Tom Corcoran

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The best mysteries, these days, go beyond mind puzzles and character studies to remote, unique locales and to a spectrum of lifestyles. This month we visit Hawaii, Alaska, England, and Southern California. Nowhere do we find plain settings or run-of-the-mill personalities.

Dana Stabenow's ninth Kate Shugak book, Hunter's Moon, pits boardroom treachery against the elements and occupants of Alaska's wilderness. Alaska regulates those who lead tourists to big game. Shugak is a resourceful 34-year-old native Aleut with a Class A Assistant guide's license and a dislike of cellular phones. For the first time in years, she finds herself close to romantic commitment, with former fellow Anchorage D.A. investigator and, now, fellow guide Jack Morgan. Kate and Jack help staff a hunting lodge leased by the nine-man, one-woman management team of a German software company. The firm's executive retreat, perhaps in response to international rumors of financial misdeeds, turns into an intramural range war with two accidental deaths and an abundance of motives and suspects. To survive the battle – especially after Jack is injured – Kate must summon deep survival instincts and backcountry knowledge, and use the wilderness as her best ally.

Perfect for fans of historical mysteries, Search the Dark, by Charles Todd, is a fine surprise for those accustomed to current-day plots. World War I changed everyone in England, throwing into turmoil the lives of surviving soldiers and those who awaited their return. Political and financial power changed the least. Even outside sophisticated London, power struggles and battles of jealousy and revenge lead to murder. The battered body of a young woman is found in a field. A distraught veteran is arrested. Scotland Yard detective Ian Rutledge, who also suffers post-war trauma, senses that the hurried case closure indicates a flawed investigation. Trespassing on local jurisdiction, charmed by a female suspect, Rutledge must travel village to country village to coax information from reluctant and conniving citizens. Then another body is found. Assisted by the voice in his head, words of a comrade who failed to return from war, Rutledge must unravel unspoken rules of social hierarchy and decipher clues from gossip. There are plenty of suspects; perhaps the wrong man sits in jail. Shell shock is real in the hunter and the hunted. Suspense holds to the final page.

Marcia Muller's 20th Sharon McCone mystery, A Walk Through the Fire is as fresh as any Muller effort. McCone is summoned to Hawaii where friend Glenna Stanleigh's film-in-progress is suffering mishaps aimed at shutting down production. This film, like previous Stanleigh documentaries intended to fight prejudice, is based on an unpublished manuscript on Hawaiian culture written by a wealthy man who vanished in 1992. McCone and longtime lover Hy Ripinsky arrive in Hawaii to a familial civil war and threat of terrorist action by a group inspired more by drugs than native rights. An attempted murder, a witnessed murder, and a bizarre suicide change the nature of McCone's investigation. Her attraction to a local helicopter pilot (and friend of the missing author) strains her relationship with Ripinsky. A web of financial treachery, greed, and grandiose plans must be untangled to dodge danger and survive.

In Heartbreaker, Robert Ferrigno's fifth mystery, there is no honor among thieves. Only distrust and layers of triple-cross. Ferrigno's characters inhabit the edges; night stars are the spilled milk of the Milky Way. In this high-octane interplay of scammers and the wealthy in sad tuxedos, separate agendas weave a tangle of lies, greed, violence, and misused intelligence. Contract hits, public taunts, and jokes in the face of death prove that Ferrigno's disaffected characters could be Elmore Leonard's. They spout the bizarre dialogue of Robert Crais's blase low-lifes; the most evil possess the twisted minds of James Ellroy's noir felons. This one works.

 

Tom Corcoran is the Florida-based author of The Mango Opera (St. Martin's) and the forthcoming Gumbo Limbo.

The best mysteries, these days, go beyond mind puzzles and character studies to remote, unique locales and to a spectrum of lifestyles. This month we visit Hawaii, Alaska, England, and Southern California. Nowhere do we find plain settings or run-of-the-mill personalities. Dana Stabenow's ninth Kate Shugak book, Hunter's Moon, pits boardroom treachery against the elements […]
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In 1997, Lee Child's Killing Floor won two Best First Mystery awards. Child's third Jack Reacher mystery, Tripwire, maintains his quality and accelerates his thriller-style plotting.

After a career in military police investigation, Jack Reacher opted for a lifestyle removed from the Army's constant-boss, constant-schedule routine. He began wandering the country, living a Teflon life with no paper trail, no credit cards. Tripwire finds him in laid-back Key West, digging swimming pools by day, moonlighting as a bouncer in a nude dance club. But Costello, a New York private eye working for a mysterious Mrs. Jacob, shows up looking for him. Then two toughs show up looking for him. Reacher knows none of them, or their reasons for contacting him. Too soon he discovers that the toughs have found Costello, in ugly fashion. Reacher sees no choice. He must abandon his idyllic existence and confront the mystery head-on.

