Death by Deception and The Buzzards Must Also Be Fed, Anne Wingate(out of print, check for used copies at our ABE store).
At the recent Ann Arbor Book Festival, we were told that an author named Lee Martin would be in attendance. Though I'd never read anything by mystery writer Lee Martin, when I did a little research and discovered that she was really Anne Wingate and had worked in law enforcement, I was very excited to meet her. Imagine my disappointment when the Lee Martin in question turned out not to be a mystery writer but a "literary" one. The bonus, however, was that I went ahead and picked up the intriguing Anne Wingate titles we happened to have on the shelves and dove in.
The first thing I can say is that it's almost criminal that these books are out of print. The first book in Wingate's Mark Shigata series, Death by Deception, is a corker, and the second, The Buzzards Must Also be Fed, is just as good. In the first novel Wingate follows almost all the "rules" for a detective classic - at 202 pages, this is a quick read; the detective, while the main character, doesn't impede the narrative; and the clues are fair and tricky. Of course, she breaks some of the rules too - the detective is pretty much an integral part of the plot and even becomes a victim at one point - but that's really nitpicking at what is a terrific and memorable read. Shigata is a Japanese American whose parents, ashamed of Japan's role in WWII, have tried to exorcize any evidence of Japanese culture within their household, to the point where Shigata is almost shocked to be recognized as an Asian. If it weren't that the KKK were sending him unpleasant messages, he could almost forget about it. In this opening installment, Shigata is an FBI agent whose wife is missing, and when he gets home to tell his 12 year old daughter about it, he discovers she's missing too. At that point, his world falls apart.
Wingate is a far from sentimental writer (though this book is, at times, moving) and instead of detailing the fairly normal and predictable hand wringing and grief that accompany a missing child, she instead takes us into the mind of the child, which accomplishes several things: the reader knows she's safe; the plot is advanced; and we're, as readers, able to get another viewpoint of Shigata's life in addition to a well written look inside the mind of a 12 year old. Meanwhile Shigata is a mess, and the local cop assigned to his case seems to him like a redneck. Let me emphasize "seems". By the time Shigata is on a Vietnamese owned fishing boat where the cop, Al Quinn, converses fluently and easily with the boat owner who he then off handedly introduces as his brother in law, we're aware that there's more to Al Quinn than meets the eye. The relationship between Quinn and Shigata is really the central one of the novel, and highlights their working differences, as well as shows - not tells - how their differences make for an excellent working partnership. Before long, their trust of one another is complete, and Quinn is more than hinting that Shigata should leave his job at the FBI and take on the job of Chief of Police in their small Texas town.
Death by Deception is also a hard and frequently painful look at domestic violence, as one of the central characters is a woman on the run from a husband who routinely beats her. I repeat, Wingate is not sentimental - this just makes her description of this type of violence all the more horrifying. When the story in this book is neatly and cleverly tied up with several changes of life in store for Shigata, my appetite was more than whetted for the second novel, which fortunately we've had sitting on our first edition shelf for quite awhile. In The Buzzards Must Also Be Fed, Shigata has taken the Police Chief job; he works in an extremely small department with Quinn as his lead detective. Wingate is a real master at grabbing the reader's attention from the first - in this installment, the opening scene is the crash of a prison van in an unusual (for Texas) ice storm; the prisoner inside escapes, and returns to Shigata's neck of the woods, well known to have vowed to kill the Chief of Police. The prisoner, Steve Hansen, is on death row for the brutal murders of his wife and daughter; he says he didn't do it, and the reader is left to sort out the issue of believability for him/herself. In this novel, the "theme" centers on the preconceptions lots of people had about Hansen, preconceptions Shigata doesn't believe. Quinn has repeatedly told Shigata he thinks Hansen is innocent; their instincts are more than challenged when Hansen shows up in Shigata's office, gun loaded and pointed at Shigata's head. Wingate manages to take this truly unique situation and turn it into not only a nifty whodunnit but a fairly penetrating look inside the mind of Hansen's surviving teenage son. Wingate is obviously a parent - she writes about children only as someone who actually has lived with them can - they aren't perfect in her world, but they are understandable human beings.
Wingate's characters are well rounded, her plots are jet propelled, and the police procedure is interesting and not detailed enough to be dull. She also (as I've said) writes under the name Lee Martin, and we have several of Lee Martin's titles available as well. If you have never discovered this fine author before, I encourage you to pick one up before too long - you won't be sorry.
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