Summer Reading 2003

Summer Reading 2003: The season's hottest mysteries

Summer Reading 2003

Lean and lyrical as a roadhouse ballad, The Hit, by Jere Hoar (Context, $24.95) set its hooks in me from the first-person prologue and never let go. Think James M. Cain's Double Indemnity set in a small town in the woods of northern Mississippi, which turn out to be an even more dangerous jungle for troubled Vietnam veteran Luke Carr than the killing fields of Southeast Asia. Luke conceives the perfect crime, stealing the art collection of Tom Morris, the richest SOB in town. Then Morris' wife, Kinnerly, enters the mix. She was the sorority bitch who dumped Luke in college; now she wants him to kill her husband. The sex is great, and the plan is foolproof -- the perfect formula for a corkscrew slide into hell... Money for Nothing, by Donald E. Westlake (Mysterious Press, $24.95) is the story of Josh Redmond, an office temp who inexplicably received a $1,000 check in the mail from an obscure federal agency called "US Agent." He assumed it was a mistake but needed the money. Another check arrived every month afterward, and he spent every one of them. Seven years later, he's an advertising executive with a wife and kid, abruptly informed by a stranger that the checks were his pay for being a sleeper agent, but that he is now being activated. His New York apartment is now a safe house, and he's supposed to help Ukrainian agents assassinate a foreign head of state in Yankee Stadium. Westlake is one of the few novelists out there who consistently pulls off such zany, high-concept plots with wit and panache to spare... Land of the Living by Nicci French (Warner Books, $23.95) opens with 50 pages of grunge terror: Abbie Devereaux wakes up tied, tethered, and hooded, unable to see her kidnapper, or even remember how it all happened. He keeps her alive with a thin gruel, promising to kill her soon "like all the others." With a "now-or-never" drumbeat in her ears, Abbie manages a miraculous escape. However, she's unable to provide any real proof behind her story or to reconstruct the gaps in her memory, so the police and doctors don't believe a word of it. Retracing her steps during her recent past, she not only has to find the identity of her captor -- who is simultaneously tracking her -- but her own untidy secrets, as well. This is a gimmicky, manipulative read with a killer ending. A sure-fire summer hit. -- Jesse Sublett

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The Hit, Money for Nothing, Land of the Living, Jere Hoar, Donald Westlake, Nicci French, Context, Mysterious Press, Warner Books

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