Several masters of mystery return in May, at the top of their form:
A Delicate Truth, by John le Carré; Viking; 310 pages ($28.95).
The twin crises of international terrorism and a global economic meltdown created a rich environment for a new kind of war – one carried out by teams of mercenaries, bought with private funds to perform outside international laws and, apparently, answerable to no one. When the “missions” go off as planned, everyone gets paid and goes home happy. And when they don’t ….
No one handles the ugly world of government intrigue like John le Carré, and he is in top form in the tight universe he creates in “A Delicate Truth.” Using a micro lens to reveal grand schemes, he goes inside the British Foreign Office, where one young, ambitious functionary finds himself on the outside of what could be a piece of very nasty business.
The book opens with a clandestine operation on the Island of Gibraltar, with a crew of mercenary soldiers and one clueless British diplomat huddling in the dark, tracking their prey, taking action – what sort we do not see – and closing up shop.
Switch to Toby Bell, “a British foreign servant earmarked for great things,” who has taken it upon himself to perform a different sort of clandestine operation – against his boss. The result will, in three years, bring him together with the clueless diplomat. They make an unlikely pair, but, whatever their failings and/or weaknesses, they share an increasingly rare integrity and rightness of purpose.
In that surgical way he has of uncovering the bodies, piece by piece, le Carré peels back the layers of deceit, corruption and, one of his favorites, self-deception for a gripping read that, unlike the rationalizations of his bought-and-paid-for bureaucrats, never hits a false note.
Lifetime, by Liza Marklund; Emily Bestler Books / Atria; 369 pages ($25).
The crime thrillers of Swedish author Liza Marklund share a quality with other popular mysteries from Scandinavia – the works of Henning Mankell, and Stieg Larsson’s best-selling trilogy, for instance: They are more about her investigators than about the crimes in question. In “Lifetime,” she continues the story of crime reporter Annika Bengtzon (“Last Will,” “Red Wolf” and more), who finds the problems in her messy life somehow parallel those of a police officer she knows who stands accused of murdering her husband and child.
Marklund’s strength is letting her readers draw their own conclusions about Annika, various suspects and the people in authority at both the newspaper and in law enforcement. Marklund doesn’t make excuses when her heroine breaks the rules for her own purposes, and, often, she lets her suffer the consequences. While two women officers whom Annika had shadowed in an early case become involved in a bloody murder, one on each side of the case, Annika has her own crisis: Her husband has left her, and their house has been burned to the ground. She escaped the fire with her two children and nothing else, only to find herself suspected of setting the blaze.
None of that keeps her from digging deeper into the case of police officer David Lindholm, who enjoyed a degree of local celebrity before being found shot in his bed, killed with a firearm issued to his wife, Julie, also an officer. The accusations against Julie simply don’t ring true for Annika, especially after she learns David’s heroic reputation was largely undeserved.
The book doesn’t leave a trail of breadcrumbs for readers to follow – revelations are straightforward – but at the same time, despite its Scandinavian setting, Marklund has no taste for red herrings. She likes old-fashioned detective work that results in a critical mass of evidence – a much more satisfying dish.
“Little Green,” by Walter Mosley; Doubleday; 291 pages ($25.95).
The last time we were with Easy Rawlins, the Los Angeles detective was heading over a cliff along the Pacific Coast Highway and it was lights out. It has been a few years in ordinary time, but only a few months have passed for Easy, as he slowly reawakens in 1967 to find his near-death has relieved him of some demons but introduced other, brand-new disturbances in his life.
Easy has always been a stand-in for Mosley’s father; as he heads into his hard-earned middle age, his adventures now include the grown children of his friends, and these may be modeled on Mosley’s own youth.
Mosley has said he lived a hippie lifestyle for years, and that’s where Rawlins’ investigations take him now, to the clubs and backrooms of the Sunset Strip. His old friend Mouse lures Easy from his sickbed to track down a woman’s missing son, who was last heard from in a phone call from the Strip.
Still only half-alive and hurting, Rawlins calls upon all his strength, all his friends, and regular doses of Mama Jo’s voodoo to follow a trail that leads from a free-love community and recreational drug users to the much darker world powered by the money made from the wholesalers of those drugs.
The case is incidental to Easy’s readjustment to life, but along the way, he meets a new generation of people like himself who are willing to stick their necks out to help someone in trouble and to set right a wrong – who, like Easy Rawlins, refuse to give up on trying to make the world a better place. It is a return worth waiting for.
A different kind of resurrection continues with Robert B. Parker’s Spenser in “Wonderland” (Putnam, 306 pages, $26.95). Parker died in 2010 and the Spenser baton has been passed to Ace Atkins, creator of the Quinn Colson series.
The Boston setting has a touch more poignancy since the attacks on the marathon, but for Spenser and his sidekick Zebulon Sixkill, it is, as he says, “business as usual.” Wonderland is an old dog racing track; and, also as usual, the trouble is all about money, mostly illegal, and its tendency to flow to places where it just makes more trouble.
And for another take on governments’ use of freelance soldiers/killers, “The Hit” by David Baldacci (Grand Central Publishing, 400 pages, $27.99) brings back assassin Will Robie, go-to man for the U.S. government when it wants those deemed as intractable enemies to disappear.
This time, it is a fellow professional killer, Jessica Reel, who they believe is making the trouble. Robie, now 40 years old, is as lethal as ever, but, fortunately for those on the other end of his gun barrel, he’s not impetuous, and as he sorts things out, it turns out there is a much more rewarding story in front of him than bringing down a rogue assassin.
Melinda Miller is a News staff reporter.