Bruce Tierney

The Wild Life

Joe Brody, aka “The Bouncer,” actually holds a more important position in the New York Mafia than that title might suggest: He serves as the in-house “sheriff” for an organization not exactly noted for enlisting the aid of conventional law enforcement. Indeed, Joe even wears a sheriff’s badge, though not the bronze sort that gets pinned to an elected official’s khaki shirt pocket. His is tattooed on his chest, a lifetime appointment, albeit one with perhaps a shorter life expectancy than his counterparts on the other side of the blue line. In David Gordon’s The Wild Life, Joe goes in search of some missing sex workers. Their profession may be known for its high turnover, but this time it’s more troubling: The women have disappeared without a trace, leaving behind their passports and savings. High on the suspect list are Jim Hackney, a well-connected property developer with a history of employing prostitutes, and his namesake son, a daddy’s boy with a penchant for big-game hunting. Joe’s smart-aleck attitude quickly gets him crosswise with the pair, and the situation deteriorates rapidly. Complicating matters is Joe’s budding romance with FBI agent Donna Zamora, a situation that must be kept secret from both their employers—which is not easy when they are investigating the same case from opposing perspectives. I must admit to being partial to mysteries in which one of the protagonists works within the framework of the law and the other suffers no such constraints. I usually find myself more drawn to the outlaw of the pair, especially if they’re as gritty and funny as Joe Brody.

Overboard

At the beginning of Overboard, Sara Paretsky’s 22nd V.I. Warshawski novel, the Chicago PI has just lost control of her two large dogs while walking them alongside Lake Michigan. Scuttling down some treacherous rocks in pursuit of the disobedient doggies, V.I. is horrified to find a battered teenage girl barely clinging to life. At the hospital, the victim’s vital signs are stabilized, but she has no identification and seems unable or unwilling to converse in any language. It is clear that she is terrified of something or someone, and she escapes from the hospital at her first opportunity. As V.I. looks into the case of the missing girl—pro bono, which she can ill afford—disturbing connections come to light in relation to some questionable legal shenanigans involving a synagogue and a prime piece of Chicago waterfront property. And then the murders begin. The COVID-19 pandemic plays a key role in the story’s backdrop, something we will certainly see more and more often in literature as the pandemic wears on. V.I., who narrates in the first person, has some strong left-leaning feelings on how the crisis has been handled in America, but they never detract from Paretsky’s compelling, fast-paced and original mystery.

The Dark Flood

South African writer Deon Meyer returns with The Dark Flood, the seventh installment of his series featuring Cape Town police detective Benny Griessel. Griessel, a confirmed disobeyer of orders from above, is once again in the soup. The commissioner wants to see Griessel sacked, but cooler heads prevail, and he is instead demoted and reassigned to a suburban outpost where nothing much happens. Well, nothing much until Griessel arrives, and then—as has been known to happen before—all hell breaks loose. First, a college honor student goes missing, and then there’s the disappearance of a businessman who allegedly engineered an economy-toppling scheme, but the forensic accountants have yet to sufficiently untangle the multilayered mess. In a parallel storyline, we follow the financial woes of Sandra Steenberg, a young real estate agent who has fallen behind on her mortgage, her car payments and the tuition for her young daughter’s school. Sandra needs some quick cash, and she is willing to bend a few rules to facilitate that end, even if it means covering up an unexpected death. As with the previous entries in the series, The Dark Flood is a character-driven novel, and Griessel’s history of alcoholism is one of the main characters (albeit one without a speaking role). Larceny abounds, and in at least a couple of the cases, readers will almost hope that the perps get away with it. Even the book’s villains are laden with backstory, and it is borderline impossible to avoid feeling some level of sympathy for one and all. Fans of Jo Nesbø’s similarly character-driven Harry Hole mysteries will find lots to like here.

