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BOOK REVIEW: ‘When the Thrill is Gone’

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WHEN THE THRILL IS GONE
By Walter Mosley
Riverhead Books, $26.95, 359 pages

TREASON AT LISSON GROVE
By Anne Perry
Ballantine, $26, 306 pages

Ex-boxer, terse-talking Leonid McGill personifies the detective noir genre and fits admirably into the bleak world as portrayed in Walter Mosley'slong list of tightly told thrillers.

As the sardonic private eye, McGill is reminiscent of Damon Runyon in his hard-bitten style. "When the Thrill Is Gone," the latest Mosley book, continues to underscore the author's often chilling scenario of a multiracial America in which a black detective "still gets hassled by the cops simply for standing on the sidewalk in the middle of the day in a residential neighborhood."

McGill is a man with endless problems that he describes with macabre humor as "just the devils I know." His wife, Katrina, is sleeping with a much younger man. His best friend is apparently dying of cancer in McGill's New York apartment. His favorite son, Twill, is a dropout involved in presumably illegal pursuits. His other son, Dimitri, is accompanied by his girlfriend, a former Russian sex slave, as he flees gangsters. His girlfriend, Aura, gloomily voices concern that with his way of life, he will not survive long enough to make it worth it to continue their affair.

McGill is also striving to surmount a past linked to the mob while using his prized connection with one of the top mobsters in the country, dates back to McGill's long-vanished father who deserted his 5-year-old son. And McGill also needs money to pay his office rent, so he can hardly turn down the $12,000 in cash offered as a down payment by a mysterious young woman who asserts she is the wife of a billionaire whose previous two wives allegedly died in suspicious circumstances. McGill has strong suspicions himself about the veracity of his client, but on the other hand, he needs money.

The situation becomes even more chaotic when the body of the woman who has been posing as the billionaire's third wife turns up in a compost heap. This also leaves the hapless McGill struggling to care for half a dozen orphans. He is not only far from solving his myriad problems, but there is the matter of a deadly serial killer who has been assigned to bring about the demise of McGill. There are days when McGill can't seem to catch a break.

The character of McGill is expertly drawn with a crisp yet sad humor that illuminates the grim world in which he operates. His strange access to one of the nation's most feared mobsters is rooted in the twisted past of McGill's father, and there is poignance in how the author portrays the world of his weary detective who keeps on punching, both physically and psychologically. Mr. Mosley is a master at plotting the secrets of the past and how they taint the present. His McGill is a marvelous specimen of a brutal breed that exists according to a set of principles all its own. It's classic Mosley, and a most diverting read.

Solving the moral problems of the aristocracy and its world has always been a theme of Anne Perry's thrillers, and "Treason at Lisson Grove" zeroes in on nothing less than the overthrow of the British monarchy.

Thomas and Charlotte Pitt, her investigating couple, are up to their ears in the enduring bitterness of the Irish in their grudges against the English. Not to mention a plot aimed at Queen Victoria and treasonable conduct at the highest level of government. The plot moves between England and Ireland and is even more complicated than usual, with Pitt's job and freedom threatened by the charges bringing down his mentor Victor Narraway, who is head of the London Special Branch.

Ms. Perry has always done her historical homework on the darker elements of the British ruling class, and she has outdone herself this time by including the queen in her cast of characters. There is a hilarious and telling moment when Her Majesty tells the group who have come to rescue her from overthrow and possible death that since they are likely to be in her presence for a while, they may sit down.

This plot is more politically ambitious than most of Ms. Perry's works, which are usually accounts of murderous behavior and the difficulties faced by the London police in dealing with an aristocracy that recognizes only its own moral boundaries. Even in this case, Charlotte Pitt has to call on the services of her redoubtable aristocratic aunt to help solve a problem involving royalty. There are moments in Ms. Perry's books when the reader might wish for more basic crime and punishment and less revision of history.

Muriel Dobbin is a former White House and national political reporter for McClatchy newspapers and the Baltimore Sun.

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