The mother/son writing team known as Charles Todd hails from the East Coast of the United States, but you’d swear they were Brits through and through, given the style and tone of their popular Inspector Rutledge series. Set in the years following World War I, the books chronicle the cases of a Scotland Yard inspector, back after a long and harrowing wartime tour of duty that has left him somewhat shell-shocked. The latest in the series, Proof of Guilt, centers on an apparent hit-and-run on a quiet suburban street. Forensic examination suggests that the body was dragged, yet there is not a loose hair nor a stray fiber at the scene. An expensive watch found on the corpse belongs to one Lewis French, an importer of wine from Madeira, but the body is not his. However, French is missing in action, leading to speculation that he could well be the perpetrator. The plot thickens when French’s partner in the wine company goes missing as well, and an unidentified body washes up on a nearby beach. If your taste in mysteries runs toward Agatha Christie, or her modern-day successors Ruth Rendell and P.D. James, Proof of Guilt should be right up your alley.
It is always a pleasure to happen upon a debut novel that reads as if the writer has toiled at his craft for ages, and that is definitely the case with Lachlan Smith’s San Francisco thriller, Bear Is Broken. Fledgling attorney Leo Maxwell is having lunch with his elder brother, Teddy, a high-profile Bay Area criminal lawyer known for his borderline unethical shenanigans, when someone walks up, takes quick aim over Leo’s shoulder, and shoots Teddy in the face. Leo is so transfixed at the sight in front of him that he cannot give the police any information about the perp; by the time he thinks to look around, the shooter is long gone. Miraculously, Teddy survives the operation to remove the bullet from his brain, but he is hanging on by the thinnest of threads. The police will be of little help, as they have been embarrassed repeatedly by Teddy’s uncanny ability to secure acquittals for blatantly guilty clients. Clearly, if Leo wants a proper investigation, he will have to do it himself, a task for which he is singularly ill-equipped. For starters, he can’t handle a gun. His internal lie detector is seriously flawed, and, for that matter, so is his sense of impending peril. The reader will definitely have more than one of those “noooo, don’t open the basement door!” moments. Leo is a good egg, and you will find yourself pulling for him—and more importantly, strongly hoping he survives for a second installment!
RELATED CONTENT: Read a 7 questions interview with Lachlan Smith for Bear Is Broken.
DISRUPTING THE PEACE
Reunion at Red Paint Bay, George Harrar’s incisive look at the soft-focus lens through which we view our respective pasts, chronicles the days leading up to a high-school reunion in a small coastal town in Maine. Simon Howe, the publisher and editor of The Red Paint Register, jokingly suggests to his wife that the new motto for the small newspaper should be “Nothing Happens—And We Report It.” That is all about to change, and in ways Howe cannot begin to fathom. In the space of a few days, he will receive several disturbing letters, his son will go missing and he will be accused of rape; in short, his complacent small-town life will be turned totally upside down. The root of the trouble seems to be Howe’s hormone-driven graduation night activities all those years ago. Is the rape accusation a case of after-the-fact remorse, or was there an element of force in the encounter? Whichever the case, that fateful night set off a chain of events that altered lives in unforeseen ways, and the residents of Red Paint will be forced to reconsider the nature of relationships they thought they’d had pegged for many years.
TOP PICK IN MYSTERY
Timothy Hallinan is no stranger to the Top Pick in Mystery award; his Bangkok-set series featuring gonzo travel journalist Poke Rafferty has long been a BookPage favorite. So I had some trepidation about the author’s new direction when, a month or so back, I received two Hallinan books featuring a new protagonist: amiable Los Angeles burglar (and ad hoc P.I.) Junior Bender. The first of the series, Crashed, came out in November of last year, so it was too late for me to review it for this column; nonetheless, I powered through it so I would have perspective on the second installment, Little Elvises.
The title of the book refers to any number of one-hit wonders who rode Elvis Presley’s coattails onto the pop charts in the late 1950s. In his heyday, aging impresario Vinnie DiGaudio was responsible for the success of several of them. Now, DiGaudio is the prime suspect in the murder of an annoying tabloid journalist, and he wants out from under the rap. DiGaudio’s nephew, a somewhat bent Los Angeles cop, bullies Junior into looking into the situation, and from there on, things get, um, convoluted. Little Elvises begs comparison to Tim Dorsey or Carl Hiaasen novels: It’s quirky and hip, and often laugh-out-loud funny. And apologies to Hallinan; my trepidation was misplaced.