Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Two-fisted true crime story exciting as any novel
Gangster Squad, the forthcoming film about a team of LAPD detectives who tried to clean up Los Angeles in the 1940s and '50s, is based on a 2008 series of newspaper articles by Los Angeles Times reporter Paul Lieberman. He's written a book, also called Gangster Squad (St. Martin's, 549 pages, $10), and if you're a fan of true crime, you will love it.
Lieberman really gives us the sense that we've stepped back in time.
Seventy-odd years ago, law enforcement was vastly different from today: a rougher style of justice where the good guys often seemed pretty much indistinguishable from the bad guys (there is violence in the book, and not all of it is meted out by the bad guys). This is a two-fisted true story, tough and hard-edged, as exciting as any novel.
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In The Race (Berkley, 494 pages, $11), by the team of Clive Cussler and Justin Scott, it's 1909, the dawn of the age of aviation, and a newspaper publisher is offering $50,000 to the first flyer who can cross the United States in 50 days. Fearing someone is trying to kill one of the flyers, the publisher hires the Van Dorn Detective Agency to protect her from, of all people, her own husband, who's been known to be a little, well, homicidal.
Can Isaac Bell, the agency's chief investigator, find the woman's husband while protecting her at the same time? Bell is a fascinating character who gets more interesting with every book (this is his fourth); comparisons to Sherlock Holmes are easy -- Bell's general appearance, his keen intellect, his use of disguise and subterfuge -- but perhaps not entirely fair.
Cussler, who lives in Connecticut, has created an intriguing character who stands on his own two feet, and not in the shadow of someone else's fictional creation.
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Lord Alexander Hawke, the British naval hero, counter-terrorism operative and descendent of the pirate Blackhawke, returns for another rip-roaring adventure. Phantom (Harper, 655 pages, $12), by Ted Bell, begins with Hawke's desperate attempt to rescue the woman he loves -- a woman believed to be dead -- from her Russian captors. As exciting as it is, that's just prologue to the main story, which involves a fiendishly clever villain who's found a way to cause technological chaos at will.
Facing the threat of mass devastation, Hawke races against time to stop the villain, but he has no idea who -- or what -- he's really up against. Bell, who hails from Florida, has taken a risk in the seventh Hawke novel, creating an antagonist who could have been laughable, if the author weren't so darned talented.
Not to blow any of the author's surprises here, but this is a story the late Michael Crichton might have told, but probably not quite as entertainingly as Bell.
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Skarlet, by Welshman Thomas Emson (Thomas Dunne, 448 pages, $17), is the first instalment in a very interesting horror series. Set in London, England, the story involves an Iraq war veteran, Jake Lawton, who stumbles onto a conspiracy involving an ancient society that's plotting a major comeback.
Jake, who's working as a bouncer at a nightclub, is shocked when several people die after taking a new recreational drug. But this is nothing compared to his horror when the dead begin to rise, and to feed off the living.
Yes, this is a vampire novel, another in an overstuffed genre. But, in Ensom's hands, it's as though the genre were new and full of energy again. It's got a hugely entertaining story (which incorporates not just modern-day vampires, but also ancient Babylon and Alexander the Great, whose death at a relatively young age is given a new explanation), some really nifty characters and a palpable sense of looming apocalypse.
Halifax freelance writer David Pitt's column runs on the first weekend of the month.
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 6, 2012 J9
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