Geiger

Gustaf Skördeman’s debut novel, Geiger, is a first-class story of the modern-day repercussions of Cold War espionage—not the first thing you’d expect from a thriller set in Sweden, which was a decidedly neutral country for most of that conflict. The story centers on the murder of a retired TV personality, Uncle Stellan, who was at one time the Johnny Carson of Sweden, beloved by adults and children alike. The book is not a whodunit in the true sense of the word, as we know who the killer is from the moment the bullet exits the gun. What we don’t know is the reason Agneta, Stellan’s wife of 50-odd years, chose to kill him after answering the phone and hearing a one-word message: “Geiger.” Detective Inspector Anna Torhall has been assigned to the case, and she brings Officer Sara Nowak on board since Sara has known Uncle Stellan’s family since she was a child. The two friends attended police academy together, and they value each other’s insights, at least to a point. Sara and Anna initially presume Agneta was either abducted by the killers or perhaps dead herself, and for quite some time, nobody even floats the notion that she might be the murderer. But as their investigation wears on, some disturbing connections to Communist East Germany come to light—connections that may lay the groundwork for an act of terrorism that would make 9/11 pale by comparison. Geiger is a truly excellent first novel: deeply researched, painstakingly crafted and thrilling on every page.

This month’s top pick in mystery, Gustaf Skördeman’s debut novel, Geiger, has a beginning you’ll never forget: A woman shoots her husband of 50 years after hearing the titular word on a mysterious phone call.

The Echo Man

The only thing in this line of work that gives me more pleasure than reading a killer debut novel is reading a serial killer debut novel. The serial killer in Sam Holland’s The Echo Man tallies up an impressive body count, handily surpassing the known body count of any real-life serial killer in the U.K. Detective Chief Inspector Cara Elliott and Detective Sergeant Noah Deakin are investigating a series of murders, deaths they eventually realize are all evocative of different serial killers from history. Meanwhile, suspended cop Nate Griffin spends his downtime ferreting out his wife’s murderer, the same unauthorized inquiry that got him suspended in the first place. After joining forces with fugitive murder suspect Jessica Ambrose, Nate essentially throws the rulebook out the window. They’re a rather formidable pair, unfettered by the constraints of on-duty police officers. As the tension mounts, Holland poses a creative and frightening question: When and how will the killer stop being a copycat and deliver his coup de mort, the deathblow that will cement his legacy in the annals of murder?

Fierce Poison

In Victorian London, one fictional detective stands out from the others: Sherlock Holmes. But author Will Thomas gives a convincing account of why attention should be paid to two others, Cyrus Barker and Thomas Llewelyn, whose 13th adventure plays out in Fierce Poison. It starts off dramatically, when a rather unwell-looking man named Roland Fitzhugh enters their office, promptly slumps to the floor, implores, “Help me,” and then dies before their eyes. Senior partner Barker feels honor bound to investigate, especially after it is revealed that his new (-ly deceased) client was a member of Parliament. This is but the beginning of a rash of poisonings that terrorize the citizenry of England’s capital city: first, a young boy selling sweets outdoors, followed by his entire family, save for an infant girl. Then the poisonings get closer to home, targeting the two detectives themselves. On the suspect list are a gardener who maintains a plot of lethal plants, an herbalist well versed in the preparation of illicit potions and any number of people who disliked Fitzhugh, both in his political career and in his former life as a barrister. Narrated in the first person by Llewelyn, who serves as smart-alecky Archie Goodwin to Barker’s Nero Wolfe, Fierce Poison is cleverly told with humorous asides, period particulars and all the requisite red herrings.

Give Unto Others

The COVID-19 pandemic hovers in the background of Donna Leon’s latest installment of the Commissario Guido Brunetti series, Give Unto Others. Tourism is down, crime is down and a kind of malaise seems to have settled over the city of Venice. So when an old acquaintance approaches Brunetti to look into a worrisome family matter, Brunetti accepts, albeit not without reservations. The concern is centered around Enrico Fenzo, an accountant who has been acting strangely of late. When confronted by his wife, he alludes to a “dangerous” situation and declines to say more. As Brunetti launches his clandestine inquiry into the situation, it appears that perhaps he is ruffling some feathers: A break-in takes place at the veterinary clinic run by the accountant’s wife, and one of the dogs lodging there is badly mauled, perhaps as a warning against further investigation into the accountant’s potentially illegal affairs. As is the case with most of the other 30 Brunetti novels that precede it, Give Unto Others is a largely character- and milieu-driven novel. There is a central mystery, to be sure, but the characters and their evolving relationships are the driving force of the series as it explores Venice, its history, its culture and, of course, its crime. 

