Sunday, November 16, 2008

Without Conscience-David Stuart Davies

Without Conscience
David Stuart Davies
St. Martin's, Nov 25 2008, $23.95
ISBN: 0312382103

In 1942 London, Sandra Riley, believing that her husband Walter is cheating on her, hires private investigator Johnny Hawke to scrutinize his activities. Hawke tails his target and quickly learns that Riley is a closet cross-dresser. Hawke continues his surveillance, but before he can ascertain whether the man is also cheating on his spouse or other deviant behavior, Hawke observes Riley’s murder.

Stunned, the grieving Sandra engages Hawke again this time to find the widow-maker who murdered her husband. As Hawke investigates the homicide he witnessed, the cops including the military police conduct a wide spread manhunt for AWOL Harryboy Jenkins, who has killed a vicar and a police officer among his crimes. As the two seemingly divergent cases connect, orphan student Peter Blake flees school and bullies to stay with his hero Hawke, who once saved his life only to be caught at the point of the pending encounter between Hawke and Jenkins.

Although the use of coincidence too easily expedites the convergence of the three males, WITHOUT CONSCIENCE is an enjoyable WWII home front crime thriller. Hawke is terrific as he adapts from surveillance to a whodunit at the same time that maniacal Jenkins is an out of control military deserter. Fans will anticipate their inevitable collision accelerated by Blake’s arrival. David Stuart Davies provides an exiting 1942 mystery (see FORESTS OF THE NIGHT for Hawke’s previous case load).

Harriet Klausner

The Private Patient
P.D. James
Knopf, Nov 19 2008, $25.95
ISBN: 0307270777

In Dorset, forty-seven years old investigative reporter Rhoda Gradwyn arrives at Cheverell Manor, a facility converted into a plastic surgery clinic by renowned surgeon Dr. George Chandler Powell. Rhoda is there for personal reasons to have an ugly facial scar removed. Two days later, Rhoda is dead.

Police Commander Adam Dalgliesh heads the investigation into the homicide of the journalist. He and his unit quickly find suspects at clinic, whose motives seem weird especially if any of them killed a virtual stranger. Confused by what they are learning, Adam also reaches out to the wider more likely fruitful focus of looking at those involved with Gradwyn’s work as she was notorious for figuratively torturing the truth from reluctant individuals and then selling it to the highest bidder. One of the seemingly zillion including the staff at the clinic is a killer, but who took advantage of the opportunity remains far from being resolved even as the inquiry spins further out of control towards a three century plus old execution and a second apparently unrelated murder occurs at the clinic.

As always in the excellent Dalgliesh police procedurals, this great entry (perhaps the best of the long running saga) P.D. James interweaves her take on social issues into a terrific whodunit; nobody does it better than she does. The case is complex as suspects surface more than rabbits multiply while Dalgliesh learns either the clinic staff or the late reporter were interested in the graying of Great Britain, the failing restricted higher education system that exclude late blooming geniuses and immigrants, and the inconvenient truth of humans goring the planet; all cleverly interwoven into the plot. However, make no mistake the superb police investigation is the focus of the storyline as THE PRIVATE PATIENT is a fabulous “locked room” mystery with an endless sea of suspects.

Harriet Klausner