This month was painful, and next month will be worse; there were (and are) ‘way too many good books to fit in the print edition of BookPage’s Whodunit column; check it out for yourself at http://www.bookpage.com. April brings books by perennial favorites Walter Mosley, Jonathan Kellerman, C.J. Box, Benjamin Black, and Lisa Scottoline, as well as a fine-looking group of international novels from Norway (K.O. Dahl’s The Last Fix), Scotland (Denise Mina’s Still Midnight) and WWII Russia (Michael White’s Beautiful Assassin). That’s eight books all begging to be included in a four-book space, the proverbial quart trying to fit in the pint pot (or 946ml trying to fit into the 473ml pot, for readers in Canada and Europe), plus several other new offerings I haven’t checked out closely yet. So keep an eye out in these parts for the ones that don’t fit in the print edition; it promises to be a bumper crop.
First up: Bestselling author Michael Palmer, a personal favorite of former president Bill Clinton, offers up The Last Surgeon, a truly diabolical tale of a professional assassin in the employ of a shady quasi-governmental organization known as Jericho. The killer makes contact with his employer via eBay, of all places, using his bid amount to convey the price of a kill. The hero of the piece (and the aforementioned killer’s nemesis), Dr. Nick Garrity, runs a mobile clinic from the back of an aging RV, tending to the homeless of Washington, DC and its environs. He is an Iraq vet, suffering from PTSD, but on a good day, he is able to keep the demons at bay. Nowadays, he deals with sleep deprivation via an overload of work and his ongoing search for his missing friend Umberto, who disappeared in the wake of a bout with post-Iraq depression. Meanwhile, nurse Gillian Coates has her own set of issues to deal with: her sister Belle was found dead in her bathtub, an apparent suicide, leaving behind a mysterious comic book collection featuring super-hero Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. Gillian does not believe for a moment that her sister killed herself, and she is convinced that the comic books, which were well outside Belle’s normal area of reading interest, hold the key to her death. Soon, Garrity’s and Coates’s paths will cross, and their lives will connect in ways neither could have seen coming (although the reader will have no trouble whatsoever predicting at least one sort of connection…). Nick and Gillian are both well-drawn characters, as are the supporting cast members, and the killer, Koller, is a piece of work. At times the prose can be a bit gushy (“Damn you, McCandliss, he barely kept from hollering out, why tonight?” Note: the italics are from the author, not added by me.), but all in all, the tension level remains high, and the tale advances speedily toward its denouement in true time honored page-turner fashion.