on us. Instead, as in previous forays where Heller "solved" the Lindbergh kidnapping, the disappearance of Amelia Earhart, the murder of Bugsy Siegel, and other 20th-century mysteries, Collins sticks to the facts and reasonable conjecture, avoiding the mouth-drooling, History Channel–ready conspiracy theories that so often mar books like this. As always, Collins comes clean with the reader in an extensive afterword that details his research, cites his sources, and admits where he occasionally fudges things. But once again, he makes a compelling and convincing case.

It's 1962, and both Nate and Marilyn are flying high. His A-1 Detective Agency has offices in Chicago, Los Angeles, and Manhattan, and he's enjoying the high life, rarely getting his hands dirty, doing "mostly PR and management duties." Meanwhile, his old pal Norma Jean isn't doing too shabbily either. Despite a few rough years of personal problems, broken marriages, and a reputation for being difficult to work with, she's slowly taking back control of both her life and her career, studying scripts, and settling into her new house in Brentwood, Los Angeles.

When a very public smear campaign by Fox Studios raises her ire, she hires Nate to have her phone tapped in case she has to defend herself. But Nate soon discovers that the blonde bombshell's home is already bugged—by numerous groups, for various purposes. When Marilyn is found dead and promptly labeled a "probable suicide," Nate realizes things don't add up, and the "big bad private eye" gets back in the game.

Sure, the tsunami of name-dropping gets a little predictable (does Nate really have to have known everyone?) and buffs may dispute some of the facts, but Collins offers a smart, heady mind game that plays fair with all concerned, while delivering the kind of hardboiled action he's known for. Even better news, though, is that Bye Bye, Baby is the first in a planned trilogy that will also cover the murders of John and Robert Kennedy. Welcome back, Nate.

Wicked Autumn
Joseph Scarpato, Jr.

First, a confession: As an incurable Agatha Christie fan, I am immediately prone to liking a murder mystery that takes place in a small English village. That murderous intent exists in such a bucolic setting somehow makes the evil even more intense.

While no one recognizes hidden evil as well as Christie's Miss Marple, Malliet's Max Tudor is no slouch. As a former MI5 agent turned Anglican priest, he has a professional background that makes his investigative skills quite believable. While looking for peace after a traumatizing experience in MI5, his calm existence in the village of Nether Monkslip is interrupted by a suspicious death during the annual Harvest Fayre. Because of his background and his familiarity with the villagers, Max is asked to help the police with their investigation.

Unfortunately, since the victim was killed in the Village Hall which was open and not far from the Fayre grounds, anyone could have had access to the murder scene. Moreover, although the victim was not well liked, no one in the village seemed to have a strong enough motive for the murder.

Malliet is an Agatha Award winner for her St. Just Mystery series novel Death of a Cozy Writer, and like Christie, she knows how to establish characters and setting, develop a fiendish plot, an unusual method of murder, and sprinkle the lot with red herrings among the real clues. Where she differs is in her writing style. While Christie's plots moved swiftly thanks to her spare language and brief descriptions of character, Malliet describes people and places with more specificity. As a result, the reading is a bit slower, but we get to know the people and places better. And despite what I thought I knew about Nether Monkslip and its inhabitants, I was surprised by the ending. Wicked Autumn is the debut novel in the Max Tudor series and a winning entry in the quiet English village mystery genre.

Teri Duerr
2011-09-29 19:45:56

malliet_wickedautumnMeet MI5 agent turned Anglican priest Max Tudor in this new series set in the English countryside series.

The Blood Royal
Jem Bloomfield

Barbara Cleverly's Commander Joe Sandilands is far from the flatfoot two-dimensional Plods-of-the-Yard which feature in so many historical crime novels. Widely traveled in the Indies, struggling to deal with the new "austerity" in police budgets, and a supporter of women's emancipation, Sandilands is drawn against a detailed 1920s milieu. In The Blood Royal he is faced with the twin problems of Fenian Irish terrorism and Russian émigré subversion, not to mention a London press whose sensational reporting of the issues could cause panic to break out amongst the public. It's a promising setup and Cleverly is clearly eager to explore the larger consequences and contexts of the crimes Sandilands uncovers.

Unfortunately, the clogged prose prevents the story from really taking off. Cleverly's characters have the maddening habit of making contemporary references and then pausing to explain them to each other. After a few chapters of this, the novel feels like an annotated edition of itself. It's hard to get involved with a story, which takes so long to tell, because the book doesn't trust the reader to understand anything without having it spelled out. Aside from which, the tone is strikingly uneven: The inner life which Cleverly attempts to provide for her characters is impossible to reconcile with their penny-dreadful speech style, with its references to "murderous menace" and "this foul matter." The obvious enthusiasm for the 1920s, which the book displays, is quickly squandered by these problems, which keep the reader at arm's length throughout.

Teri Duerr
2011-09-29 19:52:09

Barbara Cleverly's Commander Joe Sandilands is far from the flatfoot two-dimensional Plods-of-the-Yard which feature in so many historical crime novels. Widely traveled in the Indies, struggling to deal with the new "austerity" in police budgets, and a supporter of women's emancipation, Sandilands is drawn against a detailed 1920s milieu. In The Blood Royal he is faced with the twin problems of Fenian Irish terrorism and Russian émigré subversion, not to mention a London press whose sensational reporting of the issues could cause panic to break out amongst the public. It's a promising setup and Cleverly is clearly eager to explore the larger consequences and contexts of the crimes Sandilands uncovers.

Unfortunately, the clogged prose prevents the story from really taking off. Cleverly's characters have the maddening habit of making contemporary references and then pausing to explain them to each other. After a few chapters of this, the novel feels like an annotated edition of itself. It's hard to get involved with a story, which takes so long to tell, because the book doesn't trust the reader to understand anything without having it spelled out. Aside from which, the tone is strikingly uneven: The inner life which Cleverly attempts to provide for her characters is impossible to reconcile with their penny-dreadful speech style, with its references to "murderous menace" and "this foul matter." The obvious enthusiasm for the 1920s, which the book displays, is quickly squandered by these problems, which keep the reader at arm's length throughout.

Trackers
Derek Hill

Meyer's latest is a massively complex tale of criminality, a structurally ambitious novel that weaves together three major genres, and three plot arcs into a cohesive resolution.

The first, with elements of the espionage thriller, follows a well-to-do Cape Town homemaker in her forties, Milla Strachan, who grows weary of living with a husband who would rather ride his motorcycle with friends than be with her. Neither can she suffer silently through the constant manipulation and verbal abuse that her teenage son regularly dumps on her. Strachan leaves them, moves into her own apartment, and lands a job with a clandestine department within the government that monitors suspected Islamic terrorists in the country.

Meanwhile the second thread, a more straightforward drama, concerns a privately employed bodyguard named Lemmer who is hired by a farmer to safely deliver two rare rhinos from up north to the farmer's property. Things get complicated, however, when a woman accompanying the rhinos during the handover demands to come along with them, and along the way Lemmer realizes someone is following them.

