John Gardner, Author . Severn $26.99 (352p) ISBN 978-0-7278-5921-1

Fine atmospherics partly redeem a shaky plot in Gardner's second entry in his Suzie Mountford series (after 2002's Bottled Spider), set in WWII London. Det. Sergeant Mountford seeks to advance her career by tackling gangsters who have supplemented their usual rackets with a variety of black market swindles aimed at dulling the pain of government-mandated rationing. In order to nail a corrupt superior she suspects of working hand in glove with the most vicious and powerful villains—twins who seem to foreshadow the historic brothers Kray—she fakes a breakup with her aristocratic lover to arrange a reassignment to Soho. Once in position, she diligently enlists a network of informants to probe for any chinks in the twins' armor and plots to seize any opportunity to find a witness willing to testify to their brutalities. In the background, a necrophiliac serial killer, the Ghoul, preys on victims of the intermittent German bombing runs. Unfortunately, the Ghoul flies so far below the radar that neither Mountford or any of her colleagues in the force are aware that he is even at work until the story's end, where several key strands of the book unravel. Most notably, the street-smart and independent Mountford becomes a passive victim not once but twice, in ways that seem only gratuitous. These flaws mar a decent police thriller that makes little pretense to having any mystery elements, but that nicely evokes wartime London and the seamy underworld that thrived amid patriotic sacrifice. (July)

Reviewed on: 06/30/2003
Release date: 05/01/2003
Genre: Fiction
Hardcover - 512 pages - 978-0-7278-7314-9
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