Anthony Rainone is a contributing editor to January Magazine and a (too-infrequent) contributor to The Rap Sheet. He lives in Brooklyn, where he writes screenplays, novels, and stories.
• The Burning Room, by Michael Connelly (Little, Brown):
Harry Bosch is like a fine bourbon: you taste the complexity but you’re not quite sure what produced it. Except in this case, you can go back to all of Connelly’s previous 16 Bosch novels and learn exactly what made him the finest cop protagonist in literature today … and maybe for a lot of tomorrows. In The Burning Room, we find the Los Angeles homicide detective just a year away from retirement, and now teamed up with novice Lucia Soto, or “Lucky Lucy,” who’s become a hero for having shot it out with the armed robbers who subsequently killed her previous partner. Soto has an immediate appeal and depth not seen in a Bosch cohort for some time, not since the days of Jerry Edgar and Kizmin Rider. Bosch and Soto go on to work a 10-year-old cold case involving the murder of a mariachi musician, as well as a decades-old day-care fire that claimed the life of Soto’s childhood friends. No matter how long he’s been at his job, Bosch still manages to piss people off. A cameo appearance here by FBI Agent Rachel Walling is a welcome touch. Connelly does in this novel what he excels at: weaving together two complex cases, upping the tempo and stakes of each one. Bosch and Soto make a dynamic duo and one laments the team’s short shelf life. But at least in these pages, it’s sublime.
• Murder in Pigalle, by Cara Black (Soho Crime):
Cara Black’s Parisian private-eye heroine, Aimée Leduc, is a complicated woman. Five months pregnant with her first child, fashionista Aimée finds herself embroiled in a serial rapist case that becomes personal. The victims are teenage girls, and when the daughter of Leduc’s café-owning friend goes missing, the P.I. races against the clock to find her. Author Black is perhaps writing her finest prose these days, and this particular novel has a gravitas that pulls the reader in--if the sensory-infused writing doesn’t do it first. The topic here is difficult; yet in Black’s hands, it avoids the gut-wrenching for the practical: finding the man responsible. Although this tale is set in 1998, Leduc is the embodiment of the modern woman: keeping her business afloat and her love life thriving, and doing what she does best—solving crimes. Every time I read one of Black’s novels, I want to book a flight to Paris. The only disappointment would be not finding Aimée Leduc in residence there; she’s one of the best things the fictional City of Light has to offer.
Let me also mention one non-fiction book, which was published in hardcover last year, but that I didn’t read until 2014 …
• George Washington’s Secret Six: The Spy Ring That Saved the
American Revolution, by Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger (Sentinel):
Putting aside current bad press regarding the CIA and torture, America would not be the country is it without its spy agencies, and that held especially true during the American Revolution, when the very founding of the country was at risk. After Nathan Hale’s failed attempt at procuring information about attacking British forces and his subsequent hanging, then-General George Washington, commander of the Continental Army, felt personally responsible for putting the inexperienced Hale in harm’s way. Drawing upon his own spy past, he created an intelligence ring so secret that neither he nor its other members knew each other’s identities. Operating from New York City, Long Island, and Connecticut, the Secret Six--five men and one woman--obtained information about ship movements, troop build-ups, and even a plan by Benedict Arnold to surrender West Point, and succeeded in foiling the British consistently. As one of His Majesty’s military officers later remarked, the Americans didn’t outfight the British, they out-spied them. Kilmeade and Yaeger present this fascinating piece of history in a fast-paced narrative with re-created scenes and dialogue that lend the book a thriller-ish tone. It is a fascinating account of six brave American patriots who never wanted their identities or exploits known to the public. They served their country, and that was reward enough. In fact, they did it so well, that they had to be protected from anti-British sentiment after the war was over, because many people thought them British sympathizers. It might help the modern United States for readers to pick up this book and learn the value of espionage, what it’s true purpose is, and the best kind of spies we should aspire to produce.