by Bruce TierneyJune 2010
No rest for the weary
This summer brings many compelling new books for mystery readers, and A Question of Belief, Donna Leon's latest Commissario Guido Brunetti novel, is at the front of the pack.
Regular readers may remember that I have been singing the praises of European mysteries for some time now, and Donna Leon’s books are in the vanguard of that august group. As A Question of Belief opens, Venice is in the grip of a sweltering, relentlessly airless summer. Not a problem for Brunetti, though; he is headed to the mountains for his holiday, where a sweater is necessary for the quiet evenings on the patio, and a supplemental quilt will be needed to keep him comfy at night. Only one thing can get in the way—a high profile murder; this being a suspense novel, of course that means it will get in the way. Two stories dovetail as a charlatan soothsayer and a half-in-the-closet gay man make ever-narrowing inroads into Brunetti’s week; one is a likely a party to a homicide, the other, likely a victim. Complicating matters is the fact that a couple of people close to the investigation, one of them a powerful judge, have personal stakes in the outcome, and may not be above some behind-the-scenes machinations to achieve their ends. Beautifully written, atmospheric and redolent of an Italian summer at its murderous best.
SECOND CITY INTRIGUE
Die Twice confirms that Andrew Grant (the real-life brother of Lee Child, our Top Pick author this month) has evaded the dreaded sophomore slump. Like its predecessor, Even, Grant’s latest adventure features British agent David Trevellyan, nominally a Navy Intelligence attaché, but in reality an under-the-radar operative not particularly constrained by legalities. This time out, Trevellyan moves west from New York to Chicago to sort out a matter of some missing bio-nasty, possibly about to fall into the hands of folks who do not have America’s best interests at heart. Trevellyan is evolving nicely, in both his skills as an agent and his fleshing out as an individual, and Grant should have a major hit on his hands with this latest entry into the series. If you liked James Bond, and then moved on to Jack Ryan and Jason Bourne, Trevellyan (and by extension, Die Twice) should be right up your alley.
Forensic criminologist Lincoln Rhyme moves in a new direction, both figuratively and literally, in Jeffery Deaver’s latest thriller, The Burning Wire. As those familiar with the series know, Rhyme is a quadriplegic, confined to a high-tech wheelchair which allows him some modicum of mobility. A chance encounter with a paraplegic visitor opens up the possibility that Rhyme may benefit from a radical experimental treatment, which may allow him to break free once and for all from his wheelchair. But first he has to deal with the hyper-intelligent crazy who is terrorizing New York with assaults on the electricity grid, the electronic superhighway with off ramps into every house and business in the city. Oh, and just to spice things up a bit, Rhyme’s old nemesis, The Watchmaker, is back by (un)popular demand. Courtesy of The Burning Wire, you will learn more than you ever thought you wanted to know about electricity, and experience a high-tension (sorry, I cannot seem to resist) read in the process.
MYSTERY OF THE MONTH
You want suspense? Look no further than 61 Hours, the new Jack Reacher novel by Lee Child, a veritable torque wrench of suspense, cranking ever tighter, to the snapping point and beyond. The title refers to a countdown of sorts: “Five to one in the afternoon. Thirty-nine hours to go.” Like the hands of a Hitchcockian timepiece, Child’s countdown twirls away the remaining hours, pausing briefly once every chapter or so to alert the reader with a status update. It is clearly a countdown to something big, something ominous. Only nobody seems to know exactly what, least of all Reacher. “Five minutes to five in the afternoon. Eleven hours to go.” Reacher is, for the moment, in the small town of Bolton, South Dakota, by an accident of black ice and subzero temperatures; the bus taking him to sunnier climes has skidded off the road and it will take some time for a replacement to be brought in. Little does Reacher realize that in the space of two and a half days, he will be deputized (after a fashion) into the town police force, lose a couple of friends and engage in a Badlands brawl straight out of an Old Western, only with much more lethal weapons. Stir in a few tantalizing details (a Brazilian drug lord with a notoriously bad attitude; a remote military base, out of use since the Cold War era, and now either forgotten or deeply classified), and you have the recipe for a first-rate thriller guaranteed to keep you reading well past bedtime. And the ending? Sorry, you’re going to have to burn the midnight oil yourself for that. Because for me, at the moment, it’s “twenty-seven minutes past three in the morning. Twenty-eight minutes to go . . .”