Martha Grimes seems to have more fun with her mysteries than most of the genre’s perpetrators. And there’s good evidence of that in her latest, Vertigo 42, which brings back New Scotland Yard Superintendent Richard Jury, his sidekick Sgt. Wiggins, his best friend, wealthy, elegant Melrose Plant, and Plant’s eccentric, well-heeled cronies who hang out in a Devon pub. Grimes peppers this top-notch whodunit with clues hidden in literary classics like Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles, Forster’s A Passage to India, T.S. Eliot’s poetry and, not surprisingly, Hitchcock’s classic film Vertigo, and wraps it in the Devon set’s charmingly odd doings. Asked to look into Tess Williamson’s fatal fall 17 years ago by her husband, who still believes it was murder, Jury’s back in Devon only to be confronted with another dubious fatal fall. Connected? If you listen carefully to Steve West’s bravura performance and know your fiction and flicks well, you’ll figure it out. If not, no matter, you’ll have a vertiginously high time.
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Jim Stegner is an “outsider” artist on the inside track to making it big in the Santa Fe gallery scene, as much at home in a bar fight, raptly gazing at art in a museum or reading Rilke. He’s passionate and violent, deeply talented and deeply scarred, and he’s the first-person narrator of Peter Heller’s beautifully evoked, emotionally convincing novel The Painter, ably read by Mark Deakins. Since Jim tells the story, you know he survives, but given his murderous, blinding temper, that’s not always a sure thing. Living in a small town in Colorado now, after his treasured teenage daughter was murdered in a drug deal gone wrong, his days are an uneasy balance of making art and fly-fishing. When he happens on a burly man abusing a small horse, his life twists into a wildly suspenseful spiral of murder, revenge and, maybe, a touch of redemption.
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Since we’ve learned that Robert Galbraith is in truth J.K. Rowling, it’s good fun to look for Potteresque shadows in The Silkworm, the second in her acclaimed new series starring Cormoran Strike, a London private eye who lost a leg in Afghanistan. There are no wands or spells. The wizardry here is in Rowling’s vividly drawn cast—their nuanced personalities and fabulous range of accents perfectly realized by reader Robert Glenister—and in its intricately structured plot, replete with a long list of possible suspects and deftly hidden clues, set in the backbiting, gossipy world of publishing. Strike, aided by his smart, attractive assistant, Robin, is investigating the gory, ghoulishly orchestrated murder of Owen Quine, a difficult, disliked novelist whose recently completed, surreally horrifying novel, filled with scandalous portraits of London’s literati, has exploded on that scene like a firebomb. Solid provocation for murder, but it will take all of Strike’s detecting talent and a lick of literary acuity to find the killer. Fortunately, Strike will be back on another case soon.