cover image Murder Book

Murder Book

Richard Rayner / Author Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH) $25 (3

Set in a monsoon-drenched L.A., Rayner's third novel (Los Angeles Without a Map) is a taut, intricately plotted thriller in which the city itself is suffused with miasmic evil. Everyone, from drug dealers to movie stars and celebrity doctors, is interconnected, and no one is really innocent. Half-British and educated in philosophy at an unnamed Cambridge-like university, star homicide detective Billy McGrath is divorced but still in love with his ex-wife. Desperate to atone for a past affair and to prove he can be a good provider for his 11-year-old daughter, Billy is ripe for the temptation that appears when the 45-year-old mother of the biggest cocaine dealer in town turns up murdered. Dealer Ricky Lee Richards offers Billy a cool million for the name of the killer. In Rayner's L.A., everyone and every crime seems to be linked: Ricky Lee, for example, associated with an O.J.-like movie star who killed his wife. The whole cityscape is pulsing, jittery, just this side of total anarchy. A not-guilty verdict in the movie star's trial shatters Billy's faith in the system. In a harrowing transformation, McGrath sheds his law-enforcing persona and becomes an avenger. He takes the money and schemes to set killer against killer, justifying the violence he spawns as good because justice has become a joke. While Rayner's prose is occasionally too hardboiled, as if it's parodying pulp detective novels, these missteps are rare. Mostly the novel has just the right punch, and its portraits of the contemporary American city gone bad are oddly moving. (Oct.)