Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

SUSPENSE: Shrier in hot pursuit of three-peat

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For Howard Shrier, it's fourth-time lucky with his latest Jonah Geller case, Miss Montreal (Vintage, 288 pages, $20).

Not that the Toronto journo hasn't had his share of good fortune -- his scrappy, Jewish, homegrown PI's 2008 debut, Buffalo Jump, won the Crime Writers of Canada award for best first novel, while the sequel, High Chicago, was named 2009's best Canadian crime novel. Last year's Boston Cream was also well-received.

Although the churlish might have once regarded these accolades as premature, excessive or a tad parochial, such caveats hold no merit now. This time, Shrier has built his own luck with a more compelling tale, more cohesively told, with admirable pacing, richer characterization and solid editing.

Perhaps it's a case of repatriating the series. The first three books were consecutively set in Buffalo, Chicago and Boston, perhaps to encourage U.S. sales. This one takes Geller and his gun-toting pal, Dante Ryan, to Shrier's native Montreal on a hunt for the murderer of an acclaimed local newspaper columnist, once a childhood friend.

It's a change vastly for the better. That city's hectic vibrancy, ethnic tensions and political shenanigans are well-captured and should translate exotically south of the border.

Still, it's Geller's perilous and hilarious exploits with ex-contract killer Ryan (surely one of the more inventive rich crime-lit pairings) that muscles this tale along. The explosive Ryan's near-homicidal struggle with the city's traffic mayhem is, alone, worth the price of admission.

But, beyond all else, this is a tale of tragic love and fateful choices: Serendipity, the path untaken, lost opportunities -- call it what you will -- that spawn multi-generational hatreds.

Go, discover Geller. Because Shrier is in hot pursuit of a best-novel three-peat.

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Scandinavian writers just love chipping away at the cracks in the facade of their cradle-to-grave social democracies. Jussi Adler-Olsen is no exception -- he just doesn't bore us to tears in the process.

The first two Department Q novels by Denmark's top-selling crimewriter saw reluctant Copenhagen detective Carl Mørck goaded by his mysteriously industrious Syrian assistant Assad and prickly researcher Rose into solving abduction and murder cold-cases involving Crime in High Places. The third, A Conspiracy of Faith, (Dutton, 512 pages, $29), assails the veiled hypocrisies of fundamentalist religious cultures.

But Adler-Olsen never forgets that he is first and foremost a storyteller. Far from overbearing, his critiques are woven seamlessly into the fabric of gut-wrenching psychological thrillers, in this case a race to save the latest victims of a serial killer-kidnapper who has preyed on the children of isolated religious sects for two decades.

While the tale is as twisty, complex and edge-of-the-seat suspenseful as its predecessors, the author's true forte is his raw and empathic portraiture of victims and villains alike, captured in chilling vignettes and alternating viewpoints. In this parade, Mørck, whose native curiosity barely outweighs his laziness, is merely the frayed thread that unites the fabric.

-- -- --

Ardent research can, in practice, be a blessing or a curse for writers. Fascinating though it may be, a flood of background (in this case, historical) can get in the way of basic storytelling essentials like characterization and plot cohesion. Unfortunately, The Book of Stolen Tales (Penguin, 432 pages, $26), the second in Toronto author D.J. McIntosh's Mesopotamian Trilogy of "antiquities thrillers" starring New York art dealer John Madison, is a prime example of just that.

-- -- --

Much could, and will, be said about Walter Mosley's gritty new Easy Rawlins PI adventure, Little Green (Doubleday, 304 pages, $30), set in racially charged 1960s-era L.A. Likely too much. So, just this: Mosley is the true, hard-boiled heir to Chandler, Macdonald, Gardner, Latimer and Hammett. If you count yourself a crime aficionado, it's simply a must-read.

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

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 8, 2013 G7

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