The last story, touching on the detective novel, involves private investigator, Mat Joubert, who has been hired via the firm he works for to locate a missing husband.

Many readers may know Joubert from earlier Meyer novel Dead Before Dying. Lemmer, the bodyguard, also appeared in a previous novel, Blood Safari, and here steals the show. With his mysterious past and his charismatic brooding and man-of-action style, it's difficult not to want the entire novel to center around him. That said, Strachan makes for a great, realistic character, and is clearly the one most readers will identify with.

Meyer never shortchanges us by offering up a one-dimensional portrayal, but what makes Trackers so memorable and gripping throughout, is its ambitious overview of a country pushing into the future yet still troubled by lingering racial, economic, and political divides. South African life itself dominates every crucial detail in the novel, and haunts us long after we set the book down. This is a colossal achievement in many ways and sets the bar high for a writer who's already built his reputation writing exciting fiction.

Teri Duerr
2011-09-29 19:57:11

A complex, cross-genre tale of criminality set in South Africa that unfolds as three intertwoven stories involving espionage, detection, social politics, and thrills.

Trick of the Dark
Betty Webb

In Val McDermid’s moving Trick of the Dark two lesbian couples find themselves caught up in a murder case. Magda, a physician, is newly involved with Jay, a dot-com millionaire who has left a train of “accidental” deaths in her wake; Charlie, a psychiatrist, is married to Maria, a dentist, but finds herself falling for the mysterious Lisa, author of I’m Not Okay, You’re Not Okay: Negotiating Vulnerability. And this is a vulnerable time in Charlie’s life. Her career is down the crapper and she’s on the outs with the medical board because her courtroom testimony freed a suspected murderer who subsequently raped and killed four women.

So when Corinna, Magda’s mother, begs Charlie to find out if Jay is a murderer and is therefore a vastly unsuitable lover for her daughter, Charlie reluctantly agrees. A complex, beautifully told story, Trick of the Dark will not only appeal to fans of the best gay fiction, but to anyone who prefers deep psychological mysteries to shallow shoot-’em-ups. Of particular note is the scene where Magda comes out to her drunken, bigoted father. Never have the judgmental been so ill-suited to judge others.

Teri Duerr
2011-09-29 20:01:03
A deft psychological mystery set around a murder in Oxford and featuring protaganist Charlie Flint.
The Goat Woman of Largo Bay
Bob Smith

Largo Bay, a small village in an isolated corner of Jamaica, is without police presence, so when problems arise the people turn to either the obeah man (the local magician) or to Shadrack "Shad" Myers (the local bartender). Shad has a knack for solving problems, and since he has everyone's confidence, he is the town's de facto private eye.

The latest mystery concerns the unknown woman who suddenly appears living on the small island just outside the village. Who is she? Where did she come from? Why is she there? Do the upcoming national elections having anything to do with her? Shad suspects that her presence will cause, if not out and out trouble, then at least unnecessary concern, curiosity, and rampant rumors among the villagers, and he is right.

It's fun to become engrossed in the locals' reaction to this strange woman. And author Royes, a Jamaican native, has the feel, look, and dialects of the area down pat. These are people one could easily feel at home with. A couple of shady types try broaching the island for nefarious purposes but are run off. Shad must prevent them from trying again, and with the help of the obeah man, comes up with a wild solution.

This is a pleasant, light read and although it is weak on the mystery aspects, it does boast some likeable characters, an exotic locale, and fun situations all with a dash of Caribbean flavoring. If only the author would present Shad with a case worthy of his talents this series could easily take its place alongside the Alexander McCall Smith Botswana books.

Teri Duerr
2011-09-29 20:15:30

Largo Bay, a small village in an isolated corner of Jamaica, is without police presence, so when problems arise the people turn to either the obeah man (the local magician) or to Shadrack "Shad" Myers (the local bartender). Shad has a knack for solving problems, and since he has everyone's confidence, he is the town's de facto private eye.

The latest mystery concerns the unknown woman who suddenly appears living on the small island just outside the village. Who is she? Where did she come from? Why is she there? Do the upcoming national elections having anything to do with her? Shad suspects that her presence will cause, if not out and out trouble, then at least unnecessary concern, curiosity, and rampant rumors among the villagers, and he is right.

It's fun to become engrossed in the locals' reaction to this strange woman. And author Royes, a Jamaican native, has the feel, look, and dialects of the area down pat. These are people one could easily feel at home with. A couple of shady types try broaching the island for nefarious purposes but are run off. Shad must prevent them from trying again, and with the help of the obeah man, comes up with a wild solution.

This is a pleasant, light read and although it is weak on the mystery aspects, it does boast some likeable characters, an exotic locale, and fun situations all with a dash of Caribbean flavoring. If only the author would present Shad with a case worthy of his talents this series could easily take its place alongside the Alexander McCall Smith Botswana books.

Killed at the Whim of a Hat
Bob Smith

Good news for mystery fans who love tales that occur in foreign locales. Colin Cotterill, who captured a wide fan base with his Dr. Siri Paiboun stories set in Laos, has a new series set in southern Thailand. Freelance crime reporter Jimm Juree has moved from exciting Chiang Mai to seemingly dull Chumphon Province. She soon discovers her new home is more like Cabot Cove than Bali Hai when two mysteries occur: a Buddhist monk is murdered and a vintage VW is unburied to reveal two skeletons. The crimes provide Jimm an opportunity for a major scoop but take a backseat in reader interest to the locale, sparkling dialogue, and delightful cast of characters. Principal among them are those in Jimm's—if not dysfunctional then at least eccentric—family: her mother, who has a unique way of extracting revenge; her granddad, a retired cop who never rose above traffic duty because he refused to take bribes; an older brother who became a female beauty contestant following his sex change operation; and a younger brother who took up body building to overcome bullying and now has a build to make Arnold proud, but who is meek and cries when confronted. Toss in sundry villagers, local cops (in particular a homosexual lieutenant with a sharp mind and a quick wit), plus a thieving puppy and you have a cast to love and long remember.

Cotterill is a born storyteller and has a wonderful way with one-liners. Some of his quips had me laughing out loud. ("I hadn't seen Granddad this animated since the great diarrhea onslaught of 2005.") His writing flows easily, and although the solutions to the crimes disappoint, it doesn't matter because the rest is more than fine. Regrettably, prior to each chapter the author cites quotes from George W. Bush that seem meant to mock the former president, but that have absolutely nothing to do with the story and serve only as annoying distractions.

