Thursday, January 23, 2014

Pierce’s Picks: “The Ways of Evil Men”

A weekly alert for followers of crime, mystery, and thriller fiction.

The Ways of Evil Men, by Leighton Gage (Soho Crime):
When I wrote, in my Kirkus Reviews column last February, about Leighton Gage’s sixth Mario Silva police procedural, Perfect Hatred, it didn’t cross my mind that Gage might not survive to see the release of his seventh book in that “irresistible” Brazil-set series. In fact, though, the author died just five months after I had praised his work. Now comes what Gage’s wife, Eide, declares is his “last book” (squelching the hopes of many readers that he might have left more than a single unpublished novel behind). It drops us amid the plight of the Awanas, a tribe of natives living--well, more precisely, dying--in a remote corner of the Amazon jungle. Thirty-nine members of that tribe have already succumbed to what might be poison, leaving just two Awanas behind, father Amati and his 8-year-old son. Amati believes this extermination was carried out by white men from a neighboring village, but calls by Jade Calmon, the local government tribal relations agent, for an investigation fail in the face of official disinterest. Determined to find justice for the two Awana survivors, Calmon enlists help from a journalist friend as well as from the niece of Silva’s boss. Gage’s middle-aged chief inspector and his team are soon dispatched from Brasilia to solve the case. Unfortunately, nobody in the area wants to help. Racist acrimony toward the Awanas is high, and everyone still living figures the natives were going to die off anyway; why worry about their passing on sooner than expected? But the murder of a white man--and accusations that Amati was behind that deed--compel Silva and his cohorts to accelerate their efforts before more widespread violence erupts. It’s sad to think this is the final Mario Silva tale we’ll enjoy. If you haven’t read the previous half-dozen installments of the series, do yourself a favor and look them up, too.

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Also new this week is Worthy Brown’s Daughter (Harper), a novel of frontier justice by attorney-turned-novelist Phillip Margolin, the Spotted Owl Award-winning author of last year’s Sleight of Hand. Like Margolin’s previous books, this one--which was some 30 years in the making--is a legal thriller. However, its historical plot was inspired by the “heartbreaking” 1853 case, in the Oregon Territory, of a couple of freed slaves who sought the return of their children. In Margolin’s fictionalized account, widowed lawyer Matthew Penny becomes embroiled in the woes of one Worthy Brown, a former slave who needs his assistance in winning back his daughter, a 15-year-old who, in violation of promises made by their former slave master, is now being held captive. What begins as a small, isolated legal matter soon develops a larger, more emotional scope.

READ MORE:Q&A with Phillip Margolin,” by Elise Cooper (Crimespree).

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