Choosing a mystery is murder
New mysteries arrive from old friends this month: Hope to Die, the latest in a long line of Matt Scudder novels from Lawrence Block; Strawman's Hammock, the new installment in the excellent Barrett Raines series from Darryl Wimberley; and The Falls, a moody, atmospheric Inspector Rebus novel from Scottish author Ian Rankin.
The new millennium finds aging sleuth Matt Scudder in a state of semi-retirement, his investigator's license suspended, and no effort on his part to change that. He still takes on the occasional case, under the table, but he has basically settled into a satisfyingly unexciting routine: ball games on TV, an opera from time to time, periodic AA meetings. When a wealthy socialite couple is brutally murdered in their posh Manhattan brownstone, their distraught daughter recruits Scudder to help make some sense of the matter. The police are of little assistance; it's an open-and-shut case as far as they're concerned. The two killers have been found quite dead, a gun in the hand of one, an apparent murder-suicide. Somehow it all seems just a bit too pat, and Scudder agrees to take on the case. It will pit him against the most brilliant and unconventional criminal he has ever come up against. In Hope to Die (audio), author Lawrence Block has crafted perhaps the most gripping Scudder novel to date, a multi-faceted psychological thriller that will appease and excite his legions of eager readers.
A vote for Wimberley
Darryl Wimberley may not be the first name that jumps to mind when you head to your local bookstore to buy a mystery, but he should soon be moving toward the top of the list. Wimberley's latest, Strawman's Hammock, might be the one that gets him there. Florida Detective Barrett Raines, a workingman's hero if ever there was one, has a decent, if unexceptional life. His wife of many years is still his best friend, his twin sons are polar opposites but exceptionally good kids, and he is well respected on the job. When an offer to run for Lafayette County sheriff comes his way, Raines is nonplussed. He would be the first black sheriff in a predominantly white county, and even if he won the election, he could easily be out of a job four years down the road. Further complicating the issue is the fact that the ne'er-do-well son of his sponsor becomes the chief suspect in the most brutal murder the county has known. The violence is graphic, and the villains are among the most twisted and tortured batch in recent memory. The suspense is palpable, and the conclusion (not to give anything away) is a major surprise.
Tip of the Ice Pick
Our award for mystery of the month goes to Scottish author Ian Rankin for his latest Inspector Rebus novel, The Falls. Already a bestseller in the rest of the English-speaking world, The Falls is just now hitting bookstores here in the Colonies. Inspector John Rebus is the quintessential policeman: thorough, painstaking, dark . . . and a major pain in the butt to his superiors. When wealthy young Philippa Balfour disappears from her flat, the only clues are a tiny wooden model of a coffin and evidence of her involvement in a strange Internet role-playing game. As it becomes apparent that the other players are unaware she has disappeared, policewoman Siobhan Clarke takes on Philippa's role in the game, hoping against hope not to tip her hand as Rebus tracks down a variety of enigmatic leads. If you are partial to blistering police procedurals, read Rankin. If you seek the darkly atmospheric, read Rankin. If you fancy some history and literature mixed in with your suspense, read Rankin. And if you are looking for something grittier than Rankin, well, eat a spoonful of sand.
Nashville-based writer Bruce Tierney is a life-long mystery reader who was weaned on the Hardy Boys. Copyright 2001 BookPage Reviews
Kirkus Reviews 2001 September #1
Lg. Prt.: 0-06-621400-9cassette 0-694-52604-5Arriving home at their Upper West Side brownstone from the opening concert in the Mostly Mozart series, attorney Byrne Hollander and his writer wife Susan encounter a pair of burglars who leave them dead. It's the most commonplace sort of murder imaginable, and everybody's more than ready to call it closed when forensic evidence implicates a pair of skells found dead in a rundown Brooklyn apartment-everybody, that is, but once-again-unlicensed private eye Matthew Scudder. Maybe Scudder's brooding too much because his ex-wife just died, but there's something about the case that whispers setup to him. His assistant TJ-whose Columbia classmate Lia Parkman, Susan's niece, wonders whether the Hollanders' daughter and wealthy heiress Kristin mightn't have had them killed-eggs him on, and soon he's turned up not only some telltale loose ends in the tightly wound skein of evidence against the late Carl Ivanko and Jason Bierman, but a paying client: Kristin Hollander, who's reached pretty much the same conclusion as her cousin, though not of course down to identifying the same perp. Continuing to ask questions even as the killer realizes he's under suspicion, Scudder unearths a plot as diabolical as it is far-fetched, and a lot less resonant than the nefarious schemes of Even the Wicked (1997) and Everybody Dies (1998).Second-drawer Scudder is still Scudder, but despite the high body count, this battle of wits lacks the somber view of mortality that makes his best work so powerful-right down to the final chapter, which strongly hints at a rematch.Author tour Copyright Kirkus 2001 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved
Library Journal Reviews 2001 July #1
First brought to our attention 25 years ago, Matthew Scudder is back at work, investigating the particularly unpleasant murder of a wealthy West Side couple. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal Reviews 2001 September #1
This is the 15th Matthew Scudder novel in 25 years, and readers of Block's noir series know what to expect. It's all here: a perfect evocation of the sights, sounds, and smells of New York City; trips to AA meetings in church basements; Mick Ballou's bar; and the recurring characters such as Ballou, the streetwise TJ, and Elaine, the civilizing influence. In this latest outing, Matt and Elaine attend a "Mostly Mozart" benefit concert at Lincoln Center. At the same concert are a couple who are later murdered in their Upper West Side apartment. Then, the "murderers" are themselves killed in Brooklyn. Without anyone really asking him to, and for want of something better to do, Scudder starts to pick at this case until the whole story unravels before him to a startling conclusion. Every so often, the real murderer narrates a chapter, which adds a cat-and-mouse element. But those looking for fast action will not find it here the pace is leisurely, and characters and set pieces are almost as important as plot. Recommended, especially for public libraries, where readers will ask for it. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 7/01.] Fred Gervat, Concordia Coll. Lib., Bronxville, NY Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Publishers Weekly Reviews 2001 August #4
Unlicensed PI Matthew Scudder returns after a three-year absence to investigate the murder of a wealthy couple savagely slain in their Manhattan townhouse. Matt's now 62, and his age shows in this relatively sedate outing. There's less violence than in many cases past, and the urban melancholy that pervaded his earlier tales has dissipated, replaced by a mature reckoning with the unending cycle of life and death. The mystery elements are strong. To the cops, the case is open-and-shut: the perps have been found dead, murder/suicide, in Brooklyn, with loot from the townhouse in their possession. Matt enters the scene when his assistant, TJ, introduces him to the cousin of the dead couple's daughter; the cousin suspects the daughter of having engineered the killings for the inheritance. At loose ends, Matt digs in, quickly rejecting the daughter as a suspect but uncovering evidence pointing to a mastermind behind the murders. Block sounds numerous obligatory notes from Scudder tales past the AA meetings, the tithing of Matt's income, cameo appearances by Matt's love interest, Elaine, and his friend, Irish mobster Mick Ballou and he adds texture with some familial drama involving Matt's sons and ex-wife. His prose is as smooth as aged whiskey, as always, and the story flows across its pages. It lacks the visceral edge and heightened emotion of many previous Scudders, however, and the ending seems patly aimed at a sequel. This is a solid mystery, a fine Block, but less than exceptional. (Nov.) Forecast: All Blocks sell and Scudder's return will do particularly well, especially with the attendant major ad/promo, including a 17-city author tour. Simultaneous Harper Audio and Harper large print edition. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.