What I'm Reading Now: 12 July 09

In the woods-- Tana French
Wildcard-- Ken McClure (medical thriller)
Gone missing-- Linda Castillo
XO-- Jeffery Deaver
Bad faith-- Robert Tanenbaum

Three kids go to play In the woods near their home in Ireland, as they always do, on a summer afternoon. Late that night, one of them is found, shoes soaked with blood, clinging to a tree. The other two are never seen again... Fast forward twenty-odd years, and that found little boy is grown up, a police officer, and hiding from his past. But then a little girl goes missing from his old hometown, and when she's found, she's dead. Detective Adam Ryan and his partner Cassie Maddox take on the case, and the two stories criss-cross, then intersect with devastating results. As Ryan himself tells us, early on, "I crave truth. And I lie." When these two things meet, life as Ryan knows it is blown apart. French's writing is lyrical, brilliant, and frightening... and truly gripping. I've been known to put down books when it becomes apparent that things will end badly, but with In the woods, I knew that  from the first few pages, and I couldn't stop reading if I wanted to. I immediately requested her next book, which has Cassie as the protagonist, and I may well be re-reading Faithful Place (reviewed here) before her next book comes out at the end of July.

A man on a flight to England from a small African republic dies horribly of what looks like Ebola virus. The outbreak is contained, and the public  and the National Health Service relaxes... until tests show that it's a previously unknown virus, and there are no outbreaks of any such virus in the areas where the victim traveled. Then a second woman dies of the same virus, in another town entirely, who has had no contact with this outbreak. More wildcard outbreaks show up across the United Kingdom, and Steven Dunbar, an investigator with the SciMed bureau, has only a short time to find and isolate the cause of the outbreaks before the world will be overtaken by an epidemic bigger than the Black Death. Wildcard is tightly plotted and written, and McClure doesn't shy away from killing off important characters. It was a good way to spend a few hours, but I'm not sure I'll go hunting for more of his books just yet.

Sheriff Kate Burkholder, excommunicated and formerly Amish, is called in to consult on a series of disappearances of Amish teenagers. Three girls have Gone missing over the last two years, and when one is found dead and another vanishes, Kate struggles to break through the reserve of the Amish families to find out enough about their children to try to find out what happened to them. Again, Castillo's Kate is intriguing, using her background and her baggage to work through both the case and her relationship with investigator John Tomasetti. (Reviews of the previous Linda Castillo titles here, here, and here.)

Kayleigh Towne is riding high in her career as a country singer, but her fame has attracted some highly unwelcome attention, in the form of a fan who believes her form-letter replies to his emails are both coded messages of undying love and desperate pleas for rescue from her entourage. Edwin's attentions are unnerving her, and when the head of her road crew is murdered, Kayleigh's friend Katherine Dance, a CBI agent, offers to help. It quickly becomes clear that whoever or whatever has Kayleigh in his/her sights is very clever, and the easy solutions will be less than useless. As always, Deaver crafts a twisty plot, and just when you think everything's been neatly wrapped up, you realize that there are too many pages left in the book, and that your understanding of what's been going on is about to take a swift and unexpected turn. XO is one of Deaver's better books, and comes with my high recommendations.

Where do you draw the line between freedom of religion and legal responsibility... say, for example, when parents' belief in faith healing conflicts with their child's evident need for medical intervention? Butch Karp, DA for New York City, knows where he draws the line, and has no compunction about charging parents David and Nonie Ellis with reckless manslaughter in the death of their son in Bad faith. The Ellis' spiritual advisor and his followers protest this with vigor, but are they hiding something behind their claims of constitutional rights? The answer, of course, is yes, and Tanenbaum takes you on a wild ride through New York and Memphis, while running a side-plot about terrorists, revenge, and the people who live underground in the subway tunnels. I enjoyed Bad faith, but I think Tanenbaum has fallen a little too much in love with some of his recurring villians and side-stories. The whole Mole People subplot strains my suspension-of-disbelief just a little too much, and, frankly, I'm a little tired of his endless terrorists. I suspect both will be making appearances in subsequent novels-- he does appear to be setting something up-- and I'm not sure I'm interested enough to find out what the denoument will be. I do, however, recommend earlier titles in the series... up to about 2005, with Hoax. That gives you fourteen or fifteen  titles, which is quite reasonable.