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The Scene of the Crime: Four Mysteries in Ominous Locales

Category: Art & Culture,Books

As far as I’m concerned, Joe Ide can’t write them fast enough. His unorthodox hero, Isaiah (IQ) Quintabe, happily met again in WRECKED (Mulholland, $27), is a brainy private eye from Los Angeles who helps his neighbors deal with the usual neighborhood problems: “store thefts, break-ins, lost children, wife-beaters, bullies and con men.” For his services, he’s usually paid in casseroles, cookies and home repairs; Louella Barnes even settled her bill by knitting him a reindeer sweater. But that sort of trade-off looks to change when a painter named Grace Monarova walks into his life, along with the prospect of bona fide, negotiable cash in order to find her mother. But the money seems less important than what else might be on offer: the sort of serious love interest that was missing from his first two cases.

Unfortunately, like IQ’s deadbeat clients, Grace tries to barter, paying him with his choice of a painting — although the poor guy is so smitten, he might have settled for a peanut butter sandwich. Despite being lovestruck, IQ is professional enough to realize that Grace isn’t telling him everything, which makes the investigation a lot harder than it needs to be. Just the same, he’s floored when a simple missing persons case leads to a vengeance drama involving an electric cattle prod with enough volts “to knock a steer sideways” and a savage beating that has him hanging tough but eventually screaming for mercy. “The only thing holding him together was the thought of the crew working on Grace. Beating her, assaulting her, breaking her fingers, breaking her art.”

A prologue featuring a group of former guards from the American military prison at Abu Ghraib (where they received “no instructions, regulations, limits, guidelines or supervision”) provides a harrowing back story that explains why IQ is so hard-boiled. His innate sweetness in the face of such mad-dog cruelty is more of a mystery, one we’ll look forward to puzzling out in his next adventure.

John Sandford’s madly entertaining Virgil Flowers mysteries are more fun than a greased-pig-wrestling contest. The plots are outlandish; the characters peculiar; and the best bits of dialogue are largely unprintable. So it is with HOLY GHOST (Putnam, $29), which is set in Wheatfield, Minn., a worn-out town of 650 weary souls who elected Wardell Holland mayor on the basis of his pitifully honest campaign slogan: “I’ll Do What I Can.” But nothing less than a miracle could put this hamlet back on its feet. Happily, a miracle is exactly what it gets when apparitions of the Blessed Virgin at St. Mary’s Catholic Church bring in hordes of coin-jingling believers to patronize the local stores, including the mayor’s own establishment, “Skinner & Holland, Eats & Souvenirs.” But just when commerce begins to perk up, a sniper starts taking random potshots at visitors and residents alike.

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