Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Pierce’s Picks: “Masaryk Station”

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

Masaryk Station, by David Downing (Soho Crime):
With this sixth installment in his morally complex historical series (following Postdam Station and Lehrter Station), British author Downing is apparently closing out the adventures of John Russell, a well-traveled ­Anglo-American journalist (and onetime communist) who has become caught up in the rife disillusionment and redundant horrors of the Second World War. The series began with 2007’s Zoo Station (set at the end of 1938), and each successive entry has taken its name from a railway depot in Berlin, Germany. Masaryk Station finds Russell in Berlin in 1948, after the war’s conclusion, still working as a double agent for both the USSR’s notorious NKVD and America’s recently launched Central Intelligence Agency, and hoping he can extricate himself from both camps before either discovers his activities. But the ruined former Nazi capital is a city divided between occupying powers, where spies proliferate at the dawning of the Cold War. Worse, there’s talk of Western forces abandoning the city and leaving it prey to Soviet soldiers, who have a long reputation for brutality. Amid these tensions, Russell and his Russian liaison, Shchepkin, chase after one last bit of intelligence that may change the direction of the Cold War--and help answers questions that have plagued Russell’s mind throughout this series. Author Downing works hard, sometimes too hard, to present his period atmospherics, but his understanding of mid-20th-century history and politics is expert. Although Masaryk marks the end of this particular series, he’ll be launching a second one in April 2014 with the U.S. publication of Jack of Spies (Soho Crime), set in 1913 and introducing Jack McColl, a Scottish car salesman whose itinerant ways and dexterity with languages make him an espionage asset in the run-up to World War I.

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Also worth looking for is The Heist (Bantam), the opening number in a new series penned jointly by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg. Fans of the movie and novel To Catch a Thief, as well as the classic Robert Wagner TV series, It Takes a Thief, should find much to appreciate in this fast-moving yarn about FBI Special Agent Kate O’Hare, whose lengthy pursuit of handsome con man and crook Nicolas Fox takes an unexpected turn, when Fox convinces the Feebs to offer him a job, working with none other than O’Hare herself. ... Claire DeWitt and the Bohemian Highway (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), Sara Gran’s sprightly follow-up to Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead, find private eye DeWitt struggling to solve the murder of her musician ex-boyfriend, Paul Casablancas, in San Francisco--a mystery that will cause her to review some of her previous cases. ... And though I haven’t yet succeeded in reading an e-book myself, I’m going to at least mention this one, because proceeds from its sales go to charity: Grand Central Noir (Metropolitan Crime). Edited by Terrence P. McCauley, its an anthology of tales set in and around New York’s 110-year-old Grand Central Terminal. Among the contributors are Matt Hilton, Ron Fortier, Jen Conley, and R. Narvaez. The release of this book benefits God’s Love, We Deliver, which McCauley says is “a non-profit here in New York City whose mission is to feed those too sick to feed themselves.”

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