In Jeffery Deaver's The Kill Room (Grand Central, 502 pages, $17), Lincoln Rhyme, the quadriplegic New York City criminalist, faces his toughest challenge yet: solving a murder that happened in another country. The victim was assassinated in the Bahamas, but it looks like the murder was planned and, somehow, executed from NYC. The question is, how can Rhyme analyze a crime scene that's a thousand miles away?
If you're a fan of Deaver's brand of thriller, you already know what you're in store for: sharply drawn characters, lifelike dialogue and abrupt, neck-wrenching plot twists. Deaver's always had a knack for crafting compelling villains, but this book's got one of his most interesting -- a knife-wielding killer with a passion for gourmet cuisine. Another fine entry in a consistently excellent series.
If you like your mysteries a little more, shall we say, hard-boiled, you should check out Red Planet Blues (Penguin Canada, 348 pages, $13.50), by Toronto's Robert J. Sawyer. Expanded from Sawyer's near-perfect novella Identity Theft, the book tells the story of Alex Lomax, a private investigator who lucks into the biggest case of his career -- a case that could set him up for life, assuming he can stay alive long enough to solve it.
Lomax's first-person narration is appropriately noir-ish, the story is full of suspense and misdirection (it involves the a murder that happened many years ago), and the setting is fresh and very well-conceived. In Sawyer's expert hands, New Klondike, the first human city on Mars, feels dingy and threadbare, like a typical town in a typical noir mystery. The book might not be quite as good as the author's first mystery/SF crossover, the 1997 courtroom drama Illegal Alien, but it comes pretty darned close.
Top of the Morning (Grand Central, 339 pages, $19) by Brian Stelter is sort of the morning-show version of Bill Carter's classic The Late Shift (1994). Where Carter chronicled the back-room politics behind the search for a new host for The Tonight Show, Stelter looks at the behind-the-scenes goings-on at the two top-rated morning shows: NBC's Today show and ABC's Good Morning America.
Using NBC's ultimately unsuccessful hiring of Ann Curry to replace Meredith Vieira as a co-host of Today as a jumping-off point, Stelter, who was a media reporter for the New York Times when he wrote the book (he now hosts a show on CNN), examines the long-standing rivalry between Today and Good Morning America, and the lengths to which each show's producers and hosts will go to reach the top of the ratings. A bit gossipy, perhaps, but the book is mostly solidly documented and always entertaining.
Now here's something you don't see every day: a paperback original that's as good as, or even better than, many books that appear in hardcover. Keith Thomson's 7 Grams of Lead (Anchor Books, 446 pages, $10) is a gripping thriller in which a journalist uncovers a top-level government conspiracy whose orchestrators will stop at nothing to keep hidden.
Sure, it sounds like pretty standard stuff, but Thomson attacks the material with such gusto that he makes it feel fresh. Russ Thornton, the intrepid Internet blogger, is a nice twist on the standard-issue fearless journalist character, and the author packs the book with so many seemingly authentic details about top-secret surveillance technology, weaponry and espionage that it's easy to imagine he's a veteran intelligence operative (instead of a former semi-pro baseball player and a talented newspaper editorial cartoonist). With a conspiracy plot worthy of a Jason Bourne novel, and stylistically superior to anything Bourne's creator, Robert Ludlum, ever wrote, the book is a must-read for fans of action thrillers.
Halifax freelancer David Pitt's column appears the first weekend of every month.