Teri Duerr
2011-09-29 20:20:59

Good news for mystery fans who love tales that occur in foreign locales. Colin Cotterill, who captured a wide fan base with his Dr. Siri Paiboun stories set in Laos, has a new series set in southern Thailand. Freelance crime reporter Jimm Juree has moved from exciting Chiang Mai to seemingly dull Chumphon Province. She soon discovers her new home is more like Cabot Cove than Bali Hai when two mysteries occur: a Buddhist monk is murdered and a vintage VW is unburied to reveal two skeletons. The crimes provide Jimm an opportunity for a major scoop but take a backseat in reader interest to the locale, sparkling dialogue, and delightful cast of characters. Principal among them are those in Jimm's—if not dysfunctional then at least eccentric—family: her mother, who has a unique way of extracting revenge; her granddad, a retired cop who never rose above traffic duty because he refused to take bribes; an older brother who became a female beauty contestant following his sex change operation; and a younger brother who took up body building to overcome bullying and now has a build to make Arnold proud, but who is meek and cries when confronted. Toss in sundry villagers, local cops (in particular a homosexual lieutenant with a sharp mind and a quick wit), plus a thieving puppy and you have a cast to love and long remember.

Cotterill is a born storyteller and has a wonderful way with one-liners. Some of his quips had me laughing out loud. ("I hadn't seen Granddad this animated since the great diarrhea onslaught of 2005.") His writing flows easily, and although the solutions to the crimes disappoint, it doesn't matter because the rest is more than fine. Regrettably, prior to each chapter the author cites quotes from George W. Bush that seem meant to mock the former president, but that have absolutely nothing to do with the story and serve only as annoying distractions.

A Crack in Everything
Debbi Mack

Susan Callisto, a Boston real-estate lawyer turned political consultant who's pushing 30 and scrambling to pay the bills, is hired by the well-heeled Charles (aka Chaz) Renfrow at the 11th hour to consult on his run for mayor. The incumbent is harassing Renfrow's biotech company, NovoGenTech, or NGT, and Chaz is willing to pay Susan $20,000 to handle the situation. Managing not to faint at the sight of so many zeros, Susan takes the check, even as she asks herself, "Why me?"

Susan has no idea what's going on and doesn't get her first clue until Chaz's assistant Torie turns up dead in the trunk of her car. Murdered, possibly because of things she threatened to tell about NGT and toxic waste dumping. Susan starts to smell a rat.

What ensues is a riotous tangle of trouble, which readers may need a flowchart to follow. Let's just say it involves campaign antics, shady politicians (including one who's gunning for another of Susan's political clients, Roddie Baird), a corporate coverup (NGT), a couple of wives who may not be quite what they seem (Chaz's and Roddie's), an assassination (Chaz's), a friend in a coma (Nino Biondi, Susan's "half-stand-in grandpa"), and a complicated professional vs. personal conflict (did I mention Susan's ex, detective Michael, is investigating both murders?). Remarkably, these events all tie together and lead up to a big climax in which the killers are revealed. The answers will rock Susan's world in ways she can't begin to imagine. It is a purposefully convoluted plot, but Angela Gerst writes with assured and fluid prose. Susan Callisto is a funny, strong protagonist worthy of a long series of books. Enjoy the ride and don't sweat the details.

Teri Duerr
2011-09-29 20:25:42

Susan Callisto, a Boston real-estate lawyer turned political consultant who's pushing 30 and scrambling to pay the bills, is hired by the well-heeled Charles (aka Chaz) Renfrow at the 11th hour to consult on his run for mayor. The incumbent is harassing Renfrow's biotech company, NovoGenTech, or NGT, and Chaz is willing to pay Susan $20,000 to handle the situation. Managing not to faint at the sight of so many zeros, Susan takes the check, even as she asks herself, "Why me?"

Susan has no idea what's going on and doesn't get her first clue until Chaz's assistant Torie turns up dead in the trunk of her car. Murdered, possibly because of things she threatened to tell about NGT and toxic waste dumping. Susan starts to smell a rat.

What ensues is a riotous tangle of trouble, which readers may need a flowchart to follow. Let's just say it involves campaign antics, shady politicians (including one who's gunning for another of Susan's political clients, Roddie Baird), a corporate coverup (NGT), a couple of wives who may not be quite what they seem (Chaz's and Roddie's), an assassination (Chaz's), a friend in a coma (Nino Biondi, Susan's "half-stand-in grandpa"), and a complicated professional vs. personal conflict (did I mention Susan's ex, detective Michael, is investigating both murders?). Remarkably, these events all tie together and lead up to a big climax in which the killers are revealed. The answers will rock Susan's world in ways she can't begin to imagine. It is a purposefully convoluted plot, but Angela Gerst writes with assured and fluid prose. Susan Callisto is a funny, strong protagonist worthy of a long series of books. Enjoy the ride and don't sweat the details.

The Cut
Hank Wagner

Spero Lucas is a modern version of John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee—a vet of a recent war, he does recovery work for his clients in return for a sizable portion of what he recovers. There are other ways he resembles MacDonald's character: He's quick-witted, resourceful, tough, and has a way with the ladies. The major differences between them are their environs (Washington, DC for Lucas vs. Fort Lauderdale, Florida, for McGee), and their standards: Whereas McGee liked to nobly tilt at windmills, Lucas is, by necessity, less choosy about clients. This lack of selectivity can lead to trouble, as it does in The Cut, when he goes to work for a local drug dealer whose shipments are being hijacked. Because he is good at what he does, Lucas quickly finds himself in "kill or be killed" territory, where one mistake could cost him his life.

The Cut, the first in a new series starring Lucas, finds the author in fine form: The pacing is deft, the dialogue crackles, and the action is intense and harrowing. Newer readers will find Lucas a compelling lead character for his compassion, wit, and lethality. Longtime Pelecanos readers should take to him because he inhabits the familiar urban world that the crime writer has so skillfully detailed over the past couple of decades (at one point, for instance, he drives past Derek Strange's detective agency). Both sets of readers should also appreciate his (and his brother's) taste in literature, as Pelecanos gives numerous shout-outs to classics like Elmore Leonard's Unknown Man #89 and Daniel Woodrell's The Death of Sweet Mister.

Teri Duerr
2011-09-29 20:31:15

Spero Lucas is a modern version of John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee—a vet of a recent war, he does recovery work for his clients in return for a sizable portion of what he recovers. There are other ways he resembles MacDonald's character: He's quick-witted, resourceful, tough, and has a way with the ladies. The major differences between them are their environs (Washington, DC for Lucas vs. Fort Lauderdale, Florida, for McGee), and their standards: Whereas McGee liked to nobly tilt at windmills, Lucas is, by necessity, less choosy about clients. This lack of selectivity can lead to trouble, as it does in The Cut, when he goes to work for a local drug dealer whose shipments are being hijacked. Because he is good at what he does, Lucas quickly finds himself in "kill or be killed" territory, where one mistake could cost him his life.

The Cut, the first in a new series starring Lucas, finds the author in fine form: The pacing is deft, the dialogue crackles, and the action is intense and harrowing. Newer readers will find Lucas a compelling lead character for his compassion, wit, and lethality. Longtime Pelecanos readers should take to him because he inhabits the familiar urban world that the crime writer has so skillfully detailed over the past couple of decades (at one point, for instance, he drives past Derek Strange's detective agency). Both sets of readers should also appreciate his (and his brother's) taste in literature, as Pelecanos gives numerous shout-outs to classics like Elmore Leonard's Unknown Man #89 and Daniel Woodrell's The Death of Sweet Mister.

