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On Crime

Unfinished business and botany run amok

“Baked’’ revolves around a battle over the marijuana market in LA. “Baked’’ revolves around a battle over the marijuana market in LA. (Elaine Thompson/Associated Press)
By Hallie Ephron
December 12, 2010

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Reading William G. Tapply’s 25th Brady Coyne novel, “Outwitting Trolls,’’ the last one written before his death last year, is a potent reminder of how much the tall, gentle guy with a passion for the outdoors, fishing, dogs, and the women in his life will be missed.

It opens in tried and true mystery fashion with Brady sharing drinks in a hotel bar with an old friend. He hasn’t seen Ken Nichols since Ken divorced his wife, Sharon, closed his veterinary practice, and moved to Baltimore 10 years earlier. Sketched in a few vibrant brush strokes (“Ken had big ears and a meandering nose and a mouth that was a little too wide for his face. He grinned easily, he loved animals’’), Ken is on the page, back in town for a conference, and clearly in some kind of trouble.

He and Brady part ways, agreeing to keep in touch, but of course that is not to be. Soon Brady gets a call from Ken’s ex-wife, calling from a room in the same hotel as the bar. She needs a lawyer, she says. Ken is there in the room with her, and he’s been stabbed to death.

The storytelling feels effortless, and Tapply braids the story of Brady’s prickly family relationships with a murder that might involve unfinished family business. The ending ties together the disparate pieces and leaves Brady in a “a good place,’’ as it will the reader.

So pull up an Adirondack chair on the back porch of Brady’s Beacon Hill townhouse, crack open one last Sam Adams, or pour yourself a shot of Jack Daniels, and enjoy the sun setting with a great mystery writer, in fine form up to the end.

Author Laura DiSilverio’s debut novel “Swift Justice’’ (her PI is named Charlotte “Charlie’’ Swift) opens in Charlie’s Colorado Springs office with a visit from Melissa Lloyd, an interior decorator who has had something unexpected left on her porch: a newborn baby. She had the baby’s DNA tested and it’s her own grandchild. The baby has to have been abandoned by the daughter Lloyd gave up for adoption 17 years ago. “Find my daughter,’’ Lloyd says. Only she has no name, no photo, and no idea at all what happened to the baby she gave up.

To complicate matters, the next time Charlie returns to her office, waiting for her is Georgia “Gigi’’ Goldman, the soon-to-be ex-wife of Charlie’s silent partner, Les. She announces, “I’m afraid I need money so I’m here to learn how to be an investigator,’’ and just like that Charlie finds herself saddled with a wacky partner.

Most of the time Gigi provides comic relief to leaven Charlie’s investigation. But some of the setups stretch credibility to the breaking point and the partnership starts to feel like Cagney and Lucy. Overall the story is well crafted, and this series should appeal to readers who enjoy a good puzzle mystery with a side of slapstick.

“Baked,’’ Mark Haskell Smith’s very funny fourth crime novel, tells a sprawling story. The protagonist is Miro Basinos, a sweet underground botanist who has turned three rooms of his 1950s Los Angeles tract house into a sophisticated indoor farm. He’s a consummate geek, and he relishes telling how he started with a strain of cannabis from northern Thailand, crossed it with a strain of wild Hawaiian Indica, and refined it endlessly until he was satisfied. He calls it Elephant Crush. Miro’s goal in life is to win Amsterdam’s Cannibus Cup (“the Olympics of weed’’). To that end, he journeys to Amsterdam, looking for a coffee shop to sponsor him.

But Miro is like a butterfly that flaps its wings in Amsterdam and creates a tornado in Los Angeles. His efforts ensnare a huge cast of both appealing and appalling characters. Young Mormon Daniel Lamb, bicycling his way through “smog and trying not to get pancaked in traffic’’ in order to spread the teaching of the Church, befriends Miro. Shamus Noriega, a self-made criminal who clawed his way to becoming “the controlling force in the Eastside marijuana market,’’ becomes Miro’s biggest nightmare. Lovely Portuguese scientist Marianna seduces him. It falls to Detective Cho of the LAPD to make sense of the chaos.

There’s more, and it’s quite a mix: a sweet love story, raunchy sex, outrageous behavior, a couple of murders, all of it laced with plenty of profanity. In short, this irreverent gonzo crime novel is not for the faint of heart. But it’s a great trip for the right reader.

Hallie Ephron’s is the author of “Never Tell a Lie” and the forthcoming “Come and Find Me.” Contact her through www.hallieephron.com.

OUTWITTING TROLLS
By William G. Tapply
Minotaur, 288 pp., $24.99

SWIFT JUSTICE
By Laura DiSilverio
Minotaur, 304 pp., $24.99

BAKED
By Mark Haskell Smith
Black Cat, 288 pp., paperback, $14