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The Jury Box

 By Steve Steinbock


Peter Lovesey, Another One Goes Tonight, Soho Crime, $27.95. Two police on late-night patrol are called to investigate a naked man seen running in the woods. Along the way, they meet an eccentric old man on a motorized tricycle. A short time later, their patrol car flips over, leaving one policeman dead and the other in a coma. Detective Peter Diamond, called to the scene, discovers the old man with the tricycle, clinging to life, having been thrown from the road by the police car’s impact. As Diamond investigates, he begins to suspect that the old man whose life he’d saved may be a serial killer. The story is engaging from the very first scene. Lovesey’s storytelling is darkly funny, with richly drawn characters, detailed police procedure, brilliant dialogue, and impeccable plotting.


Elaine Viets, Brain Storm, Thomas & Mercer, $15.95. Author Viets, a frequent contributor to our sister publication Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, is known for her humor. But with Brain Storm, she launches a series about a death-scene investigator that is distinguished by its seriousness. Viets brings her own experience as a stroke survivor into the story of Angela Richman, a death investigator in a wealthy St. Louis suburb who suffers a stroke after having been misdiagnosed by an arrogant neurologist. As Angela is recovering, the neurologist is murdered, and the clues point to the surgeon who saved her life. The story is powerfully emotional and intense, but retains Viets’ signature wit.


Anne Perry, Treachery at Lancaster Gate, Ballantine, $28.00. Thomas Pitt is called to investigate when a bomb goes off in a derelict building where the police had been called in to foil an opium sale. The five police caught in the blast are either killed or seriously injured. Was this a case of political anarchists or a targeted revenge killing for police corruption? When Pitt, heading the newly formed Special Branch, begins investigating, it places him in conflict with the regular police wanting to avoid charges of corruption, and politicians concerned for a Chinese trade deal. There’s very little mystery, as we know fairly early who set off the bomb. But Perry’s brilliant portrayal of Victorian England, and the depth with which she explores moral and political tensions, make this a highly engaging addition to her series.


Alice Arisugawa, The Moai Island Puzzle, Locked Room International, $19.99. The author’s dedication to becoming the literary successor to Ellery Queen helped make him a leader of the New Orthodox (shin honkaku) movement in Japanese detective fiction, and the first president of the Honkaku Mystery Writers Club of Japan. The Moai Island Puzzle, originally published in Japanese in 1989, tells of three members of a university mystery club who spend a vacation on an island near Okinawa known for its Easter Island-styled statues. As the characters search for a hidden cache of diamonds, they encounter various puzzles (including a locked-room murder and a dying message). The dialogue is peppered with commentary on the nature and history of detective fiction and references to mystery writers of the past. The story is told in an energetic style, and the gradual denouement is brilliant.


Alan Bradley, Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d, Delacorte Press, $26.00. Twelve-year-old Flavia de Luce—with equal parts Pippi Longstocking and Bertie Wooster—is back in England after a one-novel exile in Canada (in last year’s As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust). The young detective is sent on an errand to the home of a woodcutter, only to find him dead, trussed upside down on his door. I found the plot, involving the legacy of an author of children’s nonsense poetry, hard to follow for a good portion of the book, but the story is carried by Flavia’s lonely but whimsically wise narrative until the pieces of the plot come together for a satisfying, albeit tragic, ending.


Brad Meltzer and Tod Goldberg, The House of Secrets, Grand Central Publishing, $28.00. Hazel Nash wakes in a hospital after a car accident, her memory and her personality muddled by a brain injury. Hazel’s father, who was killed in the accident, was the longtime host of a popular conspiracy TV show, House of Secrets. When she learns about a murder, and its connection with a Bible that had been given by George Washington to Benedict Arnold, she is compelled to find the truth about a conspiracy that involves her family. Under scrutiny, the novel has some cheesy, crowd-pleasing elements. But ultimately I found it satisfying, and an ideal beach-read.


Martin Limón, Ping-Pong Heart, Soho Crime, $26.95. In 1974, U.S. Military cops George Sueño and Ernie Bascom look into a complaint by a bloated major that a Korean bar girl stole fifty dollars from him. When the major’s murdered body is later found, Sueño and Bascom begin to suspect a conspiracy involving trade of wea-pons and information with North Korea. Limón, a frequent contributor to Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, has a knack for solidly honest storytelling. His portrayal of postwar Seoul culture, politics, and U.S. military involvement is affectionate while still starkly realistic.

A couple of noteworthy nonfiction books rolled into the Jury Box recently. John D. MacDonald was an important, and certainly among the most prolific American mystery writers of the twentieth century, and very little has been written about his life and work. The late Hugh Merrill’s biography of MacDonald, The Red-Hot Typewriter: The Life and Times of John D. MacDonald (Stark House Press, $17.95), has been newly revised with a new afterword and an interview with MacDonald.

I was also excited to discover Blockbuster!: Fergus Hume & the Mystery of a Hansom Cab by Lucy Sussex (The Text Publishing, $16.95). The Mystery of a Hansom Cab was first published in 1886, before the first appearance of Sherlock Holmes. It was the biggest-selling crime novel of the nineteenth century, and is considered one of the most important Australian books ever. Sussex’s book—part biography, part history of publishing, and part literary criticism—explores Fergus Hume’s life and work, and how The Mystery of a Hansom Cab became a global phenomenon. 

 © 2016 Steve Steinbock

 
 
 
 
 
 
 


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