- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 5, 2003

Shades of Simon Templar peek around the corners and laugh at Tony Broadbent and his debut mystery, The Smoke (Thomas Dunne Books, $23.95, 302 pages) in which a cat burglar makes off with more than he intended and finds that he has become the goal in a high-stakes international game. For those of you so young that the "William Tell Overture" is merely the "William Tell Overture," Simon Templar is forever the Saint, the burglar-turned-hero created by the late Leslie Charteris to the delight of fans for nearly half a century.
And like the Saint, burglar pardon me creeper Jethro finds himself being blackmailed by His Majesty's government into doing bad things for a good cause.
It starts out innocently enough in post-World War II London where Jethro is doing his best to keep body and soul together with a little high-class thievery at a certain embassy. The book is worth reading just for the first chapters that describe his entry into the building and his silent visit to occupied bedrooms, where he picks up a few of the good things in life including a beautiful set of deluxe lock-picking tools that certainly have no business in the bedroom of a true gentleman.
Jethro picks up something else that turns out to be of interest to at least two governments. In an evil moment of good intent he ensures that it reaches the British government, and dumps himself right into it.
This one is so good you can feel the chill of the River Thames and taste the coal smoke in the London fog. Grab it and hope Mr. Broadbent is working on its sequel.

It's too bad Trav isn't still hanging around the Bahia Mar Marina down in Fort Lauderdale because a woman just right for him makes her first appearance in Christine Kling's Surface Tension (Ballantine Books, $23.95, 291 pages). The locale is Trav's old stomping ground, Fort Lauderdale, where Seychelle Sullivan (all the sons and daughters were named for islands) is trying to make a go of running her late father's salvage tug.
She catches a big one in more ways than one when she goes to the assistance of a large, luxurious yacht about to go aground and be beaten to pieces by the surf. She carries a line aboard and finds that she is in the middle of a murder probably involving her former lover.
This one rings as true as a silver dollar, thanks to the 20 years Mrs. Kling has spent around boats on one coast or the other and thanks to her astonishing abilities as a writer. There is a wonderful secondary character, a Samoan everyone calls B.J., who is worthy of a series of his own. Obviously Mrs. Kling has known some Samoans because she has nailed B.J. to the page.
Again, mystery readers can only hope Mrs. Kling is hard at work on the second installment and it's really sad Trav had to go away.

Elizabeth Chase, the psychic detective, is hunting for a stolen child in Martha C. Lawrence's Ashes Of Aries (St. Martin's Minotaur, $23.95, 239 pages), a mystery set amid the chaos of the wildfires that swept California not so long ago.
Little Matthew Fielding, the 4-year-old son of a telecommunications giant, is a natural target for kidnapping, but why has there been no telephone call, no ransom note? Elizabeth and her quirky abilities are called in by the local police when other avenues seem to be leading nowhere.
She smells smoke where nothing is burning and days later the child's parents die when they are trapped behind their own security gate in a wildfire. Miss Lawrence convincingly captures the ruthless, capricious nature of fire as well as the imprecise, uncontrollable, and sometimes startling, nature of a psychic talent.
Sequoia, Elizabeth's new mentor, the shaman with the cell phone, makes a brief, but memorable, return appearance and I really would like to know if he called the snake.

This column does not review juvenile books. This column will never again review a juvenile book, but if you have a youngster at that age where grosser is better (or if you refuse to grow up yourself), get Debi Gliori's Pure Dead Magic (Knopf, $15.95, 182 pages). The Strega-Borgia family is a bit off the chart even if the Adams family forms the baseline to the graph.
Momma Signora Baci Strega-Borgia is off at her advanced wichcraft classes and not keeping the proverbial eye peeled when husband and father Signor Luciano Strega-Borgia is kidnapped more-or-less by mistake.
The Strega-Borgia children, Titus and Padora, decide they must intervene, except that things get out of hand and baby Damp gets shrunken and sent out over the Web. There is much running about and enough misunderstanding and confusion for a Shakespeare comedy before the family is reunited and Damp is retrieved. My senior-citizen ribs ached by the final page.
Knopf describes this as a "cyber-gothic-gangster fantasy," which about wraps it up, except it left out "gross."
Creatively gross, hysterically gross, but definitely gross. Oh, yes, and there's the new nanny. And was that a dragon in the cellar?

Judith Kreiner is an editor at The Washington Times.


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