Triple Crossing
Barbara Fister

First time novelist Sebastian Rotella is no stranger to organized crime, terrorism, and border politics. As a journalist and a Pulitzer Prize finalist, he has investigated the links between the drug trade, extremist violence, and human trafficking in Europe, Latin America, and along the US border with Mexico. He brings his authority and passion to bear on this nail-biting story in which a few honest officers go up against global organizations that move drugs and people into the United States.

In San Diego, Valentine Pescatore, a rash young border agent so ambivalent about his work that he shoves money into the hands of the desperate people he intercepts, causes a diplomatic incident when he impulsively pursues a smuggler over the border into Tijuana. Pescatore is soon recruited to go under cover, under the direction of a beautiful and fiery-tempered federal agent, Isabel Puente. She has an uneasy alliance in Mexico with a crusading ex-journalist turned cop, Leo Mendez, who is the head of a small but incorruptible investigative team.

The situation Rotella sets up is so complex that the story gets off to a slow start as the various elements are put in place, but once Pescatore is ensconced in the cartel and they head to the exotic "triple border" where Paraguay, Argentina, and Brazil come together, the reader can't turn the pages fast enough.

Has the ambivalent young border agent thrown his lot in with the criminals? How deeply has the global mafia penetrated the political system? The moral borderland where politics, terrorism, big business, and organized crime come together is a fascinating and frightening place, vividly evoked by a writer who knows the territory.

Teri Duerr
2011-09-29 20:38:57

First time novelist Sebastian Rotella is no stranger to organized crime, terrorism, and border politics. As a journalist and a Pulitzer Prize finalist, he has investigated the links between the drug trade, extremist violence, and human trafficking in Europe, Latin America, and along the US border with Mexico. He brings his authority and passion to bear on this nail-biting story in which a few honest officers go up against global organizations that move drugs and people into the United States.

In San Diego, Valentine Pescatore, a rash young border agent so ambivalent about his work that he shoves money into the hands of the desperate people he intercepts, causes a diplomatic incident when he impulsively pursues a smuggler over the border into Tijuana. Pescatore is soon recruited to go under cover, under the direction of a beautiful and fiery-tempered federal agent, Isabel Puente. She has an uneasy alliance in Mexico with a crusading ex-journalist turned cop, Leo Mendez, who is the head of a small but incorruptible investigative team.

The situation Rotella sets up is so complex that the story gets off to a slow start as the various elements are put in place, but once Pescatore is ensconced in the cartel and they head to the exotic "triple border" where Paraguay, Argentina, and Brazil come together, the reader can't turn the pages fast enough.

Has the ambivalent young border agent thrown his lot in with the criminals? How deeply has the global mafia penetrated the political system? The moral borderland where politics, terrorism, big business, and organized crime come together is a fascinating and frightening place, vividly evoked by a writer who knows the territory.

The Heirloom Murders
Lynne F. Maxwell

Kathleen Ernst lives up to her promise in The Heirloom Murders, her second mystery featuring Chloe Ellefson. As readers learn in the series opener Old World Murder, Chloe is a collections curator for a replica of an antique Wisconsin town. Chloe is responsible for maintaining the authenticity of the town, which entails preserving for public consumption both the artifacts, surroundings, and cultural conventions of model Old Town, Wisconsin. Unfortunately, the present intrudes, introducing contemporary crime to the tranquil village. Much of the novel centers upon the history and attraction of the Eagle Diamond, a precious stone that vanished long ago. Murder and mayhem ensue as the chase for possession of the diamond escalates. Oh, and don't forget the romantic subplot that pits Chloe's ex-fiancé, another collections curator, against her new love interest, a lowly cop. Read The Heirloom Murders for entertainment and edification.

Teri Duerr
2011-09-29 20:42:18

Kathleen Ernst lives up to her promise in The Heirloom Murders, her second mystery featuring Chloe Ellefson. As readers learn in the series opener Old World Murder, Chloe is a collections curator for a replica of an antique Wisconsin town. Chloe is responsible for maintaining the authenticity of the town, which entails preserving for public consumption both the artifacts, surroundings, and cultural conventions of model Old Town, Wisconsin. Unfortunately, the present intrudes, introducing contemporary crime to the tranquil village. Much of the novel centers upon the history and attraction of the Eagle Diamond, a precious stone that vanished long ago. Murder and mayhem ensue as the chase for possession of the diamond escalates. Oh, and don't forget the romantic subplot that pits Chloe's ex-fiancé, another collections curator, against her new love interest, a lowly cop. Read The Heirloom Murders for entertainment and edification.

The Keeper of Lost Causes
Barbara Fister

Since Smilla made the bestseller list with her sense of snow many years ago, not many Danish thrillers have been made available in English. The publication of the first book in Jussi Adler-Olsen's Department Q series, ably translated by Tiina Nunnally, is cause for celebration.

Carl Morck, a caustic, prickly detective, is returning to work after a shooting in which one of his colleagues was killed and another paralyzed. His superiors, tired of his cynical sniping, put him in charge of a new department for hopeless cases, one located in a disused basement office and staffed by a single inexperienced assistant. There the disgruntled Carl's interest is snagged by the disappearance of Merete Lynggaard, a talented politician who vanished without a trace five years earlier. In alternating chapters, we learn what happened to Lynggaard as Carl begins to piece together clues with the help of his comically hapless assistant, Assad.

The prologue—in which a nameless woman struggles to escape a concrete cell—suggests the book we're about to read will be a grim affair, but it has surprisingly lighthearted moments. Lynggaard is a tough, resourceful woman who refuses to be defeated, Carl is an endearing if grumpy hero, and his Syrian sidekick Assad, who is a terrible driver and a fabulous cook, turns out to have hidden depths.

This winner of the Glass Key, Scandinavia's top prize for crime fiction, adds welcome variety to the Nordic mysteries on our shelves. Readers will be looking forward to the further investigations of Department Q.

Teri Duerr
2011-09-29 20:46:31

Since Smilla made the bestseller list with her sense of snow many years ago, not many Danish thrillers have been made available in English. The publication of the first book in Jussi Adler-Olsen's Department Q series, ably translated by Tiina Nunnally, is cause for celebration.

Carl Morck, a caustic, prickly detective, is returning to work after a shooting in which one of his colleagues was killed and another paralyzed. His superiors, tired of his cynical sniping, put him in charge of a new department for hopeless cases, one located in a disused basement office and staffed by a single inexperienced assistant. There the disgruntled Carl's interest is snagged by the disappearance of Merete Lynggaard, a talented politician who vanished without a trace five years earlier. In alternating chapters, we learn what happened to Lynggaard as Carl begins to piece together clues with the help of his comically hapless assistant, Assad.

