You’ve Been Nice

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - BOOKS -

Presto Vari­a­tions, by Lee Lamothe (Dun­durn, 416 pages, $12): Lamothe knows cops and crooks. When the for­mer Toronto crime reporter isn’t track­ing Canada’s un­der­world ( The Sixth Fam­ily), he’s pen­ning some of the grit­ti­est (and atyp­i­cal) crime tales around. This third out­ing for star-crossed cop cou­ple Ray Tate and Djuna Brown is no ex­cep­tion. Back in their un­named Mid­west­ern U.S. bor­der city af­ter a bo­hemian so­journ in Paris (cour­tesy of a stolen state-po­lice credit card), the duo stum­ble over a bizarre scheme to smug­gle mil­lions in drug money into Canada. It does not end well. Once again, Lamothe is all about the char­ac­ters, and they’re all about the three Ls: love, loy­alty and loss. But, this time, the the­matic riff — real or per­ceived, for cops and “mutts” alike — is be­trayal. And fair warn­ing: This is scrappy, in-your-face stuff, with no Euro­pean-style faux-literary pre­ten­sion or cozy air­port-novel con­ven­tions. It’s gut-wrench­ing, no-frills, raw and pas­sion­ate writ­ing. Jan­gly and un­even, there’s a touch of Ker­ouac and Bur­roughs here, like a beat-gen­er­a­tion re­vival piece. And the ex­tended, grisly, empty-the-clip end­ing alone is worth the price of ad­mis­sion. If you’re brave, go get it. If you’re not, go get it any­way and take a walk on the wild side. A Nasty Piece of Work, by Robert Lit­tell (Thomas Dunne, 272 pages, $29): One of our best literary es­pi­onage writ­ers ( The Com­pany, Le­gends, Young Philby) brings his keen, sar­donic eye and plot-twist chops to the clas­sic de­tec­tive novel. For­mer homi­cide cop, cashiered CIA op, ten­ta­tive New Mex­ico pri­vate dick and full-time wise guy Le­muel Gunn tracks a bail-jump­ing mob­ster who’s blown FBI wit­ness-pro­tec­tion. And, of course, it’s all on be­half of a bare­foot beauty who’s not all she seems. Some­how, Lit­tell man­ages to jam in ev­ery noir gumshoe cliché and make it fresh, gig­gle-in­duc­ing, ra­zor-sharp and deadly se­ri­ous — of­ten at the same time. Gunn is a keeper. One of the year’s best. The Prince of Risk, by Christo­pher Re­ich (Dou­bleday, 384 pages, $29): A good, old­fash­ioned con­spir­acy thriller that sees a scrappy Wall Street hedge-fund boss and his FBI-agent ex-wife try­ing to foil a Chi­nese cy­ber at­tack on the U.S. fi­nan­cial sys­tem and a re­lated ter­ror­ist plot against the New York Stock Ex­change. Re­ich’s prose and plot­ting are as­sured, his mar­ket knowl­edge sound and read­er­ac­ces­si­ble. Sure, it’s all over­heated and half-baked in the de­tails, but the thrust is not en­tirely im­plau­si­ble given re­cent hack­ing and tech­nol­ogy-theft scan­dals as well as China’s mas­sive stake in the U.S. econ­omy. En­joy.

by Ian Rankin (Orion, 336 pages, $29): “Re­bus: Saint or Sin­ner?” That cover prod adorn­ing this 19th se­ries en­try must surely be in jest, since any fan of the iconic Ed­in­burgh cop­per knows well the an­swer: He’s both, and al­ways has been. Af­ter re­tir­ing his crusty, ret­ro­grade in­spec­tor in 2007, then re­viv­ing him as a civil­ian cold-case sleuth in last year’s Stand­ing in Another Man’s Grave, Rankin has de­cided to en­join Re­bus with another nascent (and much less com­pelling) se­ries star­ring by-the-book com­plaints of­fi­cer Mal­colm Fox. While a sus­pi­cious car crash, pol­i­tics and mur­der are clas­sic grist for Re­bus and part­ner Siob­han Clarke, it’s his re­luc­tant in­volve­ment in Fox’s probe of a 30-yearold mur­der cover-up by Re­bus’s first, old-school CID team that tests the binds of loy­alty and jus­tice. The merger is not en­tirely suc­cess­ful. Team­ing Re­bus with the strait-laced Fox seems forced and un­likely, Rankin’s sar­donic repar­tee out of sorts with the moral-dilemma theme, and the res­o­lu­tion is flawed and over­wrought. Still, it’s Rankin and Re­bus, a duo that — even at their less-in­spired — can wipe the floor with most mys­tery-shelf ri­vals. Ta­tiana, by Martin Cruz Smith (Si­mon & Schus­ter, 304 pages, $30): In a sur­re­al­is­tic, Putin-era New Rus­sia ruled by plun­der­ing mafiya “busi­ness­men,” cor­rupt bu­reau­crats and scur­rilous politi­cians, Moscow po­lice se­nior in­ves­ti­ga­tor Arkady Renko is a world-weary sur­vivor of mul­ti­ple Com­mu­nist and post-Cold War regimes. A treach­er­ous, multi-bil­lion-ru­ble deal is struck in a for­mer Soviet “se­cret city.” The meet­ing’s trans­la­tor, and the mob boss who or­ga­nized it, are gunned down. The in­ter­preter’s sym­bol-laden note­book, which no one can read, is re­cov­ered by a cru­sad­ing jour­nal­ist, who then ap­pears to com­mit sui­cide. It’s a suit­able sce­nario for Renko’s sar­donic wit and Smith’s ro­man­ti­cally fa­tal­is­tic vi­sions. Spare and less so­ciopo­lit­i­cally nu­anced than pre­vi­ous Renko episodes — Smith re­cently re­vealed he’s had Parkin­son’s since 1995, and dic­tated this one to his wife — Ta­tiana nev­er­the­less main­tains the in­deli­ble moral spirit of 1981’s ground­break­ing Gorky Park. Game, by An­ders De La Motte (HarperCollins, 320 pages, $18): Loner po­lice body­guard Re­becca Nor­men is re­united with her n’er-do-well brother Henke when he’s re­cruited by a mys­te­ri­ous group that taps so­ci­ety’s dis­af­fected for in­creas­ingly sin­is­ter “as­sign­ments.” Game loses its mo­men­tum to typ­i­cally ex­ces­sive Scando navel-gaz­ing, but re­cov­ers for a de­cent gotcha end­ing. First in a tril­ogy, it’s a promis­ing de­but by this for­mer Swedish cop and se­cu­rity ex­pert.

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