There's something very satisfying about a good mystery. When the solution is laid out before a reader, the characters have been interesting and fleshed-out and the plot has been engaging, readers are sure to become attached to the protagonist. And serial characters in the mystery genre have a more committed following than most.
Occasionally the reader is disappointed. The characters become friends, and we expect much from our friends. Readers of a particular serial might never have become fans if they started with the wrong book.Two creators of serial characters have generally fared well in the battle for a delighted following. With the exception of the slightly disappointing "Murder," Parnell Hall's Stanley Hastings is captivating. And William X. Kienzle's Father Robert Koesler has an annual adventure that readers await.
1991 has been very good to fans of these two characters.
Hall, if anything, has topped his previous successes ("Detective," "Favor," "Strangler," "Client") with "Juror."
Hastings, a sort-of private detective (actually, he's more of an ambulance chaser) can't get out of jury duty. He describes the selection process in a humorous and detailed way that readers will remember. We meet the jurors and would-be jurors, Ralph the bailiff and others. And form strong opinions about them.
Stanley is one of those endearing, good-natured people who are always getting into jams. But his usually involve a corpse or two.
Hastings' jury duty is made barely bearable (he can't earn a living) by a beautiful young actress who is also on the panel. She begs rides back and forth to the courthouse and they strike up a friendship of sorts. But one day she's late for her ride, probably because she's dead. Because ever-lucky Hastings finds the body, he's suspect No. 1. The only way off the hot plate is to put someone else on it.
Hall's style is priceless - conversational, witty and very average-guy. Anyone can relate to it - and be tickled by it.
Koesler's appeal is not his wit. But he is charming, gentle and bright - and therein lies his tale.
The priest is somewhat reluctantly drawn once again into a police case when a Detroit prostitute, dressed as a nun, is murdered in front of the Catholic Church where her sister lives. Her sister is one of the most powerful nuns in the diocese.
Then the bodies begin to pile up.
There are plenty of suspects. And most of them are former priests who left their calling in order to marry but never lost their belief or their longing to resume priestly activities.
The Catholic Church, they believe, is changing. They are needed and willing to serve, but the church refuses to give them back their power.
Kienzle brings an authentic voice to the book's underlying debate. He was a priest for 20 years, so he has a rare and gentle understanding of the issues involved.
Kienzle books are more than just good mysteries - and they are good indeed. They are also an insider's look at the history of the church he so obviously loves.
"Chameleon" packs a lot of surprises. At the end, a reader is guaranteed to say, "You're kidding." Followed by "Of course."
If you love a mystery, these books are sure to please.