Roundup Crime Fiction

December 14, 2008|By Sarah Weinman | Sarah Weinman,Special to The Baltimore Sun

The Paris Enigma

By Pablo De Santis

Harper / 244 pages / $24.95

There's something about a World's Fair that brings out a flurry of murderous activity, and the debut of the Eiffel Tower at the 1889 exhibition in Paris certainly accomplishes that in De Santis' most entertaining novel. It's essentially a pastiche on Holmes and Watson, with the Sherlockian role played by Renaldo Craig, an Argentine detective of legendary proportions purportedly retired from the biz - but not before founding The Twelve, a United Nations-like group of super-detectives. His assistant, and the novel's narrator, is Sigmundo Salvatorio, dispatched in his boss' place to the World's Fair, where he's quickly embroiled in investigating who would start picking off members of The Twelve and diminishing the world's intellectual acumen. Secret puzzles and philosophical treatises on the nature of detection abound, but never overwhelm the spry movement of the narrative nor the dizzying plot twists. This neo-tread on the Golden Age makes for exhilarating fun and portends well for De Santis establishing his own mark on the genre.

Shot Girl

By Karen E. Olson

Obsidian / 330 pages / $6.99

Olson arrived on the mystery scene with a one-time award attached to her, named for the late and legendary editor Sara Ann Freed. That book, Sacred Cows, introduced the wisecracking New Haven reporter Annie Seymour and set in motion the makings of a long-running series. But Shot Girl, installment No. 4 and easily the best one, looks to be the last outing for Annie - a shame, because she's really come far as a protagonist over time and moved from a trusty narrator to someone far more ambiguous. That's because this time around, the murder victim she has to investigate is her ex-husband, and even though the case looks to be fairly straightforward, it turns out Annie isn't quite as forthcoming as some readers (as well as her current love interest, Vinny) might like her to be about whether there was a renewed relationship with that ex before his death. So we get multiple investigations of what really happened (and whether drugs play a role) and how much Annie can be trusted. It makes for greater depth to add that frisson of doubt and allows Olson to step up to a new storytelling level just in time to start a brand-new series next year.

Old Flame

By Ira Berkowitz

Three Rivers Press / 279 pages / $12.95

Sometimes, when transcendence or literary quality isn't quite on the reading agenda, a solid throwback to a well-worn template is just the tonic to cure the blues. The prose style of Berkowitz's second novel featuring New York-based private eye Jackson Steeg rings with the echoes of more famous ancestors (writers and characters alike) and cuts as sharp and as terse as the Ginsu brand that was a late-night TV commercial staple. But there's no crime in being retro and traveling down familiar narrative streets when the journey's as entertaining as what's depicted in Old Flame: Steeg's after who killed his ex-wife's new squeeze, and that means he has to revisit his roots in the old Hell's Kitchen to navigate the byways and alleys of its current and more internationally sinister incarnation. Not to mention that when the going gets really dicey, he has his psychotic brother Dave at his violent beck and call. So pour yourself a healthy shot of bourbon, drink it in as few gulps as possible and settle back with a reminder of how hard-boiled fiction used to be done, updated to reflect what is being done right now.

Sarah Weinman reviews crime fiction every month for The Baltimore Sun. Visit her Web site at www. sarahweinman.com.

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