Monday, April 06, 2009

Mystery Monday!

Today's Mystery Monday is all about the Sam Acquillo mysteries by Chris Knopf, set in the Hamptons. I reviewed the first in the series, The Last Refuge, right here, and had my fingers crossed that the subsequent books in the series would hold up to the promise of the first entry. I needn't have worried. In Knopf's hands, Sam shows satisfying character growth while remaining complex and interesting, and subsequent mysteries are filled with twists, turns, and excellent suspense.

#2: Two Time: Two Time starts off with a bang as Sam and Jackie are injured in when a car bomb outside the restaurant in which they'd met explodes. Cop Joe Sullivan (introduced in The Last Refuge) asks Sam to talk to the widow of the car bomb victim. Reluctantly spurred on by his guilt over Jackie's injuries, Sam becomes embroiled in the victim's shady dealings in his financial consulting business, a performance-artist brother, an odd widow, and angry clients. In The Last Refuge, Sam starts out as completely withdrawn from the world and gradually begins to make connections with people. I was pleased to see that there is no regressing in Two Time (a pet peeve with me in series fiction is inconsistent character development), but that Sam is still very much a work in progress. He uses his engineering background in a methodical yet insightful way, approaching the murder as a problem to solve. This makes for a fascinating mystery novel, and Sam is an irresistible protagonist. Knopf's caustic wit is a fine counterpoint to the hardboiled action.

#3: Head Wounds: The stakes are higher in Head Wounds. As a former boxer, Sam has had his share of knocks on the head. Actually, according to his doctor, he's had more than his share, and he'd better take it easy if he values his ability to string two words together. But when a local builder, Robbie Milhouser, is found murdered with one of Sam's construction tools after harassing Sam's girlfriend, Amanda, Sam is forced to poke around to defend himself against a murder charge, trying to avoid injury from Robbie's thug buddies. The tension in this entry is relentless: not only regarding Sam's possible incarceration, but his health and relationship with Amanda. The plot is as satisfying as ever, an engineer's dream in complexity, the Hamptons so real I can picture the setting every step of the way, and Sam's character development continues in a believable, endlessly interesting, fashion.

#4: Hard Stop (available May 1): Sam isn't thrilled when he surprises an armed man snooping in his cottage, and he's perplexed to trace him back to his old employers, Con Globe. Sam thought he'd burned all his Con Globe bridges when he slugged a member of the Board of Directors and left his job for good. But his old boss needs help finding his girlfriend, Iku Kinjo, and he has a proposition to secure Sam's assistance. A good engineering problem is irresistible to Sam, who is further drawn in when he stumbles across Iku's body. Sucked back into the world of corporate ambition and greed he thought he'd left behind, Sam can't leave Iku's murder unsolved even when his old boss asks him to back off. Sam's relationship with cop Joe Sullivan continues to develop, and I really enjoy its complexity. The peek into Sam's old life is fascinating, and as usual, the mystery is worthy of a protagonist accustomed to solving thorny engineering puzzles. A newcomer to Sam's world could certainly jump in here, but will miss some of the nuances of Sam's relationships and character development. Since Sam's growth from burned-out loner is one of my favorite parts of the series, I recommend reading all four books in order.

1 comment:

the book stops here said...

As Chris Knopf's publisher, it's so=satisfying to read a review that appreciates the same qualities that have endeared this series to us: tension, suspense, painting a wonderful landscape of the Hamptons and, most particuarly, creating a character that keeps evolving as a human being.

Martin Shepard