The Kill List
By Frederick Forsyth, Putnam, 352 pages, $27.95
Frederick Forsyth — who as a writer of thrillers is certainly an old warhorse — creates a protagonist who steps forward to take on a heroic task in the war on terror. He's a Marine officer named Carson whose father, a retired general, has been murdered by one of nearly a dozen assassins who have been inspired to kill by the Internet ravings of a South Asian mullah known as "The Preacher."
After being charged with the task of identifying and hunting down the incendiary, amber-eyed extremist, Carson becomes known mainly as "The Tracker." But don't be fooled. Tracker against Preacher suggests some sort of allegory, and that is not the case in this carefully researched and sharply imagined realistic depiction of American and British fighting men facing an elusive enemy. As we might expect from the writer who gave us the nerve-wracking "The Day of the Jackal," the narrative winds more tightly the more it winds down.
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By Eliot Pattison, Counterpoint, 352 pages, $26
Crime didn't begin in America, but if you believe the circumstances in "Original Death," set in pre-Colonial America, murder certainly got off to a strong start in the New World. In the region made familiar by the novels of James Fenimore Cooper, a lot of killing took place on mostly impromptu battlefields from Albany, N.Y., to the Canadian border and beyond.
In the days of the French and Indian War, as depicted by Eliot Pattison, a fine line existed between war and murder. As the novel opens, the ritual slaughter of nearly a dozen Christian Indians becomes a wartime cause celebre. The main character, exiled Scottish Highlander Duncan McCallum, is blamed by the occupying British forces for the crime. McCallum and his Indian comrade Conawago set out to find the real killer. They elude the British and face off against Indian rivals, the main one being a European-educated near-lunatic Mingo warrior known as The Revelator. If this were a movie, we'd marvel at the set decoration that splendidly evokes the period. The excellent prose narrative goes right to the matter in question, the state of the (pre-Colonial) human heart.
By Julia Keller, Minotaur, 400 pages, $25.99
In this sequel of sorts to Julia Keller's 2012 "A Killing in the Hills," divorced mother of one Bell Elkins once again serves as the main character. Elkins, the head prosecutor for the West Virginia mountain town of Acker's Gap; her small but tremendously loyal staff; and the local sheriff and deputies have their work cut out for them when a jogger notices a car submerged in a stream. Inside lies the body of Lucinda Trimble, the 16-year-old daughter of an eccentric and impoverished Ackers Gap resident. Lucinda's death was no accident. She was strangled and she was pregnant. Suspicion falls on a number of townspeople, including her rich boyfriend, the apparent father of the child; his disdainful parents; and even one of her girlfriends. But that's no surprise in this town where, as Keller puts it, "everything was connected … including — no, especially — the past and the present."
There's also a certain beauty in this hard-scrabble part of the world, especially in spring. On the day of the girl's funeral, for example, Elkins and her co-workers notice that "the morning had started out cold, but grew progressively warmer. That was how spring announced itself in the mountains. Days were chilly at their beginnings, but by noon or thereabouts, everything changed, and temperatures could leap up with giddy abandon."
Most of the time, though, Ackers Gap is more mundane than magical, with Elkins and the sheriff feasting on hamburgers and fries at Ike's, the local coffee shop — a deadly location, as it turns out. But this novel itself is far from being mundane; it is a carefully plotted thriller that is greatly entertaining. The cascade of events that brings it to an end will make you eager for Elkins' next appearance. I'm sure, like the Appalachian spring, she'll be back.
Alan Cheuse is a regular contributor to NPR's "All Things Considered," and his most recent novel is "Song of Slaves in the Desert."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun