Fiddle Game, Richard Thompson—Saw Thompson on a Bouchercon panel discussing cons and swindles. Engaging fellow, good sense of humor, and the right tongue-in-cheek attitude about con games in general. The book isn’t quite what I expected: it was better. The fiddle con in question relates to a bail bond scheme, and who the bad guys are is in doubt for most of the book. The cast is fun and varied, especially a demented prophet who’s not as off as he appears, and never misses an opportunity to turn a buck himself. Thompson keeps things unpredictable but plausible and delivers a very entertaining read. I’ll look for his next book, which is due out soon, if it hasn’t hit already.
Johnny Porno, Charlie Stella—This is a kickass book. Stella is writing what most publishers say they won’t buy—books about Italian mobs—so well you have to wonder why the hell people won’t buy them. Set in the early 70s, Johnny Porno examines what happens when a divorced father gets down on his luck and has to take a job as a runner for the local mob to make ends meet. His ex-wife, her boyfriend, and another mobster all have it in for him, and the cops can’t barely tell which side each of them is on. The characters would make Elmore Leonard proud, and the dialog has elements of George V. Higgins. First-class stuff. (A more detailed review and interview with the author are available at New Mystery Reader.)
First Drop, Zoe Sharp—Sharp’s first Charlie Fox novel makes it easy to see why she was asked to write more. Fox is an excellent female protagonist: feminine, tough enough to do the job, and smart enough to know when she’s in over her head. She doesn’t wait around for divine intervention or a big, strong, man to save her, but knows enough to get help when she needs it. What starts out as a simple job of keeping an eye on a teenaged boy turns into a high body count thriller when an attempt is made on his life at an amusement park, and everyone—including Fox’s partner—is missing when they try to go home. I figured out the ultimate bad guy before the end, but much of the fun came from seeing how Fox would put it all together.