February 21, 2013

BOOKS: A mix of mysteries from Britain to North Carolina

BY SALEM MACKNEE

BY SALEM MACKNEE

The News & Observer (MCT)

PROOF OF GUILT

By Charles Todd

William Morrow (343 pages)

This series is being called a natural for "Downton Abbey" fans. Shell-shocked World War I vet Ian Rutledge solves crimes with the aid of his ghostly sidekick, the shade of his second-in-command from the trenches: "Hamish was there, just behind his shoulder, as he always was. Just as they had watched the enemy, night after night at the Front. But now the young Scot was not the trusted corporal intent on keeping men alive and fighting as efficiently as possible. Now he was the voice of guilt and turmoil, the vivid reminder that Rutledge himself was not yet whole."

Rutledge has an unidentified hit-and-run victim on his hands, and two missing wine merchants, neither of whom is the dead man.

His Scotland Yard superior likes a jilted woman for the murder, but Rutledge is looking further back in time at betrayals and madness a generation before.

Lots of great period detail, as always, and characters who ring true even today.

TOUCH & GO

By Lisa Gardner

Dutton (424 pages)

Lisa Gardner brings a fresh twist to the kidnapping genre: An entire family -- father, son, teen daughter -- kidnapped at once.

The family is already in turmoil over Dad's infidelity, and being imprisoned by three scary guys does not help the healing process.

We watch the family try to survive the ordeal and in alternate chapters we watch the police follow clues and gradually zero in on their location.

This one clocks right along and keeps you reading. The surprise ending isn't terribly hard to guess, but it's still fun to watch the police and the family work it out for themselves.

In spite of the slightly gimmicky sleuth -- Breanna Spector is cursed with total recall -- I enjoy this series. Spector's older sister Clea disappeared when they were children, and the deep need to find out what happened to her drives the detective.

She is hired to track down the whereabouts of an Internet soft-porn phenomenon, Lula Belle, who appears only in silhouette and tells stories that are intimate, not in a sexual way but in a highly personal way. Many of her stories seem lifted from Spector's own childhood - details that only she and her sister would know.

After being abruptly un-hired, Spector of course keeps looking on her own. This being a murder mystery, a dead body eventually turns up, but the identity of Lula Belle is the heart of the story.

COLD FEET

By Karen Pullen

Five Star (292 pages)

Here's a new regional author who's worth a look. In Karen Pullen's first mystery novel, SBI agent Stella Lavender tags along to a wedding with her aunt, only to be pressed into professional service when the bride is found dead.

Pullen, who lives in Pittsboro, keeps it light and throws in lots of romance and Southern cooking.

I enjoyed the characters, especially the artsy aunt, Fern, who raised Stella in a decaying farmhouse and taught her to shop Goodwill.

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