I've been spending a lot of time lately reading mysteries and thrillers. They are a nice form of escapism--there's nothing like taking yourself outside your own life and problems and getting involved in those of others and all the better that they are simply fictional characters in situations that may be on occasion heart stopping but no real harm is done, and if you (or rather the characters) are lucky the ending will be happy, or at least satisfying. The best part is often they involve some sort of conundrum. I'm pretty bad actually at figuring out who the culprit is with standard mysteries, but it is still a fun intellectual puzzle to try and sort things out. My two most recent finishes, however, aren't really standard mysteries, though they might fit in peripherally with the genre. Mostly they were just easy, entertaining reads, and both turned out to be fairly gripping stories that saw me racing to the end.
The subtitle on James McGee's Ratcatcher reads "You don't send a gentleman to catch vermin. You send Hawkwood". A ratcatcher is a deprecatory name for a Bow Street Runner, which in the Regency period was an elite police officer, or what would become a police officer. Set against the Napoleonic Wars, Ratcatcher was a fun romp through London's dark underbelly and a rather surprising sort of thriller. I wasn't sure what to expect, though I had heard about Hawkwood's dark good looks and suave demeanor. Matthew Hawkwood is an ex-military man turned Bow Street Runner who can be as ruthless as he can be compassionate.
Hawkwood is resourceful, and he needs to be in the places his job takes him--places like the Rookery with its labyrinthine passages filled with cutthroats and thieves. A place you wouldn't want to become lost in. A seemingly simple case of a stagecoach being robbed and the deaths of a passenger and driver sends Hawkwood through these dark, dangerous streets to find the men responsible. The case turns out to be anything but simple, however, as it's not a matter of theft alone but of a possible assassination attempt that reaches across the channel to Napoleon's spies in France. And the means by which it is rumored to be achieved is both nefarious and shocking--by a device never seen before. This was a colorful read and McGee is very successful in painting a vivid (and am guessing fairly historically accurate) picture of late 17th/early 18th century London--at least the darker and nastier side. I was expecting a straightforward mystery, but this turned out to be more of a thriller with hints that Hawkwood's further adventures will take him farther afield and into the upper echelons of government.
I've already mentioned how much I had been enjoying Janet Evanovich's One for the Money, which is Stephanie Plum's first adventure in the business of becoming a recovery agent, a.k.a. bounty hunter. In the opening pages of the novel Stephanie is driving to her parent's house for dinner when two cars behind her a repo man, and former high school classmate, is ready to remove the keys from the ignition and take the car back to the lot. He gives her a reprieve of one day, and when she wakes the next morning the car is gone. A former lingerie buyer, she's living a down and out existence as she slowly sells off the contents of her apartment to get by. She falls into the job as bounty hunter thanks to her cousin Vinnie who has a bail bond business. At least at the beginning, she's not especially suited for the job, but when she sets her mind on something she is nothing if not tenacious.
If we're talking about resourceful characters, Stephanie Plum is certainly resourceful. Her first FTA (failure to appear) happens to be Joe Morelli, "Stephanie's childhood-nemesis-turned-hunky-vice-cop", who has somehow gotten caught up in a murder. He's jumped bond and if Stephanie can bring him in she'll be $10,000 richer. Armed with a Smith & Wesson .38 Special, a can of pepper spray, cuffs and a Jeep Cherokee that she "commandeered" from Morelli's house she's ready for action. She quickly discovers this is dangerous business, however. After an almost deadly run in with psycho boxing champ, and getting cuffed (naked no less) to her own bathroom shower she decides that serious business requires equally serious training, which comes in the form of fellow recovery agent, Ranger. Ranger is every bit as attractive as Joe Morelli, and I foresee sparks igniting somewhere along the line. Stephanie's a great character--fearless, wisecracking, beer-swilling, never takes herself too seriously and is very savvy when the moment requires. Evanovich had me cracking up over the situations Stephanie found herself in.
Neither book was what you would call highbrow, but if you are looking for something fast paced and entertaining both authors are worth investigating. James McGee has not been published in the US, but I found a library copy to read. And Janet Evanovich is very readily available, as a matter of fact I picked up my copy while grocery shopping. Both were a nice change of pace and both authors will remain on my reading list, but I think I am ready to turn to something a little cozier next...maybe a country house murder!