Crime fiction: Reviews of the latest from Val McDermid, Peter Lovesey and Adam Brookes

Chicago Tribune

“Insidious Intent” by Val McDermid, Grove Atlantic, 432 pages, $26

British cop Carol Jordan, who with eccentric psychologist Tony Hill forms one of crime fiction's most entertaining duos, is on a downward spiral following a number of deaths for which she holds herself responsible. Having dropped off the force to deal with her drinking and other personal issues, she has been given a fresh start as head of an ambitious new regional policing unit. But with a reporter badgering her about a DUI charge against Carol that was swept under the rug and mounting pressure to catch a serial killer who is preying on single women at weddings, every day brings a new round of despair. Is it possible that Carol and Tony, who now live together as unofficial roommates, have met their match? That this fastidious psycho, who torches the dead bodies of his victims in their cars, is uncatchable?

There's a lot to like about "Insidious Intent," including the sharp characterizations of the murderer and the women he pretends to romance. But there are too many unanswered questions, Carol's team has too easy a time of it achieving breakthroughs in the case, and what is meant to be a bold narrative gambit comes off as a major cop-out. An unnecessary secondary plot involving the cyber-blackmail of an orphaned teenager in the care of a female cop and her partner steals focus from the main story, effectively reducing Tony's presence and making this one of his least interesting appearances.

“Beau Death” by Peter Lovesey, Soho Crime, 416 pages, $27.95

The latest installment in Peter Lovesey's long-running series featuring Chief Inspector Peter Diamond takes an unusual historical turn: The murder victim appears to have been done in more than 250 years years ago. Right before a demolition ball is unleashed on a decrepit flat in a rundown section of Bath, a skeleton is discovered, properly seated in an armchair, in the attic. After it is determined that the clothes on this ex-body are from the 1760s and the white tricorn hat and black wig found next to it match the accoutrements of 18th-century fashion celebrity Richard "Beau" Nash, Diamond thinks he's stumbled onto his most sensational case ever. But he is quickly brought down to earth by his witless boss and chief nemesis, Assistant Chief Constable Georgina Dallymore, who forces the grumpy detective to attend a meeting of the Beau Nash Society — in full period costume. Diamond also has to contend with a prickly pathologist named Waghorn.

It's a mystery that could easily be played for farce, but Lovesey employs his dry, caustic humor to cutting effect (Diamond hums "Dem Bones" on the way to an autopsy). And in the end, murder is a most foul concern for all following the shooting death of a man at a city celebration of Beau and Bath native Jane Austen — one of many layers of cold truth the detective must peel away from fanciful fiction.

The Spy's Daughter” by Adam Brookes, Redhook, 448 pages, $9.99

In this age of hacking and hyper surveillance, spy fiction has been enjoying a resurgence. No one has contributed to that trend more stylishly than Adam Brookes. In this, the third (and last) book in a gripping series, journalist-turned-MI6 spy Philip Mangan comes out of the cold to save a Chinese-American teenager targeted by Beijing for her genius in artificial intelligence.

The girl, Pearl, just wants to lead a normal life, but the Chinese covet her research for its defense programs, and her parents, who she doesn't know are spies (shades of TV's "The Americans"), have promised to deliver her to the motherland. For the bedraggled, burnt-out, beat up Mangan, who has been hiding out in places like Indonesia and Suriname, helping Pearl is a chance to earn back some of the moral ground he has compromised in selling out people close to him. After being fed lies by his London bosses, whom he fears were responsible for the murder of an American agent and the agent's wife, Mangan doesn't know who to trust.

Brookes, a onetime foreign correspondent for the BBC, blends a deep understanding of realpolitik with a sophisticated literary sensibility. For once, comparisons to John le Carre are fully warranted.

Lloyd Sachs, a freelancer, writes regularly about crime fiction for the Tribune.

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