- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 17, 2002

Goodness knows where Tony Broadbent has been hiding his talent all these years but it certainly shines in The Smoke (Thomas Dunne Books, $23.95, 302 pages), which his publisher swears is his first book.
Mr. Broadbent takes his readers back to the grim years after World War II, when there was not quite enough of anything to go around except, perhaps, crime. In the best tradition of Leslie Charteris, Mr. Broadbent introduces Jethro, a "creeper," or cat burglar, who robs from the rich because they're the folks with things worth stealing.
Jethro's latest caper becomes convoluted when he steals what turns out to be a code book in the course of gently cracking an embassy safe in search of some particularly tasty diamonds. His fence, who had fled the Nazis for safety in England and who has pledged his love and loyalty to the country, insists the book must be put in the hands of British intelligence which turns out intelligent enough to track down both men.
And it's the old Hobson's choice: Go back into the embassy and bring out a defector who has the rest of the code, or find yourself doing hard time in a hard place.
Granted this is a plot we have seen before, repeatedly. But Mr. Broadbent makes his Jethro so appealing and his secondary characters so interesting that, well: I started the book at breakfast in a restaurant and spent the next several hours in the car on the parking lot reading to the end. So beware, and enjoy. I can hardly wait for the next one.

Jack Clark is a newsman and it shows in Westerfield's Chain (Thomas Dunne Books, $24.95, 308 pages), again a first book with the polish of an experienced writer. Nick Acropolis (his father was extremely impressed when he visited Greece), is a slightly disgraced ex-cop trying to make a living as a private investigator who walks into something he was not expecting when he starts a search for a missing man, a devoted father who did not call his daughter on her 25th birthday.
This one is right off the front pages of today's newspapers as Acropolis finds himself mired in an expanding case that reveals welfare fraud involving millions, perhaps billions of dollars enough money to make it worthwhile to kill. Everyone has an agenda and everyone is lying, but then what else is new?
This first book is well flavored by Mr. Clark's knowledge of Chicago, a city highly underestimated by those who have never visited or lived there, and Acropolis is an appealing combination of intelligence and goofiness who falls back on sheer determination when all else fails.

In a decided change of pace we leave the grim for the gru with The Dead of Midnight (St. Martin's Minotaur, $24.95, 360 pages). The book flap says Catherine Hunter, the author, teaches English in a Canadian university. Well, here is a lady who can write as well as teach as she demonstrates in another debut novel (we are on a roll this month).
Zina is a local Winnipeg character who runs a combination book store and cafe, so she has reason to worry when someone begins killing off the members of her mystery book club and has the nerve to use the plots of a highly popular series to plan the crimes.
Is it an outsider drumming up interest in the work of a reclusive writer? Is it the estranged husband of one victim who is the boyfriend of another? Do the crimes have their roots in an old scandal that ended in the fiery death of a poet?
Sarah Petursson was supposed to be the first victim of the killer and the crimes seem to be circling around her. This is another novel that demonstrates a fine feel for its location, which in effect becomes another character. The characters are well drawn and appealing and the plot is convoluted enough to keep the reader engaged from front to back.

"Trouble finds you. Some people are just like that," says a character in The Poisoned Rose (Bantam Books, $6.50, 320 pages). He's talking to Declan MacManus, a good man who has wasted his life by diving into a bottle. Mac showed promise; as a child he saved a little girl from a rabid dog, at considerable cost to himself.
But that was his high point. It's been downhill for years. Mac is reduced to playing the heavy when an influential man wants his daughter's boyfriend scared off. But what started out as some strongarm stuff disintegrates when a third person crashes the party and kills the target.
From this simple beginning, Mac finds himself in the middle of something he doesn't understand with an unlikely ally, hard man Augie Hartsell.
There are some wealthy people with ugly secrets who will do whatever it takes to keep them secret, including kill, and Mac and Augie are squarely in their way and way over their heads.
This one is dark and depressing but extremely well done with a convoluted plot and interesting characters. Mac is touching and annoying at the same time, inspiring pity and a desire to slap him silly until he sobers up and fulfils his potential.

Judith Kreiner is an editor at The Washington Times.

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