One of my favorite fictioneers is Margaret Truman, who keeps on turning out these nifty mysteries about--well, Washington, what else? For that's the greatest mystery of them all. And she does it again with Murder at the FBI (Arbor House: $15.95), one of whose agents is found very dead--murdered, of course--upon, of all places, the FBI's own firing range. Embarrassing, huh? And very definitely a national no-no-no! But then it gets really wild, although I'm not at liberty to disclose the nastier details. Trust Margaret to include you in on those--but you can bet they're sort of scandalous, involving passions that J. Edgar Hoover never would have tolerated in his day. Time do march on--eh, Margaret? And so, maybe, do we all.
Since man, as a species, first dropped down from the trees to walk on his hind legs--erect, that is--he hasn't changed so much--he still kills for profit or--well, sport. That's evident enough in Dead Man's Ransom by Ellis Peters (Morrow: $13.95), a fascinating chronicle of 12th-Century England. In this, we meet again the canny Brother Cadfael, apostle of survival and a sensible degree of mercy, pre-dating Sherlock Holmes by generations. What better way than this to get some notion of our Anglo-Saxon origins, along with gore enough to keep us flipping zestfully ahead through all the carnage.
Dat ole dabbil of suspense, Alistair MacLean, renews his furious assault upon our nerves with his San Andreas (Doubleday: $16.95). This time around, in World War II, a Red Cross ship, loaded with wounded, first is disabled by a mysterious power failure, and then is blasted by German planes. There's got to be a saboteur aboard, willing to die for such a blow to Allied morale. It thus becomes a terrifying race for port, death seeming almost certain for all those aboard. This is MacLean at his unholy best, ripping our nerves, combining tragedy with dread as we race on, armchair victims of an overdose of shock.
Jump now to Japan, and to the mysterious burial of a child's body in a bathhouse for ladies, some of them just eccentric but all of them--well, weird. Thus begins The Master Key by Massako Togawa (Dodd, Mead: $13.95), as fascinating a weird yarn of mystery as you'll find--well, anywhere, even in L.A. There's this lady, for example, who prepares dinner every night of seven years for a lover who never actually shows up. Authoress Togawa, famed in Japan, makes her American debut with this, and one word sums it up--superb!
Well, hell, you can't read all of them, but Patricia Highsmith's admirers lured me into reading her Slowly, Slowly in the Wind (Penzler: $14.95)--and I'm sold--she's superb. This volume of 12 stories can rid you of the blahs for weeks, taking your Sundays off to pray for more exciting Patricia yarns like this. Even my idol, Graham Greene, salutes her as a terrifier nonpareil. To which I say, from underneath the sheet that covers me, amen! amen! and yet again--amen!
Let us arise now and go to Spain (well, maybe Inisfree next week), where nothing ever seems as positive as black and white. Oh, yes, and death, of course! And death! But you can bet a few pesatas on a yarn by Manuel Vasquez Montalban, Catalan Communist and superb yarn spinner. Begin with his Murder in the Central Committee (Academy/Chicago: $13.95), which deals with death and sorrow, murder and the nature of the nation. Grand themes, of course, on which we may well disagree, but common in their essence to us all. As death is.
Backward, oh backward, oh time in thy flight, make me a child again--whoa, there! I was no child when Sherlock Holmes first fascinated me, but I was springtime young--11, I think, and still addicted to Tom Swift. Holmes weaned me from Swift, and my fascination with the fabled Englishman now persists as I read What Happened to Sherlock Holmes by Terence White/Prince (Seagull: $9.95), in which Holmes, back from oblivion, triumphs again. What's news is that Seagull, the publisher, is based in Marina del Rey. We expect Californians to perpetuate the best--and with Holmes brought back to life, we've done it again.