Logan, Dezenhall, Andrews, Black

Mysteries for springtime

April 21, 2002|By Jody Jaffe | By Jody Jaffe,Special to the Sun

I love it when writers up the ante. Last year, Brigitte Aubert two-upped Jeff Deaver's quadriplegic sleuth, Lincoln Rhyme, by making her quadriplegic protagonist blind and mute.

Now along comes Chuck Logan, a dazzling thriller writer ripe for best sellerdom, who bests the both of them in Absolute Zero (HarperCollins, 382 pages, $24.95).

Hank Sommers is not only paralyzed, but in a coma. And he still solves murders! As if that weren't a colossal enough raise, what catapults the stakes to the moon is that the murder Sommers is solving will be his own.

Sommers has help from Phil Broker, the troubled ex-cop hero of Logan's previous two books. This time out, Broker's playing wilderness guide to Sommers, a hack fiction writer, and three other city guys who want to shoot a moose. Their trip involves canoes, unexpected storms, an even more unexpected ruptured colon and a harrowing escape in a blizzard to a backcountry hospital.

Lucky for Sommers, owner of the ruptured colon, one of his trip-mates is a surgeon who operates on him just in time. But something goes horribly wrong in recovery and Sommers winds up in a vegetative state. Or so the attempted murderer thinks.

This book has it all: Complicated men, fast sex, bad women, a last shot at redemption and even an eight-foot ostrich that saves the day.

You'd think Washington D.C. spin-meister Eric Dezenhall would know the value of first impressions. So why didn't he pitch a fit before his book hit the stands? The cover is so bad and the title is so lame and confusing, it makes you want to skip right over it. But that would be a mistake. Because Money Wanders (Thomas Dunne, 338 pages, $24.95) is a great read. It's full of odd characters, quirky locations and a clever, fresh plot that kept me turning pages.

For his whole life, D.C. pollster Jonah Eastman has been trying to get away from his mob roots -- his grandfather is famed Atlantic City gangster Mickey Price. After Price dies, Eastman's forced to take on a new client: mob boss Mario Vanni. Vanni wants a shiny, new image and Eastman launches a complicated and hilarious spin campaign that makes the mobster a national hero, of sorts. Though the real mystery -- where Price's money is stashed -- is a bit incidental, and the romance between Eastman and a klezmer musician is predictable, the brilliance of the spin is worth the price alone.

A Murder of Promise (Putnam, 336 pages, $24.95) has all the requisite elements for a snappy police procedural: dead bodies with missing fingers, a white cop haunted by Vietnam, a smooth African-American partner, an array of smart women, a politically ambitious police commissioner, reptilian cyber geniuses and a narrow escape at the hands of a twisted psychopath. But author Robert Andrews increases the complexity by adding a meditation on the nature of fatherhood.

Washington Post reporter Mary Keegan had been working on a book about famous fathers and their sons when someone stabs her to death, amputates her little finger and leaves her body in a Georgetown park. D.C. homicide detectives Frank Kearney and Jose Phelps investigate the fathers and sons in her book, which gives author Andrews a chance to explore the meaning of legacy.

The detectives link Keegan's killing to another murder. That victim was also stabbed, left in a park and her finger amputated. Within a week, a third fingerless female turns up and Kearney is sure the killer will hit again -- soon.

Andrews, a former Green Beret, CIA spook, and national security adviser, knows Washington, D.C., as well as George Pelicanos knows Silver Spring. And that's part of the fun in this book -- it reads like an insider's guide to the Capital.

Cara Black's Murder in the Sentier, (Soho, 336 pages, $24) has so many tangled tangents and characters you'll need a flow chart to keep things straight. But this book is really about just one thing: a daughter's search for her mother.

Amiee Leduc is one of the more appealing female sleuths to come around in a while. She's got spiky hair, a vinyl catsuit and, mercifully, not an ounce of forced spunkiness. Now a private investigator in Paris, she's haunted by the memory of her mother who abandoned her 20 years before, when she was 8. The book opens when a woman shows up at her door claiming she spent time with Leduc's mother in jail, that they were revolutionaries together. She'll tell Leduc where her mother is -- for a price.

But the woman is murdered, along with a host of others who somehow fit into Leduc's mother's mysterious past. Leduc is obsessed with finding her mother, neglecting her computer security business and annoying her partner, a dwarf who's a martial arts expert. There's also an albino couturier, a Senegalese singer, the drugged-out son of a lefty writer, an assortment of surly cops, a few seemingly charming French-men and the list could go on.

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