Saturday, June 25, 2011

There are dead bodies galore and so much more in a pair of recent crime novels set on the East Coast. Each book features a flawed major character who discovers a body and valiantly tries to figure out what’s going on. If you like complicated plots or unpredictable endings, you’re in for a real treat.

“Long Gone” by Alafair Burke (Harper, $24.99) is an intriguing stand-alone crime novel by the popular author of the Ellie Hatcher and Samantha Kincaid mysteries.

The carefully crafted tale of death and deceit is due out Tuesday; it showcases 37-year old Alice Humphrey, who’s been unemployed for months. Alice is hired for a dream job, managing a trendy new art gallery in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District.

Her father was a famous film director with a wandering eye; Alice is trying to distance herself from his financial support.

She’s having a great time at the gallery until the morning after its controversial opening. She arrives early to discover the location stripped completely bare; the dead body of Drew Campbell, the eccentric man who hired her, is lying on the floor.

This nifty, multi-layered page-turner gets considerably more complex as the author slowly increases the tension level. Burke deftly adds an additional layer of mystery as a search for a missing teenager complicates matters.

There’s so many different plot twists, it may be best to keep a scorecard to follow all of the intricacies; the body count rises and there’s an abundance of possible suspects and conspirators.
“Purgatory Chasm” by Steve Ulfelder (St. Martin’s Press, $23.99) is a super-charged debut crime novel. It introduces Conway Sax, a former NASCAR auto mechanic now living in Massachusetts.

A recovering alcoholic, Conway feels honor-bound to help Tander Phigg, a fellow AA member who’s been essential to his sobriety. Tander’s trying to recover an old Mercedes that he left at a mechanic for repairs. After an unpleasant encounter, Conway goes to visit Tander and discovers his dead body.

Because he’s served time, Conway knows he’ll be considered a suspect; he wants to find the real killer and get the classic car back.

Conway, a likeable blue-collar anti-hero, faces more challenges upon the re-emergence of “Fast Freddie”, his long-estranged father. This violent, action-paced tale roars along at an exceptionally fast pace, complete with warning flags and a plot full of treacherous hairpin-turns.

Ray Walsh, owner of East Lansing’s Curious Book Shop, has reviewed crime novels and noir thrillers regularly since 1987. This review was originally published by the Lansing State Journal on June 19, 2011.

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