Natalie Greco has a well-ordered, albeit somewhat mundane existence, definitely not the stuff of which suspense novels are typically made. She teaches The History of Justice at the University of Pennsylvania, she has a boyfriend her family approves of, she drives a Volvo, for heaven's sake! Still, not everything is rosy in Natalie's world. As author Lisa Scottoline notes in the opening line of Daddy's Girl: Nat Greco felt like an A-cup in a double-D bra. Her class is poorly attended, and her boyfriend is more than a little overbearing, as are the male members of her gregarious Italian-American family. Then one day Angus Holt, a charismatic latter-day-hippie faculty member, corners Natalie and requests her help teaching a class at a local prison. It's safe, Angus assures her. Famous last words; the class opens just in time for a prison riot of epic proportions, in which a guard dies in Natalie's arms, his final utterance a strange request: Tell her it's . . . under the floor. Whatever it is, it's about to create an immense amount of chaos for Natalie Greco. Soon she will find herself running for her very life, framed for a murder she had no part in. Fast pacing, crisp dialogue, taut storyline, a bit of illicit romance Daddy's Girl is Scottoline in top form all the way.
DAY OF THE DEAD
I arrived a bit late at the Dead party, just in time for the third installment of Adrian McKinty's clever series featuring semi-retired hit man Michael Forsythe. (The first two were Dead I Well May Be and The Dead Yard.) As The Bloomsday Dead opens, Forsythe is working as head of security for an upscale hotel in Lima, Peru. He is in the federal witness protection program, in hiding from members of the Irish mob. Turns out his cover has been blown, though; a pair of thugs hold him at gunpoint, and instruct him to make an immediate phone call to Dublin, to Bridget White, a key figure in the aforementioned mob. Bridget offers Forsythe a deal: immunity in return for finding Bridget's daughter Siobhan, who has gone missing. It has been said that if it sounds to good to be true, it probably is, so Michael Forsythe suspects Bridget of some chicanery. Still, he has grown weary of always looking over his shoulder, so he decides to go to Dublin; he arrives just in time for Bloomsday June 16th, the anniversary of the events in James Joyce's Ulysses, and now a secular holiday in Ireland. Here he will face terrorists, kidnappers, Joyce-ophiles on holiday and of course the wily Bridget, for whom he has long carried an illicit torch. By turns poetic, humorous and graphically violent, The Bloomsday Dead is one of the most original and gripping mysteries in recent memory. Although it is the finale of the Dead trilogy, it is in every respect a stand-alone novel. That said, once you have read it, you will be seeking out its two predecessors.
OUT OF THE FOG
In my review of Boris Starling's thriller, Vodka (2005), I dubbed it likely the best mystery of modern-day Russia since Martin Cruz Smith's Gorky Park. Now Starling turns his considerable writing talents to Visibility, a tale of a series of murders in postwar England, perhaps engineered by the intelligence services of Russia or the U.S. On December 5, 1952, the Great Fog descended upon London, blanketing the city for four long days. Exacerbated by the burning of coal to ward off the clammy chill, the noxious black fog made walking difficult and driving impossible. Even theater performances and cinema screenings were cancelled as the fog found its way indoors. Some 12,000 deaths were attributed to the Great Fog, largely among the elderly and the very young (and those with respiratory problems), and that doesn't include the body count in Visibility. In the midst of this miasma, detective Herbert Smith must investigate the drowning death of a young biochemist, a man who claimed to possess the secret of a discovery that could change the world. I don't want to give away too much here, but one of the main peripheral characters in the book is real-life scientist Dr. Linus Pauling, and the way he is woven into the fiction is masterful. With Visibility, Starling has successfully melded the spy novel and the police procedural, creating one cohesive form that will appeal equally to fans of Ian Fleming and Ian Rankin.
MYSTERY OF THE MONTH
Set in 1950s Dublin and Boston, Benjamin Black's Christine Falls is a darkly atmospheric look at the inner workings of a secret society within the Catholic Church, a group responsible for the placement of orphaned or unwanted babies. To say that the Knights of St. Patrick are above the law would be a bit of an understatement; indeed, they are a law unto themselves, placing children in sometimes unsuitable homes, falsifying records and guarding their secrets against all intruders. Enter Quirke, the forensic pathologist responsible for the autopsy on one Christine Falls, a young woman who died shortly after giving birth to a baby whose whereabouts remain unknown. After a night of hard partying, Quirke pays a quick visit to his office and is surprised by what he sees: His brother-in-law, staff obstetrician Malachy Griffin, is going through Quirke's files. Griffin's explanation is lame, but so is Quirke's deductive ability, given his advanced state of inebriation, so he lets the trespass slide. Next day, though, Quirke smells a rat, and a decomposing one at that; he strongly believes that Griffin altered the records of Christine Falls' death. He launches a personal investigation into the circumstances surrounding the demise of the unfortunate Miss Falls, and what he unearths threatens the very core of Dublin's high Catholic society, including members of his own prominent family. All the while, Quirke must deal with his own personal baggage: A largely unrequited love affair with a woman whose sister he was once married to, a number of borderline toxic family relationships and a closely guarded secret that has weighed upon his soul for the better part of two decades. Quirke is a finely drawn character, tormented to be sure, but with an underlying sense of decency and fair play. Benjamin Black is a nom de plume of critically acclaimed author John Banville, widely regarded as one of Ireland's finest contemporary writers. Christine Falls is a brilliant suspense novel, one that fairly shouts for a sequel.