December 14, 2015
• Death in the Face, by Craig McDonald (Betimes):
Those of us who inhale the Hector Lassiter series (starting with 2007’s Edgar-nominated Head Games) enjoyed a big year in 2014, so it was fair to expect that 2015 might be a bit on the quiet side. Happily, this was not the case, as McDonald released a new and unexpected entry in the series late in the year. Death in the Face finds Lassiter on assignment for Playboy magazine, shadowing Ian Fleming’s research trip to Japan while the latter scouts locations for his next James Bond adventure, You Only Live Twice. Lassiter and Fleming were fighting comrades working for their respective intelligence services during World War II, and we soon learn that this literary junket has a more serious dual purpose: to bring an end to a Japanese biological weapon, Operation Flea, that’s still very potent and capable of decimating English and American agriculture. Lassiter also has his private motive for coming back to Japan–he’s heard a rumor that there’s a lost manuscript written by his late and beloved wife, Brinke Devlin, whose ghost has been lurking throughout all of the Lassiter books. In this, the ninth outing featuring the writer “who lives what he writes and writes what he lives,” Lassiter hasn’t lost a step. Rubbing elbows not only with Fleming, but also with actors Sean Connery and Robert Shaw, and Japanese author-poet Yukio Mishima, Lassiter dodges bullets and explosions, and the set piece here involving a pool of crocodiles is alone worth the price of admission. McDonald’s Lassiter stories represent a sorely needed throwback to ultra-hard-boiled adventure tales, and while the series is winding down (we can expect only one more novel and a collection of short stories, both due in 2016), the entire series hangs together as a multi-volume biography of the greatest fictional pulp writer ever created.
As a side note, 2015 also saw the release of the Craig McDonald-curated Borderland Noir (Betimes), an anthology of crime stories featuring a roster of writers that included Ken Bruen, James Sallis, and the chronically underrated Manuel Ramos, among others. It’s a terrific addition to the location-themed collections we’ve seen published over the last few years.
Link to the review: Favorite Crime Fiction of 2015. Part III