Adam Woog’s monthly column looks at the latest installments from several best-selling mystery series.
Generally, this column avoids best sellers, preferring to highlight less familiar, easily overlooked crime novels. On the other hand, sometimes a best seller just hits the spot.
Alexander McCall Smith’s big-hearted series about Precious Ramotswe, proprietor of Botswana’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, sails on with “Precious and Grace” (Pantheon, 240 pp., $25.95).
Deeply satisfying and overflowing with joy, McCall Smith’s books can be read simply as delicious entertainment. Or as wise, carefully observed lessons in humility, tolerance and forgiveness. Or — and this is the course I recommend — as both.
Serious crime is rarely seen here — instead, Mma Ramotswe (as the “traditionally built” detective is respectfully called) pursues her vocation of “solving people’s problems.” Aid comes primarily via the clever and spiky Grace Makutsi, who has recently promoted herself from the agency’s secretary to co-director.
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In the new book, a Canadian woman who grew up in Botswana hires Mma Ramotswe to find her old nanny. (The results, surprising for this sweet-tempered series, are not exactly heartwarming.)
Other problems also require the detective’s attention. Notably, Fanwell (who works for her husband, the noted car mechanic Mr. J.L.B. Makatoni) needs a home for a stray dog. Also, the hapless Mr. Polepetsi, the agency’s sometime assistant, requires rescue from a pyramid scheme.
“Triple Crown” (Putnam’s, 384 pp., $28), is the latest from Felix Francis. Francis maintains the family business, writing mysteries with horse-racing themes. The firm was started by Felix’s late father, Dick, with wife and mother Mary pitching in — she did much of her husband’s work without credit.
Jefferson Hinkley, an investigator for the British Horseracing Authority, goes undercover in America to help track down a case of illegal doping during Derby season.
Hinkley is blander than Dick Francis’ frequent protagonist, jockey-turned-detective Sid Halley. But the plot is brisk, the prose efficient, and readers are treated to a wealth of inside information about British and American racing practices. (Hinkley’s considered opinion: The Brits do it better.)
Harry Bosch, the shrewd police detective who is the soul of Michael Connelly’s intense novels, has his hands full in “The Wrong Side of Goodbye” (Little, Brown, 400 pp., $29).
Retired from the LAPD but restless, Bosch is now a private eye and an unpaid investigator for the small town of San Fernando. This gives the book two powerful engines to drive its plots.
In one, Bosch and his San Fernando colleagues pursue an elusive serial rapist. But the more compelling story involves Harry’s private gig — a billionaire, near death, hires him to discover what became of a long-lost love.
Did she have the billionaire’s child, who would then be his only heir?
Bosch finds out, but when he tries to report his findings, the billionaire’s staff stonewalls him. Bosch’s relentless efforts to outsmart them create the book’s most gripping moments.
On the local front: Congratulations to Seattle native-turned-Californian Glen Erik Hamilton, whose sure-footed Seattle-set thriller “Past Crimes” (Morrow, $26.99) recently won two prestigious awards — an Anthony and a Macavity, both in the Best First Novel category. The book finds ex-Ranger and professional thief Van Shaw chasing his grandfather’s killer. (It was followed this spring by an equally engrossing sequel, “Hard Cold Winter;” from Morrow, $25.99.)
And Seattle resident M.J. Beaufrand, who specializes in novels for young adults, offers “Useless Bay” (Amulet, 240 pp., $17.95). This atmospheric, swift story, set on Whidbey Island, revolves around the missing son of a wealthy businessman. It’s up to the Gray quintuplets — close-knit, teenage local legends with near-mystical ties to the land — to find him.