WHO­DUNIT: JACK BAT­TEN

The Hamilton Spectator - - BOOKS -

The Break­down By B.A. Paris St. Martin’s, 336 pages, $24.99

It only takes a few pages to rec­og­nize that, with “The Break­down,” we’re deep into a Gaslight story. That’s the one where some­body evil is try­ing to make a wife think she’s los­ing her mind. In the 1944 movie, In­grid Bergman played the tar­get of her hus­band Charles Boyer’s not-so-sub­tle ma­nip­u­la­tions. “The Break­down” works a vari­a­tion on the same theme with the ma­jor switch that we’re not so sure it’s the hus­band who’s pulling the strings in the fiendish plot.

The story is set in a well-to-do cor­ner of Sus­sex where a young wife named Cass lives the good life un­til small but strange events be­gin to bug her. Did she in­vite the cou­ple at her front door to lunch and then for­get? And what about the other young woman who was re­cently mur­dered not so far away? Was Cass in­volved in the crime with­out know­ing it?

The long trip to near mad­ness is bril­liantly han­dled. The res­o­lu­tion is slightly less con­vinc­ing, but still per­verse and grip­ping.

The Legacy By Yrsa Sig­ur­dar­d­ot­tir Hod­der and Stoughton, 455 pages, $22.99

Sig­ur­dar­d­ot­tir, the doyenne of Ice­landic crime nov­el­ists, be­gins her new book with the clas­sic in­gre­di­ents of her coun­try’s ver­sion of the genre. Thus we get the fol­low­ing: a woman of a per­fectly in­no­cent back­ground mur­dered in a par­tic­u­larly grue­some man­ner; a group of wellmean­ing homi­cide in­ves­ti­ga­tors who haven’t a clue about the mur­derer’s pos­si­ble iden­tity; more ugly mur­ders; sex be­tween the afore­said clue­less cops which af­fects their work, not in a pos­i­tive way.

All of this boils along in a grip­ping fash­ion un­til a fi­nale that fin­gers a most unan­tic­i­pated guilty party.

The Force By Don Winslow Morrow, 496 pages, $34.99

Don Winslow’s nov­els of re­cent years have been mas­sive tomes about crimes on a gi­gan­tic scale, usu­ally in­volv­ing drug deals car­ried out by or­ga­ni­za­tions that func­tion on cor­po­rate prin­ci­ples. They’re the kind of books that get made into movies by di­rec­tors such as Ri­d­ley Scott.

The Force rep­re­sents a small but wel­come de­par­ture. Just one char­ac­ter drives events, though this is a guy who doesn’t do things by halves. He’s an NYPD de­tec­tive named Malone who ob­serves a right­eous code that sticks up for the lit­tle guys and doesn’t dis­dain ran­dom killings to get the job done. The ques­tion is whether Malone can stay a step ahead of both his less-right­eous cop su­pe­ri­ors and the gang bosses whose prof­its he threat­ens.

LAPD de­tec­tive Re­nee Bal­lard is a char­ac­ter to em­brace. She re­cently stood up to a cop boss who sex­u­ally ha­rassed her and, for her pains, the brass iso­lated her on the night shift at Hol­ly­wood Di­vi­sion.

Two tough cases si­mul­ta­ne­ously come Bal­lard’s way: a vi­cious at­tack on a trans­gen­der per­son, and a shoot­ing in a night­club. What fol­lows in­cludes Bal­lard’s in­trepid sleuthing, plenty of po­lice cor­rup­tion and a hor­ren­dous as­sault on Bal­lard her­self. She mea­sures up, hero­ically, to ev­ery chal­lenge.

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