Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

SUSPENSE: Author hits home run with pitching detective

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Johnny Adcock is an aging Major League relief pitcher who makes $1.5 million a year to throw a ball 10 minutes a night, pitching to one batter (a leftie) maybe every other game.

So, Adcock has lots of time on his hands, and uses it to moonlight as a private investigator for other baseball folks. When the team's young backup catcher and a young hooker die in a car crash right after he asks Adcock to find and destroy an old porn video starring his wife, the part-time detective stumbles on a sleazy nest of prostitution, porn, drugs and, eventually, murder.

That's the premise of San Jose author T.T. Monday's smart and breezy thriller debut, The Setup Man, (Doubleday, 272 pages, $29), fusing lots of irreverent baseball lore with pithy humour and a solid storyline. You don't have to be a fan of the bigs to get a big kick out of this one.

***

The Lady of Sorrows, by Anne Zouroudi (Little, Brown, 288 pages, $28): A famous church icon replaced by a forgery, an infant's bones in a hidden shoebox, an ailing icon-painter's sudden death -- all grist for the fourth in this British author's Seven Deadly Sins series, set on remote, fictional Aegean islands and starring one of the oddest detectives of the Euro-school: Hermes Diaktoros, a.k.a. The Fat Man.

With its enigmatic characters, Gordian Knot storyline and evocation of ancient and modern themes, Zouroudi has crafted a supple rendering of a contemporary Greek tragedy.

***

When former New York book editor Chris Pavone won last year's best-first-novel Edgar Award for his tediously convoluted and highly dubious spy novel The Expats, some deemed it an odd misstep by the Mystery Writers of America.

The clincher to that argument arrives in the form of Pavone's much-ballyhooed (and aptly named) sophomore effort, The Accident (Crown, 400 pages, $30), which avoids some of the most egregious flaws of its predecessor while magnifying others.

The premise here is that a nefarious media mogul and his CIA allies would kill to suppress a book manuscript, written by his former partner who fakes his own death, that not only blows the lid off their dirty dealings but reveals his culpability in the vehicular murder of a college girl years earlier.

But the mogul's sins remain far too vague to justify the extreme measures that leave bodies dropping and the book's author, agent and editor on the run. It all devolves into one long chase sequence with a seat-of-the-pants plotline that cheerfully sacrifices any serious character insight.

In his determination to produce a page-turner, Pavone has gone perilously off the road with The Accident.

***

Corpse Flower, by Gloria Ferris (Dundurn, 408 pages, $18): Dead-broke divorcée Bliss Moonbeam Cornwall -- a boonie Ontario mashup of Kinsey Millhone, star of Sue Grafton's interminable alphabet mysteries, and Janet Evanovich's slapstick bail bondswoman, Stephanie Plum -- agrees to help pollinate a pair of rare monster plants for her agoraphobic cousin and his malicious ex-wife. Ersatz hilarity and murder ensue.

Sadly, no green thumb here for the Guelph cozy-writer.

***

The Way of All Fish, by Martha Grimes (Scribner, 352 pages, $30): Promising a "wickedly funny" satire on New York's cutthroat publishing world, this much-delayed sequel to 2003's Foul Matter finds morally hampered hitmen Candy and Karl joining forces with a brash publisher and bestselling author to sideline a nasty literary agent.

But Grimes, best known for her Richard Jury/Scotland Yard mysteries, simply gets caught up in her own cuteness, cooking up a motley concoction larded with in-joke silliness.

Associate Editor John Sullivan runs the Free Press Autos, Homes and Travel sections and specialty websites.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 12, 2014 G8

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