THE RESTORATION OF OTTO LAIRD
By Nigel Packer (St. Martin's Press, 338 pages, $25.99)
Crotchety retired architect Otto Laird is winding down his life, living in Switzerland with his second wife, writing crabby letters that he never mails, occasionally forgetting to put on clothing. He's not yet dotty, but he's close.
But then he learns that the most important building of his career — Marlowe House, an apartment complex in London — is going to be demolished. For many reasons (which become clear as the book progresses) he swore he would never go back to London. But he gathers his fortitude and determination and flies back to England to stop the destruction.
Nigel Packer's debut novel is an entertaining read about the preservation of one's legacy, the difficulties of growing old and the importance of making amends. An unexpected ending leaves the reader with a taste of sweetness — not a bad thing, in these dark times.
By Ray Celestin (Sourcebooks Landmark, 428 pages, $14.99)
Jazz, booze, corruption and murder are blended together in this excellent thriller set in New Orleans on the eve of the Prohibition era. "The Axeman," the first novel by Ray Celestin, draws heavily on an actual, unsolved ax-murder spree that set the city on edge in 1918-1919. In the novel, as happened in real life, the supposed killer sent a letter to the newspaper revealing his love of jazz and promising to spare people in homes where the music was playing. The tale gets better as Celestin spins an intricate plot layered with political corruption and fraud. The mystery is revealed through competing investigations by police and private detectives.