“Stalin’s Ghost” by Martin Cruz Smith. Moscow-based Senior Investigator Arkady Renko, in his outstanding sixth outing (after “Wolves Eat Dogs”), investigates a murder-for-hire scheme that leads him to suspect two fellow police detectives. Renko must also look into reports that the ghost of Stalin has begun appearing on subway platforms and why several bodies of Black Berets who served in Chechnya with Isakov have turned up in the morgue. Despite repeated threats to his life, Renko stubbornly perseveres, seeking justice in a land that has no official notion of that concept. Smith eschews vertiginous twists and surprises, concentrating instead on Renko as he slowly and patiently builds his case until the pieces fall together and he has again, if not exactly triumphed, at least survived. This masterful suspense novel casts a searing light on contemporary Russia.
“The Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA” by Tim Weiner. Is the Central Intelligence Agency a bulwark of freedom against dangerous foes or a malevolent conspiracy to spread American imperialism? A little of both, according to this absorbing study, but the author concludes it is mainly a reservoir of incompetence and delusions that serves no one’s interests well. Pulitzer PrizeÐwinning New York Times correspondent Weiner musters extensive archival research and interviews with top-ranking insiders to present the agency’s saga as an exercise in trying to change the world without bothering to understand it. Weiner contends that its proper function of gathering accurate intelligence languished. With its operations easily penetrated by enemy spies, the CIA was blind to events in adversarial countries like Russia, Cuba and Iraq and tragically wrong about the crucial developments under its purview, from the Iranian revolution and the fall of communism to the absence of Iraqi WMDs. Many of the misadventures Weiner covers are familiar, but his comprehensive survey brings out the persistent problems that plague the agency. The result is a credible and damning indictment of American intelligence policy.
“Girls of Riyadh” by Rajaa Alsanea. Four upper-class Saudi Arabian women negotiate the clash between tradition and the encroaching West in this debut novel by 25-year-old Saudi Alsanea. Though timid by American chick lit standards, it was banned in Saudi Arabia for its scandalous portrayal of secular life. Framed as a series of e-mails sent to the e-subscribers of an Internet group, the story follows an unnamed narrator who recounts the misadventures of her best friends, all fashionable, educated, wealthy 20-somethings looking for true love. Their world is dominated by prayer, family loyalty and physical modesty, but the voracious consumption of luxury goods (designer name dropping is muted but present) and yearnings for female empowerment are also part of the package.
“Silence” by Thomas Perry. Edgar-winner Perry (Pursuit) delivers another intelligent, literate thriller. Jack Till, a retired LAPD detective turned PI, has settled into a somewhat monastic existence, at the center of which is his 21-year-old daughter, Holly, who has Down syndrome. Six years earlier, Till helped restaurateur Wendy Harper escape from would-be assailants. Showing her the techniques police use to track down fugitives, Till taught the woman to assume a new identity and begin a new life. When Harper disappeared, many assumed she was murdered. Now, years later, someone is trying to frame Eric Fuller, Harper’s business partner and sometime boyfriend, for her murder. As always, Perry excels at the procedural details, keeps up the pace throughout and will have readers guessing until the end.
“Observations” by Jane Harris. Bessy Buckley comes upon Castle Haivers on her way to Edinburgh in 1863. An Irish girl, she’s in “Scratchland” to improve her station and ends up as a scullery maid to a strange, lovely mistress, Arabella Reid (on whom she develops something of a crush), despite her lack of experience. Bessy’s discovery of Arabella’s book, “The Observations,” which she is writing about servants she’s had and their cooperativeness, tests her loyalty to Arabella (“the missus”) five-fold and sets in motion a tragedy (complete with supernatural elements).
Compiled by owner Stacey Colin at Harmony Books, 231 Broad St., Nevada City, 265-9564. Hours are Mon. through Sat. 10 a.m.-6 p.m. and Sun. 11 a.m.-5 p.m.
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Temperatures will take a dive starting early next week, the National Weather Service said.