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This article was published 10/9/2010 (2840 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Giles Blunt has built a solid reputation and loyal fan base on his John Cardinal policiers set in the small northern Ontario city of Algonquin Bay, a stand-in for his hometown of North Bay.
Blunt's fifth Cardinal outing, Crime Machine (Random House, 304 pages, $32), will neither burnish nor fatally tarnish that standing despite a jagged storyline that bears meagre scrutiny, resembling a mashup of de rigueur crime-fiction scenes and characters.
Gruesome murders — check. Witness on the run — check. Gang of psychos (a survivalist "family" led by a charismatic ex-soldier called Papa) — check.
Troubled cop, mourning his wife's murder — check. Attractive, barely platonic partner — check. Unwise sexual fling followed by penitential visit to wife's grave — double check. Shoot-out with a bit of a twist — check. And on and on.
There's depth to Blunt's crafting of the twisted "family" dynamics governing Papa and his young, damaged followers, with his portrait of Nikki, a 13-year-old child prostitute, particularly well-drawn. But the rest of the cast members seem perfunctory, and Cardinal himself stagnant and opaque. Oddly, for a mature series, even Algonquin Bay seems buried in snowy anonymity.
Blunt stretched mightily with 2008's poignant standalone, No Such Creature. Last year's followup, Breaking Lorca, was much less successful, a view perhaps shared by the author given its curious omission from his website bibliography.
Still, with much to his credit, it's to be hoped that Blunt's tepid return to the safe haven of Cardinal crime is merely fan-friendly and mercenary in nature, not a permanent backslide from innovation.
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Since 1981's celebrated Gorky Park, Martin Cruz Smith has paced Russia's explosive near-history with his groundbreaking Arkady Renko series, weaving gritty crime and grittier commentary through the acerbic lens of his jaded Moscow investigator.
Now, as Putin's minions of state greed grapple with capitalism run amok and the obscene wealth of harried oligarchs rubs shoulders with the ruthless squalour of its myriad casualties, two sinister tales converge. In Komsomol Square, where rail lines siphon millions through Three Stations (Simon & Schuster, 243 pages, $30), a young woman's body is discovered just as 15-year-old Maya, fleeing forced rural prostitution, searches frantically for her abducted baby.
Sidelined and then suspended, Renko's battered, relentless Don Quixote and his vodka-fuelled Sancho, Sgt. Orlov, pursue killers and kidnappers no one but they believe exist, in a surreal, near-farcical Russia turned "upside down" by casual corruption and exploitation. It's a place where, given the rising price of vodka, life may indeed be the cheapest commodity.
Smith animates Moscow in crisp, unsentimental, economical prose, populating it with uniformly visceral characters, from feral street gangs to more feral billionaires. To this, he adds an unaffected moral weight that is vanishingly rare in the genre.
A superior work in all respects. Cervantes would be pleased.
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Crashed planes, blackouts, tit-for-tat assassinations — all perpetrated by two warring factions of a mathematical cult? That's the dubious premise of The Thousand (Knopf, 352 pages, $28), one briskly overcome in this deftly original conspiracy thriller by Chicago author Kevin Guilfoyle.
The murder of a famed Chicago composer and rumours of a missing magnum opus, a musical unified theory of sorts, ignite powerful forces bent on suppressing or exploiting the age-old secrets of Pythagoras.
Flash forward a decade to the near future, and the composer's waifish daughter, Nada Gold, is employing the enhanced senses provided by a banned implant to clean up in Las Vegas. Then a strange Chicago artist seems to be painting a huge mosaic of the end of the world, tile by tile, and someone wants Nada dead.
Preposterous? Sure, but Guilfoyle pulls it off with roller-coaster pacing and cracking good characters, particularly the prescient, tortured, vulnerable Nada, who gives Lisbeth Salander a run for haute female warrior of the year.
John Sullivan is editor of the Free Press Autos, Homes and Travel sections and specialty websites. His column runs on the second weekend of the month.