Forced by circumstances to become a small-town cop, the protagonist of former Boston district attorney Landay's inventive, gripping suspense debut finds himself embroiled in a big-city murder investigation. Ben Truman, the young police chief in the Maine town of Versailles (pronounced "Ver-sales"), tells us early on that he gave up his pursuit of a doctorate in history at Boston University to come home and care for his Alzheimer's-stricken mother. What he doesn't reveal—at least right away—is the true story of his mother's death and his father's alcoholic rages. Landay deals out pertinent details with the finesse of a poker player, first describing Ben's discovery of the bloated body of a Boston assistant district attorney in a rental cabin. Is the discovery really accidental? Is the almost immediate arrival on the scene of a retired Boston cop named John Kelly as fortuitous as it seems at first? Can Ben really be as much of a small-town hick (the Boston cops call him "Opie") as he appears to be? Determined to stay on the case, Ben joins a crew of big-city cops and prosecutors (including Kelly's intriguing daughter) in a search through the blighted (fictional) Boston neighborhood of Mission Flats for the answer to the ADA's murder and a 10-year-old mystery. As bits of his personal history surface, Ben occasionally seems in danger of violating one of the rules of crime fiction—that the narrator shouldn't lie to us about his role in the story. But Landay's book is such a rich, harrowing and delightful read that few will complain. (Aug. 26)
Forecast:Landay's strong writing and imaginative plotting give him an edge; foreign rights to Mission Flats have already been sold in eight countries. With a little marketing muscle, this could be a hit.