WHODUNIT: JACK BATTEN
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.