The Butcher’s Boy — the professional killer we first met in Thomas Perry’s debut novel back in 1982 — hasn’t lost his extremely sharp edge. In his fourth outing, EDDIE’S BOY (The Mysterious Press, 274 pp., $26), Michael Schaeffer, as he now calls himself, shows how far he has come in the world since his early career as a hit man. (“He’d had a long life for a man in his line of work,” he acknowledges, with some satisfaction.) Schaeffer is living uneventfully with his English wife in Bath when his previous life intrudes with a vengeance. Four armed men have come to kill him, and while their corpses are now safely stowed in a big black sedan, Michael has no idea who sent them. Some mob family must have called for his assassination — but which one?
The story heats up when Schaeffer returns to the States to find out who ordered the hit. Once there, he goes shopping for guns, a task that takes him to New Hampshire because of its lax gun laws. And because he can think of a few dozen crime bosses who would like to kill him, some of them with their own bare hands, he takes a trip down memory lane, too.
At this point, “Eddie’s Boy” picks up a secondary timeline, one that takes Schaeffer back to the days when Eddie Mastrewski, the butcher, was teaching him how to kill. For anyone who loved “The Butcher’s Boy,” these are the best scenes; for new readers, it’s an instructive introduction.
From Eddie, the boy learned the hit man’s first rule, that every job is “like an errand — do it, get paid and go home.” Other lessons to live by reflect Eddie’s personal values: “respect for technique” and, most of all, “concern for mastery,” which is “the reason he was a great butcher and the reason he was a great killer.” Schaeffer still remembers — and follows — Eddie’s basic instructions: “Eyes open. Hit first. Move fast. Stop when he’s dead.” And now, all these years later, the grown-up Butcher’s Boy realizes that “what Eddie had been teaching him was about living.”
Nice weather they’re having in SNOWDRIFT (Soho Crime, 372 pp., $27.95). Helene Tursten’s new police procedural, ably translated by Marlaine Delargy, opens with a blizzard that dumps 18 inches of snow on Gothenburg, Sweden, the home of Detective Inspector Embla Nystrom of the Violent Crimes Unit. Fourteen years ago, a childhood friend, Lollo, vanished — apparently abducted from a nightclub by the three Stavic brothers, all notorious gangsters. Now two of the Stavics have been murdered, once again raising the question of what happened to Lollo.
Tursten’s descriptions of the cold are bone-cracking. “Dense snow smoke whirled across the landscape. … The full force of the wind hit her immediately, making her bend forward. The sharp snowflakes struck her face like tiny needles.” Her characters can be just as chilly, starting with Embla. Aside from being a competitive boxer, she’s an avid hunter who dresses and eats her catch. (Dinners run to wild boar cutlets, smoked moose heart and bunny casserole.) But as Lollo’s old case heats up, Embla’s customary coolness gives way to nightmares, anxiety and more: “She felt as if she had a burning cannonball in her stomach.”
There’s a good old-fashioned mystery at the heart of MURDER IN OLD BOMBAY (Minotaur, 389 pp., $26.99), but Nev March has packed much, much more into her novel, which is set in India in 1892, during the Raj. The wealthy Framji family is quite content living in Bombay under British rule. (“Law and order, you know.”) But the law fails them when Adi Framji’s young wife and his beloved sister fall from the university clock tower and the court preposterously declares their deaths a double suicide. Adi finds a champion in Capt. Jim Agnihotri, an Anglo-Indian officer who’s just been medically discharged from his cavalry regiment.
Jim is an instantly likable character whose good heart and endearing ways make him an ideal narrator. Although his mixed racial heritage leaves him classless (“An Anglo-Indian is rarely welcome” on any social level, Jim tells us), his sleuthing takes him on an utterly enjoyable and picaresque journey through India on which he encounters beggars and brigands, adventure and danger — and finds true romance.
Want to irritate your neighbors? Write a comic mystery about them. That’s what Lynne Truss has done in MURDER BY MILK BOTTLE (Bloomsbury, 302 pp., $27), a ridiculously funny caricature of the seaside town of Brighton. Truss takes some of the sting out of the satire by setting it in 1957, when the English resort town was in its heyday.
Although murder does figure in the story, to be solved by Constable Twitten, the farcical plot turns on the awkwardness of having scheduled the Dairy Festival to coincide with a convention of prominent crime bosses. If anyone can straighten out this mess, it’s Mrs. Groynes, the charlady for the police station and the mastermind of the town’s criminal activities. Even when the story gets carried away by its own cuteness, some wonderful character — Mrs. Groynes, usually — will step in to save the day.
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