The prologue—in which a nameless woman struggles to escape a concrete cell—suggests the book we're about to read will be a grim affair, but it has surprisingly lighthearted moments. Lynggaard is a tough, resourceful woman who refuses to be defeated, Carl is an endearing if grumpy hero, and his Syrian sidekick Assad, who is a terrible driver and a fabulous cook, turns out to have hidden depths.

This winner of the Glass Key, Scandinavia's top prize for crime fiction, adds welcome variety to the Nordic mysteries on our shelves. Readers will be looking forward to the further investigations of Department Q.

The Burning
Bob Smith

Finally a serial killer novel that is more than what the genre implies. London's latest killer is dubbed "The Burning Man" from the way he torches his victims with gasoline. He has murdered four young females, but the circumstances surrounding victim number five, Rebecca Haworth, are different and police suspect a copycat killing. Detective constable Maeve Kerrigan is assigned to probe into Rebecca's background while the rest of the force continues the hunt for the Burning Man. Kerrigan's top suspect is Rebecca's former lover who is now making overtures to Louise North, one of Rebecca's closest friends. Kerrigan fears that Louise may be the next victim.

There are no stereotypical, cardboard characters here. Each of the three women involved, Kerrigan, Rebecca, and Louise, ring true and hold our interest. The contrast in the lives of vivacious Rebecca and drab Louise are beautifully delineated. What could have been just another serial-killer-on-the-loose novel turns into a suspenseful probe into the death of Rebecca and an in-depth character study of two very different women.

The author expertly juggles both murder investigations, juxtaposing the massive team efforts of finding the Burning Man with the solo efforts of Kerrigan unraveling Rebecca's murder. Although the hunt for the serial killer is of top priority to the police, the plot that grabs our attention and keeps it is Kerrigan's search for Rebecca's murderer.

Experienced mystery fans may suspect the identity of the killer early on, but the author scatters enough red herrings along the way to keep readers off balance and unsure but turning pages.

Teri Duerr
2011-09-29 20:50:56

Finally a serial killer novel that is more than what the genre implies. London's latest killer is dubbed "The Burning Man" from the way he torches his victims with gasoline. He has murdered four young females, but the circumstances surrounding victim number five, Rebecca Haworth, are different and police suspect a copycat killing. Detective constable Maeve Kerrigan is assigned to probe into Rebecca's background while the rest of the force continues the hunt for the Burning Man. Kerrigan's top suspect is Rebecca's former lover who is now making overtures to Louise North, one of Rebecca's closest friends. Kerrigan fears that Louise may be the next victim.

There are no stereotypical, cardboard characters here. Each of the three women involved, Kerrigan, Rebecca, and Louise, ring true and hold our interest. The contrast in the lives of vivacious Rebecca and drab Louise are beautifully delineated. What could have been just another serial-killer-on-the-loose novel turns into a suspenseful probe into the death of Rebecca and an in-depth character study of two very different women.

The author expertly juggles both murder investigations, juxtaposing the massive team efforts of finding the Burning Man with the solo efforts of Kerrigan unraveling Rebecca's murder. Although the hunt for the serial killer is of top priority to the police, the plot that grabs our attention and keeps it is Kerrigan's search for Rebecca's murderer.

Experienced mystery fans may suspect the identity of the killer early on, but the author scatters enough red herrings along the way to keep readers off balance and unsure but turning pages.

Second Fiddle
Sarah Prindle

In this beautiful coming-of-age story set in 1990, eighth grade violinist Jody Fields—who lives in West Berlin on an American military base—is thrust into a serious situation when she and her friends save a Soviet soldier from being murdered. It is just after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and Jody's family is planning to relocate to America. Jody is not looking forward to leaving her best friends: the strong-willed Giselle Johnson and the smart Vivian Armstrong. Now the three girls have to find a way to smuggle the Soviet soldier out of Germany, an escapade that brings them to Paris, where they'd been planning to compete in a musical competition. Along the way the girls learn about friendship, caring, and the need to rely on each other to get through tough times.

As an Army wife who moved to Germany in the spring of 1990, author Rosanne Parry gives us a first-hand look at military families, Berlin after the fall of the Wall, and Americans abroad. Jody comments at one point that she doesn't feel any place in America was her home—a feeling no doubt created from her life travelling abroad, which adds an element of compassion for her character. In fact, all the characters—from Jody's trusting mother to her distant father—seem as if they could be your friends or family. Taking us from poverty-stricken East Berlin to the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the story moves swiftly and sparks with humor and realism. Second Fiddle also explores music through Jody's love of classical violin pieces, which inspire her to write her own songs. A wonderful tale of music, friendship, history, and learning, Second Fiddle is a gem.

Teri Duerr
2011-09-29 20:56:29

parry_secondfiddleWhen she saves the life of a soldier, Young violinist Jody Fields, is thrust into a serious situation.

“Me and Eddie Poe”
Elizabeth Foxwell

Millay_Edna_St_Vincent_smallEdna St. Vincent Millay took a single foray into the mystery genre before the Pulitzer Prize for her poetry turned her attention elsewhere. “The Murder in the Fishing Cat” remains a tantalizing glimpse into what might have been.

Illustration: Richard Polt

Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950) was something of a Renaissance spirit. The first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for poetry, she was a celebrated voice of her generation whose candle burned at both ends and in the middle as well. In addition to her poems, she published stories under the pseudonym Nancy Boyd, wrote several plays and saw some of them produced, and acted alongside Eugene O’Neill as a member of the fledgling Provincetown Players.

Her creative output also included a single mystery story, “The Murder in the Fishing Cat.” In a November 1922 letter, Millay told Norma and Charles Ellis, her sister and brother-in-law, that she had sent “Cat” to her agents, describing it as “a story about Paris,” and added, “I tell you, me and Eddie Poe—there’s no stopping us Americans.” The story first appeared in the March 1923 issue of Century Magazine and was republished in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine in May 1950. It is likely that Millay wrote it sometime during the early 1920s when she was living in Europe.

"Fishing Cat” is the disturbing tale of a restaurant owner, Jean-Pierre, whose best days seem to be behind him. His wife has left him; his only waiter has been drafted into the army. His once-fashionable Restaurant du Chat qui Pêche (literally, the Restaurant of the Cat Who Fishes) is shunned, and he is reduced to watching the steady stream of customers patronize the new cafe now in vogue next door. Millay’s opening lines set a scene of defeat:

The popularity of a restaurant does not depend on the excellence of its cuisine or the cobwebs on the bottles in its cellar. And you might have in the window ten glass tanks instead of one in which moved obscurely shadowy eels and shrimps, yet you could be no surer of success. Jean-Pierre knew this, and he did not reproach himself for his failure. It is something that may happen to the best of us. (Century, p. 663)

The lonely Jean-Pierre develops a fixation on the sole occupant of his eel tank, which leads to unexpected, violent results and a singular twist at the end.

