You could make a case that Evan Hunter and John D. MacDonald begat this profusion of crime series, Hunter with the 50 or so 87th precinct novels he has written (as Ed McBain) since 1956, and the now-departed MacDonald with his twenty-odd Travis McGee novels. In addition to the 87th precinct series, the staggeringly prolific Hunter has written some 40 other crime novels, including a series about Florida lawyer Matthew Hope. I suppose I've read a dozen or more of the Hunter/McBain books over the years and I remember them fondly for their clever plotting, crisp dialogue and unsentimental view of our species. That said, I must report that Hunter's latest, The Moment She Was Gone (Simon & Schuster, $25), is a disappointment.
At the outset, a New Yorker named Andy Gulliver tells us that his twin sister, Annie, is missing again, and he goes on to relate a great deal about himself, his dysfunctional family and the missing sister. Annie had recently returned from Sicily, where she claimed to have been raped, only to have a doctor pronounce her schizophrenic. The family refuses to accept that diagnosis, although the thirtysomething Annie clearly has serious problems. She lives off her mother, designs phallic jewelry, espouses Tantric sex, starts fights with strangers and thinks the FBI is after her. Hunter spins all this out with his usual professionalism: The book is easy reading, but it just doesn't add up to much. When we finally learn poor Annie's fate, it's a big yawn. You get the feeling that Hunter can toss off a novel like this in a matter of weeks, and you wish he'd slow down.
Tess Gerritsen's skillful and scary The Apprentice (Ballantine, $24.95) is the latest in her series featuring Boston homicide detective Jane Rizzoli. In the previous novel, Rizzoli was scarred, physically and mentally, as she captured a scapel-wielding serial killer called the Surgeon. As the new book begins, the Surgeon is behind bars, but a copycat is using his nasty techniques to kill affluent married couples. Things worsen when the Surgeon escapes from prison and teams up with his "apprentice" to seek revenge on Rizzoli. The author, an M.D., dwells a bit too long on the unlovely sights and smells of autopsies, and at one point she tells us more than we need to know about necrophilia. Still, Rizzoli is a winning character, tough on the outside as she battles for respect from her mostly loutish male colleagues, but lonely and fearful within. She is too proud and stubborn to hide from the two madmen, and when they close in on her, the suspense is palpable.
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