★ The Sacred Bridge

I was a big fan of Tony Hillerman’s Leaphorn/Chee series, so I approached Spider Woman’s Daughter, Anne Hillerman’s first book in the continuation of the series, with a bit of trepidation. Turns out, I needn’t have worried; Anne Hillerman so adeptly channeled her father’s narrative voice that 20 pages in, I had completely forgotten it was not a Tony Hillerman book. She also brought positive changes to the series, giving Jim Chee’s wife, police officer Bernie Manuelito, and Joe Leaphorn’s inamorata, anthropologist Louisa Bourebonette, larger roles in the story. In Hillerman’s latest installment, The Sacred Bridge, Leaphorn’s role is tangential but critical: He sends Chee in search of a lost cave chock-full of artifacts, but before Chee can locate it, he spots a dead body floating facedown in a lake. When the autopsy suggests foul play, Chee is called in to assist. Meanwhile, Bernie pursues a separate line of inquiry into a hemp processing plant on Navajo Nation land after witnessing a deliberate hit-and-run that killed a plant employee. Once again, Hillerman nails her father’s style, fleshes out the female characters and brings the Southwest to life on the printed page.

Two wickedly clever serial killers are at large in this month’s Whodunit column.

★ Shadows Reel

I have been a fan of C.J. Box’s Joe Pickett mysteries since the outset of the series. The 22nd offering, Shadows Reel, narrows in on Pickett’s pal, outlaw falconer Nate Romanowski, as he hunts down the thieves who killed some of his prized raptors and stole the rest of them. Romanowski is a sidekick in the mold of Spenser’s Hawk or Elvis Cole’s Joe Pike: hardboiled, loyal to a fault and probably tougher than the nominal hero of the tale. That said, Romanowski’s quarry is easily as well trained as he, and younger and stronger to boot, which is a potentially lethal combination for the aging warrior. Meanwhile, a Nazi relic creates quite a buzz in the town of Saddlestring, Wyoming—especially after its owner, a crusty old fishing guide, gets murdered most gruesomely. It will not be the last relic-related murder, as the killer has instructions to let nothing stand in his way, and he takes these instructions very literally. A recurring theme in these books is Pickett’s struggle with his deep-seated “cowboy code” morality, which is juxtaposed against the often frustrating legalities of the situations he comes up against. This time out, that conflict will give Pickett’s conscience a world-class workout. 

★ The Harbor

Katrine Engberg’s third mystery featuring Copenhagen cops Anette Werner and Jeppe Kørner perfectly balances a mysterious disappearance with the no less intriguing domestic concerns of its two investigators. At the start of The Harbor, Oscar Dreyer-Hoff, the teenage son of a wealthy family, has gone missing, perhaps kidnapped, and clues are thin on the ground. The family boat is missing, and Oscar’s backpack has turned up near the vessel’s harbor mooring. His girlfriend says she has no idea where he is and in general acts very unconcerned about the whole thing. Some time back, scandal rocked the Dreyer-Hoff family, triggering some threatening letters that must be reconsidered in light of Oscar’s disappearance. In the background, home life in the Werner and Kørner households has become less than optimal. Anette is considering an affair with a person of interest in the case, and Jeppe struggles to balance the demands of work and his new lover, whose children are none too happy about their mom’s beau. Engberg is a must read for fans of Nordic noir, and two more books starring Anette and Jeppe will soon be translated into English.

