Lat­est O’Dell tale a se­ri­ously scary trip

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - BOOKS - By David Pitt

IN the 11th Mag­gie O’Dell thriller, Stranded (An­chor Books, 414 pages, $10), the FBI spe­cial agent’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion of a se­ries of very nasty mur­ders — all of them ap­par­ently com­mit­ted by the same per­son us­ing high­way rest stops as his means of ac­quir­ing vic­tims — leads her to be­lieve that the killer’s real tar­get could be Mag­gie her­self. The O’Dell nov­els, by Ne­braska’s Alex Kava, are not what you might call gen­tle crime nov­els. The au­thor doesn’t shy away from bru­tal­ity and evil; she isn’t writ­ing the kind of book that mixes crime with ro­mance, there’s no comic-re­lief side­kick char­ac­ter, and if you haven’t read one of her books you should be pre­pared for some se­ri­ously scary stuff.

If you’re feel­ing bit less apoc­a­lyp­tic, check out Iden­ti­cal (Grand Cen­tral, 371 pages, $18), by le­gal-thriller mae­stro Scott Turow. A U.S. se­na­tor, Paul Gia­nis, is put in a dif­fi­cult po­si­tion when his twin brother, Cass, is re­leased from prison af­ter serv­ing a sen­tence for mur­der — a crime Cass con­fessed to, but which Paul has al­ways main­tained he didn’t com­mit. Now the vic­tim’s brother is de­ter­mined to prove not only that Cass is a mur­derer, but that Paul has known it all along. He hires a cou­ple of in­ves­ti­ga­tors to dig up dirt on Paul, but what they find is a whole lot more sur­pris­ing than they’d counted on. From his first novel, the clas­sic Pre­sumed In­no­cent, Turow, who lives in the Chicago area, has com­bined smartly con­structed mys­ter­ies with sharply re­al­ized char­ac­ters and el­e­gant prose. It’s dif­fi­cult to say whether this is one of his best, since his books are con­sis­tently ex­cel­lent, so let’s say that if you like le­gal thrillers, this one is an ab­so­lute must-read. Ah, Paris: what a de­light. Not the city, which is surely spec­tac­u­lar, but the new novel by Ed­ward Rutherfurd. Paris (An­chor Canada, 809 pages, $22), like the Bri­tish au­thor’s ear­lier nov­els — Sarum, Lon­don, New York, etc. — is full of his­tory, spec­ta­cle and richly drawn char­ac­ters. But ul­ti­mately, it’s the city it­self that is the story’s main char­ac­ter. The au­thor takes us back and forth through the city’s rich, con­vo­luted his­tory (Rutherfurd skips around in time, telling the story through shift­ing view­points and his­tor­i­cal eras), show­ing us a Paris that is, like many of the book’s hu­man char­ac­ters, ro­man­tic, an­gry, fright­en­ing, an­guished, des­per­ate and tri­umphant. Aside from the late, great James A. Mich­ener, no­body writes big, fat his­tor­i­cal nov­els as well as Rutherfurd. In fact, Stranded is so scary that it makes The Re­main­ing (Or­bit Books, 405 pages, $6), the first in­stal­ment in a zom­bie-apoca­lypse se­ries by Amer­i­can nov­el­ist D.J. Molles, look rather sub­dued. This is the story of a spe­cial-forces sol­dier who emerges from his pro­tected bunker to face a post-apoc­a­lyp­tic world; be­cause it’s the first in a se­ries, the au­thor spends a lot of time es­tab­lish­ing his pri­mary char­ac­ter (he’s heroic, but not a card­board ac­tion hero) and his en­vi­ron­ment (a plague has swept the world, turn­ing some people into mind­less preda­tors).

It’s pur­pose­fully sub­dued at first, so that when scary things do hap­pen they come at us out of nowhere and shock us wit­less. It’s a fine novel in a genre that has, thanks to The Walk­ing Dead, ex­ploded in pop­u­lar­ity in the last few years. Halifax, N.S., free­lancer David Pitt’s col­umn ap­pears the first weekend of

ev­ery month.

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