Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Another end-of-the-year roundup. The New York Times recently named their "Notable Books of 2003" including several crime fiction books:

THE BABES IN THE WOOD. By Ruth Rendell. (Crown, $25.) Supple prose, intricate plotting and an ominous atmosphere draw us into this disquieting case of Chief Inspector Wexford, involving two teenagers who disappear during ferocious rainstorms that flood Kingsmarkham and drench the story with intimations of nature's dark forces raging out of control. (Mystery Ink's review)

DONE FOR A DIME. By David Corbett. (Ballantine, $24.95.) The death of an old jazz musician, the axman for legends like Bobby Blue Bland and King Curtis, sounds the blue note of this dazzling novel, narrated in the blunt and vigorous idiom of California noir but full of compassion for marginal people whose rights are trampled upon by power brokers.

FEAR ITSELF. By Walter Mosley. (Little, Brown, $24.95.) Paris Minton, the lily-livered bookstore owner who wouldn't last a minute on the rough streets of Los Angeles without his deadly friend, Fearless Jones, invites trouble by trying to help a frantic mother locate the runaway father of her child, in a noir tale driven by its high-stepping, fast-talking characters. (Mystery Ink's review)

HEX. By Maggie Estep. (Three Rivers, paper, $14.) Ruby Murphy, the Coney Island drifter whose free spirit accounts for the ravishing originality of this idiosyncratic first mystery, falls for a perfect stranger's sob story and goes undercover as a stablehand at Belmont Park to keep tabs on a stable groom with sexy eyes and a mysterious past.

MAISIE DOBBS. By Jacqueline Winspear. (Soho, $24.) The resourceful heroine of this haunting first novel applies her experiences as a battlefield nurse in World War I to her new career as a private investigator, scandalizing society but offering a humane psychological approach to a harrowing case involving physically and mentally shattered war veterans.

RESURRECTION MEN. By Ian Rankin. (Little, Brown, $19.95.) It could just be John Rebus's paranoia kicking in again, but the abrasive Edinburgh cop suspects he is under internal surveillance when he is taken off a murder investigation for remedial training at the Scottish Police College, along with five other officers in need of an attitude overhaul. (Mystery Ink's review)

SOUL CIRCUS. By George P. Pelecanos. (Little, Brown, $24.95.) Fascinated with the way crime actually works, Pelecanos takes apart the gun trade like an urban anthropologist, fitting the pieces into the thriving drug industry and gang culture of a Washington neighborhood where enterprising criminals work hard to make a dishonest living. (Mystery Ink's review)

A nice selection, including a couple that showed up on my list, too. Cheers again to our friend David Corbett, and to George as well!