Terminally hip tabloid journalist Jimmy Gage returns for an encore performance in Robert Ferrigno's fast-paced Scavenger Hunt. Introduced in the 2001 novel Flinch, Gage was faced with the dreadful prospect that his successful surgeon brother might well be a serial killer. In his latest outing, Gage investigates the death of Garrett Walsh, a renegade Hollywood director, a one-time boy wonder fallen on hard times. It seems that Walsh had written a new script, by his own admission "the most dangerous screenplay in Hollywood," a cinema tell-all that unabashedly named names. Now he lay dead in a koi pond, perhaps an accident, but that just doesn't quite ring true for Jimmy Gage. For one thing, the script has disappeared, and as the novel's title suggests, Gage sets out on a Los Angeles-wide search for it; but, as in any good scavenger hunt, there are competitors, and Gage's opponents are deadly. Like Ferrigno's previous works, Scavenger Hunt is populated with a seedy assortment of lowlifes and high flyers; the plotting is intricate, bordering on convoluted, and the tone darkly comical.

For nigh on half a century, Ed McBain has been cranking out tales of the 87th Precinct. Located in an indeterminate eastern seaboard metropolis (which bears more than a passing resemblance to New York City), the 87th runs the full gamut of crime: prostitution, theft, terrorism and of course, murder. The cast of characters has changed some over time, but the precinct and its stories carry on unabated. In the latest, Fat Ollie's Book, Detective First Grade Oliver Wendell (Fat Ollie) Weeks returns to investigate the shooting death of a noted local politico. By any reasonable measure, Fat Ollie Weeks is not the first boxcar across the bridge; he is a fusion of dull-wittedness, misogyny, bigotry, gluttony and sloth in more or less equal proportions. On top of all that, he's writing a book: a teeth-gnashingly awful police procedural, composed in the first person voice of a female detective with limited grammatical skills: "The Needle was not so named because he is tall and thin, which he is. Nor is that his name because he has only one eye, which he has. No, he is The Needle because when he was but a mere youth, he used to run a dope parlor where you could come up and flop while he injected heroin in your arm or sometimes into the inside of your thigh if you were a girl and didn't want track marks to show for all to see. Also, if he used a thigh, it being so proximate and all. . ." You get the drift; McBain parodies and simultaneously skewers the kind of writing that reviewers love to hate. If you have somehow managed to miss McBain, Fat Ollie's Book is a great place to start. It's funny, the dialogue is clever and sharp, and it's a cracking good mystery as well.

The Tip of the Ice Pick award for January goes to veteran Irish author Ken Bruen for his brilliant novel The Guards, a dark and ominous tale of serial killings in modern-day Galway. Jack Taylor is a disgraced ex-cop. Ousted from the fabled Garda Siochana, the Irish police force, he has devolved from a social drinker to an unsocial drunkard. Still, he has a talent for finding things, and when a beautiful woman seeks his help in investigating the drowning death of her daughter, he unexpectedly rises to the occasion. Well, at least briefly, for the dispiriting Irish cold and the cold Irish spirits conspire to keep our hero off track, and more than occasionally in the gutter. The thing that separates Jack Taylor from the herds of drunken private investigators, though, is that he is wryly aware of his condition, and of his need to control it. He senses the liquor taking over his life and darkly affecting his choices. Readers of James Ellroy (White Jazz) or Jim Thompson (The Killer Inside Me) will find a kindred soul in Ken Bruen. His clipped, bleak writing style captures the pervasive brooding Irish landscape better than any author in a very long while.

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