The flood of new mysteries in recent years presents a continuing problem that begs us not to complain: so many tales, so little time. The logical corollary: so many books, so little space for review. This month several books stand out as distinctive fare. All are by experienced writers, and each will add to the writer's growing reputation.
Martha Grimes is still basking in the success of last year's bestseller, The Stargazey, her 15th novel featuring Scotland Yard's Richard Jury. The western U.S. setting and youthful protagonist of Biting the Moon offer an intriguing contrast to the Jury series. Teenage amnesia victim Andi Olivier a name she invents as a first step toward solving her personal mystery wakes in a New Mexico motel room with no idea how she got there. Assuming that she'd been kidnapped by a man posing as her father, Andi escapes to the late-winter Sandia wilderness where, as it turns out, she launches a campaign to release wild animals from illegal leg traps. While burgling a pharmacy for painkillers suited to injured animals, Andi encounters Mary Dark Hope, an even younger girl who becomes a sympathetic partner in Andi's quest to identify herself. The logical first step is to identify her father. The girls' search takes them through rural Colorado, Wyoming, and Idaho, into the realms of game poachers, child abusers, and government trappers. The toughest mystery fans should never think that the musings and sometimes headlong meanderings of adolescents can't put fear into one's soul.
Texas native Deborah Crombie has been nominated for all three major awards in the mystery field. Her Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James series takes us cross-pond for contemporary Scotland Yard intrigue. The discovery of a female murder victim in London's Dockland area launches Kissed a Sad Goodbye into a web of familial intrigue and decades-old grudges. With obstacles ranging from inspectors' intramural rivalries and heavy schedules to an expanding number of suspects and credible motives, Crombie draws her readers into subterfuge in commerce and the history of the Mudchute district. Must the brilliant but manipulative victim share responsibility for her own death? Of course not. But numerous people benefited from the murder. Each is a suspect, and only the protagonists' disentangling of class and economic differences, business partnerships, and romantic links will bring a solution.
In Barbara Parker's Suspicion of Betrayal, Miami attorney Gail Connor suffers Dade County Syndrome: Crime hits close to home. In this mystery, too, social disparities and ill feelings from the past contribute barriers to the truth. Gail Connor questions her wisdom in buying a home in need of renovation; she questions her ex-husband's motives regarding custody of their 11-year-old daughter; she worries about the attitudes of her Cuban fiance. Toss in Miami ingredients such as narcotics, money brokers, the dockside easy life, and the vagaries of the justice system, and Parker's novel offers readers a perfect reflection of complex lifestyle and a gutsy approach to ending a nightmare. To describe more of the plot would be to undermine the first third of the book; but Miami's blending of cultures, especially the broad Hispanic influence, plays a role as large as any character's.
This month we also recommend Blood Mud (Mysterious Press, $23, 0892966475) by veteran K.C. Constantine, another fine Mario Balzic mystery set in western Pennsylvania; and The Color of Night (Warner Books, $25, 0446523615), a suspenseful thriller by David Lindsey that takes us from Houston to exotic locales and treacherous intrigue in Europe.
Tom Corcoran is the Florida-based author of The Mango Opera and the forthcoming Gumbo Limbo.