by Dietrich Kalteis
Here are three mysteries I’ve read over the past few months, ones that I’d recommend to someone who’s never read one.
First up is Sucker Punch by Canadian writer Marc Strange. It’s the first Joe Grundy mystery in a two book series, published by Dundurn Press in 2007. It was Strange’s first mystery and was shortlisted for the Arthur Ellis Award for best first mystery right out of the gate. Its storyline follows ex-boxer Grundy whose claim to fame is he was once KOd by Evander Holyfield. Now, he’s the security chief at a swank downtown Vancouver hotel. When a guy who just inherited millions checks into the hotel and announces that he’s going to give it all away, then starts passing out hundred dollar tips, Grundy guesses trouble’s on its way. And when the rich guy ends up dead and a large amount of his cash is missing from his hotel room, Grundy sets out to discover who did it. This story gives readers the right mix of plot, pace, interesting characters, told and just the right touch of humor.
You can’t read Sucker Punch without following it up with the sequel Body Blows, released in 2009 and winner of an Edgar Allan Poe Award for best original paperback. Another great mystery. And if you like Marc Strange’s writing as much as I do, there are two more written before his death in 2012. Follow Me Down (2010) and Woman Chased By Crows (2012) make up the Orwell Brennan series, published by ECW Press, and they’re every bit as good as the Joe Grundy stories.
At End of Day was the last novel by George V. Higgins. His career as a prosecutor served him well, getting to know the lowlife crooks of Boston’s underbelly. This one was published in 2000, and the storyline follows a couple of long-time Boston gangsters, McKeach and Cistaro who rat out the Italian mob to the FBI. The trouble is they’re used to agents who look the other way to the crimes that they’ve committed themselves. When a new guy takes over the Organized Crime Unit, they’re not sure if they can trust this guy. In typical Higgins’ fashion, the story is told mostly in dialog. Taking the place of narrative and action, his street lingo is so strong and right on the button that it works as well as it did for his early classics from the seventies like The Friends of Eddie Coyle, The Digger’s Game and Coogan’s Trade.
“So I go in, way outta my way, and, this and that, and say to him, ‘What’s goin’ on? You know? ‘What gives?’ Like, ‘Where’s my fuckin’ money? And he acts like , well, I dunno, like it’’s a big surprise or something, I might be somewhat concerned. He’s onna phone when I go in, talkin’ to some fuckin’ broad, and he’s the one now pissed at me—I’m comin’ in with no appointment—like I’m interruptin’ him. Just what am I doin’ there?
“Well, geez, I mean, what’m I supposed to do? He’s three weeks late. He owes us thirteen thousand bucks and change, plus the nienety underneath. I’m gonna write it off this week and next, ‘til things turn around for him? Who the fuck are these people …”
The Second Girl by David Swinson is another book to add to your reading list. Swinson’s former career as a police detective goes a long way to add authenticity to his writing, and he’s got a great understanding of the workings of police departments as well as how the darker side thinks. The Second Girl’s a solid mix of fast pace and believable characters. The protagonist, Frank Marr has his finger on the pulse of crime in Washington, D.C. A decorated and retired police detective turned private investigator, Marr’s the best in the game; the only problem is he’s also a long-time drug addict whose equally good at hiding his secret. When he accidentally stumbles on a kidnapped teenager in the home of a local drug gang he planned to rob, he finds himself in the spotlight when asked to investigate the disappearance of another girl, possibly connected to the first. The trouble is trying to keep his own secret when he finds himself constantly under the spotlight. The Second Girl is a great start to the Frank Marr series, and the next offering is Crime Song which will be available from Mulholland Books this May.