Photographer and reformed terrorist Nina Zero returns for an encore performance in Robert M. Eversz' Killing Paparazzi. Well, OK, perhaps she's not exactly reformed; for that matter, you could make a pretty good case that she never was a real terrorist. On the other hand, in Eversz' 1996 novel Shooting Elvis, Nina did blow up a Los Angeles airport terminal. By mistake. In any event, she has done her time, five years worth, and has been granted parole. Within days, she will marry an English paparazzo desperate for a green card (a clear parole violation), purchase a hot Nikon from a Venice junkie (parole violation #2), duck behind yellow police tape to snag some scandalous celebrity photos (violation #3) and stash a stolen handgun under the seat of her elderly Eldorado (we're talking a whole new crime here). When her new husband turns up dead on the shores of a Los Angeles reservoir, all eyes turn to Nina as chief suspect.

Unusual in its first person perspective (a male author writing as a female character), Killing Paparazzi is taut, edgy and believable. The humor is pointed and new wave; the repartee cleverly noir, with overtones of punk. (Picture your favorite old-time hardboiled detective Sam Spade for instance resplendent in trench coat, with spiked blond hair and a pierced eyebrow.)  

A rogue PI on the murder trail

Many of the best private-eye novels feature a protagonist with only one name: Robert Parker's Spenser; Andrew Vachss' Burke. It lends a certain street cred to their personae. Meet Harding, veteran PI of John Wessel's This Far No Further and Pretty Ballerina, back for his third outing in Kiss It Goodbye. Harding used to be a licensed Chicago private investigator until a case went south and took his career, his freedom and his future along with it. Now an ex-con unable to renew his investigator's license, Harding gets by with crumbs: sporadic security cases, the occasional domestic situation. He is content, if not entirely happy, at the far edge of the table. All that is about to change, though, with the murder of Tracy Lawrence. Although Harding has never knowingly laid eyes on Tracy, he will come to find out that she has played a pivotal role in his life.

Harding will have to play fast and loose with the truth, the law and several other venerated concepts to apprehend the homicidal maniac among his circle of friends. Author John Wessel came out of the gate strongly with his first Harding novel; each succeeding one has just gotten better.

Tip of the ice pick award

Andrew Dalziel and sidekick Peter Pascoe are familiar figures to fans of the British police procedural. Author Reginald Hill introduced them in 1970 in the novel A Clubbable Woman, and they have become mainstays of the genre in the ensuing three decades. Their latest adventure, Dialogues of the Dead finds them in pursuit of an enigmatic killer known as the Wordman, an entrant in a local newspaper's essay contest.

Hill's books are always loaded with word games: double entendre, puns and exceptionally clever dialogue. Never in the history of Dalziel and Pascoe have the word games taken such significance as they do in the case of the devilishly cunning Wordman. By turns convoluted and laugh-out-loud funny, Dialogues is a brilliant example of a crime novel icon at the top of his form.

Each of the novels in this month's column is first-rate. But because laughter is such an integral part of my life, by the slimmest of margins the coveted TIP award for mystery of the month goes to Reginald Hill's Dialogues of the Dead.

Nashville-based writer Bruce Tierney is a lifelong mystery reader who was weaned on the Hardy Boys.






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