Steven Nester is the host of Poets of the Tabloid Murder, a weekly Internet radio show heard on the Public Radio Exchange (PRX). Nester is also a freelance writer whose work has appeared in The Rap Sheet, Mystery Scene, and Firsts Magazine.
• The Cost of Doing Business, by Jonathan Ashley (280 Steps):
Ashley debuts with an attention-grabbing, character-driven crime novel that’s made supremely readable through the use of a sly, laconic wit and the author’s ability to move his story along economically. When bookseller and low-level dope dealer Jon Catlett suddenly finds himself in the position to make big money in the heroin trade, he must team up with a crooked cop who has the skill and nerve to take Catlett and his slacker pals to the top of the Ohio Valley heroin heap. Catlett’s accidental killing of an annoying trust-fund junkie begins his elevation, along with that of sidekick Paul, from “part-time middle man to straight-up dope kingpin.” Our “hero” faces this change of life with equanimity, focus, and a willingness to be mentored by corrupt cops and mobsters who’ve been to the rodeo many times. Best of all, he discovers he has a knack for the logistics of setting up and implementing drug deals. But Catlett quickly learns the high cost of participating in this business.
• Gangsterland, by Tod Goldberg (Counterpoint):
Mafia hit man Sal Cupertine is on the lam and everybody is looking for him. Sold to the “Kosher Nostra” in Arizona, he re-emerges as “Rabbi David Cohen.” Sound familiar? It shouldn’t: In Gangsterland, author Tod Goldberg has, within the well-elbowed constraints of the conventional crime narrative envelope, written an exceedingly sage and witty thriller that reveals no chinks in the armor, no narrative lines to nowhere, and with a “look Ma, no hands” ease of invention that would have Elmore Leonard turning over in his grave to see who has taken his place as one of the best writers around.
• One Kick, by Chelsea Cain (Simon & Schuster):
Chelsea Cain has hit one out of the park with One Kick, the first novel in a projected series featuring Kick Lannigan, a young victim of sexual abuse. Kick is drawn here into assisting the mysterious John Bishop (a wealthy former gun dealer working with the FBI) and his even more mysterious masters as they attempt to track down and release other victims of such horrible crimes, and then punish the people responsible. One Kick looks at child porn, co-dependence, and getting justice with a steady eye and an unapologetic humanity that will make readers line up right now for this series’ second installment.
• The Sixth Extinction, by James
Fortified with fact and given energy through a plethora of what-ifs, Rollins’ 10th Sigma Force novel finds a mad scientist in a hidden lair, planning to unleash a globe-destroying weapon of prehistoric origin discovered beneath the ice of Antarctica. Once more, Commander Gray Pierce and his Sigma Force are called upon to save the planet. James Rollins’ creative DNA is clearly linked to that of H.G. Wells and Arthur Conan Doyle, and The Sixth Extinction—with its well fleshed-out disaster plot—might be just the thing to read when you need a break from today’s real-life and mounting ecological worries. Rollins’ nimble mind running wild in the world of fact and fiction is something to behold.
Finally, one true-crime pick …
• Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood, by William J. Mann (Harper):
Hollywood has never been more of a party town than it was back in the 1920s, before the Hays Code kicked in, giving legal weight to moral censorship guidelines. Mann’s Tinseltown puts the ’80s Brat Pack and all other wannabes to shame as he reinvestigates the February 1922 murder of Irish-born American director-actor William Desmond Taylor. There’s plenty of dope, booze, and sex in these pages, as well as desperate starlets, but Mann’s yarn isn’t meant merely to titillate. He gives Taylor’s death a historical perspective as he shows how early Hollywood moguls, together with Wall Street, built a town and a film studio system from scratch. There are surprises here for fans of Hollywood lore, and even more for newcomers to the subject.