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Book Reviews Review: Booking In by Jack Batten, Fear by Dirk Kurbjuweit and The Secrets She Keeps by Michael Robotham

The Secrets She Keeps by Michael Robotham.

Booking In

By Jack Batten

Dundurn, 327 pages, $16.99

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Jack Batten's Crang novels owe a bit to the original Spenser series by Robert B. Parker. That said, this is a very Canadian, really a very Toronto, version of a PI. Here, in the seventh Crang story, we have extreme wealth and antiquarian books, all with Batten's signature panache. Fletcher Marshall is Toronto's best antiquarian book dealer, with an international reputation for probity and fair dealing. When he's robbed, it's a big deal. As with art, this theft, a rare forged first edition of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Sonnets from the Portuguese, must be a targeted affair. Or is it? Just who are the potential buyers for a book they can never, ever, reveal to be theirs? And then there's the question: Is the forgery the real forgery or a forgery of a forgery? All this and Marshall has to answer to the owner who put the book in his care; she's the richest woman in Canada and, should she choose, she can ruin Fletcher Marshall with a few well-placed words. Marshall wants to avoid the cops, so he brings in Crang, with a hope that he can enter the secretive world of book collecting, discover the theft and return the book to his care. On the way, Crang is about to learn far more than he ever thought possible about old books and the people who make their fortunes from them. This is one of Batten's best.

Fear

By Dirk Kurbjuweit

Translated by Imogen Taylor House of Anansi, 304 pages, $19.95

This extremely creepy novel by Dirk Kurbjuweit, who is the deputy editor-in-chief of Der Spiegel, is based on real events in his life. How true or fictional is irrelevant; this is a chilling tale of stalking and the horrible consequences of living in a world where justice must have a crime. What do you do when the police can't help you and your lawyer advises you to get a gun? Randolph Tiefenthaler is a Berlin architect living in a shiny new building. His neighbour, Dieter Tiberius, is eccentric, but seems harmless. Soon after the Tiefenthalers settle in, Dieter's eccentricities take a definitely malevolent turn. Secret watching, stalking, erotic letters to Randolph's wife, Rebecca, and then there are the police reports. Dieter's spying leads to accusations of child abuse, and worse. And there is nothing the Tiefenthalers can do because no crime has been committed. Eventually, Randolph's father takes the issue in hand and kills Dieter. But that's only part of the story. In this terrific novel, Kurbjuweit takes on subjects as complex as middle-class German life, modern masculinity and how much we owe to our childhood training. The German title was Angst and it's well-chosen.

The Secrets She Keeps

By Michael Robotham

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Little, Brown and Co., 437 pages, $24.99

If this is your first Michael Robotham novel, be warned: He takes his time setting the place, the pace, and building the characters. There is no shortage of action, but it will take 80 to 100 pages to start. That said, this is as good a psychological suspense novel as you'll find. Told in alternating voices, with two very different women as the central characters, it's impossible to put down once the plot line starts. Agatha and Megan are both pregnant women, but aside from that accident of timing, they have no other similarities. Agatha is alone, dumped by the father of her child. Estranged from her family, she ekes out a living as a store clerk. In that job, she sees Megan, mother of two, expecting a third, with the perfect life. She has money, the handsome husband who's there for her and the kids, and it's all recounted in her very popular mommy blog. Agatha is a fan of the blog and envious of Megan's perfect life. When she sees they are both expecting at the same time, she thinks of connections. This could be a stalker novel but it's not. Fans of Robotham know never to expect the obvious. There is a kidnapping but it's not the expected one. These are women with secrets and each keeps her own counsel for far too long.

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