THE SECOND DEATH OF GOODLUCK TINUBU By Michael Stanley, HarperCollins, 464 pages, $33.99
Michael Stanley's second novel featuring Assistant Superintendent David (Kubu) Bengu, of the Botswana Criminal Investigation Department, has everything. There's plenty of African scenery and lore as the backdrop for excellent police work. But Stanley (the nom de plume for South African writers Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip) goes many steps further. This is a place complete with history and politics, as far removed from the charms of Alexander McCall Smith as one can get.
Kubu's case is set in a rural camp where wealthy tourists come to see animals and get a taste of "old" Africa. The setting is spectacularly beautiful and extremely remote, the perfect spot for a murder. For two murders, in fact. One victim is spectacularly mutilated, the other simply bashed on the head and tossed off a cliff. The deaths seem to have a political motive. The major suspect was in the camp under an alias, and has disappeared.
Stanley has kindly included a glossary, a pocket history, a map and a list of characters so the reader can keep it all straight.
THE LORD OF DEATH By Eliot Pattison, Soho Press, 320 pages, $26
Eliot Pattison's brilliant series featuring Shan Tao Yun - former investigator for the Bejing police now exiled to the gulag in Tibet - is unique. Pattison concocts devious and clever plots, but he also writes terrific political novels.
Shan is hauling a corpse by mule over Mt. Everest when he encounters a horrible traffic accident. A busload of Bhuddist monks has overturned. It turns out that the monks are on their way to a Chinese prison, and some have escaped. If they are caught, the Chinese will torture and probably kill them. In the midst of the chaos, shots ring out and two women in a car are killed. One is the Chinese minister of tourism and the other is a Westerner who organizes climbing expeditions, the source of much wealth.
The Chinese lords of Tibet want the murder covered up and the killer found. The price for Shan's help is his son't freedom from slavery in a factory. This is a great mystery with a backdrop of fascinating detail about Tibet.
THE IGNORANCE OF BLOOD By Robert Wilson, HarperCollins, 422 pages, $22.99
This is the third novel in the brilliant series featuring Inspector Jefe Javier Falcon of the Seville police, and it's as good as a crime novel gets.
We begin with Seville sweltering in a summer heat wave and reeling from a terrorist attack, with Falcon in search of the attackers. Then a local gangster is killed in a car crash. Accident or murder? The evidence leads back to Falcon's terrorism case, and then to the Russian mafiya.
DEATH LOVES A MESSY DESK By Mary Jane Maffini, Berkley, 296 pages, $8.50
Ottawa author Mary Jane Maffini's series featuring professional organizer Charlotte Adams touches a chord with me. I am a clutterbug, and my husband has never met a paper he could toss out. We wallow in books, magazines and assorted doodads. So when I see a mystery novel that promises organizing tips along with a slick plot, I'm hooked.
This is Maffini's third Adams outing. The setting is Manhattan and Charlotte has a growing clientele of the lazy, the sloppy and the addicted. When she's hired to clear up a desk, she jumps at it. But then the desk's owner disappears, and Charlotte is on the hunt.
This is a nice, light, old-fashioned mystery with some comic turns, a clever premise and a good puzzle plot. Maffini seems to have this formula organized to perfection, and yes, there are organizing hints, and if I get around to them, I'm sure they work.
GRAVE DOUBTS By John Moss, Dundurn, 352 pages, $11.99
Summertime demands a really good, grisly mystery, and John Moss, in his third novel featuring Toronto detectives Miranda Quin and David Morgan, delivers the goods. The pair are called to a crime scene with a pair of headless corpses dressed in colonial costumes. Just what was this murderer thinking? Getting into the mind of a really nasty killer is all part of a cop's job, but this time Quin and Morgan find themselves overwhelmed.
The plot is really solid here, but it's also fun to follow the cops along the byways of Toronto and then up to Georgian Bay. Grave Doubts is a great weekend-at-the-cottage novel.
ALOHA, CANDY HEARTS By Anthony Bidulka, Insomniac Press, 244 pages, $19.95
"Russell Quant, will you marry me?" Yes, that's the beginning for this new adventure in the life of gay Saskatoon PI Quant. The proposal in Hawaii is followed by a murder that takes him back to Saskatchewan while planning his nuptials.
Bidulka mixes fun and seriousness in his fiction, and this sixth episode in Quant's life and times is no exception. Will Russell and his beloved Alex get to tie the knot? Or will a murderer make Alex a widow/er first?
ALEXANDRIA By Lindsey Davis, Century, 276 pages, $32.95
There are several mystery series based in ancient Rome, but Davis's, starring Marcus Didius Falco and his batty family and friends, is one of the earliest and still one of the best, and Davis really does know everything about life in the ancient world. Alexandria is the 19th in the series. Falco's wife, Helena Justina, is determined to see the Lighthouse of Alexandria even though she's pregnant. So the family heads to Egypt. Once they arrive in Alexandria, though, a corpse turns up in the Great Library and Falco joins the search for the murderer.
SANCTUARY By Ken Bruen, Minotaur, 224 pages, $27.95
The seventh Jack Taylor novel has Taylor fighting his demon alcohol while he hunts for the killer of a child. All he has to work from is a list of victims that arrived by mail. As he scours Galway in search of clues, the answers are far closer and more personal than he knows. This case is about to get very, very dangerous.
RELENTLESS By Dean Koontz, Bantam, 356 pages, $32
Fans of Koontz know to expect the unexpected in his novels. That is certainly true in Relentless. A sociopath earns his living as a book critic. (What is pure fiction is that the critic has the power to make or break writers' careers. If critics' opinions counted, The Da Vinci Code would have sold six copies.) Author Cubby Greenwich is happy, successful and fulfilled. He has a great wife, a nice kid and a lovable dog.
When he gets a bad review from critic Shearman Waxx, he knows he should let it go. After all, the book's a bestseller. But Cubby runs into the notoriously private Waxx, and takes him on. It's then that Cubby finds out that this particular reviewer has more than words for weapons.
INTENT TO KILL By James Grippando, HarperCollins, 356 pages, $33.99
James Grippando's Jack Swyteck thriller series had gotten a bit dull. Maybe that's why he's switched characters and settings. In any event, Intent To Kill is his best in years. It's crisp and fresh and full of action from beginning to end.
Ryan James is a washed-up baseball player. Once a hit away from a major league career, he stalled after his wife's tragic death. Now he's a single parent working as a radio shock jock in Boston. The person responsible for his wife's death was never found. Then, on the third anniversary of her death, he gets a message: "I know who did it."
From that moment, Grippando has us in his spell. The police are on the hunt and homicide is in the air when the clue comes from a completely unexpected and apparently unwitting source.
LOITERING WITH INTENT By Stuart Woods, Putnam, 290 pages, $32.50
The return of the ever-exciting Stone Barrington is an unexpectedly solid, action-packed thriller set in Key West, with a plot that combines drugs, fraud and a visitation from Barrington's complicated past.