Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

PAPERBACKS: Mystery's terrorism theme gives it contemporary feel

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LONDON, England, 1896. Thomas Pitt is the new head of Special Branch, the intelligence arm of the London police force. He's convinced there's a plot afoot to assassinate an Austrian duke, but without hard evidence, he has a tough time selling his suspicions to his colleagues.

Meanwhile the confessions of an aging (and possibly senile) spy could spell disaster for England. Dorchester Terrace (Ballantine, 342 pages, $19), by Scotland's Anne Perry, is the latest in the popular Charlotte and Thomas Pitt mystery series.

The novel's terrorism theme gives it a contemporary feel (the story involves a plot to blow up a train), even as Perry's vivid recreation of Victorian England plunges us into the past. This long-running series has always delivered the goods, and fans will be thrilled.

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In Year Zero (Del Rey, 357 pages, $18), by California's Rob Reid, entertainment lawyer Nick Carter is dumbstruck when a couple of extraterrestrials, who call themselves Frampton and Carly, tell him that a whole bunch of alien species have been using our earthly pop music without permission, and now owe us (literally) tons of money for massive copyright violation.

However, some species, not keen on the idea of their galactic-scale debt, have decided it'd be easier if the people they owed all this money to -- namely, humanity -- simply ceased to exist. Nick has a very short time to do a very big job: keep humanity from being snuffed out.

If you're familiar with Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series, you'll know what to expect here: humour based on wordplay and character (the aliens picked Nick because they think he's the Nick Carter who used to be in the Backstreet Boys), lots of witty dialogue, and a goofy story. Funny science fiction is tricky to do (a lot of writers try it and fail), but Reid makes it look easy.

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It was nearly 45 years ago that actress Sharon Tate was murdered by the followers of Charles Manson. Restless Souls (HarperCollins, 380 pages, $19), by Alisa Statman and Brie Tate, Sharon's niece, is a moving and haunting collection of autobiographical fragments, interviews and memories of the Tate family.

This isn't your typical true-crime book. There's no mystery here: the identities of Tate's killers are well known, and have been for decades. Instead, the book explores the impact a tragedy like this can have on the victim's family.

Sharon's father, for example, become intimately involved in the police investigation, and his unpublished memoir is a major component of the book. This is an intimate, almost painfully honest story of a murder and its aftermath.

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Nocturnal (Broadway, 568 pages, $17), by San Francisco's Scott Sigler, is one scary horror novel. If you know Sigler's previous novels, like Infected or Ancestor, you know he likes to take believable characters and plunk them down in unbelievable situations.

Here, San Francisco cop Bryan Clauser is looking into a series of murders when he begins to have dreams that are eerily similar to killings that haven't happened yet (but do happen, very soon after).

Bryan soon discovers that the victims have a connection to a young boy (whose own imagination, too, blurs the line between fantasy and reality), and that the murders are part of an ancient war between good and evil that could spell the end of humanity.

Only Bryan can stop the slayings -- if he doesn't lose his grip on his own sanity first. This is another excellent and genuinely scary story from a writer who, for some reason, isn't nearly as well known as he ought to be.

Halifax freelance writer David Pitt's column appears the first weekend of the month.


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 4, 2013 J7

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