Vanessa Munroe, the protagonist of Taylor Stevens’ debut thriller The Informationist, has a job that will make Whodunit fans drool: She is an information broker, dealing in the sort of intelligence that typically slips under even the best radar. Against her better judgment she accepts an assignment from a Texas oil billionaire, to find news of his daughter who has gone missing in Africa. Since the disappearance took place four years ago, the trail has grown quite cold, not to mention well trampled by Vanessa’s predecessors, none of whom could turn up a wisp of a clue. It’s not her normal sort of endeavor, but she nonetheless finds herself sucked in by the mystery—and perhaps by the promised seven-figure paycheck. And it won’t take long for her to begin wondering if she is being grossly underpaid. The Informationist pushes every one of my buttons: exotic locale, sassy and competent protagonist, crisp dialogue and nonstop action. A fine debut—can’t wait for the sequel!

Gerard O’Donovan’s The Priest is a fine debut as well, introducing Dublin cop Mike Mulcahy, back in Ireland after a long stint in Madrid with Europol, the European Union’s criminal intelligence organization. He finds himself dragged into a case simply because of his facility with the Spanish language. A young exchange student from Spain has been raped and mutilated, her body branded by a fiery crucifix, and Mulcahy is called upon to serve as interpreter for the first interview of the victim. Perhaps as a result of his compassion for the girl, the Spanish authorities request Mulcahy’s ongoing participation in the case, as liaison between the Dublin police and the Spanish government. A quick arrest allays the concerns of the public and the politicos involved, but Mulcahy is less than convinced by the evidence. And rightly so, for in a matter of days there is another attack—and then another, this time resulting in the death of the victim. So, unbeknownst to his bosses, Mulcahy embarks on a secondary investigation, aided by aggressive tabloid correspondent Siobhan Fallon, with whom he shares what one might call a “complicated” relationship. It will grow ever more complicated with each day the killer remains on the loose. The verdict: This is a book you want to read right now, so you can later lay claim to bragging rights of having been “one of O’Donovan’s earliest fans.”

Author Lou Manfredo is one book ahead of the aforementioned Stevens and O’Donovan; his Rizzo’s Fire is the sophomore effort from a writer hailed as the heir apparent to Ed McBain. Protagonist cop Joe Rizzo is near the end of his run as a detective. He’d be there already, were it not for the crippling tuition fees of his college-age daughters (that, and a bit of unfinished under-the-table business from the first novel, Rizzo’s War). This time out, he’s teamed with a new partner, an African-American lesbian named Priscilla Jackson. Together they will investigate the murder of an unknown writer whose finest work may have been plagiarized by Pulitzer Prize-winning Broadway playwright Avery Mallard, coincidentally (?) recently killed as well. Manfredo’s books intersperse the mundane details of daily life amid the main storyline, much like real life or an ongoing television series, as opposed to the relentless on-point pacing of a two-hour movie. McBain did that as well, and it is a style that will appeal to many readers, yours truly included.

The Mystery of the Month winner for March is well past his freshman and/or sophomore efforts. Indeed, were this academia, Ian Rankin would be working on his third or fourth Ph.D. by now. His latest, The Complaints, centers on the internal affairs department of the Edinburgh police force. Everybody hates them, everybody fears them. And Malcolm Fox is one of them, a complex and serious fellow, struggling to keep up the payments on his father’s nursing home care, and dealing not at all well with the abusive relationship his sister seems locked into. Fox gets saddled with the unpleasant investigation of Detective Sergeant Jamie Breck, suspected of being involved in a child pornography ring. The investigation holds the distinct possibility of destroying lives, including one closer to home than Fox ever could have imagined. Comparisons will inevitably be drawn between Malcolm Fox and his predecessor, the iconic John Rebus. They are as different as chalk and cheese, but a master storyteller of Rankin’s caliber can draw in his audience, making them sympathize (and identify) in equal parts with the hard-charging Rebus and the taciturn Fox, all the while not missing a beat in the plotting, the setting, the characters and the ever-present battle between good and evil. The Complaints is superb on every level, and begging for a follow-up!

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