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Review: Three fine books for your time

By L.D. Meagher
CNN

cover.bones.jpg
'Lazybones'
  • By Mark Billingham
  • HarperCollins
  • Fiction
  • 320 pages
  • 'The Peregrine Spy'
  • By Edmund P. Murray
  • St. Martin's
  • Fiction
  • 464 pages
  • 'A Hat Full of Sky'
  • By Terry Pratchett
  • HarperCollins Children's
  • Fiction
  • 288 pages
  • YOUR E-MAIL ALERTS
    Review
    Mark Billingham

    (CNN) -- The summer's dog days have drifted to an end. But that doesn't mean there aren't plenty of good books out there to pass the time -- even if the days are getting shorter and the weather's getting nippier.

    "Lazybones," the third novel by British writer Mark Billingham, is a crime thriller with some nifty touches. First, there are the victims -- convicted rapists who are being murdered in particularly unseemly ways. Second, there are the cops -- led by Detective Inspector Tom Thorne -- who wonder more than once if there isn't some sort of perverse justice being exacted.

    Third, there are the echoes of an older crime -- something that might fit into the current case, but just as possibly might not.

    Thorne is a thoroughly likeable protagonist. He's something of a loner with a taste for country music and a father who is causing him a great deal of worry. A woman he meets in the course of the investigation ignites romantic stirrings that he doesn't quite know how to handle. Thorne is a dogged investigator, but the case gets more convoluted with each new murder. The plot twists and turns to a chilling climax.

    There's a different kind of chill at the core of "The Peregrine Spy." It's the Iranian winter of 1978-79, when the political temperature rose as the wind chill factor dropped. A CIA contract operative, Frank Sullivan, is dispatched to Tehran to help shore up the sagging shah and bolster U.S. efforts to keep him on the Peacock Throne.

    Author Edmund P. Murray certainly knows the territory. He was a contract CIA operative sent to Iran in late '78 with a mission very much like his character's.

    Sullivan is immediately caught up in the swirl of events preceding the Islamic Revolution. He is torn between the expectations of the agency, the needs of the Shah (whom he met several years earlier) and the seductive imprecations of an old KGB adversary. None of them seems to have a clue about what is really happening on the streets of Iran. "The Peregrine Spy" is populated with a potent mix of spooks, zealots and wheeler-dealers, all caught in a riptide of history.

    The characters in "A Hat Full of Sky" are every bit as colorful -- and a lot more fun. Terry Pratchett returns to Discworld and catches up with Tiffany Aching, who was last seen conquering the Queen of the Fairies with a frying pan in "The Wee Free Men." Tiffany has grown up a bit (she's now 11) and is ready to pursue her true calling -- witchcraft.

    Even as she sets off for an apprenticeship, she remains under the watchful eyes of the Nac Mac Feegle (also called "pictsies" and "person or persons unknown, believed to be armed").

    Becoming a witch proves to be much more difficult than Tiffany expected. There is, for example, quite a bit of cheese-making involved. Pratchett's devilish sense of humor and finely honed sense of the absurd send the story bubbling merrily along, with Tiffany and her retinue of tiny red-headed, kilt-garbed drunken minders dodging everything from flying broomsticks to Death himself.

    It's a fine, wonderful adventure -- and what more could one wish for on a lazy afternoon?


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