You know it’s going to be a bad day when you wake up amid a team of disgraced Abu Ghraib prison guards who have kidnapped you and are becoming significantly fed up with your unwillingness to answer their questions. The victim is Isaiah Quintabe, known in his California neighborhood by his initials, IQ. Wrecked is Joe Ide’s third novel featuring IQ, and it’s the first time IQ has a chance of expanding his business into a full-fledged private investigation agency. At any given time, IQ fields a number of cases, but the one that becomes central to Wrecked has to do with the machinations of a Blackwater- esque mercenary, a man with little in the way of scruples and lots in the way of sadistic behavior. Wrecked takes Ide’s unlikely hero into new territory, with foes that test his mettle in ways his previous adversaries could not even fathom, and with a possible love interest that exposes an entirely new facet of IQ’s character.
ALL FOR JUSTICE
V.I. Warshawski, like all of us, is not getting any younger. She is well past the age of dangling upside down in search of clues or doing fishtail burnouts in her V-8 Mustang to avoid getting shot, and certainly past the years when she should be treading across thin ice floes to keep a priceless artifact out of the hands of a ruthless billionaire. But in Sara Paretsky’s latest thriller, Shell Game, age seems a nonissue, as V.I.’s latest crusade leads her to engage in all these dangerous activities and more. Two cases weave in and out of the narrative: the first, a murder charge hanging over the beloved nephew of V.I.’s godmother, surgeon Lotty Herschel, involving a Syrian archaeological dig and a dissident immigrant poet on the lam from ICE; the second, the mysterious disappearance of V.I.’s niece following a Caribbean junket that turned sinister in ways that no travel brochure would suggest. As is usually the case with Paretsky’s novels, there is considerable social and political commentary, so if you are a capital-C Conservative, you might want to give some thought to how much you are willing to have your convictions challenged. Everyone else can revel in the superb pacing, the well-developed characters and the crisp dialogue from one of the most consistently excellent writers in the genre.
KIDNAPPING IN TAIWAN
Readers don’t have to wait long—not even to the end of page one—to get to the setup for Ed Lin’s latest Taipei Night Market mystery, 99 Ways to Die. There has been an abduction of a prominent businessman, who happens to be the father of protagonist Chen Jing-nan’s erstwhile classmate Peggy Lee (not the husky-voiced jazz singer Peggy Lee of “Fever” fame, but rather the youngest daughter in a family of Taiwanese aristocrats). The kidnappers’ ransom demands are not for money; instead, they want access to a computer chip, which Peggy Lee claims to know nothing about. But chances are good that Peggy Lee is playing for time and saving face in a society where face is everything. Jing-nan, for his part, is not someone you’d think of as a PI—he runs a popular food shop in a Taipei night market—but Peggy Lee is headstrong, and if she wants Jing-nan on the case, he has little choice but to assent. 99 Ways to Die is the third in the series and is the most fleshed out of the three. Ultimately, Lin’s books are most appealing for the insider’s look at Taiwanese culture, the motley crew of supporting cast and the multiple laughs per page.
TOP PICK IN MYSTERY
Imagine, for a moment, a Nancy Drew mystery told partially in flashback by Nancy herself, a girl grown up into the Best Detective in the World—her own rather immodest appellation—and now facing Her Most Perplexing Case. Then you will begin to have an idea of Sara Gran’s strange yet wildly entertaining novel The Infinite Blacktop. Somewhere along the way, our Nancy (whose name is actually Claire DeWitt) has evolved into a modern-day Sam(antha) Spade, with an overlay of street smarts and Zen calm counterbalancing one another in strangely effective ways. As the book opens, Claire comes very close to getting taken off the board permanently when her rented Kia is deliberately broadsided by a 1982 Lincoln, an event on par with a wooden rowboat getting rammed by the USS Nimitz. As she looks into who is trying to punch her ticket, she is drawn into a rethinking of the one case the Best Detective in the World has never been able to solve: the disappearance of her partner-in-crime-solving back when they were teenagers. As the narrative proceeds, another cold case gets woven in, and Gran deftly jumps back and forth between them, bringing the reader along for a wild ride across the decades.