Sunday, March 31, 2013

Ray's Reviews: Hit Me by Lawrence Block & There Was an Old Woman by Hallie Ephron

If you're looking for some fast, easy mystery reading, here's a quick look at a pair of recent releases that are quite entertaining.

One book showcases a deadly serious killer while the other focuses on a frustrated woman who's trying to solve a puzzling mystery.

"Hit Me" by best-selling, award-winning author Lawrence Block, (Mulholland/Little Brown, $26.99)
is the latest collection of short stories featuring a professional hit man known simply as Keller.

But the contract killer has retired, changed his name, gotten married and is now raising a daughter in New Orleans. He's still a dedicated philatelist, working on specific aspects of his stamp collection.

He has a different job now, but times are tough down south; it's difficult to change his old ways. He accepts a new contract and goes to Dallas to commit the crime, which has deadly, unexpected complications. He faces similar situations with assignments back in New York City, on a West Indies cruise ship and other locations.

If you find it tough to sympathize with the plight of a frustrated, clever contract killer, you may want to turn elsewhere. Or, you may be amazed at Keller's ingenuity.

Block, the popular author of the "Burglar" series and many novels starring Matthew Scudder, is still one of the best crime writers in the business.

"There Was an Old Woman" by Hallie Ephron (William Morrow, $25.99) scheduled for Tuesday release, moves in a different direction, with intensive, sustaining suspense.

It focuses on Evie Ferrante, who gets a call from her sister: their alcoholic mother has been wheeled out of their long-time Bronx bungalow and hospitalized.

It's Evie's turn to share responsibilities; she goes to her mother's home and is dismayed at its state. She's also trying to figure out who supplied her mother with expensive liquor and a new flat-screen TV.

Her mother's neighbor, elderly Mina Yetner, has a few answers but apparently is also having memory problems.

Other neighbors and relatives provide intriguing insights; Evie makes disconcerting discoveries as the tension mounts.

Ephron ratchets up the suspense by using short chapters and strong characterization, deftly capturing the instability and plight of the elderly.

It's a dark, captivating and deliciously creepy tale that's liable to keep you reading all night long.

Ray Walsh, owner of East Lansing's Curious Book Shop, 
has reviewed crime novels and Michigan books regularly since 1987.

Find books by great local authors (and more!)
at the Curious Book Shop, an independent 
book shop in East Lansing, founded in 1969.

Curious Book Shop
307 East Grand River Avenue
East Lansing, Michigan

This review was published by the Lansing State Journal on March 31, 2013.

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