Pelecanos, George P. The Cut.

NY: Little, Brown, 2011.

Pelecanos is considered one of the best crime novelists writing these days, but some of his books have worked more successfully for me than others. This first entry in a new character series is above-average even for him. And, like all his books, it’s set in the grittier, more crime-ridden parts of blue-collar Washington, D.C., that the tourists never see. Spero Lucas is an adopted Greek, a Marine veteran of Iraq, and now an unlicensed investigator working for attorneys and also doing recovery jobs on the side. If you lose something or have had it stolen, he’ll try to find it for you — for a commission of forty percent of the assessed value.

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Crombie, Deborah. Garden of Lamentations.

NY: William Morrow, 2017.

This is the seventeenth entry (over nearly a quarter-century) in what has been a pretty good semi-cozy though literate police procedural series set mostly in London — especially considering the author is a native Texan living near Dallas. The protagonists are Duncan Kincaid, a Detective Superintendent with the Met, and Gemma James, who was originally his sergeant, became his girlfriend, and then his wife, and is now a Detective Inspector herself.

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Saunders, Nicholas J. Alexander’s Tomb.

NY: Basic Books, 2006.

Subtitled “The Two Thousand Year Obsession to Find the Lost Conqueror,” this is a semi-academic (lots of footnotes, lengthy bibliography) but also very readable account of what we know happened — and what else we think may have happened — to the mummy of Alexander after he died in Babylon at the age of thirty-two. By Macedonian tradition, a deceased king was buried by his successor, so whoever controlled that particular very famous corpse had an excellent claim to taking over his empire. (more…)

Published in: on 14 August 2017 at 7:43 am  Leave a Comment  
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Bowen, Rhys. The Twelve Clues of Christmas.

NY: Berkeley, 2012.

This is the sixth entry in the “Royal Spyness” mystery series featuring Lady Georgiana Rannoch and set in Britain in the early 1930s. Georgie is 34th in line to the throne — well, 35th, now that her brother the duke has had another son — but she’s also completely without funds. What her father, the late previous duke, didn’t waste gambling went for death duties, so Georgie frequently finds herself casting about for ways to earn a living. Not easy when you’re part of the upper aristocracy, actually. She can hardly work as a shop girl. But she manages — usually. Now the Christmas season of 1933 is fast approaching and she’s looking for some way to escape Castle Rannoch.

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Harris, Robert. An Officer and a Spy.

NY: Knopf, 2013.

Harris is very good at thoughtful, carefully researched historical novels, whether they’re set in ancient Rome or in the 20th century. This time, he undertakes to tell the story of Alfred Dreyfus, Alsatian Jew and captain in the French army in the 1890s, who was accused and convicted of treason — spying for the Germans — and who was packed off to Devil’s Island (reopened especially for him) as an object lesson to everyone else.

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Perry, Thomas. The Boyfriend.

NY: Mysterious Press, 2013.

Perry has written twenty-odd suspense novels in the past thirty-five years, and they’re generally pretty good. And he has the awards to prove it. I’ve read more than half his books, and while I’ve enjoyed them, I’ve also discovered, unfortunately, how inconsistent he can be. He sort of specializes in protagonists who are on the run — or, in this case, on the chase — and he spends a good deal of time detailing the ingenious methods they make use of either to hide from the Bad Guys or to track them down and put them out of action. It’s an often fascinating process and it’s largely what makes the books worth reading, especially since the available technology has changed so greatly in the past quarter-century.

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Finch, Charles. A Beautiful Blue Death.

NY: St. Martin, 2007.

Mystery novels in a historical setting are very problematic, I’ve found, but my wife recommended this new series so I gave it a try. And it’s not bad. It does have problems, but most of them are common to nearly any first novel. It’s 1865 in London and Charles Lenox, the 30-ish younger brother of a baronet, is one of the unmarried idle rich. Well, not so idle, actually: He’s a talented amateur detective (and armchair explorer who wishes he could find the time to actually travel) who frequently shows up the plods at Scotland Yard,

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Rankin, Ian. Rather Be the Devil.

NY: Little, Brown, 2016.

John Rebus, master homicide investigator of the Lothian and Borders police, has been semi-retired for awhile now, but he just can’t let go. Being a detective is not only what he does, it’s what he is. But now all his options have expired and he spends his time walking his dog, having dinner with his sort-of girlfriend (the medical examiner), and wondering what the villains are up to. And worrying about coughing up blood and the shadow the doctor found on his lung, the result of a lifetime of smoking and drinking.

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Kearsley, Susanna. The Shadowy Horses.

NY: Bantam, 1997.

I read a great deal, in nearly every genre and flavor of fiction, and I strongly disagree with the elitists who insist that certain entire categories of books simply aren’t worth their time. That’s pure snobbery, and it’s generally based on prejudice, not experience. Because a book is either well-written or it isn’t, and while there are plenty of books that I haven’t bothered to finish, and certain authors whose repeated lame attempts I have learned (usually) to avoid, the occasional losers are spread across the whole of literature. There are almost always books in any niche that are worth your time. And this one, a romance novel with a strong psychic flavor, is one of them.

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Hammett, Dashiell. The Thin Man.

NY: Knopf, 1934.

Hammett, one of the fathers of the modern detective story, only wrote five novels, of which this was his last, about the wealthy and sophisticated Nick and Nora Charles. It’s difficult to read about Hammett’s other famous detective, Sam Spade, without imagining Bogie, who made the character his own but who also played the hardboiled Spade pretty much the way the author wrote him. When Nick and Nora came to the silver screen, though, William Powell and Myrna Loy mostly just played themselves, and they mostly played the Charleses for laughs. And that’s not at all fair to the book, which certainly wasn’t written as light comedy.

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