- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 23, 2003

It’s a man’s world that Detective Sgt. Kate Power must negotiate when she arrives at her new posting with the Birmingham police in Power on Her Own (St. Martin’s Minotaur, $23.95, 280 pages). Author Judith Cutler writes about the cruel and rarely funny hazing that Kate endures — and occasionally gives back in spades — as if she has experienced it, or something like it, firsthand.

Kate arrives in Birmingham just in time for a series of child murders. Little boys are being kidnapped, tortured and killed and the police are not getting anywhere. Kate left the London force after a personal tragedy that has all but destroyed her self-confidence and her fellow officers’ pranks are doing nothing to help. But she feels strongly that the force is overlooking important information and is too caught up in procedure to find this particularly loathesome and clever criminal.

But dare Kate buck the hierarchy and go out on her own? Children’s lives and her career are at stake.

Miss Cutler writes a firmly and cleverly plotted debut for Kate Power, who is a richly realized individual in her first appearance before the public. When can we expect the next one, Miss Cutler?

• • •

Gene Riehl gives us something new, and possibly unique, with the introduction of Puller Monk in Quantico Rules (St. Martin’s Minotaur, $24.95, 330 pages). Monk, an FBI agent in charge of the squad that vets a president’s nominees before they go before Congress, is a man with a little problem of his own: He’s a gambling addict with a lot of dusty issues hiding in his mental attic. Needless to say, his first priority is keeping the agency from learning about this little foible.

Did I mention that he is a superb liar and he has the permission of his psychiatrist/tutor to say so?

And while he is about it, he needs to account for a couple of weeks in the early life of Judge Brenda Thompson, a presidential nominee who could become the first black woman on the Supreme Court. What could possibly have happened as the college graduate drove cross-country for a stay with her family on the East Coast before traveling on to graduate school?

Whatever it is, people are dying to keep it hidden and Monk’s superiors just don’t want to know that it exists.

This makes Monk a man on a tightrope, driven by his gambling habit and its attendant financial insecurity and his link to his abusive, but doddering, father, and beset by a professional puzzle that no one seems to want to see him solve. You’ve gotta cheer for the guy, even while you want to grab him by the shoulders and shake some sense into him.

Oh, “Quantico rules” are the ones you follow after the rulebook goes out the window. Another promising debut, this.

• • •

Does the phrase “financial thriller” sound like an oyxmoron? Take a look at Black Maps (Knopf, $22.95, 285 pages) and change your mind. Get an education in the process. Mr. Spiegelman has spent 20 years on Wall Street developing software systems for international banking.

Bless us all, it hasn’t ruined him as a writer.

Protagonist John March left his wealthy family’s banking business for the life of a small-town sheriff married to the woman he adores. Three years later he in back in Manhattan working as a private detective, the life he loved, and the woman he loved, destroyed.

A client wants March to find out who is blackmailing a successful man who is just about to be made partner in his investment bank. The victim intends to pay the blackmail, just to keep the issue in the background until his partnership comes through. After that, he sees himself as bulletproof because the firm will do anything to keep his reputation, and its reputation, without a spot.

March thinks it’s odd but sets out to find who could have had access to the damning documents. The trail quickly leads into an investigation of a financial institution involved in top-quality money-laundering on a global scale, and from there into the life of a very bad man, indeed.

Is the man dead, on the run, or lurking somewhere blackmailing a string of successful past associates? Being on the run needs to be funded somehow. March keeps following his nose — though the landscape soon stinks like the city dump — until he finds what he is looking for, and it finds him.

Again, this is a most promising debut and at least one reader is eager to see March again. What a painless way to get a lesson in international finance.

• • •

John Burdett is probably on the hit list of every honest Bangkok cop — there must be some — after writing Bangkok 8 (Knopf, $24, 318 pages). Sonchai Jitpleecheep is an honest Bangkok cop (one of two) who would prefer to be a Buddhist monk. But he sees his path in law enforcement, especially after his partner, the other honest cop who also wants to be a Buddhist monk, killed in a very nasty confrontation with snakes jazzed up on drugs.

Sonchai works his way through the mystery of his partner’s death, and the death of an American serviceman with an eye for beauty, while dealing with the issues of his own life, which include a mother who was a former bar girl who wants to open a brothel catering to elderly American men in the age of Viagara.

You may love Sonchai, you may hate him, but spending time with him and his culture is going to give you lots to think about — and perhaps a headache.

Judith Kreiner is an editor at The Washington Times.

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