Child's complex tale explores a violent underworld and the determination of a tough, thoughtful main character. Throughout this cross-country cat-and-mouse tale, the author's spare style reveals telling details: layers of intrigue, poignant moments, hideous crimes, and ingenious solutions.

Tom Corcoran is the Florida-based author of The Mango Opera and the forthcoming Gumbo Limbo.

In 1997, Lee Child's Killing Floor won two Best First Mystery awards. Child's third Jack Reacher mystery, Tripwire, maintains his quality and accelerates his thriller-style plotting. After a career in military police investigation, Jack Reacher opted for a lifestyle removed from the Army's constant-boss, constant-schedule routine. He began wandering the country, living a Teflon life […]
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The sequencing of the Stephanie Plum series, by Janet Evanovich, is self-evident from its titles but not mandatory. The first Plum novel, One for the Money, was nominated for five respected awards. It won two the Dilys and the Creasey. Evanovich's fifth offering, High Five, once again set deep in the heart of Trenton, aligns skip-tracing Plum with crazed associates and pits her against a menagerie of over-the-top antagonists.

Problem One: Uncle Fred, who's been feuding with the garbage collectors, is missing. A packet of gruesome photos is found in his desk. Problem Two: someone from the garbage collection company is murdered. Is Fred the victim or the culprit?

Nothing for Stephanie is storybook perfect. Her job and finances frustrate her. Her family offers off-kilter comfort; her love life consists of a rocky affair with city detective Joe Morelli and a complicating attraction to her mentor, an ex-Navy Seal and domestic mercenary. Plum also must confront two stalkers the hapless Bunchy, who claims Fred owes him a gambling debt, and the menacing Ramirez, a fresh-from-prison psychopath with a thing for Stephanie.

Evanovich wields wonderful humor while weaving a tight story and sustaining suspense.

Tom Corcoran is the Florida-based author of The Mango Opera.

The sequencing of the Stephanie Plum series, by Janet Evanovich, is self-evident from its titles but not mandatory. The first Plum novel, One for the Money, was nominated for five respected awards. It won two the Dilys and the Creasey. Evanovich's fifth offering, High Five, once again set deep in the heart of Trenton, aligns […]
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The flood of new mysteries in recent years presents a continuing problem that begs us not to complain: so many tales, so little time. The logical corollary: so many books, so little space for review. This month several books stand out as distinctive fare. All are by experienced writers, and each will add to the writer's growing reputation.

Martha Grimes is still basking in the success of last year's bestseller, The Stargazey, her 15th novel featuring Scotland Yard's Richard Jury. The western U.S. setting and youthful protagonist of Biting the Moon offer an intriguing contrast to the Jury series. Teenage amnesia victim Andi Olivier a name she invents as a first step toward solving her personal mystery wakes in a New Mexico motel room with no idea how she got there. Assuming that she'd been kidnapped by a man posing as her father, Andi escapes to the late-winter Sandia wilderness where, as it turns out, she launches a campaign to release wild animals from illegal leg traps. While burgling a pharmacy for painkillers suited to injured animals, Andi encounters Mary Dark Hope, an even younger girl who becomes a sympathetic partner in Andi's quest to identify herself. The logical first step is to identify her father. The girls' search takes them through rural Colorado, Wyoming, and Idaho, into the realms of game poachers, child abusers, and government trappers. The toughest mystery fans should never think that the musings and sometimes headlong meanderings of adolescents can't put fear into one's soul.

Texas native Deborah Crombie has been nominated for all three major awards in the mystery field. Her Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James series takes us cross-pond for contemporary Scotland Yard intrigue. The discovery of a female murder victim in London's Dockland area launches Kissed a Sad Goodbye into a web of familial intrigue and decades-old grudges. With obstacles ranging from inspectors' intramural rivalries and heavy schedules to an expanding number of suspects and credible motives, Crombie draws her readers into subterfuge in commerce and the history of the Mudchute district. Must the brilliant but manipulative victim share responsibility for her own death? Of course not. But numerous people benefited from the murder. Each is a suspect, and only the protagonists' disentangling of class and economic differences, business partnerships, and romantic links will bring a solution.

