You’ve Been Nice
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.