The January Tip of the Ice Pick Award goes to Robert Wilson for The Vanished Hands, the follow-up to his best-selling thriller, The Blind Man of Seville. Inspector Javier Falcon, chief homicide investigator of Seville, Spain, is called to the scene of a suspicious death, likely a suicide. The victim has apparently chosen a particularly painful route to death, chugging an entire bottle of drain cleaner, rather than using the neater (not to mention speedier) 9mm handgun in his dresser drawer. His young wife lies smothered to death in her bed. The unusual circumstances of the deaths raise eyebrows among the investigators as they begin canvassing the neighborhood for clues. In rapid succession, two more high-profile suicides take place. Mix in a few threats from shady Russian mafiosos, an allusion or two to the events of 9/11, and some sordid psychological shenanigans, and the whole story quickly becomes quite convoluted. Falcon must sort through the red herrings to determine just what drove these seemingly unrelated victims to suicide, if indeed they were suicides and not cleverly engineered murders. Wilson plots his tales deliberately, patiently peeling back layer after layer until the truth (or something vaguely resembling the truth) is exposed. His eye for detail is critical, his descriptions insightful and ever so slightly Chandleresque: She was tall and slender with a full bust, an unstarved bottom and the innate ability to give dull men extravagant imaginations. The Vanished Hands is a book to be read slowly and savored, like a fine Spanish rioja; that said, it is next to impossible to put down.

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