★ Girl in Ice

Erica Ferencik’s Girl in Ice is an excellent, thrilling mystery set against a quasi-science fiction backdrop. Linguist Valerie “Val” Chesterfield has accepted an unusual assignment: She’s traveling to Greenland to meet a girl rescued from an ice field who initially appeared to have frozen to death but has somehow survived. The girl speaks no known language, and Chesterfield is one of only a few scholars with sufficient knowledge of archaic Northern European languages to try and communicate with her. But there is a more pressing connection for Val: Her twin brother, Andy, died at the same Arctic outpost not so long ago, and try as she might, she cannot make any sense of his death. The novel veers into speculative territory as Wyatt, the team leader, begins to entertain the idea that the girl is not a recent freezing victim but rather is from another epoch entirely, having been cryogenically preserved using technology lost to the ages. With its fascinating science and compelling characters (one or more of whom may be a murderer), Girl in Ice demands to be read in one sitting.

★ The Berlin Exchange

It’s rare for an espionage novel’s protagonist to be a traitor, but author Joseph Kanon quite successfully breaks that unwritten rule in his 10th novel, The Berlin Exchange. As a physicist on the controversial Manhattan Project, the U.S. military program that introduced the world to atomic warfare, Martin Keller was privy to top-secret design and implementation information. Motivated by dubious idealism, Keller shared some intelligence with the opposing team and received a lengthy sentence when his subterfuge was found out. Fast forward to 1963: A prisoner exchange has been arranged, and Keller finds himself set free in East Berlin. It is a freedom that is fraught with terror from the get-go. As he passes the checkpoint, he narrowly escapes being killed by a sniper, and it will take all the resources at his disposal to stay one step ahead of whoever is trying to kill him in this chilly, elegant and consistently excellent espionage thriller.

It’s a great month for mysteries: All four of the books in our Whodunit column received a starred review!

City of the Dead

Author Jonathan Kellerman published his first Alex Delaware mystery more than 35 years ago, but entries such as the stellar City of the Dead prove that this popular series has done anything but run out of steam. In the wee hours of the morning, in a tony neighborhood of Los Angeles, a naked man is struck headfirst by a moving van, rendering the now-corpse’s facial features totally unrecognizable. Meanwhile, a few doors down, a woman is found murdered in her bedroom. Veteran Los Angeles police homicide detective Milo Sturgis does not believe in coincidences, and as he is wont to do in these situations, he quickly solicits the aid of his longtime friend, forensic psychologist Alex Delaware. Alex is quite surprised to discover that he knew the murdered woman, Cordelia Gannett, a popular self-help influencer who once appeared as an expert witness in a court case Alex was involved in. Unfortunately for her, she was subsequently exposed as a charlatan who had created fake credentials in order to pose as a licensed psychologist. Despite this fraud, there is remarkably little evidence to suggest a motive for someone killing either Cordelia or the unknown man. This, of course, is where Alex steps in, probing the psychological profiles of everyone involved in the case, pulling on loose threads to see which ones might unravel and turning up damning evidence of previous murders in the process.

A Game of Fear

Charles Todd’s latest Ian Rutledge mystery, A Game of Fear, finds the intrepid Scotland Yard investigator chasing ghosts. This is fitting in a way, as Rutledge is no stranger to the otherworldly. The World War I veteran carries with him the “presence” of Corporal Hamish MacLeod, a man he was forced to execute for insubordination on the battlefield who now provides a snarky counterpoint to every one of Rutledge’s moods, reflections and decisions. An Essex noblewoman, Lady Benton, has claimed she witnessed a murder; the catch is, she has positively (-ish) identified the killer as someone who is already dead. In 1921 England, even an unlikely claim made by a member of nobility warrants at least a token investigation, so Rutledge is on the case. Another murder follows, seemingly unrelated save for proximity, and then there’s a too-convenient, evidence-erasing fire. The tension ratchets up when Rutledge himself bears witness to an event that seems to mirror Lady Benton’s apparition. Perhaps it’s a warning that he is getting too close for the comfort of resident evildoers, whichever side of the shadowy spectral divide they may inhabit. 

