For years, Joe Pike served as taciturn sidekick to Robert Crais’ wisecracking L.A. detective, Elvis Cole. Cole was nominally the brains of the outfit, while Pike carried the big stick, or perhaps more precisely,was the big stick. This time out, Pike takes the starring role in Crais’ latest thriller, The Sentry. Rescuing damsels in distress is Pike’s forte, and indeed this is how The Sentry opens, with Pike intervening in a gang shakedown of a sandwich shop run by lovely Dru Rayne. Pike realizes early on that the gang will not take his interference lying down, so he decides he’d better keep an eye on things at the store; also, it should be noted that our Zen warrior is mightily attracted to Dru. Cole signs on to investigate around the edges of the situation, and discovers in passing that Dru is perhaps not who she represents herself to be, and that her presence may indeed prove lethal to Cole’s longtime friend and partner. But what to tell Pike, and when? Or is Pike so infatuated with Dru that he cannot recognize the truth, even when it engages him in a stare-down? Suspenseful, tautly plotted and diversely populated—once again, we see why Robert Crais continues to top the bestseller charts.
DIRTY RUSSIAN DEALINGS
Noah Boyd’s first novel, The Bricklayer, was a hit with readers and critics alike, and Boyd fans eagerly awaited the follow-up. Well, it’s here, and I am happy to say Agent X is every bit as adrenaline-fueled as its predecessor. FBI agent-turned-bricklayer Steve Vail gets drafted back into agency service, this time in conjunction with the über-secret case of a Russian intelligence officer—code name: Calculus—who claims he has a list of Americans who are selling classified documents to the Russians. He is offering the list out of the goodness of his heart—and for $250,000 per name supplied. Then, inexplicably, Calculus gets summoned back to Mother Russia, and the people on the list start dropping like swatted flies, often mere moments before their planned rescue is implemented by the FBI. This is a job for Steve Vail, who, as an independent contractor (think: plausible deniability) is blithely unconstrained by the rules and regs that tie the hands of full-time FBI guys. Boyd fans, queue up; you’re in for a wild and woolly ride!
VERY BAD NEIGHBORS
Just in time for my return to Japan in December, I received an advance review copy of Keigo Higashino’s The Devotion of Suspect X, his first novel to be translated into English. The story centers on eccentric math teacher Ishigami and his cover-up of a murder by his next-door neighbor, a woman with whom he has become quite infatuated. The cover-up is sublime; every investigative move by the police is anticipated and countered by the brilliant mathematician, and for a time, it looks as if his neighbor will get away with her crime. But then she commits a grievous offense, at least in Ishigami’s eyes: She begins a relationship with another man. Meanwhile, the beleaguered police investigator seeks aid from a longtime ally, Yukawa, a respected physicist who was friends with Ishigami back in their university days. Yukawa is perhaps the only person equipped to deal with Ishigami in a full-on battle of wits, and it is unclear until the final moments which one will prevail. There’s terrific suspense, relentless plot development and a totally out-of-the-blue twist ending, so try, just try, to hold off taking a peek at the end!
MYSTERY OF THE MONTH
The last Mo Hayder book I reviewed, 2005’s The Devil of Nanking, was my Mystery of the Month then, competing with books by Randy Wayne White, James O. Born and George Pelecanos. I’m pleased to say Hayder goes two-for-two (at least in my book) with her latest, Gone, which finds perennial hero Jack Caffery on the trail of a carjacker who targets vehicles containing preteen girls. Caffery is not exactly hot on the trail, however, as each lead turns into a dud, with the carjacker/kidnapper out-thinking the cops at every turn. In the meantime, Caffery’s colleague Phoebe “Flea” Marley works on a parallel theory, one that leads her into an abandoned tunnel where repeated cave-ins have created eerie subterranean rooms, ideal for the storage of the kidnapper’s paraphernalia—and perhaps the bodies of the victims. Each investigation will bear fruit, but in ways unexpected by both the protagonists and the reader. And then, just as Gone barrels full-steam toward what seems to be the denouement—bang!—there is another kidnapping, and everything the cops held as true goes flying right out the window. Hayder writes some of the most carefully plotted, gripping and downright scary books in the mystery genre, and Gone continues that tradition in fine form.