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Chicago Tribune's Bill Adler names Carte Blanche one of 2006's top ten crime novels.

Date: Jan 17 2007

Personal Best - here's my 2006 Ten Best List...

Carlo Lucarelli's Carte Blanche makes Bill Adler's Ten Best more.

LIBERATION MOVEMENTS, by Olen Steinhauer (St. Martin's Minotaur). Volume four in a shrewdly understated series which tells the post World War II political history of an unnamed Eastern European country through a cast of military investigators.

RED SKY LAMENT, by Edward Wright (Orion). John Ray Horn, a former cowboy star of B-movies, now lives in a shabby mountain cabin which he keeps up in lieu of rent, and earns food money collecting gambling debts.

THE VIRGIN OF SMALL PLAINS, by Nancy Pickard (Ballantine)
When an unidentified teenage girl died 17 years ago in the Kansas town of Small Plains, Abby Reynold’s father, the local doctor, did some covering up that was witnessed by Abby’s boyfriend, who left town and was never seen again. Now all sorts of ghosts are creeping out of the stark landscape to stir up trouble.

DEATH IN THE GARDEN, by Elizabeth Ironside (Felony & Mayhem)
From its understated, eloquent design (with a 1923 photograph of a titled British lady on the cover) through its description and dialogue which ring as true as a silver spoon on a Royal Doulton teacup, “Death in the Garden” is a wonderfully original mystery set in the world of the British aristocracy.

A CORPSE IN THE KORYO, by James Church (Thomas Dunne/St. Martin's Minotaur) The very alien world of North Korea brought to life by a former Western intelligence agent who seems to know the country down to its skin, and who shares his police detective’s strong feelings for it.

MEMORY BOOK, by Howard Engel (Carroll & Graf)
What do you do if you’re a successful, highly-lauded mystery writer in his late 60s who suffers a stroke that causes a rare condition called alexia sine agraphia, which affects the memory and the ability to read but not the ability to write? If you’re Howard Engel, you turn the experience into one of your wry and solid books about Toronto private detective Benny Cooperman.

GENTLEMEN & PLAYERS, by Joanne Harris (William Morrow)
One of those rare books that grips and holds you like an elaborate conjuring trick. At its center is a palace of privilege –- a British school for the sons of the wealthy and powerful, an escape from the real world they will soon have to face.

THE LAST SPYMASTER, by Gayle Lynds (St. Martin’s Press)
Just when you thought that the classic CIA-centered Cold War espionage thriller (of the sort practiced at the highest level by Charles McCarry and Robert Littell) had been displaced by the current crop of spy books set in Iraq and Afghanistan, along comes the superbly gifted Gayle Lynds to prove you wrong.

WINTER’S BONE, by Daniel Woodrell (Little, Brown)
This latest book by Woodrell, set in the Missouri Ozarks where he was born and lives, is a simple story, about a smart girl named Ree Dolly, who looks after her addled mother and two younger brothers while her father Jessup is either stewing up crystal meth – which has replaced illegal whiskey as the area’s cottage industry – or trying to stay out of jail when he’s caught at it. When Jessup jumps bail after signing over their house to a bondsman as collateral, Ree sets off in search of her father.

SORROW’S ANTHEM, by Michael Koryta (Thomas Dunne/St. Martin's Minotaur) Sometimes a book grabs you and stays in your memory long after the rest of the in-box’s contents have been flushed away by new arrivals. Koryta’s second mystery about a Cleveland private eye has this kind of hold.

THE FALLEN, by T. Jefferson Parker (William Morrow)
Parker could well be the best crime writer working out of Southern California. “The Fallen” has a central gimmick worthy of Oliver Sachs: homicide detective Robbie Brownlaw gets thrown out of a sixth floor window, lands hard although a canvas awning saves his life, and wakes up in the hospital with a neurological condition called synesthia, which mixes up the senses and causes weird things like seeing people’s words as colored shapes.

CARTE BLANCHE by Carlo Lucarelli, translated by Michael Reynolds (Europa Editions)
Lucarelli’s first novel starts a trilogy set in Italy in 1945. As Mussolini’s reign and life are about to end, Commissario De Luca, a Roman police officer, gets involved in investigating the stabbing murder of a man with connections all the way to the top of the Fascist food chain.

ASK THE PARROT, by Richard Stark (Mysterious Press)
A book that should be required reading by all fiction writers, working and/or aspiring. There is literally not a wasted word in Richard Stark's latest Parker novel, about a robbery gone wrong: even the strangely silent bird of the title adds just a very few at a vital moment.

By Bill Adler
Crime reviewer for the Chicago Tribune