> WHODUNIT: JACK BATTEN
THE DEVIL’S SHARE By Wallace Stroby Minotaur, 304 pages, $29.99 One review quoted on the back cover of The Devil’s Share describes Wallace Stroby as “heir to the great Elmore Leonard in style.” Another quoted review says Stroby’s “prose and smart dialogue are reminiscent of Elmore Leonard and laid on with the same dry brush.”
Leaving aside the basic truth that Elmore Leonard’s style is inimitable, Stroby’s writing resembles Leonard’s about as closely as it resembles Jane Austen’s. Stroby writes semi-hardboiled prose layered over with a lighter touch perhaps to accommodate his central character, an ace plotter of heists who happens to be a woman. Leonard enters nowhere into the Stroby equation except that both are wonderful storytellers.
The Devil’s Share is Stroby’s fourth book featuring Crissa Stone, a whiz at concocting big money robberies. In earlier books, she organized the stickup of a high stakes poker game, the seizing of the loot carried in a Lufthansa flight, and the theft of a half-million dollars in drug sales. The catch was that, ingeniously laid out as the jobs were, something always went excitingly awry.
The job in the new book involves the robbery of ancient Iraqi statuary now in the hands of a crooked California dealer. Part of the book’s pleasure lies in anticipating the ways the job might get fouled up. The rest of the fun comes in rooting for Crissa. She may be rather the female equivalent of the late Donald E. Westlake’s Parker, but while Parker was a murderous psychopath, Crissa comes across as a likeable woman who happens to get a few bad breaks in her line of work.
THOSE WE LEFT BEHIND By Stuart Neville Soho, 320 pages, $26.95 In the latest novel from the brilliant Belfast author, the major question is whether two young men, convicted as murderers when they were just wee lads and now paroled, are genuine killers or totally innocent or something in between. Maybe the older brother’s a controlling mastermind? The younger’s a dupe of the elder? Detective Chief Inspector Serena Flanagan thinks she has the answers, but she’s been wrong before.
A feeling of dread lingers over the proceedings as Neville works his marvelously conceived way through much mystery and horror.
THE COMPANY SHE KEPT By Archer Mayor Minotaur, 304 pages, $29.99 They do things differently in Vermont politics. The governor doesn’t get a mansion, but rather a nook in a highrise, and one of the sitting U.S. senators is a “socialist democrat.” That’s in real life. In the fictional version of the state presented in the nicely readable Joe Gunther series, now nearing 30 books, the politics is just as radical but more deadly. In the new Gunther book, a lesbian state senator, best friend to the female governor, is viciously murdered. It takes much clever sleuthing before Gunther and his unit of unorthodox Vermont Bureau of Investigation coppers, winging it all the way, nail the killer.
HOLLOW MAN By Mark Pryor Seventh Street, 272 pages, $17 Sometimes, reading Mark Pryor’s work, whether it’s his series featuring Hugo Marston of the American Embassy in Paris or it’s this new stand-alone thriller about an Austin, Texas, state prosecutor, the reader wonders whether Pryor has lost control of his characters. The prosecutor/narrator of Hollow Man tells us he’s “hard-wired to act impulsively.” He may even be a “psychopath.”
Is this how a central character should present himself? Does Pryor know what he’s doing? As the plot unfolds, it becomes clear that Pryor just happens to be a writer with a weird imagination who has a good story to tell even if the people in it function on the far side of unorthodoxy. Jack Batten’s Whodunit column appears every other Sunday.