Martin Limón’s fine series of military police procedurals, set in South Korea in the mid-1970s, features George Sueño and his sidekick, Ernie Bascom—U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Division agents who are the go-to guys when there’s a murder or some similarly sensitive issue regarding the military in the Land of the Morning Calm. The Line finds our heroes investigating the murder of a young Korean soldier whose body is found a few feet north of the line dividing North Korea from South. Technically, Sueño and Bascom shouldn’t have dragged the body back across the line into the South, but they’ve never been sticklers for details like that. When a suspect presents himself, the powers that be are eager to pin the murder on him. Sueño and Bascom think the whole thing is just a little too pat, however, and despite explicit orders to the contrary, they decide to delve into the matter. They find themselves caught up in a criminal enterprise that involves fraud, smuggling and perhaps human trafficking, plus the aforementioned murder. I have read every Limón book since 1992’s Jade Lady Burning, and I have every intention of continuing to do so; they are that good.
A SECRET THAT CAN’T BE KEPT
Catriona McPherson successfully channels the mystery chops of Agatha Christie and the dialogue skills of Noël Coward (apologies for the dated references, but this book has that sort of feel about it) in her standalone psychological thriller Go to My Grave. Back in 1991, there was a Sweet 16-ish party at a Scottish manor house that had seen better days, and something seriously awful happened. Now in present day, whether by happenstance or by design, several of the 1991 revelers find themselves back at the same B & B, which has been restored and is virtually unrecognizable. The eight guests are all family members, by blood or by marriage. But there is bad blood—and bad marriage—on display here, and another something awful is poised to take place. I’m not giving anything away to say that even a newbie reader of suspense fiction will feel a Stephen King-esque prickle of menace as things start to get out of hand, and even the most jaded of suspense aficionados should be gobsmacked by the twist at the end.
Occasionally an author’s estate or a publisher gets the idea to craft a prequel to a popular series, and Anthony Horowitz performs this duty for ace British spy James Bond in Forever and a Day. As the book opens, M (the big boss of MI6) is discussing the death of agent 007, which initially seems odd, as this is at the inception of Bond’s illustrious career. But it turns out that the 007 under discussion is the previous holder of that particular license-to-kill number, and Bond is quickly promoted to take on his predecessor’s responsibilities. His mission takes him to the south of France, where he engages the first of the legendary villains that will characterize the adventures of Bond’s later life. The book uses some source material from original Bond author Ian Fleming, and of all the Bond books that have come out since Fleming’s death, this one may hew closest to the originals. The racy English sports cars, check. The sultry femme fatale, check. The oversize (both in girth and in ego) villain, check. Oh, and here’s a bonus: For those who have ever wondered why Bond drinks his martinis shaken, not stirred, this book is where you will find the answer.
TOP PICK IN MYSTERY
Ken Bruen’s Jack Taylor series has been a mainstay of my professional and pleasure reading since the Shamus Award-winning The Guards (2001). The series follows the downfall of Galway cop Taylor and his efforts to climb out of the (very deep) hole he created for himself with his alcoholism and his exceptionally poor choices of friends and lovers. The opening pages of In the Galway Silence find Taylor a little more settled than before: There is a romantic interest that tentatively seems to be working out, a bit of money in the bank, and he has the drinking under control for the most part. When bad stuff starts happening, only Taylor’s harshest critic could assign the responsibility to him—although it goes without saying that Taylor is his own harshest critic. One child is kidnapped and brutalized, another murdered, and a killer is on the rampage. Taylor knows who the culprit is and is powerless to do anything about it. But you can push Taylor only so far, and when he snaps, he’s gonna go bat%#@& crazy, which is the high point of Bruen’s books for most readers. Taut plotting, a staccato first-person narrative, deeply flawed yet sympathetic characters and the windy, wet Irish milieu conspire to put Bruen’s novels into a class by themselves.