Since the early 1990s, T. Jefferson Parker has been lauded as the go-to guy for contemporary California noir, thanks to such genre classics as Laguna Heat, Silent Joe and Little Saigon. In recent years, he has crafted a supernatural, suspense-laden series featuring Charlie Hood, a Los Angeles County sheriff on loan to the ATF, who works along the U.S.-Mexican border to try to stem the flow of illegal arms northward. In Parker’s latest, The Famous and the Dead, Hood and his nemesis, the otherworldly Mike Finnegan, battle for the allegiance (or perhaps the soul) of Bradley Jones, a young cop on the take. Lives hang in the balance, including that of Jones’ unborn son, who is of considerable interest to Finnegan and his diabolical cohorts. As always, Parker’s depictions of the Baja cartel violence, the corruption endemic in law enforcement circles and the uneasy relationship between the protagonist and antagonist are flawlessly rendered.
The Famous and the Dead is said to be the last of the Charlie Hood series, but we have seen characters rise up from the ashes before, and can but fervently hope that Parker will see fit to resurrect Hood for more outings.
PEACE, LOVE, MURDER
Speaking of characters reappearing from the thin edge of oblivion, Walter Mosley’s complex and well-loved Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins returns after a several-year hiatus in the gripping Little Green. Rawlins has been in a coma for some months following a terrifying car crash on the Pacific Coast Highway in Southern California. His recovery may never be complete, but with the help of some voodoo meds from his longtime friend Mama Jo, he can survive on an hour-by-hour basis, just barely enough to launch an investigation into the whereabouts of a missing teenager, a potential casualty of California’s late-1960s, drug-addled Summer of Love. There are complications in this case, however: Rawlins’ best friend, Ray “Mouse” Alexander, is responsible for the death of the missing boy’s father. With the help of a resourceful hippie girl, Rawlins infiltrates the inner circle of a Hollywood drug dealer, and from that point forward, both he and the reader will have to hang on for a wild and bumpy ride. Easy Rawlins, welcome back!
SUSPENSE’S NEW WARRIOR
Richard Crompton’s excellent debut novel, Hour of the Red God, opens in Little Mombasa, a small lakeside area of Nairobi’s Uhuru Park, named after Kenya’s main coastal city. It may not be particularly evocative of its namesake, but it nonetheless serves as a weekend playground for the hot and weary denizens of East Africa’s chief metropolitan hub. One weekend in 2007, however, there is little merrymaking after a horribly mutilated body is found: a young Maasai woman, perhaps a prostitute. Maasai policeman Mollel is summoned to investigate the killing. At first blush, the death appears to be attributable to a botched female circumcision, but as Mollel delves into the case, he begins to sense something much deeper, and certainly much darker, than the random killing of a prostitute. Hour of the Red God, character-driven from the get-go, offers up a splendid protagonist in Detective Mollel: outwardly ritually scarred, inwardly emotionally scarred and always a bit at odds with fellow cops (especially the higher-ups) and his own family. I look forward to whatever author Crompton may have up his sleeve for a sequel.
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read a 7 questions interview with Richard Crompton on Hour of the Red God.
TOP PICK IN MYSTERY
It has been the better part of five decades since the publication of John le Carré’s signature work, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold. The intervening years have been kind to le Carré’s hordes of fans, as the iconic espionage writer has moved from strength to strength, crafting such thrillers as The Tailor of Panama, The Russia House, The Constant Gardener and The Little Drummer Girl. Le Carré’s latest, A Delicate Truth, begins in 2008 Gibraltar, where a covert operation pairing Brits and Americans goes stunningly wrong, leaving a young Muslim woman and her baby shot to bits on a seaside cliff. Details of the botched operation are closely guarded and never released to the media. Fast-forward three years, and a couple of the principals find themselves in wildly disparate circumstances: One has been knighted for his foreign service work; the other has fallen on hard times, unable to reconcile his innate goodness with the Gibraltar carnage for which he was at least partly responsible. After a chance meeting in which the two compare notes about their respective parts in the operation, they resolve to pursue the matter further, deciding to go public with graphic evidence if necessary. They enlist the aid of Toby Bell, former personal secretary to the member of Parliament who signed off on the Gibraltar fiasco, and the three undertake an oh-so-covert investigation—one that, if they live through it, may well have the potential to topple governments. Line up at the bookstalls for this one, folks: It is le Carré at the top of his game.