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A case for Sherlock Holmes' protege.

Let's start off with a riff on legendary detective Sherlock Holmes: H.B. Lyle's handsomely crafted The Irregular (Quercus, $26.99, 288 pages, ISBN 9781681440279). Wiggins is as close to Holmes' polar opposite as humanly possible--illdressed, ill-coiffed, uncultured, truculent and a rough-and-tumble street brawler--but he's a magna cum laude graduate of the vaunted Baker Street Irregulars, a group of street urchins who have helped the razor-sharp Holmes solve some of his most baffling mysteries over the years. When Wiggins is recruited by Holmes' longtime friend Vernon Kell, head of counterintelligence in Victorian England, to look into the murder of one of his agents, Wiggins initially spurns the offer of employment. But when his policeman friend is killed during a botched robbery, Wiggins relents and accepts the assignment, figuring that it will give him license to investigate his friend's death on the down-low. The villains here are world class, with German munitions giants, Russian anarchists and a couple of rather unexpected conspirators as well. Lyle achieves a nice blend of history and mystery, with cameo appearances by such fictional and real-life luminaries as the aforementioned Holmes and Winston Churchill, to name but a couple.


Another canny detective pursues her craft in Alexander McCall Smith's latest No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency novel, The House of Unexpected Sisters (Pantheon, $25.95, 240 pages, ISBN 9781101871379). Botswana-based Precious Ramotswe, assisted by Grace Makutsi and a staff of helpers more exuberant than talented, sets out to solve her latest case: the mystery of the seemingly unwarranted dismissal of a young woman from her job at an office furniture store. She was reported to have been rude to a customer, but the truth quickly begins to seem more convoluted. Meanwhile, another more personal sort of mystery appears on the Ramotswe doorstep, offering the distinct possibility that Precious has an older sister, product of her late father's illicit affair. Precious and her family quickly begin to feel like comfy old friends, and even if the mysteries are not all that mysterious, they do have the feel of real life about them, and that is a major plus.


It is unusual to see a mystery set in Botswana, but I believe it's unprecedented to find two mysteries set in Botswana published in the same month! Michael Stanley's Dying to Live (Minotaur, $27.99, 336 pages, ISBN 9781250070906) paints an entirely more lethal picture of the country, however, with Detective David "Kubu" Bengu appearing for his sixth time in this well-received series. This time, Kubu (whose name means "hippopotamus "in Setswana, his native tongue) is investigating the death of a Bushman and the subsequent theft of the corpse. And speaking of the corpse, it yielded some puzzling anomalies to the medical investigator--internal organs whose apparent age belied that of the external parts of the body by several decades. As in other police departments around the world, several cases are being investigated at any given time, and Kubu finds himself being pulled this way and that. But what he does best is tug at loose strings to see what happens, and in doing so, he finds some unsetding (but highly interesting) possible connections between his cases. I've read all the books in this series, and Dying to Live is hands-down the best of the bunch to date.


Ken Bruen is no stranger to the Top Pick spot in this Whodunit column. The Irish crime novelist is back with number 13 in his Jack Taylor series, The Ghosts of Galway (Mysterious Press, $25, 336 pages, ISBN 9780802127334). Bruen's hard-boiled protagonist is ex-cop (by virtue of disgrace) Jack Taylor, and he's seen more than his share of hard knocks--although it has to be said that he brought a lot of it on himself. A hardcore blackout drunk? Check. Profane in word and spirit? Check. But to his credit, Jack is trying to chill out and lead a more peaceful existence these days. He has taken a dull job as a security guard working the night shift, and he even has a dog now. But it is not long before he finds himself with an unusual (perhaps dangerous) but highly lucrative assignment from his new boss: the retrieval of a heretical tome known as The Red Book. It's thought to be in the hands of a renegade priest who fled the Vatican and is currently hiding out in Galway. As usual in Bruen's novels, black humor abounds in this story, as does irreligious (some might even say sacrilegious) commentary, violence, bitterness, relationship angst and self-loathing characters. For all that, though, Jack Taylor is easily one of the most compelling protagonists in modern crime fiction, and you would be doing yourself a major favor by starting at the beginning of Bruen's series and working your way through all 13 installments.

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Title Annotation:WHODUNIT; "The Irregular," "The House of Unexpected Sisters," "Dying to Live" and "The Ghosts of Galway"
Author:Tierney, Bruce
Article Type:Book review
Date:Nov 1, 2017
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