By Lawrence Block, Little, Brown, 336 pages, $29.99
Two years ago, after 30 years and 50 books, Lawrence Block announced his retirement from writing. He would, he wrote, continue his column on stamps and do some short stories, but he was done with novels. That said, he quickly learned that some short fiction just won't stop. The result is Hit Me, one of his best books ever, which marks the return of John Paul Keller, the happy hit man in Hit and Run.
When last seen, Keller was also in retirement. He had a successful business rehabbing houses in New Orleans, a wife and a baby on board. But all good things come to an end. The economic slough hit the construction business exceptionally hard, and Keller takes family life seriously. A phone call opens up a world of possibilities if Keller will take one more well-paying job.
There are few writers who can touch Block for happy hooligan-style mayhem. Keller flits from Dallas to Florida to Wyoming and New York, flipping one-liners all the way. The plot is as tight as Jessica Simpson's Spandex. Welcome back, Mr. Block.
The Poisoned Pawn
By Peggy Blair, Penguin Canada, 336 pages, $22
If you, like me, somehow managed to miss Peggy Blair's debut novel, The Beggar's Opera, then you should read this second book and then run to get the first.
The Poisoned Pawn picks up Inspector Ricardo Ramirez of Havana, along with Canadian cop Mike Ellis, and transports the pair from Havana to Ottawa in search of a killer who also dabbles in pornography and religion. There's a bad priest in Ottawa and some very dead women back in Havana, and the action heads from Parliament to the Vatican.
This is definitely the book to read in the month that the Pope retires. Blair, an Ottawa lawyer, has a good eye for those little details that establish place. She's also good at character, although Ramirez is more interesting (possibly just his Latin flair) than Ellis. The plot is solid and has a couple of good twists. This is the second novel in a two-book deal for Penguin. Let's hope there's a third in the works.
By Kristina Ohlsson, translated by Sarah Death, Simon & Schuster, 344 pages, $28.99
This is the sequel to the excellent Unwanted, and proves that this series by Kristina Ohlsson, yet another brilliant Swede, deserves to go on for a long time. Featuring Frederika Bergman and her team of Stockholm detectives, Silenced begins with a vicious rape of a young girl in a meadow so beautifully described you can smell the flowers. Afterward, the victim lies in the grass, silent until her parents come for her. "By the time they found her, she had already become another person."
Fifteen years later, in Stockholm, Bergman is enduring the physical hardships of pregnancy and forced to go on part-time leave. Alex Recht's Federal Investigation Team is short-handed, and has two cases on deck. One is the death of a John Doe killed in a hit and run, the other is the murder of a well-respected pastor and his wife. These seem to be unrelated events, but one of the pastor's daughters is also missing.
Ohlsson then opens up the plot, introducing a young Iraqi illegal living in Sweden, and then a unnamed Swedish woman in Thailand. The Iraqi is silenced by fear. The woman is disappearing down a technological drain: Tickets cancelled, credit blocked, ID eradicated. Ohlsson gives us a dense plot with lots of details, and a political message that doesn't interfere with the story.
By Jonathan Kellerman, Ballantine, 336 pages, $30
Ever since Jonathan Kellerman sent Detective Milo Sturgis to the cold-case department, this series has had a new lease on life.
This time out, we have a glossy young couple looking over their slick L.A. real estate when they make a gruesome find. Buried under a rotting greenhouse is a doctor's bag containing the skeleton of an infant. Newspapers with the remains date the burial to 60 years ago. Then another gruesome discovery is made in a nearby park. Just what happened? And why? Milo turns to his pal, psychologist Alex Delaware, to help him sort out the fears of the past.
This is one of Kellerman's best books in years. Old fans, it's safe to return.