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54 by Wu Ming

Publisher: Harcourt ISBN: 0151013802

Reviewed by Dana King, New Mystery Reader

Reviewing Wu Ming’s 54 is a lot like the old joke where the passenger asks the lost driver if he knows where he’s going. “I don’t even know where I’ve been,” is the driver’s answer. Mine, too.

A lot of things happen in Wu Ming’s 1954, most of them in Italy. Some in Yugoslavia, a little in California, a scene or two in Moscow, and Trieste, which at the time is neither Italy nor Yugoslavia. A son enters Yugoslavia illegally to find his father, Lucky Luciano’s right hand man goes into business for himself, a television gets stolen, and Cary Grant meets Marshal Tito.

That’s right. Cary Grant, Marshal Tito, and Lucky Luciano all appear, alongside cameos by Grace Kelly and Alfred Hitchcock. The television has a semi-consciousness. There are riots, love, death, violence, sports, crime, all overlaid with a patina of politics.

Confused yet? The biggest mystery for most of the book is, “What’s going on?” The main characters aren’t introduced, they evolve from a primordial soup of supporting players larger than my home town. Style changes from chapter to chapter. Characters take over, then disappear for a hundred pages. The effect is a literary Jackson Pollack painting, colors and images thrown on the canvas to see what sticks.

But… somehow, it works. Intricate threads that seem to have nothing in common converge into finely crafted fabric of plot that takes advantage of every idiosyncrasy. Events that seem inevitable in retrospect were barely understandable three pages before they happened. 54 is a writing tour de force, the result of the combined imaginations and talent of five Italian writers who release their names to no one. (“Wu Ming” is Mandarin for “no name;” in effect, “anonymous.”)

Rarely is something so far outside the box wholly successful, and 54 is no exception. There’s a lot of humor, mostly of the droll, smug type. An intellectual could explain to an average Joe why it was funny, but it still wouldn’t make him laugh. (There are a couple of sidesplitting jokes; alas, they are not repeatable here.)

American readers unfamiliar with British slang may have some heavy going, and the words don’t exactly spring off the page. Given the obvious talent shown in so many other areas, that may be something that was lost in translation.

54 won’t be everyone’s glass of grappa. Or shlivovitz., for that matter. It’s long, it’s confusing at times, and it deals with a time and a place unfamiliar to most Americans. The more adventurous among you may enjoy it a lot; those who like to color strictly inside the lines won’t. The world of 54 may be too big to take in through a straightforward reading. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. I can honestly say I’ve never read anything quite like it, and that I’m glad I read it.

 

The Detonators by Chad Millman

Publishers: Little, Brown and Company;  ISBN: 0316734969

Reviewed by Narayan Radhakrishnan, New Mystery Reader

I studied American History for my degree course before turning to law. And I was well aware as to how and why America was called into the Second World War- the Pearl Harbor incident.

However, the events that catapulted America into the First World War were grey- or rather not as clear as the reasons for the 2nd World War. The Black Tom Island explosion was relegated to the status of just a minor incident in history text books. And for the first time, through this non-fiction historical- legal thriller from journalist Chad Millman I came to know about the intensity, the magnitude of the tragedy behind Black Tom explosion and its real importance in World War history. The plot and planning to destruct America…and frankly the plot magnitude beats the 9/11 plot planning any day…. Remember even the Statue of Liberty felt the impact of the saboteur activities.  However, the American government tried to play down the Black Tom island incident. They were of the opinion that “not speaking…saying anything about the same would result in the world soon forgetting about that.” The Government would have succeeded if not for the persistence of three dedicated lawyers John McCloy, Amos Peaslee and Harold Martin who embarked on a mission to know what really happened at Black Tom Island…who was responsible and why it happened. What their investigation…probe reveals is a conspiracy so vast and so intense that touched the very political roots of Germany and even Washington DC itself. A good solid read of the trials and tribulations involved in securing justice. Impeccable research by Chad Millman truly enhances the authoritativeness of the work. A grand, grand read- which every student of history and that of law should read.

