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Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

SUSPENSE: Cast aside worries with bloody mayhem

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Ah, the summer read -- nothing quite like it. Cast aside your workaday worries and grab these for the beach or cottage. Or not.

The Watchers, by Jon Steele (Blue Rider, 592 pages, $29: A man-child who calls the hour from Lausanne Cathedral's belltower, a high-priced hooker and an amnesiac PI who can't remember who hired him to find a former Olympian with proof of a new, undetectable performance-enhancing drug.

You might expect the debut novel by a celebrated war-zone documentarian to be bloody, and the murders here are indeed gruesome. But Steele has channelled the insights gleaned from decades of witnessing "the slaughter of innocents" into an enigmatic, darkly spiritual and superbly crafted parable of good and evil on a grand scale.

The 500, by Matthew Quirk (Reagan Arthur, 336 pages, $29): A Grisham-esque summer blockbuster with "coming soon to a theatre near you" written all over it.

A neophyte Harvard Law grad from the wrong side of the tracks is recruited by the Very Bad Man who runs a Washington firm of high-end arm-twisters and dirty-tricksters who fix things for "the 500" poobahs who really run the country. Of course, the gritty kid is soon on the run after stumbling on secrets involving a Supreme Court justice, Serbian war criminals and murder most foul.

It's all very silly, but sassy, sharp and spellbinding at that. A perfect put-your-brain-on-neutral beach read.

Stray Bullets, by Robert Rotenberg (Touchstone, 304 pages, $30): The Toronto criminal attorney's third cops-and-lawyers case offers a promisingly murky scenario: gunplay by three low-lifes leaves an innocent child dead outside a downtown Tim Hortons. But Rotenberg spills way too much ink on ponderous courtroom minutia and not nearly enough forging the kind of twisty whodunit wrapped in memorable personalities and Hogtown flavour that propelled his earlier efforts. A disappointing and surprising dud.

Hush Money, by Chuck Greaves (Minotaur, 336 pages, $29): Yet another debut by a former trial lawyer (L.A. this time) starring another smart-mouthed, bad-boy attorney, but Jack MacTaggart's coming-out party is a sexy, funny, rollicking good show from start to finish. Murder, blackmail and secret drug experiments among the horsey set -- what's not to like?

Never Play Another Man's Game, by Mike Knowles (ECW, 180 pages, $25): Fourth in the Hamilton, Ont., teacher's down-and-dirty, faux-noir series starring roustabout "grinder" Wilson, this time stirring the local mud with an armoured-car heist gone bad. A pointless dumpster-dive into a world of folks you don't want to know and couldn't care less about.

Stolen Prey, by John Sandford (Putnam, 416 pages, $30): The (count 'em) 22nd instalment in the yeoman-like Prey series by our neighbouring state's bestselling ink-slinger finds Minnesota cop Lucas Davenport chasing high-tech thieves and vicious Mexican drug-cartel assassins. That's all you need to know.

Kingdom of Strangers, by Zoë Ferraris (Little, Brown, 368 pages, $29): The bodies of 19 women found in a desert mass-grave provide the vehicle for a fascinating glimpse into the veiled world of Saudi Arabian crime, justice and women by the award-winning San Francisco writer, a former resident of the desert kingdom.

Distracted by the disappearance of his mistress, Jeddah homicide inspector Ibrahim Zahrani recruits Katya, a police lab researcher who must stay under the radar of religious and cultural intolerance to delve into both cases. Not your average serial-killer hunt, this one rings with pathos and authenticity.

Spoiled Rotten, by Mary Jackman (Dundurn, 229 pages, $12): The Toronto resto owner writes harmless cosies about a hapless, meddling but lovable ... Toronto resto owner. Sort of a less al dente cousin to Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone. But Jackman whips this thin and watery tale of a meat supplier's murder and a missing chef into a frothing gumbo of jittery blather and empty-the-pantry digression. Pass the Pepto.

John Sullivan is editor of the Free Press Autos, Homes and Travel sections and specialty websites.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 1, 2012 J9

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