- - Friday, March 28, 2014

THE INNOCENT SLEEP
By Karen Perry
Henry Holt, $26, 336 pages

THE RESISTANCE MAN
By Martin Walker
Knopf, $25.95, 342 pages

The child called Dillon is dead, blown up in the earthquake that shook Tangier. He was deeply asleep as the result of a pill administered by his father, Harry, who had rushed out to find a birthday gift for his wife.

Yet five years later, Harry sees Dillon trotting along a street in Dublin accompanied by a tall woman in a blue scarf, and he is overcome again by a tragedy that has become a terrible irony.

Karen Perry’s “Innocent Sleep” is an expertly written psychological mystery in which the tortured parents and the haunted child are eloquently drawn. Ms. Perry poignantly conveys not only the pain that lives within the guilt-ridden father, but the secret that sears Robin, the bereft mother of Dillon.

The plot is an intricate cobweb that focuses on the misery that crushes the minds and lives of two couples as well as the small boy who discovers at the age of nine that the parents he thought were dead are still alive, and he is living with strangers who are closer to him than he can imagine.

Harry the father is obsessed by failure in his work and his marriage, and his increasing dependence on alcohol. The loss of his son is almost unbearable, but it does not match his suffering when he becomes convinced that Dillon did not die in the earthquake but was kidnapped from his bedroom as the earthquake struck.

Garrick, the man who saved the boy from the falling building, emerges as a genuinely tragic figure who knows that Dillon is his son, the product of his affair with Robin. He and his wife Eva convince themselves of the justice of keeping Dillon with them as a replacement for their son who has died and a source of comfort to them. Robin is the strongest character in a sensitively portrayed cast, fighting to save a doomed marriage by having another child despite Harry’s fears.

It is at the point where she is facing another pregnancy that the group is engulfed in the tragedy of the truth and the drama of its consequences. Dillon is restored to Robin while she loses Harry in a shootout with Garrett.

Yet Dillon remains a ghost child, distrustful of those around him and especially wary of Robin, the biological mother who lost him. The plot builds to a chilling and unexpected climax that readers should be allowed to discover for themselves.

In Martin Walker’s engaging mystery “The Resistance Man,” Bruno the charming police chief of the Dordogne is transcended by Bruno the brilliant chef. Mr. Walker, an English journalist, seems more at home in the kitchen than dealing with death, and as a result, this is murder most leisurely, with much space devoted to the thoughts of Bruno as he serves up the most delectable of meals to his friends including those with four legs. He writes with loving detail of his recipe for dog biscuits for Balzac, his basset puppy, that involves milk, brown flour, an egg and brown sugar.

A slice of fat from a ham hanging from a beam in his kitchen is rendered and fried. Then a shredded clove of garlic and bread crumbs are added to the mixture. It is all baked for thirty minutes in a hot oven, and Balzac loves it. There are also rapturous accounts of lamb and salmon dinners and the precise wines to accompany them.

In between cooking biscuits for his dog and sumptuous dinners for his friends, Bruno does fulfill his role as French police chief investigating crime in an idyllic town in Dordogne. He is on the trail of the man who killed a French resistance veteran, as well as a burglar who has broken into a British spymaster’s estate. He also investigates the death of an antiques dealer.

During it all, Bruno considers his own romantic future. He has a beautiful house that is ready for him to have a companion and, Heaven knows, so is the kitchen. He is torn between two assertive and beautiful women who even assist in his crime-fighting duties. The only note of grim reality is struck when one of his lovers confesses that she had rejected the idea of marriage to Bruno in favor of aborting his child.

It is clear that Bruno is much more upset by this news than the fact that his job involves catching killers. However, this is not the first Bruno mystery, and it certainly should not be the last. He sounds irresistible.

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