A detective finds himself in the crosshairs of danger in T. Jefferson Parker's latest mystery, one of four August standouts.
★ Then She Vanished
There is a certain symmetry on display when an Iraq veteran working as a private investigator takes on a missing persons case for a brother-in-arms—semper fi and all that. Then She Vanished, T. Jefferson Parker’s fourth Roland Ford mystery, lodges the detective firmly in the crosshairs once again, as he discovers that his Republican war hero-turned-politician client, Dalton Strait, is not nearly as squeaky clean as he is portrayed in his bio and that the disappearance of his wife, Natalie, is suspicious to say the least. And let’s throw in a brewing war between California’s recently established legal marijuana dispensaries and a south-of-the-border drug cartel affected by this new order. Oh, and for good measure, add a bomber intent on sowing chaos and insurrection, who previews his next target on the nightly TV news and may be connected to Ford’s case. As told in the first person from Ford’s perspective, there is no contrived mystery to be found here. We find out what is happening as Ford connects the dots—and he is very good at connecting the dots. I’m not giving away the ending here at all, but on the last page there is a sweet nod to author John D. MacDonald and his beloved character Travis McGee, without whom an entire generation of modern suspense novelists would have had no archetype.
He Started It
One of the funniest memories of my childhood was a fight with my younger brother that was brought to a halt summarily by our mother, who asked angrily, “What’s the problem here?” My brother’s classic response: “It all started when Bruce hit me back . . .” So naturally, Samantha Downing’s He Started It was a shoo-in. Narrated in the first person by middle child Beth Morgan, the tale opens with a family trip to carry Grandpa’s ashes to their final resting place. But this is no ordinary family in an SUV on a nameless Alabama highway. This family bears most of the dis- and dys- prefixes you might care to apply: disturbed, disjointed and most decidedly dysfunctional. Their deceased grandpa, for his part, has added to the chaos by leaving a vast estate to be divvied up among the siblings after they have re-created a road trip they took with him when they were kids. Dutifully, and each with an eye on the prize, they make their way westward through the South. Then, as they are wont to do in suspense novels, things go remarkably sideways remarkably quickly, and at least one family member appears to be a killer. And who the heck is that guy in the black pickup truck that keeps turning up at the most inopportune moments?
I reviewed Robert Pobi’s first Lucas Page novel, City of Windows, exactly one year ago. In that book, the double amputee ex-FBI agent found himself drafted back into service to unravel a series of sniper killings. He was the perfect choice for the assignment, given his exceptional talent for processing information and considering bits and bytes of intelligence that lesser detectives might overlook. In his latest adventure, Under Pressure, Lucas is called upon to investigate an unusual bombing at New York City’s Guggenheim Museum, in which 702 of the city’s wealthiest and most powerful people are killed, but there’s somehow remarkably little property damage. Lucas is a reluctant draftee, having settled rather comfortably into academia after suffering grievous bodily harm during the tragic events that ended his FBI career. But if Lucas has a character flaw at all, it’s that he cannot resist a challenging puzzle. The bombing is confounding on several fronts, both in terms of methodology and intended target(s). Was the attack aimed at one of the attendees in particular? What type of bomb can even do such a thing? There’s no sophomore slump here. Pobi has seriously upped his game.
The Silence of the White City
Eva García Sáenz’s White City Trilogy, of which the first novel, The Silence of the White City, has just been translated into English, is already a bestseller in Spain (as well as the basis for a popular Netflix series). It’s set in the atmospheric Basque Country of northern Spain, in the city of Vitoria. As the story opens, Inspector Unai “Kraken” López de Ayala is summoned to the scene of a homicide reminiscent of a series of murders that took place 20 years before. The accused killer, a respected archaeologist, was apprehended thanks to evidence supplied by his twin brother, a policeman. The archaeologist has languished in prison ever since, becoming something of an armchair criminologist in the intervening years. Clearly, he cannot have committed this latest murder, so does that suggest that he was innocent of the earlier murders, that he had an accomplice who was never charged, or is there a contemporary copycat killer? In much the same way that Cara Black or Donna Leon portray Paris or Venice in their respective mystery series, Sáenz lovingly depicts a unique and fascinating city, weaving in Basque folklore and culture while spinning a very complex and rich story.