On my blog, Mysterious Orientations, I recently went on at some length about the primer-gray 1969 Plymouth Roadrunner driven by Andrew Vachss’ legendary character, Burke. Not long after, the author’s publicist, Lou Bank of the marketing firm Twelve Angry Pitbulls, emailed me to say, “Andrew Vachss loves your write-up of Burke’s car,” and asked to include it on Vachss’ website. He also sent me a review copy of Vachss’ latest, The Weight, and I am very glad he did. Protagonist Tim “Sugar” Caine is very unlike Burke in character, but shares the urban commando’s cavalier attitude about coloring within the lines, especially the lines of the law. Early on, Caine is accused of rape; he is not guilty, and he has a killer alibi—but sadly, it is not one he can use, since he was busy knocking over a jewelry store at the time. Refusing to rat out his partners, Caine does the time for the rape, five years’ worth, and reconnects with the heist mastermind shortly thereafter to collect his share of the swag. And that’s when things start to go, as the Brits say, all pear-shaped. The Weight has an entirely different tone from the Burke books, less gritty by half, and more reliant on the machinations of the supporting cast; that said, it is exceptionally well written and should appeal to longtime fans and new readers alike.
This must be the month for authors to abandon their bread-and-butter protagonists and strike out in new directions. For audience favorite Jeffery Deaver, it is a two-pronged approach: a new main character and, for the first time, a first-person narrative in his, um, edgy new thriller, Edge. The new character is named Corte; undoubtedly he has another name, but it is on a strictly need-to-know basis. Corte is a “shepherd” with the Strategic Protection Department, a clandestine government agency tasked with protecting high-profile targets. His criminal counterpart is Henry Loving, a “lifter” who extracts information by any means necessary, even torture or killing. By all rights, Loving should be dead; DNA evidence showed that he had died in a fire some years before, but evidence is only as reliable as the technicians who process it, and Loving has gotten to them one way or another. The interplay between the two opponents makes for high intrigue; both are consummate professionals, and neither is given to making mistakes. So, if you will allow me one last “edge” comment, make sure that the edge of your seat is comfy, because you will be spending a significant amount of time there.
SURPRISE FROM MR. ROKER
Oh dear, I thought, when I saw that The Midnight Show Murders was written by folksy TV weatherman Al Roker (with veteran mystery writer and reviewer Dick Lochte). I have read a handful of celebrity-penned suspense novels over the years, and virtually without exception they are cringe-inducing (and not in a good way). Still, I thought I would give it 20 pages, and see how it went. By page 20 I was well and thoroughly hooked, as it turns out, and considering ways to obtain a complimentary copy of the prequel, The Morning Show Murders. There is precious little grit-factor in The Midnight Show Murders, but that is more than made up for by the humor and insider authenticity; the backstage tales are so outlandish that they just have to be based on true-life incidents. There is more than a little of Al Roker in protagonist Billy Blessing, a New York celebrity chef slumming briefly in L.A., and that is all to the good. The laughs are frequent and belly-deep, and the personable tone is akin to a television mystery/comedy like “The Rockford Files” or “Columbo.”
MYSTERY OF THE MONTH
Best-selling author Peter James is back with Dead Like You, the sixth installment of the wildly popular Detective Superintendent Roy Grace series. This time out, a series of rapes in the English coastal town of Brighton bears some disturbing similarities to another series of rapes that took place more than a dozen years before. That perpetrator was never caught; he was known only as “The Shoe Man,” for his obsession with (and bizarre utilization of) women’s footwear. The contemporary crimes differ in nuance, but Grace is convinced that there is some connection to the previous string of attacks. To be sure, there is no dearth of suspects, all of whom are paraded before the suspicious cops (and the equally canny readers), but each is able to provide a watertight alibi for at least one of the crimes. Can it be that there are multiple perps, or is somebody just that wee bit cleverer than his pursuers? Dead Like You is the hands-down winner of Mystery of the Month, and were BookPage to create an annual award, it would be a strong contender for Mystery of the Year as well.