Mystery Reviews, December 2011

Don’t expect any tidings of comfort and joy in this neck of the woods. If anything, December’s offerings study evil more than usual.

Fear not, however, because the professional PIs are out in full force to reestablish order. Check out Steven M. Forman’s senior citizen Eddie Perlmutter, whose bring-it-on attitude makes Boca Daze a ten-round winner. Or Liberty Lane, Caro Peacock’s unconventional, trailblazing female gumshoe, who pursues a fiendish killer in 1839 London (When the Devil Drives). A wicked plot and devious villains make newcomer Jared McKean’s rebound from a sticky situation especially dazzling in Jaden Terrell’s Nashville debut, Racing the Devil.

The protagonists are unconventional, and so are the murder weapons of choice. How about the golf club through the heart in Brad Smith’s breathtaking Red Means Run? Or for something a little lighter, ponder the knitting needle in Lois Winston’s deadpan cozy, Death by Killer Mop Doll.

Just an observation, but this month I found three stellar mysteries set in the 1970s. It is sobering to realize they border on becoming historical mysteries. Two are set in Asia: Colin Cotterill’s Laos-based Dr. Siri returns one last time in Slash and Burn, and Martin Limón’s U.S. Army military investigators Sue√±o and Bascom come back in the adrenaline-packed Mr. Kill, which is set in Seoul, Korea. The third title, Larry Karp’s A Perilous Conception, features what was then a controversial new medical technique called in vitro fertilization. Don’t miss it.

Cotterill, Colin. Slash and Burn: A Dr. Siri Mystery Set in Laos. Soho Crime. Dec. 2011. c.304p. ISBN 9781616951160. $25. M
Pushing 80 and just a whisper away from his retirement as Laos’s national coroner, Dr. Siri is called into action when an MIA delegation comes to investigate a possible sighting of an American fighter pilot believed dead since 1968. Siri and his forensics team, including his clever wife, have no choice but to join the Laotian-U.S. group in a remote area of the country. Then, stuck in an outpost from hell, the members of the isolated delegation are systematically murdered. Just below a veneer of diplomacy and genuine concern lies the insidious truth. Who better than Siri and his colleagues to smoke out the real reason behind this mission? VERDICTAdept Dr. Siri (Love Songs from a Shallow Grave) once again turns to Georges Simenon’s fictional Inspector Maigret for inspiration. Don’t even think about missing this final volume; the entire series is destined to be a classic. Readers who enjoy Michael Stanley’s Dr. Kubu series will find themselves addicted to this one as well. [See Prepub Alert, 8/2/11.]

Griffiths, Elly. The House at Sea’s End: A Ruth Galloway Mystery. Houghton Harcourt. Jan. 2012. c.384p. map.ISBN 9780547506142. $25. M
When six well-preserved skeletons are found buried at the beach in a remote English village, forensic anthropologist Ruth and her team call on DCI Nelson’s police force to help with the investigation. Technology reveals that the victims are German and date back to World War II; now the team has a war crimes case to solve. Things heat up dramatically when a recently arrived young German journalist is murdered and some local octogenarians die suddenly. Luckily, one of the victims left a puzzle that Ruth deciphers. Someone is protecting a dark secret, but Ruth and Nelson must race to collect the evidence they need before becoming victims themselves. VERDICT Expect to be swept away by Griffith’s third compelling forensic anthropology entry (after The Crossing Places and The Janus Stone). The author is a past Mary Higgins Clark Award winner, and her gothic, romantic-suspense workmanship is superb. Single mother Ruth’s dogged determination adds depth. Good readalikes include Tess Gerritsen for Rizzoli’s maternal/professional conflicts (Vanish) or Kathy Reichs for precise bones work coupled with messy relationships. [See Prepub Alert, 8/2/11; The Janus Stone is a Best Mystery of 2011, see p. 58.‚ Ed.]