> WHO­DUNIT: JACK BAT­TEN

Toronto Star - - BOOKS -

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.

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