Friday, October 07, 2011

Two mystery writers deliver gripping tales, one falters

Peter Robinson, Steve Hamilton and Lee Child -- three great mystery writers, but one of them let me down. 

Book 102: Before the Poison by Peter Robinson 

A few pages into Robinson's newest mystery, Before the Poison, and I was waiting for DCI Banks to take the stage. He never did. 

Ultimately, I realized Robinson's new book is not a part of the Inspector Banks series, but a one-off. 

Chris Lowndes composes musical scores for movies.  After the death of his beloved wife, he's flees L.A. for a remote estate in his native England.  He soon learns that the large house he purchased has a history.  

Fifty odd years ago, on a snowy night, the local doctor died in the house.  At first it appeared to be a massive heart attack, but suspicions were raised, leading police to believe the doctor was murdered by his wife. She was convicted and hung.

The solitary Lowndes hears things go bump in the night. Then he starts to see things.

Now it appears Robinson has written a ghost story. But it doesn't take many pages to realize the book that isn't an Inspector Banks mystery, isn't not ghost story either.  And that's the problem with Before the Poison. It's not much of a mystery.

Lowndes sets out to prove that the doctor's wife is innocent. Innocent or guilty there's nothing at stake here. She's long dead, and any evidence long-vanished. There's no ghost to exorcise and nothing, absolutely nothing, riding on the outcome.

It's unusual to encounter such a disappointing effort from Robinson.  I've often felt his long-running Inspector Banks series was the equal to the work of Ian Rankin.  But Before the Poison doesn't come up to par. Both Lowndes and Robinson would have been better off leaving this mystery unsolved.

Book 105: The Hunting Wind by Steve Hamilton 

Each book by Hamilton in his Alex McKnight series is better than the last. In the case of The Hunting Wind, the first McKnight mystery not in the Upper Peninsula -- this one's set in the Lower Peninsula --  it all starts with the first sentence:

"When the left-hander found me, I was sitting in my usual chair in front of the fire, trying to stay warm."

The left-hander and McKnight haven't seen one another in some 30 years when they were teammates in the minor leagues. The left-hander was a pitcher with a trick pitch and McKnight was his catcher.

Now, 30 years later, the left-hander needs McKnight's help again. He spins a story of a search for a long lost love.  Of course, his tale tends to be as unreliable as his pitch once was and McKnight is caught up in a deadly mystery.

The pitcher may not deliver, but Hamilton does.

Book 106: The Affair by Lee Child 

A few books ago I thought Lee Child might have jumped the shark.  His Jack Reacher series just didn't have the spark that characterized a dozen earlier efforts.

Boy, was I wrong.

The Affair is vintage Lee Child. Vintage Reacher.  Not only for the quality of this altogether gripping thriller, but it's set in 1997. Reacher's still part of the U.S. Army and dispatched to a military outpost in Mississippi after a women is murdered.

It's not the only murder. There were others. In his efforts to solve the murders, Reacher is caught between the military, who are convinced the murders are the work of a local, and the local sheriff, who is convinced the murders were the work of a solider.

Did I mention the local sheriff is a retired Marine, and that she's hot?  

No one writes quite like Lee Child and no one has a character quite like Reacher.  Unique -- that's the word to describe this series and this book. Also, fast-paced, gripping and fun.  Jumped the shark, my ass.

No comments:

Post a Comment