The elder statesman of mystery fiction, Tony Hillerman, is back on familiar ground with a gripping new novel, The Wailing Wind. Navajo Tribal Police Sergeant Jim Chee lures his old boss Joe Leaphorn out of well-earned retirement to help solve a recent murder. When officer Bernie Manuelito stumbles upon a body in the seat of a pickup truck, she assumes that the man was simply a drunk who had suffered a heart attack. Manuelito, a traditional Navajo, wants nothing to do with the body, fearing contamination from the recently departed spirit. When the forensics team arrives, they discover that the man has been shot to death, and Manuelito finds herself in departmental hot water for mishandling evidence of a murder. Closer examination of the crime scene reveals a tin of gold dust and papers relating to a legendary lost gold mine, eerily evocative of an earlier homicide: a wealthy tycoon, on the verge of being fleeced by a clever con man offering a map to the long-forgotten mine, draws a gun and shoots the man dead. The same day, the tycoon's wife disappears; she is widely presumed to have been in cahoots with the con man. Could she be back for a second crack at her husband's fortune, perhaps involved somehow in this latest killing? For all of us who mourned the passing of Joe Leaphorn into retirement, The Wailing Wind offers one last chance to savor his company. The taciturn Chee and rookie Manuelito play well off one another, with romantic undertones atypical in a Hillerman novel. Tony Hillerman pioneered the genre of the Native American mystery, and after all these years, he is still without peer.

Life on Triggerfish Lane

Tim Dorsey's rollicking Triggerfish Twistis a clever and twisted story about a mild-mannered corporate consultant who gets transferred from Indiana to Florida. At first glance, the new house on Triggerfish Lane seems idyllic; at second glance, it is decidedly less so: across the street an unleashed pit bull makes threatening noises; just down the block a trio of crackheads share a communal pipe; unmuffled cars (many stolen) rumble down the street at all hours of the night. But the real trouble begins when Jim buys his wife the Chevy Suburban she has always wanted. What he doesn't realize is that the vehicle is a flood victim, with some unusual electrical vicissitudes. When he turns left, the horn honks; when he turns on the radio, the passenger airbag deploys. Before he has a chance to have it fixed, he is carjacked. Jim takes the only course of action available to him: he turns on the radio, deploying the airbag, which kills his captor on the spot. Too bad for Jim the criminal has three vengeful brothers. Very much in the vein of novels by Carl Hiaasen and Elmore Leonard, Triggerfish Twist is an irreverent and hilarious take on Florida, families, corporations and other such nutcases.

Tip of the ice pick

This month's award for best mystery goes to veteran author Harlan Coben, whose Gone for Good is one of the most original and arresting mystery novels in recent memory. Will Klein lost his girlfriend and his brother on the same day; 11 years back, Julie Miller was brutally strangled, and Ken Klein was the chief suspect. Ken's blood was found at the scene, and he was presumed badly injured or dead, although rumors of sightings cropped up from time to time for years afterward. In the interim, Will has picked up the pieces and gotten on with his life: he is the director of a runaway shelter, and he has a beautiful new girlfriend, Sheila. Still, his existence is far from perfect. His mother is dying; almost at the point of incoherence, she reveals to Will that Ken is still alive. Will is stunned, and somewhat in denial, until he unearths a recent picture of his brother hidden in his mother's effects. That night, Sheila disappears; shortly afterward, her fingerprints are identified at a murder scene 1,500 miles away. The suspense builds relentlessly, and the resolution will leave even the most jaded mystery reader surprised and shaken. (Allow ample time for reading in one sitting!)

 

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