Several familiar names - Hillerman, McBain, Rendall - top the
list of this year's best mysteries. Ed McBain earns a mention for
his latest in a seemingly endless array of tense, exciting crime
dramas. "Mischief" (346 pages, Morrow, $20) is another superb
chapter in the 87th precinct saga, complete with those tough urban
cops and the wonderful assortment of McBain suspects.
Next comes the reigning duchess of English crime fiction, the
almost legendary Ruth Rendall. "The Crocodile Bride" (361 pages,
Crown, $20) is a chilling combination of traditional manor-house
suspense and a surreal horror story. Don't read Rendall alone on a
cold winter night.
After a three-year absence, Tony Hillerman's comeback is
welcome news. He reunites the Navajo police duo of Leaphorn and
Chee, vividly portrays the stark beauty and grinding poverty of
Southwestern reservations and provides a tantalizing tribal puzzle
to solve in "Sacred Clowns" (305 pages, Harper Collins, $23).
I suggest a trip to Utah and another misadventure with Moroni
Traveler, an ex-Mormon who drinks, carouses and chases spies and
bad guys. Robert Irvin's "The Great Reminder" (214 pages, St.
Martins, $17.95) is a fine entry in a unique series.
Walter Walker has engineered a most unlikely blend,
professional sports and diabolic homicide. In "The Appearance of
Impropriety" (324 pages, Pocketbooks, $20), Walker provides a
unique look at pro basketball. He describes the effects of enormous
incomes on unsophisticated young men and the subtle temptations
that can corrode former All-Americans.
David Osburn returns with his redoubtable Margaret Barlow, a
delightfully mature lady who inevitably finds herself in the middle
of a homicide investigation. "Murder in the Napa Valley" (174
pages, Simon & Schuster, $19) introduces a stalwart heroine, some
literate observations on operating a vineyard and several astute
tips on the best of the current vintages.
Many critics downplay John Grisham as an overhyped media
creation. I, however, disagree. Grisham's commercial success
shouldn't detract from his record of swiftly paced, exciting
entertainment. "The Client" (442 pages, Doubleday, $23.50) offers a
departure from the Grisham tradition of lawyers as espionage
agents. Instead the attorney is a seemingly mild-mannered family
counselor aligned with a precocious 11-year-old. This unlikely duo
outsmarts a coterie of hoodlums in a triumph of righteous guile
over powerful corruption.
In "Winter Prey" by John Sanford (336 pages, Putnam, $21.95),
Lucas Davenport, a Minneapolis detective, is burned out and decides
to resign and head for sanctuary, a cabin in northern Wisconsin. Of
course, there is no escape even in the wilderness, where Davenport
encounters evil in the form of a serial killer. Sanford's Davenport
has become the classic prototype of crime fiction, an astute
technician with finely tuned intuition.
Robert Parker, as always, lives up to his awesome reputation. …