Travel to 1500s Prague, post-World War I Calcutta and 19th-century Montana Territory in this roundup of new crime fiction.
Three new thrillers take us to other times, other places:
“Wolf on a String” (Holt, 320 pp., $28) is a departure for the distinguished Irish novelist John Banville, writing as Benjamin Black.
Most Black novels are elegiac mysteries about Quirke, a pathologist in 1950s Dublin. But here it’s Prague in the late 1500s, where the eccentric Rudolf II rules the Holy Roman Empire.
The daughter of Rudolf’s doctor (she was also Rudolf’s mistress) has been murdered. The emperor, a passionate student of the occult, enlists Christian Stern, a young scholar and alchemist, to find the culprit.
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As you’d expect from a Man Booker winner like Banville, Stern’s subsequent plunge into palace intrigue and power struggles is spirited, vivid, and soulful.
“A Rising Man” (Pegasus, 400 pp., $25.95) is a vibrant and powerful debut from Abir Mukherjee, a young Scotsman living in London.
In 1919, British police detective Sam Wyndham is in Calcutta, traumatized by the war and longing to start a new chapter. His first case: an English civil authority is found with his throat slit. Suspicion rests on Indian rebels determined to end decades of British colonial rule.
Overwhelmed by India’s heat, intensity and (in his eyes) strangeness, Wyndham nonetheless perseveres, helped by his very dry sense of humor.
More crucial aid comes from his empathetic sergeant, “Surrender-Not” Banerjee, who proves invaluable in navigating the dangerous waters between the passionate rebels and their patronizing British overlords.
Finally, trust the man behind “Jurassic Park” to say hello from beyond the grave — and with dinosaurs, no less.
The late Michael Crichton’s previously unpublished “Dragon Teeth” (Harper, 304 pp., $28.99), set in 1876, is loosely based on two real-life figures: paleontologists Othniel Marsh and Edward Drinker Cope. The two are obsessive rivals in search of dinosaur fossils in the dangerous and unpredictable West.
Crichton imagines a privileged university student, William Johnson, who joins Marsh’s expedition to Montana Territory. He is soon embroiled in a rivalry that turns devious and deadly.
Crichton’s prose is only serviceable, and chunks of undigested history are awkwardly scattered around like … well, fossils. He’s also guilty of stilted dialogue and stale characters. (Example: a bad guy named Black Dick.)
But so what? Crichton was always a terrific storyteller, and “Dragon Teeth” is a terrific story, as Johnson survives multiple dangers and evolves from callow college boy to resourceful, self-confident adult.