by Sukey HowardFebruary 2013
The perfect crime
Keigo Higashino, the most widely read author in Japan, hasn’t achieved that kind of fame here, but he’s getting increasing attention from American mystery readers. Salvation of a Saint is the second of his intricately plotted procedural puzzlers to be published in English, and it’s a doozy. If you listen carefully, you know early on who murdered Yoshitaka Mashiba and why (you may even root for the killer). What you don’t know and, try as you will, won’t know, is how the crime was committed. For this, you, and the Tokyo Police detectives, need the brilliant analytical mind of physics professor Yukawa, aka Detective Galileo, last heard from in The Devotion of Suspect X. The police know that Mashiba’s wife, Ayane, is the most logical suspect, but she was hundreds of miles away when her husband sipped a lethal cup of arsenic-laced coffee. So, instead of whodunit, we have a howdunit that baffles the police and almost stymies Detective Galileo. Narrator David Pittu gives an impeccable performance, brushed with just a whisper of a foreign accent.
REVERSAL OF FORTUNE
Malcolm Bannister, the hero of John Grisham’s latest legal thriller, The Racketeer, is not a racketeer. He’s an African-American lawyer, now disbarred, serving an excessive 10-year sentence in a minimum-security prison for a crime he didn’t commit. But he’s going to get out—don’t worry, I’m not giving too much away. The real fun here is trying to follow and fathom Mal’s Byzantine scheme for revenge, redemption and then some. As a jailhouse lawyer, he’s been privy to lots of criminal secrets and had the time to construct a plan that just might get him released into the witness protection program. When a slimy federal judge is murdered, Mal comes forward with the killer’s name and motive, and when the suspect is indicted, Mal is out of jail, free to carry out a fabulously complex caper so convoluted and clever that you can’t help but cheer him on, even if you have a moral twinge or two. J.D. Jackson’s narration is pitch-perfect and pace-perfect. This is Grisham at his storytelling best.
TOP PICK IN AUDIO
“All we have is the story we tell,” says one of characters in Jess Walter’s Beautiful Ruins. And, wow, does Walter have stories to tell in his brilliant tour-de-force of a novel. It begins in 1962 in a tiny fishing village on the Italian coast that boasts only one slightly shabby pensione, the Hotel Adequate View, when Dee Moray, a beautiful, blond American actress, turns up, escaping from the movie set of Cleopatra in Rome. Dee’s story, and many others, play out as the plotlines leapfrog forward and back in time and space, from la dolce vita Italia of the ’60s to the present, from Hollywood to England, Seattle and Idaho. The cast of characters, major and minor, is fabulous, including the shameless movie PR operative who meddles with the lives of actors; the innocent young Italian innkeeper who never forgets Dee and turns up 50 years later to find her; and Dee herself— plus a masterful conjuring of Richard Burton, drinking and talking with his signature bravura. Narrator Edoardo Ballerini captures Walter’s wit and romantic pathos and fleshes out each character, getting the Italian, the Italian accents (even an American’s faulty pronunciation) and the mellifluous Burton-esque tones just right.