In addition to the superb depiction of an uneasy, skewed reality, other strengths of the story are Millay’s fluid description and affecting characters who bloom in the merest strokes against the colorless Jean-Pierre—a serious, impoverished little girl selling bright fistfuls of flowers, a kindhearted American youth who buys them, a selfish Parisian matron, Jean-Pierre’s frivolous wife. Millay’s lyrical gift for language also is evident, such as in this passage later in the story:

In the Restaurant du Chat qui Pêche the dusk thickened into dark, the darkness into blackness, and no lights came on. The door was wide open. The night wind came in through the door, and moved through the empty rooms. (Century, p. 675)

In August 1949, Millay told Ellery Queen (actually Frederic Dannay, one-half of the team of writing cousins) that the story was inspired by a lunch in Paris. “I turned my head,” wrote Millay to Queen, “and saw . . . just inside the window of the restaurant, a large glass tank containing water in which eels were swimming. I wished they were not there. The rest [of the story] was all imagination.” The Fishing Cat, she added, was an actual restaurant, although not located where she had placed it in her story.

ellery_queens_mystery_195005Dannay was impressed with Millay’s effort. “In Miss Millay’s prose,” he wrote in the introduction to the “Fishing Cat” reprint in EQMM, “you will find the qualities of both herself and her poetry—the clear, precise voice and the delicate, almost fragile, image; the intensely personal style which is of simple beauty and beautiful simplicity; and the psychological probing of loneliness and mental fatigue, with their twisting emotional crosscurrents and undercurrents...”

In Dannay’s view, there was a particular reason for the strength of Millay’s mystery story: her position as a preeminent poet. “[P]oets, it has always seemed to us,” he noted in the EQMM introduction, “are peculiarly sensitive to the smell of evil, to the sounds of violence, to the sight of cruelty, to the touch of tragedy, to the taste of murder—and to that sixth sense which detects and diagnoses the heartache and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.”

Why did Millay write a mystery? The Library of Congress is currently recataloging Millay’s papers, but the material that is available sheds some interesting light on “Fishing Cat.”

Among her 1922 writings is an unpublished essay, “E.A.P.,” in which Millay discusses the verses of Edgar Allan Poe, referring to the Russian and French reverence for Poe’s poetry and the American acceptance of this foreign esteem. She, however, held a far different opinion. “At no point in the reading [of Poe’s poems],” she wrote, “was there produced in me that combined sensation of excitement and peace by what [sic] I know that I have found a poem. I remained throughout untouched . . . unconvinced.”

The essay coupled with the edgy story and the comment in Millay’s letter regarding “Eddie Poe” might suggest “Fishing Cat” was her attempt to “out-Poe Poe” in the short story form in which he excelled, similar to Charles Dickens’ effort with The Mystery of Edwin Drood to “out-Collins Collins”—his friend and successful sensation writer Wilkie Collins.

It is likely Millay wrote “Fishing Cat” for the money—her nine romances under the Nancy Boyd pseudonym in Ainslee’s paid far better than the small sums she was then earning for her poems. At about the same time Millay also was writing well-paid pieces for Vanity Fair. Because she was contributing to her mother’s support as well as her own, money would have been an important factor. Placing the story in Century Magazine was logical; Century under editor William Rose Benet had previously published her poem “Time Does Not Bring Relief.”

Just one month after “Fishing Cat” was published, Millay won the Pulitzer Prize and so turned in earnest to her poetry. For mystery readers, “Fishing Cat” remains a tantalizing dip into possibility.

Where to read “Murder in the Fishing Cat”
In addition to the March 1923 Century Magazine publication and the June 1950 appearance in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, “Fishing Cat” is reprinted in Ellery Queen’s Poetic Justice (New York: New American Library, 1967) and The Poet’s Story, edited by Howard Moss (New York: Macmillan, 1973).

Acknowledgements
I thank Alice Lotvin Birney, literary manuscript historian, and Nan Ernst, archivist for the Edna St. Vincent Millay collection, the Manuscript Division, Library of Congress; and John Harrelson for their assistance in the preparation of this article. Excerpt from the unpublished essay “E.A.P.” by Edna St. Vincent Millay. Copyright © The Edna St. Vincent Millay Society. Used by permission.

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Spring Issue #79.

Teri Duerr
2011-10-04 17:22:17

Millay_Edna_St_Vincent_smallPulitzer Prize-winning poet Edna St. Vincent Millay took a single, tantalizing foray into mystery.

Declassified: the Barry Eisler Files
Kevin Burton Smith

eisler_barry_crop_press_smallBarry Eisler’s thrillers about Tokyo-based John Rain, the conflicted, half-Japanese, half-American freelance assassin, are international bestsellers, translated into almost 20 languages, regularly winning awards and making year-end “best of” lists.

He’s been compared to John le Carré and Ian Fleming. The film rights have been optioned to Barrie Osborne, the Oscar-winning producer of the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

And the series, which started with Rain Fall in 2002, just seems to keep moving from strength to strength, as it tracks Rain’s evolution from the man he once was, an emotionless killing machine, to the man he wants to be, capable of love—and being loved. But this is no touchy-feely odyssey he’s on.

In fact, the sixth and latest, Requiem for an Assassin, may be the hardest-hitting yet. It’s a bruising global ride that finds the angst-ridden assassin in a race to save his friend Dox, the good ol’ boy, former Marine sniper previously introduced in Rain Storm. It’s a situation that would have been almost inconceivable at the beginning of the series, but Rain is no longer the friendless lethal weapon he once was. Nor have the seams in his carefully patched-together persona ever been so gloriously evident.

To rescue Dox from a rogue CIA operative and his team of killers, Rain may have to face a more deadly enemy than usual—namely himself. Rarely in thrillerdom have questions of duty and honor—and their emotional cost—been so sharply examined. And it’s all played against a high-tension cat-and-mouse game full of the diamond-hard action scenes, head-spinning plot twists and the insider vibe that Eisler is routinely and justly applauded for.

Now it turns out that Eisler comes by that vibe firsthand.

Barry was a spy.

Not that I’m Libbying anyone here, but after years of vague rumors about his past, Eisler himself—at the bequest of his publishers—applied to the CIA for a status change. Putnam figured it would make a good publicity hook.

And they were right. I mean, he writes novels full of international skullduggery. And he worked for the CIA. How cool is that?

Pretty cool, it turns out. Eisler spent three years as a case officer with the agency’s Directorate of Operations. “Mostly they trained me at the SOTC—Special Operations Training Course. Where else can you learn how to pilot small watercraft, conduct airdrops, fire off M-79 grenade launchers, and make improvised explosive devices? And get paid for it?”

But when pushed to elaborate, he tends to downplay his spy days. “I didn’t really do that much. I didn’t even carry a gun. Agency guys don’t usually need to carry guns,” he explains. “Except maybe in war zones or in dangerous cities like Beirut, Bogota, sometimes Manila...

“Despite its arguably sexy image,” he concludes, “the CIA can be a frustratingly bureaucratic place to work.”

