The British do magnificently at novels of intrigue, betrayal, espionage and of valor, traits that reflect their blood-splattered history, and in The Secret Generations (Putnam's: $17.95) author John Gardner, who served a successful stint as one of the authors of the James Bond novels, emerges once more as a master of his craft. If you ration yourself to a single novel of this type per year--got to nurse the old ticker, eh?--this is the one so far. Acute, panoramic, excruciating in its details of devotion to God and country (not necessarily in that order!), this very well could head your must-read list. Is this a rave? Well, yes--seems like it is.
And while I'm on this British kick--I rarely deviate too far from it--I suggest Seeing Red by Roger Ormerod (Scribner's: $12.95). His "Hanging Doll Murder" won acclaim, and now he throws at you what seems a case of the improbable--a man who dares not drive again, but appears from all the evidence to have done just that, thus ending up dead in Wales. This is the typical British whodunit--an instance of the utterly improbable that seems to be a fact, or seems so until the right sleuth digs into the case. That is, to garble "Hamlet" (am I right in this?), "There are stranger things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in your philosophy." Or something like that . . . .
Sometimes a title grabs us mystery fans, as I was grabbed by A Virgin on the Rocks by Michael Butterworth (Doubleday's Crime Club: $12.95). Throw in a job of looting the Louvre--stealing a masterpiece for good old Adolf Hitler--and you've got about as wild a caper as you possibly could wish. This goofiness gets goofier as you plow ahead--zany perhaps, but what the heck! The world's become so damned improbable that almost anything's good for a laugh. So cackle on--enjoy! enjoy!--all of us clowns will exit soon enough.
Antonia Fraser comes on-stage again with her fifth Jemima Shore mystery, Oxford Blood (Norton: $13.95), a Main Selection of the Mystery Guild. What it's all about is the exotic life style of Britain's--and I quote--"golden lads and girls," complete with an undergraduate's murder at Oxford. Oh, naughty, naughty! And wouldn't you know, all this boils over during a rather deadly game of tennis? Way to go, huh? One has to wonder what old William--the Conqueror, I mean--would have thought of such nasty games as these? But fascinating stuff, of course. There'll always be a--what? Oh, England, sure!
Anything for suspense, right? Without it life can be so dull. So start your next week with Casket for a Lying Lady by Richard R. Werry (Dodd, Mead: $14.95). This concerns a naughty widow who has eloped with more than her share of a million bucks in bonds, plus a phony stockbroker, subsequently cashed in--the bonds, I mean--at Naples, Fla. Now that's what you call a nasty situation, but it gets nastier. The less you know now the more you will learn later on will jolt you. But it's fun, good clean hyperactive fun--not Shakespeare, maybe, but the price is right.
Welcome now an old friend, Father Dowling, appearing this time in Rest in Pieces by Ralph McInerny (Vanguard: $12.95), with the usual setting of suburban Chicago. A little mayhem, a spot of murder, a soupcon of deceit--sure-fire ingredients as a cure for whatever ails you--these you can count on while the good father puffs his pipe. This time around there's a Latino tinge, with all the usual motivational twists that satisfy McInerny's fans--and all of it a challenge to you armchair sleuths. I like this guy--he always gives me the illusion that the decent will prevail.
If you've ever wondered what it's like to be a professional killer--you know, hiring out to do a little murder now and then--and been sort of tempted by it as a sure cure for the blahs--better first that you read Roses Are Dead by Loren D. Estleman (Mysterious: $15.95). It's such a competitive business, you're often up all night tracking some jerk--and the pay, frankly, seems contemptible for the risks you run. Oh, don't take my word for it--read this book, which could just as well have been titled "Pity the Poor Assassin as He Makes His Rounds." I felt for the guy. No real home life, no kiddies jouncing on your knee when you get home at night. And the pay ain't all that good, considering, just a few measly thou.
Comes now, as the finale for old Bloody's binge this week, The Deer Leap by Martha Grimes (Little, Brown: $15.95) in which her Richard Jury of Scotland Yard pries into a weird incident at Ashtown Dean, where animals are dying very nastily. Year by year and naughtiness by accumulative horror, Grimes' star ascends in Britain's firmament of terror, alleviated only by the happy thought that all of this is fiction. Were that not so--oh, well! Enough philosophy--read on, enjoy! The evil that men do regrettably will live long after all the great wrong-righters, such as Grimes, have packed it in. Ask not for whom the bell tolls--live, love, laugh and be--what the hell!