Bride of Holmes

amnesiac redhead

a cold case reopened

Crime Fiction

July 03, 2005|By Sarah Weinman | Sarah Weinman,Special to the Sun

Locked Rooms

By Laurie R. King (Bantam, 400 pages)

The Sherlockiana craze spiked considerably in the last year with new books by Mitch Cullin, Michael Chabon and Caleb Carr. But Laurie King has mined this territory for years, matching detective Sherlock Holmes with Mary Russell, a bright young woman truly his equal.

The duo make their eighth, and best, appearance in Locked Rooms, which sees the married couple returning from adventures abroad to Russell's childhood home of San Francisco. Ostensibly, they must attend to the long-dormant estate of Russell's family, killed in a car accident 10 years earlier, but matters become more urgent when she is threatened by unknown attackers soon after arriving.

What does the intrigue have to do with Russell's buried memories of her past, the 1906 earthquake, and maddening dreams of faceless villains and locked rooms? And when will Russell put the details together that Holmes has already deduced?

King not only marvelously evokes the bygone days of 1920s San Francisco but she adds layer after complex layer to this believably rendered relationship. A light touch, well-handled flashbacks and excellent pacing make Locked Rooms a thoroughly entertaining read.

Black Fly Season

By Giles Blunt (Wood / Putnam, 312 pages)

The wintry Canadian cold that was a hallmark of Blunt's earlier acclaimed novels (including 2003's The Delicate Storm) gives way to the sweltering, fly-infested summers endured year after year by residents of Algonquin Bay.

This particular summer offers up a host of nasty surprises for local homicide detectives John Cardinal and Lise Delorme: First, there is the mysterious redhead who wanders into a bar without memory or emotional affect. Who is she, and how did she end up with a bullet lodged in her brain? Then there's the curious hold upon the town's less savory residents by a young man known as Red Bear. Is he a shaman, as his drug-dealing disciples believe, or something more ordinary?

Blunt handles the story's complex connections with an ease and smoothness others with a larger backlist struggle to attain, but always keeps primary focus on character. Cardinal's frayed relationships with his wife and daughter add meaningful layers to his search for the redhead's identity, while secondary players never devolve into stock cliches.

Blunt is already in the top ranks of Canadian crime writers, but he should get further due across the border as well.

Shadows

By Edna Buchanan (Simon & Schuster, 250 pages)

One-time reporter Buchanan learned how to tell a story during her many years on the Miami police beat, and those skills are on display yet again in her second novel to feature Miami's fledgling Cold Case Squad. (The first was last year's eponymous title.)

When local history buff Kiki Courtelis shows up at the squad's headquarters to request that the early-1960s murder of a former popular mayor be reopened, the task force -- as led by Lt. K.C. Riley and Detective Craig Burch -- wonder at her motives. Does she truly care about what happened to the dead man, or is her agenda related to the scene of his death, a heavily wooded area called Shadows that has been earmarked for luxury-condo construction? But when the grisly discovery of seven mummified babies is unearthed during a search at Shadows, what seemed like a dormant case is no longer so.

Buchanan carefully balances the personal with the procedural without falling in love with her characters (as she did with her earlier alter ego, Britt Montero, toward the end of that series.) Miami is, as always, Buchanan's beat, and she mines it with care.

Red Leaves

By Thomas H. Cook (Harcourt, 290 pages)

Some writers sell millions of books but are scorned by the crime-fiction community (think Dan Brown). Others receive rapturous critical praise yet remain unknown to the masses. Veteran author and multi-award winner Cook belongs in the latter category, but one wouldn't know that from reading Red Leaves -- the lead title for mystery doyen Otto Penzler's new imprint at Harcourt.

Eric Moore lives a prosperous small-town life with a happy family and hardly a care, but when 8-year-old Amy Giordano disappears -- after being last seen in the company of his teenage son Keith -- it's the beginning of a slow unraveling of Eric's seemingly stable but ultimately fragile life. Or at least, it should be.

Red Leaves wants to be a thoughtful examination of the psychological underpinnings of a horrible crime and its effect on the accused's family, but Cook's approach is too simplistic and the character development too shallow.

Perplexing digressions into second-person viewpoint don't help, interrupting story flow and making a bewildering ending even worse. It's a pity because Cook has meaty material to work with, but one ought to look elsewhere for more finely rendered results.

Disturbed Earth

By Reggie Nadelson (Walker & Co., 340 pages)

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