He points out that he wasn’t even called a spy. Or an agent. “I was a case officer. In CIA-speak, ‘agents’ are the foreign nationals whom case officers recruit and run.” Barry explains. “Which is odd, given that CIA stands for Central Intelligence Agency. An agency with no agents? Only in the government...”

In fact, most of his tales out of school tend to focus on head-to-head battles with...bureaucracy. For example, during the background check process, Eisler had to take a lie detector test at a Virginia facility. They hooked him up to the gear: blood pressure monitor, respiration, skin conductivity, etc. The examiner, whom Eisler suspects was “selected for his utter lack of humor,” began by asking the standard questions, including the ever popular “Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of an organization that seeks the violent overthrow of the US government?”

Nervous, Eisler tried to lighten the situation by cracking wise: “Heh...is there any way someone could answer ‘yes’ to that and still get the job?”

Eisler says the examiner looked at him as though he was “a bug.” Which of course just made him more nervous, so he blathered on. “You know, like, ‘Yes, but only as a high school prank,’ or, ‘Yes, but I was very drunk at the time and I quit the next day?’”

The examiner kept staring. Finally, Eisler surrendered. “Uh, no. Never.”

eisler_barry_09_press_smallThat humorless, bureaucratic mindset was pervasive. At one point, Eisler was rotated over to the Directorate of Intelligence to review the new Soviet constitution. This was the Glasnost era and there was a provision in the new constitution guaranteeing freedom of the press. In his analysis, he suggested that the provision wasn’t much of a departure. His supervisor became quite concerned, and called Eisler in.

Supervisor: You say that the new guarantee of freedom of the press isn’t important.
Eisler: It’s not, at least in and of itself. The Stalin-era constitution said the same thing. Maybe other changes will lead to actual freedom of the press in the Soviet Union, but the same old provision in the constitution isn’t one of them.
Supervisor: But this constitution guarantees freedom of the press.
Eisler: But so did Stalin’s. And the press wasn’t free then. Ergo, in the Soviet Union, a provision in the constitution, by itself, isn’t dispositive.
Supervisor: [pause] But this provision guarantees freedom of the press.

According to Eisler, it was “like the scene in Spinal Tap where Rob Reiner’s character can’t convince guitarist Nigel Tufnel that his new amplifier isn’t actually louder even though the new volume control now goes to 11. No matter how he tries to explain it, the guitarist just keeps saying, ‘But this one goes to 11....’”

It’s the sort of situation that would have the pragmatic Rain reaching for a gun. Or a piece of piano wire. Or any of the countless other materials, both exotic (Requiem boasts a great rescue-by-microwave scene) and prosaic (a tree branch), that he’s employed to such deadly use in the series—and that Eisler depicts with chilling verisimilitude.

He credits Uncle Sam for his getting the operator mindset and tactics right. “After all, I was trained by, and worked with these people,” he confesses. “But I also came away with a notion of the government’s limitations and its dysfunctions.”

Dysfunctions?

“Yes. A lot of thrillers are predicated on the idea of some grand conspiracy, which makes for fun fiction, but honestly? Most governments aren’t competent enough to launch and maintain a good conspiracy. The left hand often doesn’t know what the right is doing, far more often than most people realize. Which is why my books tend to focus on the actions of smaller groups, not on government-wide actors.

“As the saying goes: never attribute to malice what can be adequately explained by stupidity.... I try to integrate what’s going on in the real world with Rain’s world. Of course, occasionally, a reader objects,” Eisler admits. “But if they can get past the fact that he kills people for a living, you’d think they could get past the fact that he takes a rather cynical view of the current White House crew, right?”

Eisler, a self-confessed news and politics junkie, is only slightly less outspoken on The Heart of the Matter, his own blog where he attempts to maintain a respectful balance between dissenting camps—a measured, common-sense approach that’s something of a rarity in these increasingly polarized times. As he points out, “I’m sick of flame wars that pass as political discussion, and all the entertainers like Ann Coulter, Al Franken, Michael Moore, and Bill O’Reilly posing as pundits. Calling your political opponents ‘big fat idiots’ or ‘treasonous’ or distorting their statements to fit your diatribe is a great way to sell books, speeches, talk shows, and movies. But that kind of nonsense never enlightens and it never persuades.”

Which may be another factor in the books’ success—Rain may be a killer-for-hire, but he always strives, in his own twisted, tortured way, to take the high road. It’s just one reason he’s such a compelling figure. Another is that Rain’s half-Japanese, half-American heritage makes him a perpetual outsider. When I told Eisler how I felt this was a masterstroke on his part, he shrugged it off.

“I wish I could claim some ingenious insight, but the truth is that originally Rain was a white guy. My agent, Nat Sobel, thought the manuscript had promise, but he couldn’t buy a white guy blending in Tokyo the way Rain did. 'Could he be Japanese?' Nat suggested. But that didn’t feel right either so I compromised. I said, 'Maybe he could be half...' and bam! That was one of those moments where the light bulb goes on over your head.”

“But Rain isn’t really half Japanese or half American,” Eisler is quick to say. “He’s actually completely each. If you met him in the States, other than his Japanese features (which he inherited from his father and had augmented with plastic surgery to make it easier to blend in), you’d assume he was born and bred in America. His English is idiomatic, his accent native, his range of cultural references complete. Likewise in Japan you’d never guess that he was anything other than just another local. This experience of essentially having two souls fascinates me—imagine the phenomenal perspective it must confer. His experience is so paradoxically alienating: he’s fully both, and yet feels truly neither.”

That could be Rain’s motto: Both and yet neither. But even more than his ethnicity, it’s his emotional and existential journey that drives the series—particularly in his latest outing.

eisler_the_detachment_oct_2011Eisler agrees. “A few readers seemed to prefer the more cold-blooded, ruthless Rain of the first book, but what interests me is the way he’s trying to change in response to what he experiences, the way he’s developing. In Requiem for an Assassin all the progress he’s made is erased in a stroke when Dox is kidnapped. Rain snaps all the way back into killing machine mode. But he’s not a loner anymore, and the stress of reverting to his former ways to save Dox—while trying to maintain a relationship with his lover, Israeli agent Delilah—is tearing him apart.

“If there’s an overarching theme to the series, it’s the question of whether Rain can be redeemed for the life he’s led, and the lives he’s taken, or whether he’s irrevocably damned. I don’t know the answer, but until Rain finds out, the story isn’t over.”

Which is good news for his fans all over the world. Eisler is surprised at how well they’ve done in the Netherlands, and he’s pleased—and relieved—at how positive the Japanese reaction has been, given that the books pull no punches in their examination of corruption in Japanese society. “I guess they can sense my genuine enthusiasm for their culture beyond the criticism.”

When asked where that enthusiasm came from, he admits it’s a spin-off from his early interest in martial arts. “I grew up in suburban New Jersey. My father was a salesman, an entrepreneur who never worked for anyone else in his life; my mother was an artist, a homemaker, and even a bit of visionary on what’s now called climate change.

