Books

Four gifts for the mystery lover on your holiday list

“The Big Book of the Continental Op,” by Dashiell Hammett, edited by Richard Layman and Julie M. Rivett. Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, 752 pages. Paperback.

Here’s a lovely present for that fan of Golden Age mysteries on your gift list. It’s everything Dashiell Hammett ever wrote about the Continental Op: 28 short stories, two novels and one unfinished piece, with commentary. If you’ve read Hammett, that’s all you need to hear. If you haven’t – well, there’s a reason people name their children after this writer. Open this book to any page and see gems like “He was a blond-haired, blond-bearded mountain of meat in a black frock coat.”

“Alive in Shape and Color,” edited by Lawrence Block. Pegasus Books, 304 pages.

If there’s a mystery fan on your holiday list whose favorite writers don’t have new books out, here’s a collection with enough variety to cover all bases. It’s a follow-up to the collection “In Sunlight or in Shadow,” which featured stories based on paintings by Edward Hopper. For this collection, authors chose paintings by various artists and created stories based on them.

Jeffery Deaver on an ancient cave painting, Joyce Carol Oates at her most gothic, Michael Connelly on (of course!) a Hieronymus Bosch, Joe R. Lansdale finding darkness in the lightest Norman Rockwell and so many more familiar names. Plus, color plates of each of the 16 paintings make it a great gift choice.

“The Vanishing Season,” by Joanna Schaffhausen. Minotaur, 288 pages.

Police officer Ellery Hathaway sees a pattern in seemingly random disappearances in her small town. Over a three-year period, a college student, an unemployed alcoholic and a mailman all went missing, all in July. No one but Ellery sees any connection, and she can’t share all of the clues to the pattern because some of them would reveal a past she has kept hidden: As a child, she was abducted by a high-profile serial killer and survived only because an FBI agent found her in time.

You’ll never see me recommend an “inside the mind of a serial killer” story, but Joanna Schaffhausen goes light on the gruesome details and lets her story unfold where it should, in the thoughts and actions – and inactions – of the people trying to solve the case. Her background in TV news may lend her style a certain vivid economy.

“Beau Death,” by Peter Lovesey. Soho Crime. 416 pages.

I always look forward to new entries in this series.

Bath Detective Superintendent Peter Diamond has a historical mystery on his hands after a demolition crew uncovers human remains dressed in clothes from the 1700s. Details of the outfit match the idiosyncratic hallmarks of Beau Nash, a dandy of that century who’s thought to have ended up in an unmarked pauper’s grave.

Diamond dives into the history of Bath’s most famous fashion plate until it’s discovered that the pants in the outfit are of modern design. Now Diamond just has a plain old mystery instead of a historical one.

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