Best of "93: Detective Stories
Reviewed Jeremy C. Shea, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)
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. …