Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Devices and Desires by P.D. James

Protagonist: Adam Dalgliesh
Setting: East Anglia
Rating: 4.4
Dalgliesh's aunt Jane has died, leaving him a windmill on the remote windswept headlands of Larksoken, also home to a nuclear plant. On a visit to the mill to settle her estate, he checks in with local police, who are hunting a serial killer named "The Whistler," a man preying on young women in Norfolk. When the nuclear plant's acting administrator, Hilary Robarts, is killed, in a murder made to look like the Whistler's, Dalgliesh finds himself pulled into the investigation. Robarts was reviled both within and outside the nuclear plant, so there are plenty of suspects.

This is, however, not entirely a Dalgliesh novel (although it is 8th in the series). Chief Insp. Terry Rickards of Norfolk CID is the main investigator, although he does rely on Dalgliesh, with whom he used to work, for advice. There's domestic drama going on in Rickard's life, as well, which makes him even more interesting -- but takes away from any storyline we might have had with Dalgliesh. And when the real killer is revealed, it is neither Rickards nor Dalgliesh who uncovers the truth. This is a well-written, well-plotted whodunnit -- but if you're looking for the usual Dalgliesh investigation, this one isn't it.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

A Nail Through the Heart by Timothy Hallinan

Protagonist: Poke Rafferty
Setting: Bangkok
Rating: 5.0

Poke Rafferty is not a private investigator. He's a travel writer who has written a "Looking for Trouble" series, mainly for men (on everything from how to bribe a cop to where the best bars are). So it's not surprising that trouble is what he finds when Rafferty takes on a P.I. job for an Australian woman, agreeing to search for her missing uncle. The man's live-in housekeeper is also gone, and this leads Rafferty to a rich, domineering woman. She, in turns, throws a lot of money at Rafferty so he can find someone else -- a man who has stolen from her.

What started as a simple investigation eventually leads Rafferty into the dark world of child pornography and a dark period in Cambodia's history, when the Khmer Rouge tortured thousands. This could have been a very bleak story, but it is just the opposite, balanced by Rafferty's personal life.

In this, the first book in the series, we meet Rafferty's girlfriend Rose, a former bar girl/prostitute who is trying to start her own cleaning business, and the street orphan Rafferty hopes to adopt, spunky 8-year-old Miaow. For a while, another street urchin, the troubled Superman, also makes an appearance in their lives.

While the different elements might not seem appealing -- child porn, a prostitute-turned girlfriend, street children with strange names -- it all works somehow. And it works wonderfully. Hallinan is a gifted writer, and his series is one I will definitely continue.