Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Fall into Mystery

Call it a Whodunit x 2. Or perhaps a Two-dunit. Or even a Who-DUO-nit. Okay, maybe not. I'll stop with the puns. But whatever you choose to call it, there's an autumn chill in the air—and you'll get even more of a chill from two gripping murder mysteries that provide a bit of a twist on the usual mystery mold.

Macbeth--the Shakespeare version—has its share of murder, mayhem, and mystery, so it makes sense that the Bard's old standby might inspire a modern-day whodunit. In Alan Gratz's Something Wicked, fans of his first book will be pleased to see the return of Horatio Wilkes. Horatio himself, though, is somewhat less than pleased at having to spend half a week at the Scottish Highland Fair with his friend Mac, who's been acting pretty weird ever since he got together with the bewitching Beth. (Just take the word "bewitching," remove a few letters, and add a "Y," and you'll have a pretty good idea of what she's like.)

And then poor Horatio stumbles upon Duncan MacRae lying dead in his tent in a pool of blood. At first there's an obvious suspect—Duncan's son, who would stand to inherit substantial land upon his father's death. But in the world of feuding Scottish clans, with scheming and swindling going on left and right, it's hard to know who's to blame and who's merely a pawn.

If you know the story of Macbeth, you'll probably have a pretty good idea who's the guilty party—but you're also likely to get a kick out of how Gratz has adapted the various Shakespeare characters to fit a modern-day setting. Horatio's narrative voice is funny, and there's a lot of humor as well as good old tension and mystery. Even if you're a Macbeth expert, don't dismiss it as a rehashing of the play—the story may be inspired by Macbeth, but it's original and engaging as well as just a little bit tongue-in-cheek.

For something a little grittier, there's Dooley Takes the Fall by Norah McClintock, an award-winning Canadian mystery/crime author. Well, let's say a lot grittier. Ryan Dooley is seventeen years old and already an alumnus of the juvenile detention facility. For now, though, he's trying to keep his head down and his ass out of trouble. He lives with his uncle, an ex-cop, works evenings at a video store, and is just trying to make it to the end of high school.

He means well, but sometimes it's difficult to keep his mouth shut when he thinks something isn't right. And there are times when trouble just seems to gravitate in his direction, like the universe knows he's a screwup. One night, walking home from work, he decides to take a detour through a ravine, under a bridge. He looks up, and a body falls from the bridge. He runs over, but it's too late—by the time he gets there, the guy is dead. But it doesn't look good for Dooley. He's already got mistakes on his record, and moreover, the dead guy was someone Dooley knew.

Of course, there's nothing anyone can pin on him for this situation, which could well have been an accident. But something doesn't feel right about it. And Dooley can't help being curious, even as the police are keeping an even closer eye on him. The tension just keeps escalating as Dooley finds himself more and more wrapped up in the mystery—and the more he finds out, the less certain he is about whom he can trust. Edgy and gripping, this one is a page-turner, and I was rooting for the well-intentioned Dooley the whole way.

These reviews will also be cross-posted at Readers' Rants.

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