Marion Lane and the Deadly Rose

T.A. Willberg’s debut, Marion Lane and the Midnight Murder, generated a fair bit of buzz in literary circles and among mystery aficionados. Now she returns with the second volume in the series: Marion Lane and the Deadly Rose, named for “The Florist,” a serial killer who brands his victims with a rose. The aforementioned Marion is an apprentice at Miss Brickett’s Investigations & Inquiries, an underground (literally) and quite clandestine detective agency in 1959 London. In the grand tradition of English mysteries dating back to Sherlock Holmes, Miss Brickett’s serves as consultant to Scotland Yard when a case proves too baffling for the authorities’ plodding detective work. This time out, Marion is summoned to assist in bringing “The Florist” to justice. Marion Lane and the Deadly Rose’s central mystery is as strong as that of any traditional, beloved whodunit.  The book also features a cast of well-crafted characters, including a delightfully despicable villain, and a host of unexpected twists and misdirections. But the similarities to other mysteries end there, as Willberg takes readers on a wild, genre-bending ride with touches of steampunk, a dash of sci-fi tech wizardry and plenty of dry British humor. Willberg has noted in an interview that her first book was rejected numerous times for not fitting neatly into any category. I trust that the authors of those rejections have since sought more appropriate employment opportunities.

One Step Too Far

In my review of Lisa Gardner’s first Frankie Elkin novel, I opined, “Before She Disappeared is billed as a standalone, but I’m thinking it would be the perfect setup for a terrific series.” In revisiting that sentence, the only thing I would change is to replace the word setup with springboard. As good as the first book was, One Step Too Far is better in every regard, a tour-de-force in suspense and red herrings with a twist ending I did not even begin to anticipate. Frankie Elkin is a finder of lost persons. She does this on an ad hoc basis, for the satisfaction of doing some good but also to atone for some of the damage wrought in her 20s, when she was addicted to alcohol. Frankie, who has no fixed address, no car and no possessions to speak of, is a Jack Reacher-esque loner (minus the military connections and the musculature). This time, she joins a search party about to embark on their fifth expedition into the Wyoming wilderness to search for the remains of Tim O’Day, who went missing on a bachelor party camping trip, never to be seen again. Other members of the party include Tim’s father; his companions the night he went missing; a well-respected wilderness guide; a cadaver dog trainer and her golden retriever; and a noted—albeit thus far unsuccessful—Bigfoot hunter. Virtually all of them have secrets and underlying motives, as Frankie will find out, initially to her dismay and then to her peril.

Lisa Gardner outdoes herself, and a steampunk-influenced historical mystery blows our mystery columnist away.

Find Me

Three women take center stage in Alafair Burke’s latest thriller, Find Me: NYPD detective Ellie Hatcher, attorney Lindsay Kelly and amnesiac Hope Miller, who remembers nothing of her life prior to a devastating car crash she survived 15 years ago—or so she says. Now, sans ID or history, Hope works under the radar for a real estate agent, getting paid under the table to stage houses for prospective buyers. Then, as often happens in novels about amnesiacs, a random aha! moment triggers a memory, and we’re off to the races. Hope disappears, blood is spilled and the DNA found at her last-known location matches that of unidentified blood found at an old crime scene halfway across the country. The crime in question is one of a spate of killings thought to be the work of a serial killer, and the case was supposedly solved 15 years ago. Lindsay, who has been Hope’s friend ever since her accident, begins to investigate her disappearance and eventually draws Ellie into the fray. Ellie’s father, who was also a cop, was assigned to the same serial killer case that’s somehow connected with Hope’s disappearance. The two women feverishly piece together the disparate parts of the story, and Burke’s masterful control over pacing and plot reveals will make readers just as anxious to uncover the truth. 

