Neil McMahon, author of the well-received thriller Twice Dying, is back with a second adventure featuring ER physician Carroll Monks. Blood Double is easily the equal of its excellent predecessor, perhaps better. Late in his shift, Monks treats a patient who is not breathing, an apparent drug overdose. The man refuses to give his name, then checks himself out of the hospital against medical advice. It turns out that the patient is a billionaire computer mogul, whose company is about to go public. The company officials want to quash any potential leaks that could undermine the IPO; bribery and sabotage are but two arrows in their quiver. If it takes a murder or two to ensure smooth sailing, then so be it. Monks and his investigator friend Stover Larrabee begin to pick at the edges of the puzzle, only to uncover slavery, prostitution and the worst sort of genetic engineering since Dr. Mengele. Like John Grisham and James Patterson, McMahon excels with moving his plot along; there are no wasted actions, no unnecessary red herrings; the characters are believable, although not deeply mined. Blood Double is all about movement the only thing stationary is the reader, likely for the entire length of the book.

All shook up

G.M. Ford is probably best known for his series featuring Seattle private investigator Leo Waterman. A year ago or so, he took off in a different direction with Fury, featuring Frank Corso as a disgraced journalist. Corso, it seems, got a little sloppy (OK, downright fraudulent) on a story for the New York Times. It cost him his job, his fiance and his life as he knew it. Tail between his legs, he moved to Seattle, where he lives on a houseboat and does some investigative reporting for the second-rate Seattle Sun. In Black River, number two in what we hope will be an ongoing series, Corso is the only reporter allowed in the courtroom during the trial of a Russian Mafioso charged with 61 counts of murder. The defendant is accused of deliberately violating earthquake codes in a Bay Area hospital built by his contracting firm. When the inevitable earthquake happened, the children's wing collapsed, resulting in the aforementioned 61 deaths. On another front, Corso's photographer ex-girlfriend Meg Daugherty hovers near death in a Seattle ICU, the victim of a pair of thugs who may be connected to Corso's courtroom drama. With Black River, G.M. Ford is at the top of his form. He is wry, at times hilarious, his characters are well fleshed out, and the action is unrelenting. Long a favorite in Seattle, Ford is now beginning to get the nationwide (and worldwide) recognition he richly deserves.

Tip of the ice pick

It has been seven long years since Easy Rawlins' last adventure, A Little Yellow Dog. (Strictly speaking, the 1997 novel Gone Fishin' featured Rawlins, but it was a prequel to the series and quite different in texture and tone.) This is not to say that author Walter Mosley has been slacking in the meantime: the brilliant novels featuring Socrates Fortlow and Fearless Jones span that gap, as does his science fiction epic Futureland. That said, however, his fans have been itching for a new Easy Rawlins mystery, and their wishes have finally been granted with Bad Boy Brawly Brown. When Easy's old friend John turns up at his door, Easy has the sensation that problems are on the horizon, perhaps even closer. It was from the tone of his voice that I knew whatever John had to ask was going to require sweat. It seems that John's stepson, Brawly Brown, has left home to join a radical political group (remember that the Rawlins novels are set in the racial cauldron of 1960s Los Angeles), and John wants him returned home safely. On his first day of the investigation Easy comes face-to-face with a corpse, and things go straight downhill from there. The writing is superb, the characters believably flawed and battle-scarred. So this month's award for best mystery goes to Walter Mosley, with the sincere hope that we don't have to wait another seven years for the next Rawlins installment.

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

 

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