Saturday, November 21, 2009

From The Times
November 21, 2009
The week’s crime fiction: November 21, 2009 Cold to the Touch by Frances Fyfield, Rain Gods by James Lee Burke,Road Dogs by Elmore Leonard
by Marcel Berlins

Seeking isolation, Sarah Fortune — Frances Fyfield’s attractively eccentric heroine lawyer turned very selective hooker (a small clientele of men she really likes) — rents a seaside cottage belonging to her friend Jessica’s mother. Jessica herself stays in London, in a vain and obsessive pursuit of the man she loves and who, she persuades herself against all the evidence, is equally besotted with her.
But there’s another reason, a mysterious one that Sarah cannot discover, why Jessica doesn’t or cannot come home to the village where she spent her youth and where her irascible mother still lives. Then Jessica disappears from e-mail and phone contact, and the worried Sarah finds out more dark facts hidden by the family and the village.
At the hub of the action is butchery, with the vast Smithfield Market in London at one extreme and Sam the local butcher at the other. Fyfield is incapable of writing a description that doesn’t reek with menace and foreboding, or of inventing a family bereft of sinister secrets. This is Fortune’s sixth appearance and her most beguiling.

In Rain Gods, James Lee Burke demonstrates (again) that he can stray from his usual patch, David Robicheaux’s Louisiana, and produce an absorbing novel of depth and intelligence far superior to all but a few of his fellow crime writers. The setting is a sad, seedy town in southern Texas, where Hackberry Holland, a Korean War veteran in his seventies, brooding on his emotionally painful past, has become sheriff. He unearths the bodies of nine murdered Asian prostitutes and is propelled into a whirlpool of violence and evil, at its centre a truly frightening God-driven killer known as Preacher (a little reminiscent of the hitman in Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men). Burke is the most lyrical and poetic of US crime authors, his central characters the most three-dimensional, his atmosphere the most moody.

Road Dogs joyfully unites three characters who have appeared separately in previous Elmore Leonard novels, most prominently Jack Foley, the perpetrator of 127 bank robberies and the hero of Out of Sight (played in the film by George Clooney). Foley is back in prison, sentenced to 30 years (by Judge Maximum Bob, another Leonard regular).
He makes friends (“road dogs” means prison mates who look after each other) with the wealthy Cuban hustler Cundo Rey, who arranges for a smart lawyer to have Foley set free. Rey’s constant fear is that his sexy wife, Dawn Navarro, a fake psychic, would not have remained faithful to him during his own seven-year stint in jail.
It probably wasn’t a good idea to ask Foley to make sure of her chasteness pending Rey’s release. Beyond prison, the wildly witty plot includes a multiplicity of low-life characters, double-crosses, scams, betrayals and dead bodies. Above all, Leonard provides the fizziest and cleverest dialogue in crime fiction. A total delight.

Cold to the Touch by Frances Fyfield (Sphere, £19.99; 242pp) Rain Gods by James Lee Burke (Orion, £18.99; 434pp) Road Dogs by Elmore Leonard (Weidenfeld & Nicolson £18.99; 262pp)

Check out The Times book pages.

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