 

 

Relentless by Robin Parrish

Publisher: Bethany House ISBN: 0764202219

Reviewed by Donna Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Collin Boyd is no longer Collin Boyd.  He is now Grant Borrows who has a wallet full of $100 bills, a fancy apartment and a Corvette.  He has no idea how or why it happened, but he wants to find out.  The man who has taken his place as Collin has been murdered, his old apartment has been torched, he has kidnapped his sister from the Los Angeles Police with fighting skills he didn't know he had, and now a man on a motor cycle is trying to kill him with a sword.

This is an extraordinary SCI FI thriller that grabs you during the first chapter and keeps you captivated until the very end of the novel.  You meet dozens of characters who have been switched and characters who are determined to ferret them out and eliminate them.  The first in a trilogy, I can hardly wait for the next installment to see how Grant Borrows and his friends progress.

 

 

 

 

What Is Mine by Anne Holt

Publisher: Warner Books ISBN: 0446578029

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

Children are disappearing in Norway but somehow their abductor has managed to leave the police force without a single clue to go on, and when one by one the children are found dead, the fear in every parent's heart only increases, putting that much more pressure on the force to find the madman behind it all.  On the case is Police Inspector Adam Stubo, a man whose own tragic past only serves to further his obsession with the mystery, as well as his determination to find the one remaining missing child who he strongly believes is still alive and being held by her abductor. 

Out of desperation he contacts former FBI profiler Johanne Vik hoping she'll aide in the investigation, her skills at profiling once being highly regarded.  Initially, Johanne hesitates to help as she's busy researching a very old case regarding a man who was possibly wrongly convicted for the rape and murder of a young girl, a man who was later let out of prison under mysterious circumstances, but never cleared of the crime.

Eventually agreeing to help the investigation, Johanne joins in the search, and as she and the detective become more closely entwined personally and professionally, they will be shocked to discover how great a role the tragedies of the past play in the crimes of today.    

Although highly suspenseful and full of surprising thrills, this book's detailing of the crimes against these children may be a bit too discomfiting for some readers, especially parents. But if able to get beyond this, readers will also find that this first outing featuring this new duo of investigators is provocative, compelling, and very intelligently written.  The ending brings it all together superbly, if not a tad bit too neatly,  with more than enough coincidences for complete plausibility.  Nonetheless, this is an exciting first, and we look forward to the next.    

 

 

 

Claire Fontaine Crime Fighter by Tracey Enright

Publisher: St. Martin's Minotaur ISBN: 0312319606

Reviewed by Stephanie Padilla, New Mystery Reader

What happens when you mix a young, rich, and beautiful fashion maven with an older, gruff, and very sloppy ex-cop?  You end up with a new detecting duo that is sure to rouse some chuckles, and hopefully solve some cases.  The trouble starts when Claire Fontaine, bored with the LA social scene and in need of more meaningful excitement, has her rich daddy get her a job assisting PI Henry Bennett.  But Bennett, who has just been hired to solve the case of a murdered young woman who loved to party, is not too happy having to take on this new assistant, and is simply hoping to keep her busy with filing and phones. 

But before you can say Jimmy Choo or Manolo Blahnik, Claire too has dug her heels into the investigation and, surprisingly, actually helping.  And when the young girl's death is tentatively tied to a string of prior killings, this unlikely team goes on a hunt for a killer that will lead them to a world of high society that Claire knows only too well.

The humorous trials and tribulations of these two mismatched detectives make for a decent first outing in what I'm presuming will be an ongoing series. The clash between Claire's apparent frivolity and Henry's weary continence make for some great one-liners, with Enright taking full advantage of this appealing set up with panache.  And the grudging respect and mutual understanding that is slowly forming between the two also provide for a few heartwarming moments that equally delight.  There's plenty of room for this series to grow, and many more chuckles to be had, so give this one a shot as we're sure to be seeing this engaging duo again.