by Bruce TierneyJanuary 2011
Saved by a well-placed paperback
To be sure, Ayn Rand had (and still has) her legions of fans, but it’s a fair bet that among them only Logan Hamilton can claim that the iconic author literally saved his life. A 600-page Rand paperback in his jacket pocket blocked the sniper’s bullet meant to dispatch him to his final reward; now Hamilton lies on a Florida sidewalk with a “Wha’ happened?” expression on his mug, and it will be up to Longboat Key police chief Bill Lester and lawyer-turned-investigator Matt Royal to keep him safe until they can nail the shooter. A dramatic opening scene, to say the least, for H. Terrell Griffin’s fifth Matt Royal novel, Bitter Legacy. Royal, like numerous other Florida mystery novel protagonists starting with the legendary Travis McGee, is semi-retired, a likable slacker who works only when the notion strikes him. He soon finds himself embroiled in a mineral rights case with roots in the original Seminole treaties of the mid-1800s. Pacing, characters, history, mystery—what more can a suspense addict ask for?
ALL IN THE FAMILY
San Francisco attorney Dismas Hardy makes but a cameo appearance in John Lescroart’s latest thriller, Damage; this time, center stage goes to Hardy’s perennial second banana, San Francisco cop Abe Glitsky. It seems that the court of appeals has ordered a new trial for convicted rapist/murderer Ro Curtlee, scion of an influential Bay Area newspaper family. Shortly after Curtlee’s release from prison, the original witnesses against him start dying one by one, none by natural causes. Glitsky is stymied by the lack of evidence implicating Curtlee in this latest wave of killings, and by the pressure brought to bear on the investigation by the family’s newspaper. When Curtlee pays an obliquely menacing visit to the Glitsky household, the tension becomes palpable—and personal. Ro Curtlee is as well drawn a sociopath as any in recent fiction, and the cat-and-mouse game in which he engages with Glitsky will leave readers wondering just who is toying with whom. With Damage, John Lescroart (pronounced “les-kwah,” in case you were wondering) is clearly at the top of his game, and it is a very good game indeed.
A TRUE MAN'S MAN
Stephen Hunter’s Dead Zero features sorta-retired military sniper Bob Lee Swagger (think of a Tommy Lee Jones-esque cowboy with an attitude and an adopted Asian daughter), who would like nothing better than to retire to his Idaho ranch, except that he keeps getting called upon to deal with matters of national security. This time out, Swagger is engaged to rout renegade sniper Ray Cruz, the legendary “Cruise Missile” of Afghanistan, a man reputed to allow nothing to get in the way of his mission. Cruz’s assignment is to terminate an Afghani presidential aspirant, once an enemy of the state, now (to Cruz’s surprise and consternation) a political darling of his American “handlers.” Just as there are “guy cars” (Dodge Viper, Corvette ZR-1), there are “guy books,” and this one hits the mark on every count: lotsa guns, lotsa mano-a-mano violence, a bounteous babe or two and a fair bit of high-drama pyrotechnics. And lines like this, just after a fusillade among a herd of farm animals: “It was raining goats . . . the weather had become 100% chance of goat.” You gotta love that.
MYSTERY OF THE MONTH
L.A. Sheriff Charlie Hood is back for his fourth outing in T. Jefferson Parker’s The Border Lords. On loan to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, he is point man for an investigation into the North Baja Cartel, which has for some time been importing drugs (and wholesale slaughter) across the all-too-permeable California border with Mexico. Hood’s amigo, ATF agent Sean Ozburn, is operating deep undercover within the cartel; it is his custom to check in daily. It has been six days since his last contact. And then, inexplicably, Ozburn is back with a fury, laying waste to the safe-house full of cartel gangbangers (on camera, no less) before making good his escape from the stunned police surveillance unit. Hood and Ozburn’s convoluted and deadly game of tag take them from the Mexican border all the way to Costa Rica, where each will come into contact with an enigmatic priest who seems to worship no known god, a man suspected by the locals of having unpleasant paranormal powers. The Charlie Hood books are less California-sun-drenched than Parker’s earlier books (Laguna Heat, Little Saigon, et al.); that said, the intensity, plotting, characters and suspense are all there in spades. And for those who enjoy a shiver of the supernatural—just a suggestion, really—The Border Lords should be right at the top of your short list.