Booked and Printed
Robert C. Hahn
Between 1976 and 1998, Stephen Dobyns wrote ten mysteries featuring reluctant P.I. and horse-racing fan Charlie Bradshaw of Saratoga, New York. Since then, he has crafted numerous volumes of poetry and a few novels, including in 2015 the wonderfully funny and clever Is Fat Bob Dead Yet? Now series fans can rejoice and enjoy Saratoga Payback (Blue Rider Press, $27), as the aging detective once again has a case find him when he finds the body of Mickey Martin on the sidewalk outside his home.
Martin, an unpleasant character with “urinous” breath and a penchant for gossip, slander, and scandal, is no great loss, but Charlie has to wonder what he was doing in his neighborhood and why he was, apparently, coming to see him. The police are also wondering this, and they are not fans of Charlie or his past involvement in “their” cases. That’s true of both investigating detective Lieutenant Frank Hutchins and Police Chief Ron Novak, who have already lifted both Charlie’s private investigator’s license and his gun carry permit.
Friend Victor Plotz tells Charlie that Dave Parlucci had been asking where Charlie lived, and possibly he had told Martin. Charlie claims to be totally uninterested and really wants to leave it up to the police to investigate.
But Charlie, even without his investigator’s license, does have a case: Fletcher Campbell seeks his help when his prize horse, Bengal Lancer, is kidnapped (horse-napped?) and held for ransom. Gruesome photos of decapitated horses whose owners didn’t pay have been sent to him as a warning and an incentive.
Meanwhile, an unnamed killer is marking an X through one of the six figures that represent his targets.
Dobyns juggles all these disparate strains beautifully as Charlie deals with the colorful world of horse racing, horse owners and the hangers-on and bottom-feeders they attract. Charlie Bradshaw has aged and slowed a bit physically, but he is still bright and resourceful, and makes a very welcome return after much too long an absence.
Andrea Camilleri is an author who is underappreciated in this country. But in his native Italy, the ninety-one-year-old writer’s latest mystery featuring Inspector Salvo Montalbano recently topped the bestseller list there.
Since 1994’s The Shape of Water, Camilleri has written twenty-three novels featuring the clever, unorthodox Sicilian detective, whose adventures are often complicated by his bureaucratic superiors, his staff, and his own romantic nature.
A Voice in the Night (Penguin, $16) is the twentieth Montalbano novel to appear in English, with Stephen Sartarelli again providing his excellent translation skills. In this installment, Montalbano faces more serious crimes than usual: a grocery store is robbed, and then the store manager is found hanging from a rope in his office. Suicide or murder?
A second crime is the murder of a young woman found in the house of hot-headed Giovanni Strangio, whom Montalbano once arrested for road rage. Strangio has a seemingly solid alibi, and his father, Michele Strangio, president of the province, provides political muscle on his son’s behalf.
Montalbano navigates these crimes with his customary blend of insight and patience, while also finding time to indulge his appetite for fine and plentiful food and to deal with his never-ending difficulties with his lover Livia. Camilleri takes pointed shots at the mafia and at Italy’s political leadership, leavens his story with sly and delightful humor, and peoples his novels with characters that are both uniquely Italian and universally recognizable.
Two of Terry Shames’s first four books in his series featuring Texas Police Chief Samuel Craddock were nominated for Macavity awards. Now her fifth in the series, An Unsettling Crime for Samuel Craddock (Seventh Street, $15.95) is a prequel that tells how the Jarrett Creek Texan earned his spurs and became a real detective as well as a paper one.
Craddock’s first challenge is a fire in a Darktown house that claims five young lives. Officious State Highway Patrolman John Sutherland claims jurisdiction and dismisses Craddock, but backs off when two Texas Rangers, Curren Wills and Luke Schoppe, arrive on the scene.
Sutherland continues to be a problem as he quickly seizes upon Truly Bennett, a black man Craddock has known his whole life who works for him, as his main suspect. Not only does Sutherland arrest Truly, he has him transferred to the county jail where he may not be safe.
Craddock is young and inexperienced; he has difficulty getting anyone in the black community to trust him enough to share what they know, and Sutherland continues to disrespect him and won’t share information. But Craddock finds an ally in newspaper reporter Bonnie Bedichek. He also makes use of publicity hound Albert Lamond and gives as good as he gets when he deals with “insurance” man Barton Dudley and purported owner of the destroyed house Freddie Carmichael.
Readers can almost see Craddock grow as he begins to absorb lessons and earn respect as he fights to get to the truth behind the brutal murders and Sutherland’s easy and convenient way of closing the book by arresting Bennett.
I always find it interesting that both Edgar Allan Poe (three novels, two short story collections) and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (four novels, six short story collections, including one produced posthumously), produced relatively meager outputs, yet their influence has spawned tremendous outpourings of critical works, pastiches, movies, television programs, and imaginative efforts to move their heroes forward, backwards, and sideways.
Recent offerings include Lyndsay Faye’s The Whole Art of Detection: Lost Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes (Mysterious Press, $25), in which the author boldly creates stories contemporaneous with those of the Doyle canon and does so with an uncannily similar style to Doyle’s own. Faye also authored the novel Dust and Shadow: An Account of the Ripper Killings by Dr. John H. Watson, thus bringing together the iconic detective and perhaps the premier unsolved serial killings of all time.
Noted literary scholar Michael Sims who’s authored critical works of Henry David Thoreau and E. B. White has now published Arthur and Sherlock: Conan Doyle and the Creation of Holmes (Bloomsbury, $27). Sims traces the literary influences on Doyle as well as that of surgeon and diagnostician Joseph Bell, the professor whose teachings helped Doyle create Sherlock as the first “scientific detective.”
Larry Millet continues his series in the eighth novel featuring an aging Sherlock Holmes in Minnesota where he teams with former saloonkeeper Shadwell Rafferty. Sherlock Holmes and the Eisendorf Enigma (University of Minnesota Press, $25.95) finds Holmes in 1920 at age sixty-six visiting the Mayo Clinic in Rochester to seek treatment for emphysema.
A note slipped under Holmes’s hotel door informs him that a killer dubbed the Monster of Munich with whom he tangled in 1892 is now living in the little town of Eisendorf. Holmes is unable to resist the challenge of matching wits with the man whose note ends with “come see me in Eisendorf.”
Kate Kingsbury, most of whose mysteries have been set in England, including both the twenty-plus–volume Cecily Sinclair series and the nine-volume Lady Elizabeth Hartleigh Compton series set during WWII, turns to Sully’s Coast, Oregon, for her new cozy series. Dead and Breakfast: A Merry Ghost Inn Mystery (Crooked Lane Books, $25.99) features Melanie West and her grandmother Liza Harris as they attempt to turn an old mansion into a modern bed and breakfast. The mansion has a storied history that includes tales of a ghost. Unfortunately, the new owners discover not a ghost but a skeleton during their renovations and that discovery brings hunky Officer Ben Carter to their door. With the police investigation threatening to delay the grand opening, Melanie and Liza conduct their own investigation with stumbles, humor, and romance all playing a part as they seek to solve the mystery of the body and the mystery of their resident ghost.