Monday, September 22, 2014

Lee Child, Rose Solari, Justin Kramon: Mysteries in Three Subgenres

It would be hard to deliberately find three books as different from each other as the three I'm presenting today -- and yet they are all clearly mysteries. And each can be recommended for the skills of its author, the vivid characters and lively action, and the twists that require resolution -- as well as the crime-solving involved.

Lee Child's new Jack Reacher novel, PERSONAL, leaves behind the cross-country journeys that took Reacher at last to meet the woman in a secure office who seemed to understand him so well; I really enjoyed that sequence, so I wasn't sure of my footing as this new adventure opened. Then again, Reacher's not so sure of himself in this one, either -- a pair of military intelligence officers who've worked with him over the years summon him to international action, tracking down a sniper who threatens to destabilize an upcoming G8 meeting, where the leaders of the most developed economies plan to meet in Europe. Because there's good reason to think Reacher has already captured this sniper once before, he's the ideal tracker. More than that: The sniper has a personal grudge against him that might be useful in drawing the criminal out of hiding before the governmental meeting is scheduled.

If you're already a Lee Child/Jack Reacher fan, PERSONAL will strike you as classic: the high-tension and violent action, Reacher's own scruples, his ability to partner for the job with a strong woman and then to protect her, and his deep mistrust for all organizations, including his own military group. The writing is practiced, smooth, swift -- there are no distractions from the rapid pace, other than Reacher's questions and doubts that ripple among the scenes. And if you've never read one of these, you'll be a bit baffled from time to time in terms of why Reacher is this way, but it shouldn't interfere with enjoying the thriller. I'm a fan; I enjoyed this one at least as much as any of the preceding titles in the series, and I learned more than I'll ever use (I hope!) about snipers.

A SECRET WOMAN by Rose Solari was actually first released in 2012, but the author is also a poet and her newest collection of poems, The Last Girl, is scheduled for November release -- which may be why her publisher sent out some copies of the mystery this year for reviews. If you couldn't quite swallow the male tilt of some recent "mystical" mysteries, this secret-knowledge-journey mystery founded in women's quests could be the perfect antidote. Louise Terry's paintings are diverging from the woman-centered theme promoted by the arts co-op she helped to found -- and an unexpected inheritance from her mother, passed along to her by a Catholic priest at a retreat, sends her to England to rediscover why her mother abandoned her, and what mystic and historic threads may be replaying in her mind and her paintings. There's enough crime tucked in to keep the book well inside the mystery genre, and in many ways it's more believable than, say, a Dan Brown confection. I enjoyed the cross-generation discoveries and the very vivid tensions from artists manipulating each other. The ending wouldn't rank high on my favorites list, so I wish Solari had left off the final scene -- but even so, it's a good read and kept me engaged. If you love mystical mysteries, grab it.

Justin Kramon's creepy suspense novel THE PRESERVATIONIST fits the newest label on the shelves, "new adult" -- Julia Stilwell, a plucky but vulnerable college student, gets caught in a classic psycho twist between two men, one of whom is very, very dangerous. Will she figure it out in time to protect herself, body and soul and especially mind? The hardcover came out in 2013, and this month the softcover is on hand. Brace for plenty of suspense. Knowing what the stalker is thinking makes it extra hard to be patient with the intended victim ... fortunately, Kramon also has a deft touch with unexpected humor, and carries the twists and turns smoothly to an unexpected but satisfying wrap-up. Oh: Don't give this to a college student. They've got enough scary things to worry about already.

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