Horowitz, Anthony. Magpie Murders.

London: Orion Books, 2016.

I’ve read two of Horowitz’s earlier books, both pastiches on Sherlock Holmes, but this one is completely different, and both its critical and its public reception has been surprising. It’s also two of the strangest murder mysteries I’ve ever read. What seems at first to be the frame story is narrated by the fiction editor of Cloverleaf Books, who has settled in for the weekend with the new ninth novel from popular mystery writer Alan Conway featuring the Poirot-like private detective Atticus Pünd.

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Macdonald, Ross. The Drowning Pool.

NY: Knopf, 1950.

In many ways, Los Angeles private eye Lew Archer was to the 1950s what Philip Marlow was to the same city a generation earlier, but he doesn’t seem to be much read these days. Which is a shame, because Macdonald was an excellent writer of noir-ish crime stories. This was Archer’s second case, in which he tries to find out who’s attempting to blackmail the young wife of the heir to a large, oil-rich estate in the hills north of LA. But she’s not going to give him much to work with.

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Keen, Greg. Soho Dead.

Seattle: Thomas & Mercer, 2017.

Kenny Gabriel is a couple years short of his sixtieth birthday and with less than three hundred quid in the bank. He’s a creature of Soho, having lived and worked in that London neighborhood since supposedly going off to university in the mid-’70s, and both he and Soho have changed over the years. He’s a skip-tracer most of the time, working for a corpulent, agoraphobic computer nerd who hasn’t left his flat in a decade.

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Clowes, Daniel. Patience.

Seattle: Fantagraphics, 2016.

Clowes is probably best known for Ghost World, but he’s done a number of other graphic novels, too. This one is sort of science fiction. It’s 2012 and young Jack Barlow, who is scraping a living by handing out flyers on the street, comes home to find Patience, his wife, murdered. The cops decide he did it, and he spends many months in jail before they give up trying to make their case and cut him loose.

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Chandler, Raymond. The Big Sleep.

NY: Knopf, 1939.

There are people who will tell you that Philip Marlowe is THE fictional detective in American literature and it’s hard to argue with them. This was his first appearance and Chandler’s prose is as smooth and ironically elegant as it was more than three-quarters of a century ago. It’s not a long book, less than 180 pages, but the author doesn’t waste a single word anywhere. It really does set the standard for every private eye story that came after.

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Pelecanos, George P. The Double.

NY: Little, Brown, 2013.

This is the second entry in the author’s new series set in the nation’s capital and it maintains both the frenetic pace and the often dark psychological tone of the first one. Spero Lucas is an adopted Greek, a Marine vet of Iraq, and both an investigator for an attorney and a finder of lost cash and goods for anyone willing to pay his forty percent recovery fee. And while he makes a pretty good living, it’s not really about the money for him. It’s about the danger and the action, the buzz he got clearing houses in Fallujah.

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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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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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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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