ELEGY FOR APRIL By Benjamin Black, Henry Holt, 304 pages, $30
Elegy for April, the third crime novel by Benjamin Black (a.k.a. literary writer John Banville), is everything any mystery fan could want, and a lot more. This book is the best of the Blacks so far. It's also as good, or better, than any of Banville's mainstream works, including his Booker Prize-winner, The Sea.
The first third of the book sets up the scene. "It was the worst of winter weather, and April Latimer was missing." That line moves to a long, perfect paragraph taking us right into the depths of a 1950s Dublin fog. "People vague as invalids grouped their way through the murk."
Phoebe Griffin is worried about her friend. April has been known to skip out for a few days, but she usually lets someone know she's going. Phoebe decides to tell her father, Quirke, of her concerns. Quirke, the pathologist who also appeared in Black's earlier books, is tucked away in the alcoholic ward of the local hospital, recovering from the six-month bender he was on in the previous novel. Phoebe's concern permits Quirke to check himself out of rehab and begin a wandering investigation of April's life.
Black's elegantly elaborate prose takes Quirke along the byways of Dublin with bits of back story, side stories, old history and Dublin's secrets. Part two of the book develops the characters. There is April herself, and her strange and estranged family. Her father was a hero of the Irish Rebellion, her uncle is a cabinet minister, her mother is remote and her brother a celebrated gynecologist. There are also April's friends, the actress Isabella, the reporter Jimmy, Phoebe and Patrick, a black Nigerian medical student.
The final third of the novel brings it all together as Quirke works his way into the belly of Dublin's racist and class-ridden social order, and into the heart of a personal tragedy. On the way, Quirke discovers that he just might have more to look forward to than a ball of Bushmill's before he dies. This is a gorgeously written, beautifully constructed story that will remain with you long after the final page.
KNOWN TO EVIL By Walter Mosley, Riverhead Books, 336 pages, $32.50
After Easy Rawlins retired, fans feared that Walter Mosley would decline. The Fearless Jones books lacked the depth of character and the exquisite history found in the Rawlins novels. But this third novel in the Leonid McGill series is everything any Rawlins fan could desire. In fact, with its complex history and very unusual character, it's better than some of the Rawlins series. Fans already know that McGill, son of old New York communists, is a man with a past. He's trying to make up for it, but Manhattan's mean street have plenty of temptations. His client is a major powerbroker, in search of a young woman for reasons no one will reveal. This is a brilliant, complex mystery with haunting characters.
IRON RIVER By T. Jefferson Parker, Dutton, 369 pages, $33.50
Charlie Hood, one of Parker's best cop characters, returns in this terrific story set along the fraught border between the United States and Mexico. The story is as topical as the evening news, and it brings home the scary plight of people who live and work in a place where drugs and guns are more important than human lives. The Iron River is the trade in arms heading south to Mexico. Charlie Hood has joined the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF), whose job is to stop the flow. Parker builds a marvellous story, including a man who has seemingly miraculous powers of observation and prediction. When the son of a drug lord is accidentally killed, the forces of vengeance and murder move against a small Arizona town, and Charlie finds himself deep in the heart of evil.
THE SPELLMANS STRIKE AGAIN By Lisa Lutz, Simon & Schuster, 388 pages, $29.99
Fans of comic mystery who haven't already discovered the Spellman family series are going to want to read this book and then rush out for the other three. The annals of Spellman Investigation and heroine Isabel (Izzy) Spellman are hilarious - and I mean laugh-out-loud-'til-your-sides-hurt funny. This chapter in the family saga has Izzy finally taking over the family business, and the case of a missing person from the mansion of an aged millionaire. Meanwhile, she's being blackmailed by her own mother and there's a cop whose history she's researching. If you like Janet Evanovich, you are going to love the Spellmans.
STRANGE IMAGES OF DEATH By Barbara Cleverly, Soho, 320 pages, $30.50
This latest chapter in the life and times (1926) of Scotland Yard Detective Joe Sandilands has our intrepid hero on the way to a holiday on the French Riviera, including some idealized assignations with gorgeous Frenchwomen. That's the plan after he deposits his niece, Dorcas, with her father at an art colony in a French castle known as Chateau du Diable. Of course, Dorcas and Joe arrive just in time for dinner and a mystery. It seems there's a vandal in the house. The local count wonders if Joe will consult. Then there's a 600-year-old dead woman to investigate. This is the best Sandilands book so far. And if you haven't already discovered the series, it's a perfect spot to begin.
DECEPTION By Jonathan Kellerman, Ballantine, 338 pages, $35
The last few Alex Delaware novels have been weak. After two dozen books, any series gets tired. So it's nice to report that this book, while not up to the standards set by the earliest stories, is good. It has Kellerman's signature style and speed, and a really good, well constructed plot. Elise Freeman is a substitute teacher at a ritzy Los Angeles private school. When she commits suicide and leaves behind a CD accusing three colleagues of sexual harassment and bullying, it is scandalous. The chief of police's son is at the school. He wants the case solved and forgotten, so he hands it over to Milo Sturgis. But some scandals just won't stay buried.