Tuesday, December 19, 2006

And the best mystery of 2006 is …
by Oline Cogdill

(alphabetical by author)

December 17, 2006

Ordinary people swirl in the tapestry of George Pelecanos' riveting urban crime fiction. Greek immigrants, a proprietor of a diner, a record shop owner, a dog catcher and assorted private investigators and cops live in the nation's capitol, but not within the shadow of politics.

Pelecanos has been acting as a social historian, dealing in a multicultural milieu since 1992 with A Firing Offense. His early novels King Suckerman, which had been optioned by Sean Combs, and The Big Blowdown won Pelecanos a fervent group of fans; his later novels such as Drama City earned him an Edgar nomination and this year's The Night Gardener landed on several best-seller lists.

The author's cinematic approach to his novels also can be seen. He had a stint as a producer, screenwriter and story editor on HBO's brilliant series The Wire, for which he received an Emmy; he will be one of three writers on the upcoming miniseries The Pacific War, a 10-hour sequel to Band of Brothers.

In The Night Gardener, Pelecanos delivers a complex novel that spans 20 years in the lives of three cops whose lives converge at the scene of a murder. The author's 14th novel also illustrates the successes and the fallibility of crime detection, and the far-reaching effects of crime.

The Night Gardener takes the spot for best mystery of 2006, but the two novels in the No. 2 spot could easily have made it a three-way split.

1) The Night Gardener. George Pelecanos. Little, Brown. Three cops whose lives are forever affected by one specific moment vie for redemption in this briskly paced police procedural. Pelecanos continues to display his strength at writing about race and the color lines that divide and unite.

2) The Two Minute Rule. Robert Crais. Simon & Schuster. While the action-packed novel revolves around the life of a former bank robber, The Two Minute Rule explores choices, regrets, rehabilitation and the bonds between parents and children. Giving his wise-cracking private detective Elvis Cole a break, Crais examines a man trying to change his life and reconnect with his son.

2) Echo Park. Michael Connelly. Little, Brown. It's almost becoming a cliche to heap praise on a Michael Connelly novel. In Echo Park, Connelly expounds on the intertwining of politics and police detecting and how a simple mistake made during an investigation can have tragic consequences.

3) No Good Deeds. Laura Lippman. Morrow. No Good Deeds spins on what seems like a simple theme: Is there such a thing as a purely selfless act? The author superbly weaves in a look at class struggle, abuses of government power and media coverage while illustrating the changes and social inequities of Baltimore.

4) Promise Me. Harlan Coben. Dutton. The return of Coben's popular wise-cracking sports agent Myron Bolitar after six years would be, on its own, a cause for celebration. But Coben doesn't rest on his reputation, putting his character into an edgy well-plotted story.

5) Kidnapped. Jan Burke. Simon & Schuster. The corruptive forces of money, power and sibling rivalry meld when a cloistered family's good deeds go horribly wrong, after the publication of an intrepid reporter's story.

6) Piece of My Heart. Peter Robinson. Morrow. Two murders, decades apart, set the plot in motion. But the novel's main thrust is a perceptive view of the generations, of gaps and bonds between parent and child, and how music can unite, or drive a wedge between age groups.

7) Prisoner of Memory. Denise Hamilton. Scribner. Questions of identity, tradition and heritage swirl in Prisoner of Memory as Russian émigrés ignite a reporter's memories about her own background.

8) Stripped. Brian Freeman. Minotaur/St. Martin's Press. Freeman's Immoral was one of 2005's best debuts, so it's doubly exciting that his second novel is just as riveting. Stripped travels through the strata of old and new Vegas society with a solid plot and involving characters.

9) Silence of the Grave. Arnaldur Indridason. Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Press. Technically, Arnaldur Indridason's novel shouldn't be here because Silence of the Grave was published several years ago in Iceland, where it was a best seller. But Americans are just getting a taste of these evocative novels that look at the changing landscape of Iceland and its history.

10) A Garden of Vipers. Jack Kerley. Dutton. Image is everything to a steely matriarch and her unstable sons who come under the scrutiny of Mobile, Ala., detectives Harry Nautilus and Carson Ryder.

11) Killer Instinct. Joseph Finder. St. Martin's Press. Political thrillers and spy novels are tame compared to what goes on in the cubicles and offices of Finder's business thrillers. Unchecked ambition can be a true war.

12) A Long Shadow. Charles Todd. Morrow. A hint of the supernatural settles over Scotland Yard Inspector Ian Rutledge's case as this shattered WWI veteran tries to solve a murder and keep his sanity.

13) White Shadow. Ace Atkins. Putnam. Consider this classic historical Florida noir as Atkins looks at 1955 Tampa, where corruption seeps through the streets, Sicilian and Cuban criminals vie for control of the city, and a retired bootlegger and gambler is bludgeoned in his home.


Chinatown Beat. Henry Chang. Soho Press. The police procedural aspects take a distant back seat to the social issues inherent in the various Asian cultures that a Chinese-American cop encounters.

The Merlot Murders. Ellen Crosby. Scribner. Don't be surprised if you crave a soothing, full-bodied glass of wine while reading this story of a woman finding herself, coming to terms with her disability and reconnecting with her fragmented family.

The First Cut. Dianne Emley. Ballantine Books. Emley takes many risks in her debut -- weaving in the paranormal, showing the villain early in the story, and giving the heroine a vulnerability that could overtake her personality. But each gamble pays off.

King of Lies. John Hart. Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Press. The next John Grisham, Hart shapes a legal thriller that is a compelling look at greed, power, cruelty and the vagaries of families.

The Shadow Catchers. Thomas Lakeman. St. Martin's Press. Disappearing children, an isolated Nevada town with too many secrets, and a suspended FBI agent make for a fascinating dark story with touches of the western and horror novels.

The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril. Paul Malmont. Simon & Schuster. A cleverly conceived history of pop culture taps into the pulp era of comic books and making heroes of authors such as Walter Gibson (The Shadow), Lester Dent (Doc Savage), H.P. Lovecraft, L. Ron Hubbard and Chester Himes.

A Field of Darkness. Cornelia Read. Mysterious Press. Read succinctly mixes wit and sarcasm, social commentary on the rich and entitlement, and the eccentricities of family for a character-rich plot set in 1988.

Short story collection

A Merry Band of Murderers. Various authors; edited by Claudia Bishop and Don Bruns; includes CD. Poisoned Pen Press. An impressive array of writers, including Rupert Holmes, Val McDermid, Peter Robinson, Jeffery Deaver and John Lescroart, provides both stories and song, bringing new meaning to each. The stories are sturdy enough to stand on their own; the songs are entertaining enough in their own right.
Copyright © 2006, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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