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Mystery master Donald E. Westlake dies

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Donald Westlake
Donald Westlake in his Greenwich Village home. (Louis Lanzano/AP)

Prolific mystery author Donald E. Westlake died of a heart attack while vacationing in Mexico. He was 75. Westlake reportedly wrote more than 100 books in his career, under both his own name and a variety of pseudonyms. Fans can look forward to one more novel, Get Real (Grand Central, $23.99), to be released in April.

Get Real

'Hollywood Crows'

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In his latest police procedural, Joseph Wambaugh introduces a large assortment of quirky cops, each made readily recognizable by his own ‘‘handle.’’

For a start, there’s Doomsday Dan Applewhite, who lives ‘‘in constant anticipation of calamity.’’ There’s Compassionate Charlie Gifford, who finds street brutality amusing. There’s Nathan Hollywood Weiss, who is trying to break into the movies. And two surfer-dude cops, Flotsam and Jetsam, who’d really rather be at the beach.

Most of them are assigned to the Los Angeles Police Department’s Community Relations Office. Hence the title, Hollywood Crows (Little, Brown, 343 pages, $26.99). Dismissed by other officers as ‘‘the sissy beat’’ or ‘‘teddy bears in blue,’’ the Crows spend most of their time dealing with ‘‘quality of life complaints’’ such as loud music, barking dogs and illegal parking.

Hollywood Crows

But as they complain about their paperwork, hit on one another and mosey from one seemingly unrelated complaint to the next, they manage to bump into a number of real crimes including robbery and murder.
Nearly always, these crimes provoke attempts at cop humor that vary between distasteful and offensive.

‘‘No such thing as rape in Hollywood,’’ one observes. ‘‘Just a lot of business disputes.’’

About midway through the book, it dawns on the reader that a few of the incidents in this episodic book relate to one another in a way that vaguely resembles a plot.

Ali Aziz and his hot wife Margot, owners of an upscale strip club called the Leopard Lounge, are in the middle of an ugly divorce. They are fighting over money. They are fighting over custody of their son, Nicky. Independently, each decides it would be nifty if the other were dead.

On their routine patrols, members of the Crows keep stumbling over bits and pieces of the murder plots. But will they put it together before it’s too late?

Wambaugh knows this turf; he was a Los Angels cop for nearly 20 years. During that time, he wrote some of his best novels, including The New Centurions, and his nonfiction best seller, The Onion Field.

After 13 years without a new book, he returned in 2006 with the stylish police procedural ‘‘Hollywood Station.’’

Hollywood Crows has its moments, but suffers by comparison.


The Outfit on Chandler

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As part of the One Book, One Chicago program, The Outfit, a group of area crime fiction authors, has been asked to write about different aspects of Raymond Chandler's The Long Goodbye. The group began blogging about the book yesterday and will continue through the next two weeks. Sara Paretsky started things off. Check it out.

Other members of The Outfit include Sean Chercover, Barbara D'Amato, Michael Allen Dymmoch, Kevin Guilfoile, Libby Fischer Hellmann and Marcus Sakey. Several members have new books out:

Paretsky: Bleeding Kansas (Putnam, $25.95)
Sakey: At the City's Edge (St. Martin's, $24.95)
Dymmoch: M.I.A. (Thomas Dunne, $24.95)
Hellmann: Easy Innocence (Bleak House, $14.95)

Whistling Dixie

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I picked up today's book book with a little hesitation. Books featuring animals — in this case, pets — are a little too precious for my taste. And the author's name, Blaize Clement, conjures an aging Southern belle who could no sooner put together a compelling sentence than go out of the house without her hair and nails done.

But, one page into Even Cat Sitters Get the Blues (Thomas Dunne, 248 pages, $23.95), I was not only pleasantly surprised by the writing, but also I wanted to keep reading.

Even Cat Sitters Get the Blues

The game's afoot!

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Sherlock Holmes has vanished and his trusty sidekick, Dr. John Watson, has been convicted of murder in The Crimes of Dr. Watson: An Interactive Sherlock Holmes Mystery (Quirk Books, 60 pages, $24.95), by John H. Watson, M.D., edited by Duane Swierczynski.

The Crimes of Dr. Watson

It's a clever, gimmicky, beautifully put together little mystery book that allows you, the reader, to solve the mystery that could save the innocent Dr. Watson from rotting in Coldbath Fields penitentiary.

In a letter to a "Colonel Harry" in Philadephia, Watson recounts everything he knows about the events leading up to his arrest. The book becomes interactive with the inclusion of facsimile clues such as a train schedule, telegram, newspaper article, matchbook and the complete text of "The FInal Problem," Watson's famous account of the death of Holmes.

The reader then gets to put his own powers of deductive reasoning to use by trying to solve the mystery. When you think you have it, you can unseal the final pages, which reveal the rest of the story.

Elementary, my dear Watsons!

More sassy than sweet

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I will disclose right off the bat that I chose today's book because it came with a package of candy conversation hearts. I don't even like candy conversation hearts but the gimmick caught my attention, so there you go.

Luckily, Sweetheart Deal (William Morrow, 353 pages, $23.95) by Claire Matturro, is a good read. Apparently it's the fourth in a series featuring the plucky Lilly Cleary, an attorney who always finds herself with an odd case...

Sweetheart Deal

How 'Sweet' It Is

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Mmmmmm......cupcakes. That's what I was thinking when I pulled Sweet Revenge (William Morrow, 368 pages, $25.95) off the shelf. The bright yellow cover jacket first drew my eyes to it and the cupcake picture sealed the deal.

Sweet Revenge

I'm new to the world of Diane Mott Davidson and her catering heroine Goldy Schulz, who finds herself in the middle of a 14th mystery ...

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