For close to 20 years, author William G. Tapply has been entertaining readers with crime novels featuring Brady Coyne, attorney to Boston's elite and a confirmed slacker: "I hadn't worked hard all my life because I wanted to be a conscientious attorney," Coyne admits. "I'd expended all that effort and energy so that I could become a lazy attorney, and I'd succeeded rather well." The latest entry in this long series, A Fine Line, finds Coyne investigating the possible homicide of a client, a once famous photographer tragically crippled in a rock-climbing fall. Numero uno on the suspect list is the photographer's son, a counterculture college student with more piercings than your average pincushion. Trouble is, the boy is nowhere to be found. And he may be involved with an eco-terror group suspected of numerous bombings in recent years. Complicating matters is Henry, an affable Brittany spaniel owned by the deceased photographer, now in Brady's care despite his best efforts to give the dog to anyone who shows the tiniest spark of interest. By turns taut, funny and reflective, A Fine Line is a timely piece (ripped from the headlines, as they say), guaranteed to please Tapply's legions of readers and newcomers alike.

Several years back, author John Mortimer, creator of the strange and wonderful Rumpole of the Bailey, swore he would never write another in the series. Thankfully, he has relented, with a clever new collection of short stories entitled Rumpole Rests His Case. For those unfamiliar with the stalwart Rumpole, he is a rotund barrister of middle years, beleaguered on all sides by a legal system that has gotten progressively more bizarre, a new political correctness that makes a pariah of him for his smoking and drinking excesses, and an overbearing wife named Hilda (referred to repeatedly as "she who must be obeyed," or simply SWMBO). Much in the manner of Kingsley Amis or Spike Milligan, Mortimer skewers all facets of modern British society; he is an equal opportunity satirist around whom no icon is safe. Mortimer knows whereof he speaks: He is a former barrister himself, at the Old Bailey, the central criminal court of London. His depictions of British bureaucrats (or bureaucrats anywhere, for that matter) are spot on. Each of his stories chronicles a criminal case, which often bears an uncanny resemblance to whatever is going on for Rumpole in his leisure time. As is the case with the previous Rumpole stories, Rumpole Rests His Case is topical, insightful and a bona-fide laugh riot.

Our Tip of the Ice Pick award for sharpest mystery novel goes to Jim Fusilli for A Well-Known Secret, the second in what we hope will be a long series featuring pro bono PI Terry Orr (the first in the series was the critically acclaimed Closing Time). Fusilli, a music writer for The Wall Street Journal, has ably crafted a tale of post-9/11 New York, a story that has its roots in an unsolved subway murder from 30 years earlier. Subway stations hold another chilling memory for Terry Orr: Two years back, his young son was pushed off a subway platform to his death by a madman; the boy's mother, Terry's beloved wife Marina, was killed by the oncoming train while trying to save her son. Left a wealthy man (even by New York City standards) thanks to his wife's estate, Terry pursues two compelling causes: raising his 14-going-on-35-year-old daughter, and bringing his wife's slayer to justice. As a means of acquiring the skills to go mano a mano with the killer, and to exorcise the tragedy of his recent past, Terry launches a private investigation business of sorts, focusing on cases involving children. As is often the case with PIs, particularly those of the unlicensed variety, Terry has a love/hate relationship with the police department and the district attorney's office. And when it looks as if the key to the murder might be a retired cop with a son still in the police department, sparks begin to fly. A Well-Known Secret embodies all of the characteristics of a first-rate thriller: a likable and resourceful protagonist, a fine cast of supporting characters, superb sense of place and the relentless plot development that keeps readers up past their bedtimes.

comments powered by Disqus