“I was hooked on books, always loved reading and writing. I used to write horror stories about vampires and werewolves while staying with my grandparents on the shore every summer. It was just a good, ordinary childhood.”

He pauses. “Except I got picked on a lot and I wanted to learn how to defend myself. I started wrestling in high school and loved it. Of course, I soon learned that when it comes to confrontations, martial arts aren’t necessarily the solution. But if all else fails, it’s a good insurance policy.”

In college, he met two Japanese business school students who were both fourth dan judoka from the Kodokan International Judo Center, where some of the world’s best judoka study. They were interested in wrestling and Eisler was by now interested in judo. They started working out together. Eisler was also training in karate at the time, and his burgeoning interest in budo soon grew to a more general interest in Japanese history and culture. Eventually, he decided that the only way to completely indulge that interest would be to live in the country.

It took a while, though. After college he took law at Cornell University and “fell in love” with Ithaca, New York, staying for the seven-year program. And then the CIA beckoned. Eisler hoped for a posting to Japan but mounting delays and a growing frustration with the agency’s bureaucracy convinced him to find his own way across the Pacific. He joined the DC office of a New York-based private law firm and eventually took a leave of absence to work with a Tokyo law firm.

“But none of this really explains the feeling I had when I first stepped off the train in Tokyo,” he says. “It was absolute metropolitan love at first sight, and it’s never gone away. I hope it never does.”

By this point, Eisler was in his early 30s, working on the manuscript that would become Rain Fall, but it never occurred to him that he’d be a writer. “Which is embarrassing,” he confesses. “I’d always liked writing. I was always good at it...so why did it take me so long to try to make a living from it?”

eisler_rainfallHe drew on early literary influences ranging from Stephen King and Andrew Vachss, to Judy Blume (“I’m serious! I loved the sex scenes in Forever!”), as well as an obsession with Harry Houdini. “I was about ten when I read a biography where a cop says how fortunate it was that Houdini didn’t turn to a life of crime because he would have been difficult to catch and impossible to hold. I was fascinated by that—that Houdini had managed to gain this ‘forbidden knowledge.’”

The work of such former-intelligence-ops-turned-writers as Fleming and le Carré also played a part; a fact Eisler readily acknowledges in the introduction he wrote for an upcoming reprint of Fleming’s For Your Eyes Only: “What fascinated me as a teenager about James Bond was that he would willingly commit the ultimate crime—killing—and yet remain one of the good guys. Probably no coincidence, then, that I write the same kind of character. Or that I was drawn to the CIA...

“And I’ve always admired how le Carré used his experience not just to craft great spy stories, but to examine what makes us human. I think all authors start off unconsciously trying to imitate other writers they love but eventually, hopefully, imitation fades to influence and your own voice starts to come through.”

For Eisler, that voice includes a certain verisimilitude of which he’s rather proud. “A large part of my ‘brand’ is realism. Except for a way of tapping into a cordless phone in the first book that I made up, all the technology in the books is real. I learned my lesson—anything that I change or extrapolate, I now call out in an author’s note. The jazz clubs, whisky bars, streets, and other locations—they’re all exactly as I find them in on-site research. The martial arts sequences, the tradecraft and operator mindset, it’s all based on my own experience.”

Currently, Eisler lives in the Bay Area with his wife and daughter, but he foresees an eventual return to Japan. “Our daughter’s crazy about anime and manga. She loved it when we took her to visit last year.”

Right now, though, he’s working on a standalone thriller and “having a blast.” Not that fans need be too concerned. Eisler’s already contemplating another book, although this time he’s considering a story driven more by Dox or Delilah, with Rain in a supporting role.

I asked what has surprised him the most about writing fiction, and his response was immediate.

“How the stories just keep coming. Thank God...”

A BARRY EISLER READING LIST

The John Rain Novels
Rain Fall, 2002
Hard Rain (UK: Blood From Blood), 2003
Rain Storm (UK: Choke Point), 2004
Killing Rain (UK: One Last Kill), 2005
The Last Assassin, 2006
Requiem for an Assassin, 2007
The Detachment, forthcoming October 2011

The Ben Treven Novels
Fault Line, 2009
Inside Out, 2010

This article first appeared in Mystery Scene Summer Issue #100.

Teri Duerr
2011-10-05 18:25:18

eisler_barry_crop_press_smallA conversation with the spy-turned-author behind the John Rain international thrillers.

Arthur Conan Doyle's First Novel
Oline Cogdill

altOnce upon a time, it was easy to blame the mail for lost letters and lost bills. The phrase "it's in the mail" has a certain comfort to it.

It implies that something will be coming but at the same time holds the suggestion that what was sent may never reach its destination.

I wonder how many authors such as Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, also lost their manuscripts to the void of the mail.

Conan Doyle’s original manuscript of his first novel, The Narrative of John Smith, was lost in the mail en route to his publishers.

He later rewrote the novel from memory but it was never published in his lifetime.

That novel was a far cry from the iconc Great Detective. Doyle's debut was about a 50-year-old man who is confined to his room when he has an attack of gout.

Now, I, of course, haven't read it and can't judge it based on that description.

But others will get a chance to weigh in on the novel.

The British Library has released The Narrative of John Smith, making it available to a wide audience. The library also will display the manuscript at its Sir John Ritblat Treasures Gallery in London.

The British Library said in a statement that the novel was written between 1883 and 1884 and is “semi-autobiographical in nature.”


During the novel, John Smith has a series of conversations about issues of the day, including literature, science, religion, war and politics.

Conan Doyle was once quoted about the manuscript's lost: “My shock at its disappearance would be as nothing to my horror if it were suddenly to appear again – in print.”

Xav ID 577
2011-10-12 10:10:15

altOnce upon a time, it was easy to blame the mail for lost letters and lost bills. The phrase "it's in the mail" has a certain comfort to it.

It implies that something will be coming but at the same time holds the suggestion that what was sent may never reach its destination.

I wonder how many authors such as Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, also lost their manuscripts to the void of the mail.

Conan Doyle’s original manuscript of his first novel, The Narrative of John Smith, was lost in the mail en route to his publishers.

He later rewrote the novel from memory but it was never published in his lifetime.

That novel was a far cry from the iconc Great Detective. Doyle's debut was about a 50-year-old man who is confined to his room when he has an attack of gout.

Now, I, of course, haven't read it and can't judge it based on that description.

But others will get a chance to weigh in on the novel.

The British Library has released The Narrative of John Smith, making it available to a wide audience. The library also will display the manuscript at its Sir John Ritblat Treasures Gallery in London.

The British Library said in a statement that the novel was written between 1883 and 1884 and is “semi-autobiographical in nature.”


During the novel, John Smith has a series of conversations about issues of the day, including literature, science, religion, war and politics.

Conan Doyle was once quoted about the manuscript's lost: “My shock at its disappearance would be as nothing to my horror if it were suddenly to appear again – in print.”