A Narrow Door

Joanne Harris’ darkly humorous and deliciously evil A Narrow Door is a quintessential and unputdownable English mystery. Rebecca Buckfast, headmistress of noted Yorkshire boarding school St. Oswald’s and one of the first-person narrators of this tale, is nothing if not straightforward. She recounts the steps she had to take to become the first female head of the school in its 500-year history. Rebecca doesn’t sugarcoat anything, including the two murders she committed (“one a crime of passion, the other, a crime of convenience”), and yet it is difficult not to respect her motivations and even like her. Sort of. Meanwhile, a parallel tale is offered up by St. Oswald’s teacher Roy Straitley, in the form of a diary that outlines the discovery of what appears to be human remains in a construction site on the school grounds. As Roy’s and Rebecca’s stories unfold, both of the narrators take satisfaction in the secrets they are hiding from each other—or, more precisely, the secrets they think they are successfully concealing. A Narrow Door is an exceptionally good novel, such a masterpiece of storytelling that when Rebecca likens herself to a modern-day Scheherazade, it doesn’t feel like hyperbole in the slightest.

Silent Parade

By all accounts, 19-year-old Saori Namiki was on track to become the next big thing in the world of J-pop music. And then, inexplicably, she vanished, and stayed missing until her remains were discovered three years later in a suburban Tokyo neighborhood. Another body is found at the same place: Yoshie Hasunuma, an unremarkable woman save for her stepson, Kanichi, who is widely believed to have skated away from a murder charge years ago and looks pretty good for this latest double homicide as well. In the same way that Scotland Yard Inspector Lestrade often sought the assistance of supersleuth Sherlock Holmes, Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department Chief Inspector Kusanagi regularly summons brainiac physicist Manabu Yukawa, known as Detective Galileo, to consult on particularly difficult homicides. Keigo Higashino’s Silent Parade showcases the fourth such pairing, and is in many ways the most intricate. Detective Galileo must reconsider his theory of the crime again and again, tweaking it repeatedly until he is more or less satisfied with his assessment. He is a very clever man, smart enough to stay a step or two ahead of the police department, the perpetrator (or perpetrators?) and the reader, and that is no mean feat.

BOX 88

The title of Charles Cumming’s latest espionage thriller, BOX 88, refers to a fictional clandestine ops organization that is jointly operated by the United States and the United Kingdom. BOX 88 does not possess a license to kill a la James Bond, but the management certainly utilizes a “license to look the other way” on occasions when wetwork is required. BOX 88 begins a series starring Scottish spy Lachlan Kite, who in this book must come to grips with a very cold case: the 1988 downing of PanAm Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. Close to half the narrative consists of flashbacks to immediately after the plane crash, when Lachlan was a green recruit. In the present day, Lachlan lets down his guard at the funeral of his old friend, with disastrous results. He is kidnapped by an urbane-seeming Iranian man who turns out to be anything but urbane when it comes to securing intelligence from a perceived enemy combatant. Worse yet, the kidnapper’s team has also captured Lachlan’s very pregnant wife. If torture will not get them what they want, perhaps threats to Lachlan’s family will do the trick. Despite his mistake at the funeral, Lachlan is a seasoned operative and, if anything, more dangerous to his captors than they are to him. Meanwhile, British intelligence agency MI5 is in hot pursuit, not to help Lachlan but rather to out him as an operative of a rogue agency. The suspense is palpable, the characters flawed but sympathetic in their own ways and the story gripping. In a month of really excellent reads, BOX 88 is a clear standout.

In a month overflowing with superb mysteries and thrillers, a deliciously evil boarding school-set thriller and a pitch-perfect espionage novel rise to the top.

