Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Books: Double Down

Quick takes on new titles from veteran hands.

Thomas Perry’s The Boyfriend (2013) kicks off with a strong chapter depicting an awkward lunch between a trio of former sorority sisters, the most content of whom is lying about her livelihood as a high-priced call girl. When she’s brutally killed, the woman’s heartbroken parents hire private eye Jack Till. Till expects to come up as empty as the LAPD did, but instead stumbles onto several other murders of similar looking escorts across the United States. Till’s attempt to outthink the killer sets up a twist that startles even as it anchors the book firmly in Perry’s wheelhouse. The pattern Till unearths stretches credulity considerably, but Perry commands attention with his otherwise compact plotting, the all-too-plausible history of his villain, and a thorough exploration of how technology has altered the business of prostitution.

The great joy of Loren D. Estleman’s mysteries featuring “film detective” Valentino is learning which piece of obscure cinema history sets the story in motion. In Alive! (2013) it’s a screen test for the role of the monster in Frankenstein. Not Boris Karloff’s, but Bela Lugosi’s disastrous, long-thought-destroyed one. The resurrection of the recovered reels has already claimed the life of Valentino’s fading B-list actor buddy, and puts the archivist on a collision course with a Hollywood heavy who’s not playing a role. The set-up is primarily an excuse to spend time with Valentino and his academic colleague Kyle Broadhead as they revel in the pleasures of yesteryear while navigating the world of today, including an excursion into steampunk subculture. Breezy, inconsequential fun.