In Barbara Parker's Suspicion of Betrayal, Miami attorney Gail Connor suffers Dade County Syndrome: Crime hits close to home. In this mystery, too, social disparities and ill feelings from the past contribute barriers to the truth. Gail Connor questions her wisdom in buying a home in need of renovation; she questions her ex-husband's motives regarding custody of their 11-year-old daughter; she worries about the attitudes of her Cuban fiance. Toss in Miami ingredients such as narcotics, money brokers, the dockside easy life, and the vagaries of the justice system, and Parker's novel offers readers a perfect reflection of complex lifestyle and a gutsy approach to ending a nightmare. To describe more of the plot would be to undermine the first third of the book; but Miami's blending of cultures, especially the broad Hispanic influence, plays a role as large as any character's.

This month we also recommend Blood Mud (Mysterious Press, $23, 0892966475) by veteran K.C. Constantine, another fine Mario Balzic mystery set in western Pennsylvania; and The Color of Night (Warner Books, $25, 0446523615), a suspenseful thriller by David Lindsey that takes us from Houston to exotic locales and treacherous intrigue in Europe.

Tom Corcoran is the Florida-based author of The Mango Opera and the forthcoming Gumbo Limbo.

The flood of new mysteries in recent years presents a continuing problem that begs us not to complain: so many tales, so little time. The logical corollary: so many books, so little space for review. This month several books stand out as distinctive fare. All are by experienced writers, and each will add to the […]
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Anyone who’s observed Jimmy Buffett’s music career and heard his song lyrics knows that his main product is carefree optimism. But Jimmy has a little secret: he’s been a workaholic for 30 years. As we learn in his memoir, A Pirate Looks at Fifty, he works just as hard at having good times as he does earning them.

The book is a travelogue with flashbacks — and not the kind you might fear. Insightful and entertaining, this detailed instruction on how to live a rewarding life might well be deemed the ultimate self-help manual.

We spoke to Mr. Buffett recently, just after he’d spent several days in New Orleans, "revisiting his youth."

Tom Corcoran: In A Pirate Looks at Fifty you say that you squeeze 36 hours into every day. How did you find time to create a 400-page book?
Jimmy Buffett: I had a deadline! I’d started a novel before I got involved in the musical production of Herman Wouk’s Don’t Stop the Carnival. That was fun, but a creative sidetrack. I still owed the publisher a book. I pulled out my old journals and took a lesson from David Niven, who wrote a wonderful non-tell-all biography called The Moon Is a Balloon. It was informative, yet entertaining to the point of near-fiction in which he’d made himself a character. I decided to write about a journey during which I reflected on events in my life. A lot of it was already on paper. Plus, that deadline . . .

TC: How much of your wanderlust can we attribute to your reading?
JB: Almost all of it, from my youth up till today. I hate to mention age, but I come from an era when we weren’t consumed by technology and television. My mother insisted that her children read. To describe my scarce leisure time in today’s terms, I always default to reading. It didn’t hurt that I came from a Gulf Coast storytelling tradition. I went to the Caribbean because my grandfather sang calypso songs. Simple as that.

TC: You state in this book that you’ve tried to follow your instincts and keep your sense of humor. Creativity aside, how much of your success can you attribute to instinct and humor?
JB: Ninety percent of it. Instinct taught me 20 years ago to pace a song or a concert performance. That translates into pacing a story, pleasing a reading audience. I don’t know where I got it. It must be instinct. Humor has bailed me out of more tight situations than I can think of. If you go with your instincts and keep your humor, creativity follows. With luck, success comes, too.

TC: A Pirate Looks at Fifty demonstrates your fascination with many people, not necessarily for what they do, but how well they do it. Do you judge yourself the same way?
JB: I remember the excruciating school task of writing a three-page term paper. But, oh, that feeling when I was done! I think I drive myself for that feeling of accomplishment. Herman Wouk told me, "Write a page a day. It will add up." So I make sure to do it. Whether it’s a letter, song lyrics, part of a novel, or instructions on how to fix a kitchen sink, it’s writing. You keep your craft honed, you acquire the discipline to finish things. You turn into a self-taskmaster.

TC: Twenty years ago you were sailing the Caribbean. For the past decade you’ve been flying all kinds of aircraft, all over the hemisphere. How do you foresee your introduction to "A Pirate Looks at Sixty"?
JB: I’m inspired by people who keep on rolling, no matter their age. I’ve talked recently with Harry Belafonte and with Mose Allison, two musicians who continue to enjoy performing and life. Quitting doesn’t enter my mind. I want to keep going as I have, to travel, read, perform, write, and enjoy my family. I’ve promised myself only this: no more Laundromats, no more two-shows-a-night, and no more deadlines. I’ll work at my own pace.

Anyone who’s observed Jimmy Buffett’s music career and heard his song lyrics knows that his main product is carefree optimism. But Jimmy has a little secret: he’s been a workaholic for 30 years. As we learn in his memoir, A Pirate Looks at Fifty, he works just as hard at having good times as he […]

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