by Bruce TierneyDecember 2011
A conundrum of a cold case
It is always a good month for mystery readers if there is a new Michael Connelly book at hand—doubly so if it happens to feature world-weary L.A. cop Harry Bosch. In Connelly’s latest, The Drop, Bosch commands the LAPD cold case unit, serving out his final three years before forced retirement. Cases scarcely get any colder—or any stranger—than his current one: Newly tested DNA evidence pinpoints a suspect in a 1989 rape/murder. Problem is, the alleged perpetrator was only eight years old at the time of the crime! While Bosch investigates that conundrum, another case falls in his lap courtesy of his longtime nemesis, city councilman Irvin Irving. There is no love (nor civility, for that matter) lost between the old adversaries, but Irving’s son fell or was pushed from a Chateau Marmont balcony, and the bereaved politician has thrown his considerable weight around to compel Bosch to conduct the investigation. The beleaguered cop will soon discover that his cold case has ramifications that reach into the present day, and the new case has its roots deep in the past. As always, Connelly delivers a page-turner of the first order, again cementing his reputation as one of the finest contemporary American mystery writers.
DEAD ON THE SCENE
A major subset of the mystery genre is the British police procedural novel, a brilliant example of which is Peter James’ Dead Man’s Grip, number seven in his series featuring tenacious Brighton cop Roy Grace. This time out, Grace heads up the investigation into a traffic accident that left a bicyclist dead at the scene. Then, one by one, the other participants in the accident meet mysterious (and, it must be said, macabre) ends. For example, one of them is found in a submerged minivan, his hands super-glued to the steering wheel! The plot thickens as Grace discovers that the bicyclist was the grandson of a noted American underworld figure, a shady character with the means and connections to exact his revenge. Longtime readers of the series will recall an ongoing subplot featuring Grace’s wife Sandy, who disappeared some years back without a trace. Grace is finally beginning to get on with his personal life—with a new girlfriend and a baby on the way—but the specter of Sandy still nags at the corners of his consciousness. Without giving anything away, I am happy to say that you will finally be apprised of Sandy’s fate. Readers will not want to miss this.
TROUBLE FROM WITHIN
The Complaints, Ian Rankin’s first mystery featuring Edinburgh Internal Affairs cop Malcolm Fox, was a hit with readers and critics alike; it was a BookPage Top Pick in Mystery, in fact. Now Fox is back for his sophomore outing, The Impossible Dead. Disgraced Fife policeman Paul Carter has been dismissed from duty, thanks to a tip from a whistle blower and corroborative evidence from a fearful and paranoid local woman; what remains to be determined is whether his fellow cops covered up for him in his final days on the force. Naturally, the folks under investigation close ranks and circle the wagons, taking every opportunity to undermine Fox’s inquiry and/or lead it in unprofitable directions. Things take a turn for the deadly when the whistle blower, an ex-cop who happened to be Paul Carter’s uncle, is found murdered in his cluttered living room. The weapon: a gun reported destroyed ages ago—a gun that figured in a prominent political assassination dating from the 1980s, a time of separatist upheaval among Scots patriots (or terrorists, depending on whom you talk to). Filled with fascinating backstory, compelling characters and some sly social commentary, The Impossible Dead will, like The Complaints before it, leave you eagerly awaiting the next installment.
TOP PICK IN MYSTERY
It is with more than a bit of sadness and nostalgia that I offer you the December Top Pick in Mystery, Forever Rumpole, for author John Mortimer passed away in early 2009, leaving behind a legacy of more than 80 Rumpole tales and legions of bereaved fans. Fourteen of the best of Rumpole’s cases have been gathered for this compilation, tracing the aging barrister’s career from the late 1970s until 2004. All the usual suspects are on hand, most prominently the Timson clan of “minor villains” and Rumpole’s stern, no-nonsense wife Hilda, known to Rumpole and readers alike as “She Who Must Be Obeyed.” The world changed rather dramatically over the course of 30 years of Rumpole stories; the dishevelled lawyer (think of a composite of Perry Mason and Inspector Columbo, in a slightly tatty whitish wig) fielded cases ranging from petty larceny to Islamic terrorism, all with his characteristic tilting at windmills and his biting tongue-in-cheek wit. Mortimer was at work on a new Rumpole story at the time of his death. That fragment is enclosed as the coda to Forever Rumpole. It promised to be as good as the tales that came before it.