The Left-Handed Twin

Edgar Award-winning author Thomas Perry returns with The Left-Handed Twin, his ninth novel featuring guide Jane Whitefield, a member of the Wolf clan of the Seneca Nation of Indians. The term guide does not entirely describe Whitefield’s job; she serves as a one-woman witness protection program, spiriting people out of life-threatening situations and into new and safer existences. This time out, she assists a young woman who testified against her boyfriend in a murder trial only to see him acquitted and bent on revenge. The first part of the task is fairly straightforward, utilizing the obfuscation skills Jane has honed over the years, but it all starts to go sideways when the ex-boyfriend enlists the help of the Russian mob, a group with an agenda of its own in locating Jane: extracting information from her about past clients who ran afoul of the mob. Suddenly, she finds herself on the run, and the safest places for her are the forests and fields of Maine’s Hundred-Mile Wilderness, one of the ancestral Seneca territories where she holds the home-court advantage over lifetime city dwellers. Still, her Russian adversaries are nothing if not determined, and there are at least a couple of times when readers will wonder if this is the book where Jane’s story comes to an untimely end.

Bryant & May: London Bridge Is Falling Down

Spoiler alert: London Bridge Is Falling Down marks the final installment of Christopher Fowler’s beloved Bryant and May series. With each passing book, the Peculiar Crimes Unit, which solves murders that stump other branches of law enforcement, finds itself more critically threatened with closure. Both protagonists, cranky Arthur Bryant and the urbane and charming John May, are getting rather long in the tooth (in Bryant’s case, long in the dentures), and cases don’t present quite as frequently as they once did. So in hopes of postponing the inevitable, Bryant goes in search of a case and turns one up: Amelia Hoffman, age 91, whose death does not entirely fall into the catch-all of natural causes. Hoffman had something of a chequered (the English spelling must be used here) past, as it turns out, and before long the case develops into a full-blown conspiracy investigation. The narrative neatly straddles the blurry line separating espionage fiction from straight-up suspense, and adds for good measure a mean streets of London travelogue and more than a little laugh-out-loud but still dry British humor. Lovers of this series need not despair (well, not yet). Next year, we will see Bryant and May’s Peculiar London, a companion travelogue of sorts in which fan-favorite characters will hilariously dish on their home city while ambling about its streets, and there will be no dead bodies to be found anywhere.  

So Far and Good

For the better part of 30 years, I have counted myself as a major fan of John Straley’s sporadic series featuring Alaska-based PI Cecil Younger. From the outset, 1992’s Shamus Award-winning The Woman Who Married a Bear, the books have combined grittiness, social issues and introspection with whimsy and slapstick, as the hapless investigator moves from crisis to crisis, both business and personal. So Far and Good, the latest adventure, finds Cecil serving seven-plus years in prison for homicide, arguably a necessary one. His daughter, Blossom, visits him regularly, and this time she has an interesting tale to tell: Her best friend took a DNA test to surprise her mom with an ancestry-related gift and discovered that she and her “mom” were not in any way related. As it turns out, this friend was abducted as an infant, and the case has remained unsolved for the past 16 years. Should be a happy ending, right? Instead, it serves as the catalyst for a suspicious suicide, a near-homicide and assorted disappearances. And Blossom joins the missing, it will take all of his considerable savvy, not to mention a reversal of his inherent unluckiness, to set his world back in order (more or less) once again. 

★ War Women

The year that John Straley’s first Cecil Younger book appeared, 1992, also marked the debut of Martin Limón’s excellent series featuring George Sueño and Ernie Bascom, military police partners stationed in Itaewon, Korea, in the 1970s. Several plot lines wind around one another in the pair’s latest outing, War Women. First off, there is the disappearance of their best confidential informant, along with some particularly sensitive classified documents about impending military exercises. Then there is the nosy reporter who has acquired explicit, potentially career-ending photos of an Army general and the hasty cover-up attempts that spiral speedily out of control, the suspense building until the final, nerve-shredding shootout. But these events are only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. A culture of abuse targeting female service members has permeated every level of the military hierarchy, and there are those who will kill to keep that culture thriving. Bascom and Sueño, while still their customarily smart-aleck selves, are more thoughtful this time around. They’re not overcome by the gravity of the situation, but they’re certainly affected by it. War Women is the most sobering of the series to date, while still being a book readers will want to devour in one sitting. 

Thomas Perry gives fans the gift of another Jane Whitefield thriller and a beloved series comes to an end in this month’s Whodunit column.

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