Happy New Year! As John Lennon said, let’s hope it’s a good one, without any fear. But if you don’t mind a touch of tension, here’s a sampling of January crime fiction releases.
Christopher Fowler, “Oranges and Lemons” (Bantam, $28.99): Arthur Bryant and John May, London’s oldest and oddest police detectives, return for the next installment in Fowler’s consistently delightful series. As the book opens, May (the dapper straight man of the act) has been seriously injured and Bryant (the startlingly eccentric, messy and intuitive one) is missing. Worse, their longtime home, the Peculiar Crimes Unit, is once more threatened with closure (due to budget reductions and general bureaucratic thick-headedness).
No matter. They reconvene to solve a series of bizarre assaults connected somehow to the English nursery rhyme referenced in the book’s title. (“Here comes a chopper to chop off your head,” indeed.)
Prominent among the victims: The Speaker of the House of Commons, who is nearly killed by — wait for it — crates of citrus fruit. Who is targeting him and other prominent politicians, and why? As Bryant and May investigate through an eerily empty and locked-down city, Fowler has free rein to entertain us again with bits of strangely irresistible trivia about his beloved London.
“The Breaker” (Putnam’s, $27), by Nick Petrie, is a taut thriller starring Peter Ash, a former Marine hiding from the law, unjustly accused of murder. He’s on the down-low in Milwaukee under an assumed identity, renovating houses with a friend and living with his journalist sweetheart.
But this quiet existence is threatened when he instinctively intervenes in an apparently routine robbery, his cover is blown and a shadowy figure makes him a deal: Ash’s problems will disappear if he helps find something stolen in that robbery.
The story involves high-tech weaponry, cybercrime, a truly unsettling assassin and two brilliant inventors: an evil mega-zillionaire and a fearless, cyber-punky young woman out for revenge. You’ll need complete suspension of disbelief as the complicated story nears its violent climax, and more stringent editing would have trimmed fat from the book’s 400-plus pages, but it’s compelling nonetheless.
Robert B. Parker died in 2010, but his iconic Boston private eye Spenser lives on in the addictive books Ace Atkins conjures up, including “Someone to Watch Over Me” (Putnam’s, $27).
Spenser’s resourceful young protégée, Mattie Sullivan, recruits him and his fearsome sidekick Hawk to help smash a sex ring full of powerful big shots convinced they’re above the law. At its heart is a sleazy money guy and his female accomplice, who lure underage girls into servicing the ultrarich on a private island. (Remind you of someone in the news recently? Here’s a hint: A minor character in the book is named Epstein.)
Toward the end of his life, it felt like Parker had started to phone his books in; Atkins expertly revives the verve and muscular prose of the early books. The series’ most appealing characteristics are firmly in place, too: the crackling dialogue between Spenser and Hawk; the mutual devotion the PI shares with his true love, Susan Silverman; and Spenser’s special blend of strong moral code and breezy smartass attitude.
So: not much radically new here, but did that stop me from gobbling the book up like candy? Hardly.