Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

SUNDAY BRUNCH | BOOKSHELF

January 18, 1998|MARGO KAUFMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

P. D. James' latest, "A Certain Justice" (Knopf, $25, 364 pages), sucks the reader in right from the dramatic first line: "Murderers do not usually give their victims notice."

Four weeks, four hours and 50 minutes before the end of her life, criminal lawyer Venetia Aldridge of London defends Gary Ashe on charges that he murdered his aunt. Aldridge is a brilliant lawyer but a woman with few to mourn her when she is found stabbed to death.

Into the closed, anachronistic world of the British legal community comes the enigmatic Adam Dalgliesh, a New Scotland Yard commander and published poet. His literary bent adds great depth to the author's descriptions. While interviewing a suspect, "watching her as she seated herself, he felt a small jolt of familiarity: He had met her in various guises before, as much a part of his Norfolk childhood as the five-minute bell on Sunday mornings, the Christmas gift fair, the summer fete in the rectory garden. . . ."

"A Certain Justice" is exquisitely plotted, with even the most minor character carefully etched (only Ashe, a textbook creep, is a disappointment). The denouement is shocking and the details of the antiquated British legal scene--from the Lady Barristers' Robing Room to the Judges' Gate are fascinating.

*

In "Cold Blood" (Random House, $23, 402 pages), Lynda La Plante, the Emmy Award-winning creator of the TV show "Prime Suspect," has brought back her singularly unlikable yet strangely compelling literary heroine, Lorraine Page.

An alcoholic ex-cop and ex-hooker who is estranged from her children, Page pulled herself together in La Plante's last book and started a detective agency, in spite of her total lack of people skills. In this outing, she is offered a million-dollar bonus if she tracks down Anna Louise Calley, the missing daughter of aging movie star Elizabeth Calley and her real estate magnate husband Robert. Anna Louise disappeared in New Orleans during Mardi Gras and several top-notch detective agencies have been unable to find her.

Ostensibly, Page works with her partner, Rosie, a good-hearted fellow 12-stepper, and her former LAPD colleague, retired Capt. William Rooney. But in reality, Page is a self-destructive loose cannon, capable of sleeping with a client and falling off the wagon with no regard for the consequences. The hyper-driven, preternaturally competent detective is great fun to watch ("Why do you think they'd be interested in taking on Page Investigations Agency?" she snaps at Rosie. "Just because you're in AA with the family's secretary is not what I would call a great introduction.") and the book is a fast read. The intricate plot slaloms from Los Angeles sex clubs to New Orleans voodoo priestesses without letting the reader up for air.

*

In "Survival of the Fittest" (Bantam, $24.95, 399 pages), Jonathan Kellerman's psychologist sleuth Alex Delaware is trying to help a patient cope with the mysterious suicide of her policeman brother. Delaware's sidekick, Milo Sturgis, supposedly the only openly gay cop on the LAPD, comes to him for help. The mildly retarded 15-year-old daughter of an Israeli diplomat has been murdered in a secluded corner of the Santa Monica Mountains. There's no sign of a struggle, no sexual abuse, and the victim's father, Zev Carmeli, insists there is no political motive for the killing.

The father's attempts to control the investigation raise Milo and Alex's suspicion and also throw into the mix Superintendent Daniel Sharavi, the Israeli hero from Kellerman's terrific first novel, "The Butcher's Theater." His presence is somewhat improbable, like Andy Sipowicz making a guest appearance on "E.R.," but the religious Sharavi makes a good foil to Sturgis.

Soon there is a second killing, then a third, and Delaware struggles to come up with a psychological profile to link the murders. The beauty of the novel--one of the author's best--is that no clue is wasted, and the web of intrigue is so logically and effortlessly woven that it is difficult not to stop and admire Kellerman's plotting skills.

Next week: Mary Rourke on books about faith and spirituality.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|