Watching the Dark
By Peter Robinson, McClelland & Stewart, 416 pages, $29.99
Peter Robinson's readers know that book to book, they always get quality. The plots are clever and well-organized, and the characters intelligently constructed. Watching the Dark is the 20th Alan Banks novel, and Robinson turns in one of the best of the series simply by maintaining his character's strong points and giving him a new and exciting challenge.
The story begins with a quiet cup of tea at dawn. A woman in pain sits on a veranda overlooking a lawn, a pond and a copse of trees, but something isn't quite right. It turns out to be the body of a man, kneeling forward "like a Muslim in prayer." The woman, Detective Inspector Lorraine Jensen, has seen many dead bodies, so she knows the drill. She summons the homicide squad.
The dead man, DI Bill Quinn, was killed at St. Peter's Police Treatment Centre, a hospital for physically and emotionally wounded cops. So Alan Banks and the Eastdale squad are looking at the murder of one of their own. Furthermore, the man was killed by an arrow shot at close range, and the police quickly discover that Quinn was no innocent. There are compromising photos in his hospital room and there is a whiff of police corruption. That brings Inspector Joanna Passero to Alan Banks's investigation. She's a smart and ambitious woman from Professional Standards, and she's eager to polish off what's left of Bill Quinn's reputation.
But Banks isn't convinced, and as fans know, this cerebral and intuitive detective won't stop until all the clues match. There are a number of other plots going, including DI Annie Cabbot's investigation into a loan shark and the victimization of migrant labour. Meanwhile, Quinn's trail leads to a cold case of an Englishwoman murdered in Estonia, and the action moves to there. Robinson has brought all his considerable talents to this complex tale, and he keeps all the threads moving in perfect order.
And When She was Good
By Laura Lippman, HarperCollins, 320 pages, $26.99
This superb story by Laura Lippman is more character study than traditional mystery. Heloise Lewis is Mrs. Middle Class America. She lives with her son, Scott, in an upmarket Baltimore suburb. She is polite and pretty and runs a very profitable small business called Women's Full Employment Network – "a boutique lobbying firm … focused on income parity for all women."
The innocuous description is deliberately vague, and not entirely accurate. Heloise is a madam and the women who work for her, mostly college girls paying off student loans, are prostitutes. Her son's father, her former pimp, is in prison for murder, a conviction she helped to engineer. The vice cop who has assisted her for years is about to retire, and his successor will not be amenable to her business plans.
There is a murder, and an investigation, but it's not the heart of this book. What's really fascinating is learning about Heloise Lewis, who might have been a college history professor if she hadn't made other choices. Or was she really free to choose? Lippman weaves the story of Helen Lewis, who becomes Heloise, into the current action, and even manages to get in a political message without missing a beat of the suspense.
Bones are Forever
By Kathy Reichs, Scribner, 288 pages, $29.99
The all-Canadian setting of Kathy Reichs's Bones are Forever is perfect for a chase that runs from Montreal to Yellowknife. The story begins with a woman named Amy Roberts showing up in a Montreal emergency room. She is bleeding heavily and it's clear she's just given birth. Before the medical team can talk to her, she disappears and Temperance Brennan is summoned, but when she and the police go to the address Roberts gave, they discover she never existed. The home is rented to Alma Rogers, and a some-time boyfriend calls her Alma Rodriguez. What's even more disturbing are three dead babies hidden and decomposing in the house.
The case falls to Tempe's old lover, Andrew Ryan. Just to add to the tension, an RCMP investigator on the case, Sergeant Ollie Hasty, has his own history with Tempe. But the sexual sizzle doesn't detract a whit from the terrific story.
Grandad, There's a Head on the Beach
By Colin Cotterill, St. Martin's, 324 pages, $24.95
If you haven't discovered Colin Cotterill, there is no better book than this one. It's smart and witty and set in a village on the Gulf of Siam. Escape doesn't get any better. The investigator is Jimm Juree, formerly an ace reporter, now marooned in the boonies helping her mother run a small resort. Jimm needs action, and a decapitated corpse is just the ticket.
Readers who loved Alexander McCall Smith's Botswana mysteries should flock to Cotterill. This is the second Jimm Juree novel, but Cotterill has a whole series set in Laos with Dr. Siri, the octogenarian medical examiner for the entire country. The characters are every bit as charming and exotic as Precious Ramotswe and friends, but the crime and detection are much better.
By Michael Koryta, Little, Brown, 432 pages, $28.99
Michael Koryta is emerging as one of the best thriller authors in America. The setting of The Prophet is the requisite mid-American small town, where two brothers have been separated by a terrible crime.
One is the local football coach and the other a seedy bail bondsman. They encountered murder young, and it warped their relationship and their lives. Now, another crime has brought them back together, and they embark on a taut and harrowing journey that will change everything again.
Editor's note: Bill Quinn is the name of the dead man in Watching the Dark. Incorrect information appeared in the original version of this article.