Older than Goodbye by Richard Helms. Five Star, 388 pages
Judd Wheeler, police chief of fictional Prosperity, N.C., is trying to ease back into the job after many months of recuperating from a shooting. Unfortunately, he has a missing husband and wife, a Homeland Security agent warning him off that case, and a “serial plaintiff” (who sued so many people that he was the most hated man in town) in the morgue.
Meanwhile, Judd’s boyhood friend is back home after an up-and-down life: prison, then a rise to fame as a country singer. Judd’s emotional recovery is complicated by lingering issues from their misspent youth.
As always, Richard Helms tells a nice story, seasoned with plenty of appreciation for down-home ways and with more characters to love than to hate.
The Boy Who Drew Monsters by Keith Donohue. Picador, 272 pages.
To borrow a phrase from the movie reviewers, this is not the feel-good book of the year.
In spite of its (to me, at least) lighthearted title, the story strikes an immediate note of dread when we meet 10-year-old Jack Peter, who is on the autism spectrum and whose inability to leave the house has strained his parents’ marriage.
His agoraphobia, we gradually learn, was triggered by an incident on the beach with his family and his friend Nick’s family three years ago. Jack Peter and Nick, still best friends, put aside their army men for a new pastime: drawing monsters. Nick’s are typical movie monster fare; Jack Peter’s are more disturbing, especially after Jack Peter’s parents and Nick begin to realize that Jack Peter’s drawings are coming to life and stalking them.
If you can tolerate a supernatural element in your mysteries, you will find a whodunit at the heart of this one. I was satisfied when I closed the book.
The Empire of Night by Robert Olen Butler. Mysterious Press, 416 pages.
This World War I-era story of a London stage star and her son assuming German-friendly personas in order to spy on the enemy is a pleasantly retro adventure. The historical setting and the sleight-of-character are an entertaining mix. Charles Todd fans should enjoy this one. It’s third in a series, so if you like to start from the beginning, look for “The Hot Country” and “The Star of Istanbul.”
Mean Business on North Ganson Street by S. Craig Zahler. Thomas Dunne Books, 304 pages.
Detective Jules Bettinger is forced to transfer from western Arizona to a Missouri town so depressed it borders on Third World conditions. Bettinger surprises his new colleagues by seriously investigating the murder of a prostitute; shortly after that, attacks on police officers begin.
I found a lot to like in Bettinger, who is as miserable about the cold weather as he is about working in no-man’s-land, but S. Craig Zahler is fond of the mot juste and apparently finds his mots most juste when they are polysyllabic, abstruse and (sometimes) anatomically accurate. Eventually I found myself hearing the narration in a ponderous Morgan Freeman voice.