John Connolly’s Charlie Parker books push the limits of the whodunit genre. They read like detective novels, but then they step over the line into Stephen King country, where apparitions dance at the periphery of the senses and where evil becomes palpable—and ever so believable. Connolly’s latest, The Wrath of Angels, finds the intrepid P.I. sitting in a bar, listening to a strange tale about a private airplane that went down in the dense woods of northern Maine. A pair of elderly hunters stumbled upon the scene long after the crash, and the plane gave up a couple—but only a couple—of its secrets: a seat with a handcuff attached (but no person or remains present) and a satchel full of money accompanied by a curious list of names and numbers. Both hunters are now dead, and their family members want some closure around the whole affair. In short order they will fervently wish that they had never stirred up those ghosts. This tale is spooky, macabre and deliciously entertaining from start to finish.
A COMPROMISING POSITION
Though I suppose murder could be committed in any number of ways, it is nonetheless unusual for modern-day cops to be investigating a homicide performed via crossbow. However, that is exactly what Chief Inspector Alan Banks is doing in Peter Robinson’s latest Yorkshire police procedural, Watching the Dark. The victim is one Bill Quinn, a decorated policeman and recent widower who was by all accounts devoted to his wife. That seems to be at odds with lurid photos found near the crime scene, however: photos of Quinn in flagrante delicto with a beautiful, perhaps underage, girl. Was he being blackmailed? And if so, was he murdered because the blackmailers had no real hold over him after his wife’s death? Banks is convinced that the murder is related to a case Quinn investigated six years back, when a girl went missing in Tallinn. So with many more questions than answers in hand, Banks sets off for Estonia in search of clues. Taut suspense, complex characters and deft storytelling combine in this whodunit tour-de-force.
Politics makes strange bedfellows—rarely so much as in postwar Ireland, where a number of Nazi collaborators were given sanctuary and set up with new identities. Fast forward to 1963, where Stuart Neville’s edgy political thriller, Ratlines, begins. John F. Kennedy is about to visit the Emerald Isle, the first world leader to pay a state visit to the newly formed republic. Shortly before Kennedy’s arrival, a German immigrant is murdered in an Irish resort town; this is potentially a devastating embarrassment for the government, as the dead man was a wanted Nazi war criminal, hiding in plain sight for some 18 years. For investigator Albert Ryan, his brief is short and sweet: Find the killer, keep the investigation on the down low, and bury it without a trace. This will be no easy feat for Ryan, who is caught between the conflicting mandates of his government handlers and the powerful Nazis they have shielded for so long. According to Neville’s prologue, the setup is real-life history and the rest is “just a story.” But what a story it is!
TOP PICK IN MYSTERY
In the early days of “Law & Order,” the commercial spots advertising upcoming episodes began with the catchphrase, “Ripped from the headlines.” Now, Dick Wolf, the producer of the show, has turned his hand to writing—and once again, that lead-in is dead on, as evidenced by his debut thriller, The Intercept, a tale of modern-day terrorism set at what must surely be the epicenter of terror, Manhattan’s Ground Zero. A terrorist threat clouds the upcoming July 4th dedication of the new One World Trade Center project, and NYPD detective Jeremy Fisk is tasked with heading the investigation. The cost of failure is unthinkable, as the president and countless other luminaries will be on hand for the Independence Day festivities, and the gaze of the world will be fixed on the event. Fisk should be the perfect agent for the job: He is fluent in Arabic and versed in the nuances of the terrorist mind. Nonetheless, he cannot seem to catch a break; every lead either blows up in his face or proves to be a time-wasting red herring. And time is something Fisk can ill afford to waste.
In moving from the small screen to the printed page, Wolf has clearly lost not one iota of his ability to deliver first-rate suspense “ripped from the headlines.”