The literary exploits of John Lescroart’s San Francisco attorney Dismas Hardy, now numbering 18, have been a mainstay of my reading pleasure since 1989’s Dead Irish. Fast-forward 30 years, and an older and wiser Hardy plies his trade ever more ably in The Rule of Law. Phyllis McGowan, Hardy’s secretary, has been a stalwart pillar of support in his personal and business life. But lately, she seems to have gone off the rails. First, there is her mysterious disappearance for several days, and shortly after that, her surprise arrest as an accessory to murder. The evidence, while not entirely damning, is at least suggestive. Extortionist Hector Valdez, who worked for a modern-day Underground Railroad specializing in spiriting immigrants without documentation out of the Border Patrol’s reach, was murdered at the time of McGowan’s disappearance. In the old days, Hardy had a good working relationship with the district attorney, and likely could have negotiated on McGowan’s behalf, but the new DA has a political and personal chip on his shoulder where Hardy is concerned. Thus, this time out, Hardy is doomed to spend as much time battling the supposed good guys as trouncing the supposed bad guys. Lescroart crafts some of the finest legal thrillers out there today, with interesting characters, complex relationships, a taut narrative and, of course, the (now expected, but still somehow surprising) twist ending.
The original plan was for Caroline to lend Audrey $150 for a bus ticket back to Minnesota to visit her dying father. But on the way to the station, Caroline glances over at her friend and says, “Road trip?”—thus setting the stage for Tim Johnston’s second gripping thriller, The Current. The trip will not end well. Being from Georgia, Caroline has no experience with driving in icy conditions, and after an unanticipated and uncontrolled skid, their car hovers atop a precipice above an icy river. They are shaken but safe, at least until they see the flare of headlights in the rearview mirror, then feel the tap of the bumper that nudges their car over the edge. One dies, one barely survives. The small Minnesota town is in shock. Rumors fly about the presence of a second car at the scene, and the whole situation reminds people of a similar case 10 years prior, one that was never solved. As the official investigation progresses, a grieving father, a dying sheriff and a determined young woman begin covert investigations of their own. All are in search of answers, but none is prepared for what they will find.
Fans of the exploits of Charles Cumming’s MI6 agent Thomas Kell will find a lot to like in the author’s new standalone spy thriller, The Moroccan Girl. Bestselling thriller author Kit Carradine is poised to attend a literary festival in Marrakech when he receives a request that would make any suspense writer champ at the bit: track down a mysterious woman, one Lara Bartok, and surreptitiously deliver a passport to her. However, Carradine’s “handler” has been remarkably spare with details concerning Bartok, leaving out such juicy morsels as the fact that she is a well-placed member of an international terrorist outfit and is quite capable of taking care of herself when facing a potential confidant or adversary (especially one whose espionage exploits are limited to his imagination and the printed page). Things heat up when rival intelligence agencies join the fray, all in search of Bartok for conflicting—and often lethal—reasons. And Carradine is about to find out the hard way that real-life espionage bears little resemblance to his page-turning depictions. Cumming channels the dreamy romance of classic spy movies (think Casablanca, Notorious, The Thirty-Nine Steps) and juxtaposes it with a modern, relentlessly intense and staccato delivery.
June 1947, Beverly Hills. Mobster Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel has just been shot to death in his own home by person or persons unknown. Several hundred miles away, rancher Jonathan Craine tends to his daily chores. In an earlier life, Craine was the unofficial liaison between the Los Angeles Police Department and the movie studios, the “fixer” who kept stars and execs safe from exposure and prosecution—but that was a long time ago and far, far away from his current existence. That is all about to change, as hired lackeys from a sinister boss’s crime syndicate arrive by private aircraft to solicit Craine’s assistance in finding Siegel’s killer. And they won’t take no for an answer—cue the music portending graphic violence. Guy Bolton’s The Syndicate reads like a period thriller, with dialogue true to the golden age of film noir, which the author so obviously admires. The plot seamlessly blends fact with fiction, overlaying a series of real-life events with a fast-paced fictional narrative that is riddled with tension. And bullets.
This article was originally published in the February 2019 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.