Untimely deaths

In Richard Montanari’s Broken Angels (William Heinemann), whose cover qualifies as the most lurid of the season to date, young women are found dead, dressed in vintage clothes, holding strange objects — one is clutching a tiny bird, which fortunately escapes when police peel back her fingers — and posed along the Schuylkill River outside Philadelphia. Some are mutilated — the feet of the first corpse have been chopped off. At the same time, a vigilante is killing bad guys whose crimes would otherwise go unpunished. And a bereaved husband is after Montanari’s policeman protagonist, Detective Kevin Byrne, whose hesitation is responsible for his wife’s death. It makes one wonder about the City of Brotherly Love.

Peter James used to write horror and fantasy, and while there’s nothing other-worldly in Not Dead Enough (Macmillan), there’s plenty of horror. The body of a wayward wife is found dead in her bed in Brighton, wearing a gas mask and nothing else. Her husband is the obvious suspect, but his alibi is unimpeachable. Meanwhile the husband’s gorgeous young mistress is being stalked by a guy in a tracksuit and hoodie who is deeply into gas masks; a sweet young drug addict is looking for cellphones to trade for a fix; and James’s policeman protagonist, Detective Superintendent Roy Grace, is determined to break the husband’s alibi.

Both Broken Angels and Not Dead Enough are written in short, sharp chapters, suitable for picking up during commercials while watching true crime on the new C&I channel. The same cannot be said for Lucretia Grindle’s The Faces of Angels (Pan). Part Florence travelogue, part thriller, it is longer than it needs to be, but the characters are interesting, and Grindle, like James and Montanari, writes well. A young American woman returns to Florence to study art history a year after the death of her husband, killed saving her from an attacker in the Boboli Gardens. Her lover, an Italian journalist, is covering a series of murders that bear an uncanny resemblance to her own attack. The victims, all young women, are killed in various horrible ways, but the murderer has left objects with the corpses ‒ on two of them, a little bag of seeds. It’s a clue only students of Renaissance art will pick up on.

It is a great relief to turn to Lee Child, whose victims in Bad Luck and Trouble (Bantam Press) are killed in inventive ways, but not by lunatics. In this, his 11th book featuring the Clint Eastwood-type hero Jack Reacher, the surviving members of Reacher’s old United States Army Special Investigating Unit reunite to look into –and avenge — the death of one of their members.

The victim, thrown from a helicopter in chapter one, had set up as a private eye from a tiny office in a strip mall, taking small jobs — not the sort of work that gets one killed in such a spectacular fashion. But the team finds that another former member of the unit has disappeared, and his job sounds far more interesting: security at a plant that makes munitions of all sorts. Child also writes in short, sharp, easy-to-read chapters, and his plotting is intelligent, even if his characters are one-dimensional.


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