Mystery/Thriller Book Reviews

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Hit List by Lawrence Block

William Morrow, 2000.
Hardcover, 296 pages.
ISBN: 0060198338.
Ordering information:

Hit List
by Lawrence Block John Keller lives a normal, single guy's life in New York City. He travels on business, collects stamps, dutifully shows up for jury duty and has the occasional relationship with a most unsuitable woman. But Keller's job is anything but normal; he is an extremely accomplished assassin who accepts his gigs from his broker, the super-efficient Dot. Keller's latest job in St. Louis was really strange; he just had a bad feel about the whole thing. Then, the people who rented his hotel room after he switched rooms are found murdered. The coincidences keep piling up, until it becomes clear to Keller and Dot that the hit man has himself become the target of a rival assassin who is methodically eliminating the competition. Naming the mysterious assassin "Roger", Keller and Dot set out to take out the other hit man.

Lawrence Block is truly one of our writing treasures. Whether he is writing about the gentleman thief and bookseller, Bernie Rhodenbarr, or the spy who never sleeps, Evan Tanner, he always entertains. Hit man John Keller is a complex character who kills for a living, but who strives to be ethical in his daily life. Extremely introspective, Keller is always at his most entertaining when he is musing over some vicissitude of daily life, such as when he wonders how in the world he is ever supposed to "clean his plate" in a diner that boasts a bottomless cup of coffee. (No matter how much coffee he drinks, a waitress is always standing at the ready to refill it.) His neuroses at time have an almost Seinfeldian sense about them: Keller's visit to a psychic (at the suggestion of his current commitment-phobic artist girlfriend) makes him extremely nervous when the psychic notices his "murderer's thumb." And it is the ruthlessly efficient Dot who pulls Keller back down to earth when his ruminations take him too far afield. The dialogue is priceless and Keller is a ruthless charmer. Highly recommended.

--Claire E. White

Honest Doubt by Amanda Cross

Ballantine, December 2000.
Hardcover, 259 pages.
ISBN: 0345440110.
Ordering information:

Honest Doubt
by Amanda Cross In what appears to be a testing of the waters for a new series, Kate Fansler meets up with an ex-lawyer turned private investigator named Estelle "Woody" Woodhaven. Woody is a thirty-something, apparently pretty, p.i. who rides a motorcycle and obsesses constantly about her weight, which is not insubstantial. Woody has been asked to investigate the death of a truly obnoxious Professor of English Literature who was quite the pedant on the subject of his favorite poet, Tennyson, when he wasn't putting down women on a regular basis, both in his department and in his personal life. Professor Charles Haycock suddenly keels over dead at a party in his own home, after drinking from the ghastly Greek liquor known as retsina. Woody asks Kate Fansler to consult on the case and to provide explanations of the machinations of a fractious college department. There are suspects galore, and Woody quickly develops a hero worship of the elegant Kate, and less than pure thoughts about the Denzel Washington look-alike police officer whom Kate's husband has talked into helping Woody with the case.

Woody is about as different from Kate Fansler as it is possible to be. Yet, they are both smart, independent women. Woody is fresh, she's funny and strikingly vulnerable beneath her armor plated exterior. Woody and Kate make a great team, but the show here is all Woody's. We look forward to seeing more of a very intriguing new private investigator.

--Claire E. White

Killing Cassidy by Jeanne M. Dams

Walker and Co., November 2000.
Hardcover, 228 pages.
ISBN: 0802733476.
Ordering information:

Killing Cassidy
by Jeanne M. Dams Amateur sleuth and British resident Dorothy Martin adores her adopted home, and her new husband, ex-Deputy Constable Alan Nesbitt. Dorothy receives a letter from her hometown in Indiana. Her old friend, Kevin Cassidy, has died and left Dorothy a small inheritance which is dependent upon Dorothy returning to Indiana to collect it. So Dorothy and Alan head off for the wilds of Indiana to visit Dorothy's hometown, and perhaps solve a murder. But the homecoming is a little upsetting for Dorothy. Nothing is quite the same as it was years ago, and it looks like a murderer really is stalking the small town. Can Dorothy find the killer before he strikes again?

The always-charming Dorothy Martin is as indefatigable a sleuth as ever, even though she is out of her normal environs: the cozy English village or the cutthroat business world of London. This book concentrates more on the relationship between Dorothy and Alan, and because of that provides some interesting insights into their relationship. Although Indiana isn't England, it certainly has its charms, and fans are sure to enjoy Dorothy's brand of sleuthing, regardless of where she happens to be.

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