When a new Joseph Wambaugh book arrives, I know that I will be mightily entertained: I will laugh out loud, suffer with the characters through the poignant moments and be very sad to have turned the final page. This is certainly the case with Wambaugh’s latest Hollywood Division novel, Harbor Nocturne. Back once again are the usual zanies: “Hollywood” Nate Weiss, the SAG-card-carrying wannabe actor, fretting as always that he is fast approaching his use-by date; Flotsam and Jetsam, the amiable party-down surfer cop duo; and the looming presence of “The Oracle,” a fallen officer whose photo graces the lobby of Hollywood Station—no cop passes the picture without touching it for good luck before going on duty. This time out, Wambaugh’s motley crew will investigate a massage parlor that may be a cover for a human trafficking operation; a strange Russian fellow with a fetish for amputees—particularly folks who have voluntarily had healthy limbs removed; and the strange doings of a Serbian crime lord and his huge and lethal Korean associate. Another do-not-miss novel from a living legend of contemporary crime fiction.
STICKY FINGERS IN TOKYO
This month, three novels deviate from the norm and unfold from the perspective of the crooks. The first one is best-selling Japanese author Fuminori Nakamura’s English-language debut, The Thief. Originally published in 2009 as Suri, The Thief is the first-person narrative of an ill-starred Tokyo pickpocket about to be drawn into the biggest scam of his career. He is none too happy about this turn of events, but there is little to be done about it; ruthless crime boss Kizaki is watching his every move. Complicating matters is his budding friendship with a young shoplifter and the boy’s ne’er-do-well mom, each of whom has a hidden agenda that could compromise our (anti)hero’s tenuous grip of the situation. Then, when what should have been a straightforward burglary turns into a highly publicized political assassination, all bets are off. Our light-fingered protagonist finds himself in the position of knowing too much—way too much. Nakamura’s writing invites comparison to the best of the Japanese suspense novelists: Natsuo Kirino, Miyuki Miyabe, Keigo Higashino. A must for fans of Tokyo noir.
OUTSMARTING THE RECESSION
In different circumstances, Pender and his friends might have had more normal lives (the ritual commute into the city; the family comfortably ensconced in the split-level; the two weeks’ vacation), but the downturn in the economy has left the recent grads underemployed, and they have been forced to improvise. The group has engineered a clever kidnapping scam: low ransom, high volume. They’ll take 50K here, 100K there, and soon there should be enough dough socked away to fund their early retirement. But that wouldn’t be a great story, and Owen Laukkanen’s debut novel, The Professionals, is nothing if not a great story. Things go pear-shaped when the group kidnaps the husband of a noted Mafia queen; needless to say, she is not pleased, and she sets her minions after the young crew. Author Laukkanen deftly cuts back and forth among the kidnappers, the thugs and the authorities hot on their trails, engendering reader empathy for members of each group—no easy feat!
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read an interview with Owen Laukkanen.
TOP PICK IN MYSTERY
You’ve been waiting for this book. You’ve worked your way through all the Henning Mankells and the Jo Nesbøs. You’ve read enough Scandinavian thrillers to teach Swedish Suspense 101. But you haven’t read anything like Jens Lapidus’ Easy Money, which is the antithesis of a police procedural. Rather, it is a crime procedural, written from the points of view of three career criminals on a collision course with one another: Jorge, the Chilean immigrant drug dealer who performed a vault over a prison wall with no plan of what to do afterward; JW, the preppie coke supplier to frat boy cronies, desperate for the cash to keep up appearances; and Mrado, the conflicted strong-arm goon for the Serbian mafioso who holds sway over the Stockholm underworld. Every flavor of evil is close at hand: sex slavery, drugs, extortion, killing for hire—and these are just the tip of the iceberg. No sin is left uncommitted; no offensive word goes unsaid; no punches are pulled. For my money, Easy Money is hands-down the best gangster thriller in years.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read a 7 Questions interview with Jens Lapidus.