cover image THE ANNEX


Russell James, . . Five Star, $25.95 (240pp) ISBN 978-0-7862-3931-3

Sexual politics enliven this modern retelling, set in southeast England, of Thomas Middleton's Jacobean tragedy, The Changeling. James, called "the godfather of British noir," lives up to his reputation as a chronicler of low life, though as usual there are no detectives and the police play a subordinate role. Miro, a successful architect, lives in a stately country house and has all the accoutrements of success, including a beautiful mistress, Joanna. They plan to marry despite a 20-year difference in their ages, and everything seems idyllic—till one day an old mate of Joanna's comes calling. Alan has spent time in prison and knows a dark secret from Joanna's past, which he threatens to confide to Miro. It's not money he's seeking but Joanna, for himself. Desperate, she turns to Miro's chauffeur, Florian, who lures Alan to a lake and disposes of him with bloody promptitude, then gives Joanna a grisly souvenir—Alan's finger. Florian's price for his services is sex—he, too, has a yen for his employer's intended. Everything seems to be working out, but on the wedding day, Alan's brother, Tom, shows up and announces that Alan and Joanna were engaged. Once again, murder seems the only solution. Then things rapidly disintegrate, with a climactic conflagration and a distinctly downbeat ending. James writes in a hard-bitten, edgy style more attentive to character study and locale than plot. The result is a taut, compelling noir with liberal dollops of sex and violence. The novel should appeal to mystery fans more interested in the crime, and its aftermath, than its detection. (Apr.)

FYI:James is currently chairman of the Crime Writers Association.