We all know Ben Franklin as one of the nation’s earliest Renaissance Men: scientist, printer, writer, businessman, scholar, politician, diplomat. Fireman. In David R. Andresen’s short mystery Murder in a Blue Moon Ben takes a break from his more gentlemanly pursuits, such as chess, to solve a serial murder in Philadelphia.
It’s fall of 1752, the American Experiment still a quarter century from Independence. Constable Geoffrey Hunter turns to his friend over glasses of Madeira to mull the facts of a case involving prostitutes with broken necks and surprised looks on their faces.
The short mystery develops quickly, clues tying the mystery together sparse, the time between each murder so great they go undetected for nearly a decade. The narrative style befits the times. We take our modern P.I. and dial the voice back to the 18th Century. Andresen succeeds at doing this without slowing the yarn or making it stumble:
I’m not known for being a quiet man, but much of my work required discretion and the rest was so much a simple litany of common greed, sin, and sheer folly that I found it best to spare him and me the despair and disgust so many of my duties as Constable entailed.
When our good Constable does unburden his heart of the details of his case, it requires the author of Poor Richard’s Almanac to put this puzzle together.
An imaginative slice of early American life that’s a tad more lurid than average, Murder in a Blue Moon is a quick, entertaining read.
George Kirkham and Leonard Territo pair up to deliver an informative, fast-paced police procedural in Ivory Tower Cop, exploring a serial rape case based on actual events. The thriller digs into half a dozen savage crimes, the latest developments in forensic science, arcane Biblical studies, historical detail from The Third Reich, and Nazism’s reach into the present with a pace and range worthy of Dan Brown.
David Roth is an internationally recognized expert on the behavioral profiling of serial rapists, a professor at the University of Miami, and a widower who lost his wife and son to a drunk driver several years before the events of this story. He’s fast-tracked through the police academy to team up with Miami PD’s special victims unit, headed by an attractive young Cuban-American, Maria Sosa. Stir in romance among the story’s numerous other fine attributes.
Dragons Are Dangerous
Mulridge interrogated the boy, chilled by his flat voice and steady hands. Twenty years in police psychiatry, he’d never met so cold a child.
“You’re a knight?” Mulridge said. “Is that dragon blood on your costume?”
“I’m a knight. Knights kill dragons.”
“Did you know the dragon you killed was your brother?”
“Dragons are dangerous.”
“Did the dragon threaten you? Or attack?”
“It breathed fire. So I killed it.”
“Fire? Out his mouth?”
“The fire came out the wrong end.”
“The wrong end?”
“It lifted its tail and breathed fire at me, so I ran it through with my sword.”
Jonathan Ashley crams a lot into The Cost of Doing Business, from ghetto shootouts with Tec-9s to sociological laments about middle class norms. It’s got elements of the tough-talking hood narrative, and the book is entertaining in places, but ultimately much of the action is muddled by drawn out sentences and the narrator’s distracted observations.
What Ashley does well is provide an inside look at the criminal underworld between Louisville, Kentucky and Cincinnati, Ohio. We get everything from the street-level hood to the big drug capo, from the accidental user-turned-dealer to the strung-out junkie, from the dirty shakedown patrolman to the PD Captain who takes orders from crime bosses rather than the chief of police.
He casts much of his tale on the border between urban decay and seedy gentrification. His part of Louisville is “The best of New York City Bohemia packed into a two mile strip… the tattoo parlors, the coffee shops, and record stores… ethnic joints and five star restaurants…” All this set beside the “Undesirable neighborhoods… where black and white children in hand-me-down underclothes block the middle of the street playing with hula hoops and deflated soccer balls, avoiding whatever horrors their parents perpetuate in the shotgun shacks on either side of the blacktop.”
In this environment narrator Jon Catlett and his manager-cum-buddy Paul pass the time selling used books and hosting yuppies to live music. Here he sets the opening scene, an accidental homicide that sends Catlett’s world crashing down around him.