October Staff Picks
Carl Hiaassen is the bard of South Florida, and his novels, which revel in the sun-soaked bawdiness of the Keys, never fail to entertain. A true comic genius, Hiaasen’s books feature ensemble casts and madcap plots, with action that is both tightly-woven and wildly untethered. Razor Girl, his newest, is no exception. A seemingly minor car accident sets a complex machinery in motion, the effects of which reach as far as Hollywood, Italy, and Norway. The plot includes a bedraggled Hollywood agent, a reality star on the run for his life, an ex-cop turned health inspector (Andrew Yancy from 2013’s Bad Monkey), and an assortment of mobsters and con-men.
As with all of Hiaasen’s novels, the humor is sharp and satirical. I thought some of the funniest parts of Razor Girl dealt with the television show central to its plot, Bayou Brethren. Formed to cash into the Duck Dynasty craze, this “reality” show features a comedy troupe from Wisconsin who, on a set in Pensacola, pose as chicken farmers in the Louisiana bayou. When its star goes missing, the producers rejoice, elated by the ratings spike that their cover story, concerning the man’s alcoholism and subsequent rehabilitation, is sure to produce. Of course, audiences eat it up. It’s a vision of the entertainment industry every bit as cynical as that of Billy Wilder’s classic film noir, Ace in the Hole, in which Kirk Douglas unleashes a media frenzy on a man trapped in a mine. The only difference is that, in Hiaasen’s hands, this cynicism is played for laughs, and his book is all the funnier for it. Signed. $27.95.
Alexis, André, The Hidden Keys, Coach House Books.
There is a long tradition in mystery fiction of the gentleman thief. From Raffles to Bernie Rhodenbarr, their audacious heists bring out the Robin Hood in all of us. In The Hidden Keys André Alexis joins this proud tradition and introduces us to Tancred Palmieri, Toronto’s resident burglar. He’s very good at what he does and he’s smart enough to know when to just say no, but a run-in with a local junkie has him intrigued. Willow Azarian is wealthy beyond belief, though that hasn’t stopped her from being able to kick her habit. With the remaining time she has on earth, she wants to Tancred to steal certain items from her siblings—items she hopes will lead to a secret her father buried decades earlier. As in any great heist, things never go as planned. Between two-bit gangsters, hair-trigger thugs, curious taxidermists and a keen detective, Tancred has his work cut out for him. While the thievery and mystery are intriguing, what really makes this book shine is the characters. They add a layer of depth and heart that is usually passed over in favor of fast-paced plot. All told The Hidden Keys is a delightful contemporary take on the gentleman thief genre, one which pays homage to the past while still bringing something new to the table. It would make a fabulous film, I might add. PBO. $17.95
Ms. Overholt's riveting first book introduces Dr. Genevieve Summerford, a psychiatrist in 1907 New York City. When one of the women in her therapy group is charged with the violent murder of a prominent doctor, Summerford feels responsible for it was she who advised the young girl to confront the physician, who the girl said had taken her new-born baby from her and gave it to an upper class family. The book is filled with intriguing characters and period details and locations that are sure to please fans of historical mysteries. PBO. $15.99.
Another exciting start of a new series if Elly Griffith's "The Zig-Zag Girl", set in Brighton, England, 1950. When a girl's body is found cut into three pieces, DI Edgar Stephens remembers a famous magic trip, The Zig-Zag Girl and looks up a famous magician he worked with during the war when they were members of a group called The Magic Men. Their job was to find ways of tricking the Germans. When a second murder occurs, also based on a magic trick, Stephens is convinced the murderer may be one of the group. Griffith keeps the pace moving with never a dull page and plenty of colorful characters. I especially enjoyed the relationship between Stephens and the magician, Max Mephisto. In fact, I enjoyed the book so much I went right into the sequel, "Smoke and Mirrors", which is due out in hardcover this month. Ms. Griffiths is also the author of the wonderful mystery series featuring Ruth Galloway, a forensic anthropologist in contemporary Norfolk, England. Trade paperback. $14.95.
A common theme in mystery fiction is the is-it-suicide-or-is-it-murder story. Since it is so prevalent, the make-or-break points are found in the surrounding elements. So how about a minister who’s lost his faith, a scheming woman with a sordid past, a detective with cancer in remission and a failing marriage, and a local politician with multiple agendas, all of them unpleasant?
In Stuart Neville’s latest, So Say the Fallen, all of these factors and more are in play.
It’s DCI Flanagan’s job that has caused the trouble between herself and her husband and children, but it’s also the job that gives her life meaning and purpose. Is it worth it, at such a cost?
It’s Father McKay’s job that has caused his guilt; his horrible secret coupled with his loss of faith that has led to his very real crisis.
It’s Roberta Garrick who is not all she seems, it’s Mr. Garrick, the victim of a terrible accident, who maintains hope where little is apparent, and it’s the ability of the human condition to rise to the heights of compassion or fall to the depths of depravity.
And it’s the author Neville who brings us a tale to make us look within ourselves even as we are engrossed and entertained. Signed. $26.95.
Hoffman’s follow-up to 2014’s The White Van is a tense thriller that unfolds within the machinery of the global drug trade, featuring an ensemble cast of pushers and producers as they prepare a massive shipment of MDMA en route to San Francisco. Told in sections that focus on various levels of the enterprise, the narrative vividly depicts the lives of those working with the drug; included are characters like Raymond Gaspar, an ex-con fresh out of prison who, low on options, still takes orders from a kingpin inside, Semion Gurevich, an Israeli dealer who launders drug money through his Miami nightclub, and Moisey Segal, his connect, who helps plan the deals from Bangkok. But surrounding these characters are others: men and women caught between greed and fear, who violently oppose competition, constantly seek higher payoffs, and increase the dealers’ supply without negotiation. As the quantity in question grows, so, too, does the tension, all of which is captured in a cleanly-written, tightly-plotted novel, the scope of which grows with every new perspective. Hoffman illuminates the darkest corners of the drug business and reveals the utter confusion hidden therein, as people on every level of this far-flung network of production and distribution struggle to gain control. Signed. $26.00