The butler didn't; License Renewed, by John Gardner. New York: Richard Marek. $9.95.; Monk's Hood, by Ellis Peters. New York: William Morrow & Co. $9.95.; Drink This, by Eileen Dewhurst. New York: Doubleday & Co. $9.95.; Sweet & Deadly, by Charlaine Harris. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co. $8.95.; Trouble for Tallon, by John Ball. New York: Doubleday & Co. $9.95.; A Savage Place, by Robert B. Parker. New York: Delacorte Press. $10.95.
James Bond is back, and not a moment too soon. Anton Marik, Laird of Murcaly and renowned nuclear physicist, plans to trigger six Three Mile Island-like nuclear disasters in Europe if his ransom demand for $50 billion in diamonds is not met. Who but Bond, his license to kill renewed, could defuse this one?
In "License Renewed" John Gardner, author of many fine thrillers, faithfuly re-creates the ambiance of the original Bond, invented by the late Ian Fleming as the centerpiece for 14 Fleming books.
Our new Bond is updated for the 1980s. His Aston Martin has been replaced by a turbocharged Saab. Yet some things never change. As always, his life style is far from austere, and beautiful women are in evidence. Bond fans won't be disappointed in this new outing.
Readers who like faraway times and places will be pleased by "Monk's Hood," the third book by Ellis Peters featuring Brother Cadfael, a monk in 12th-century England.
Cadfael specializes in herbal cures, and here a compound he has concocted for Brother Rhys finds its way into a partridge served to Gervase Bonel, with fatal results. The curmudgeonly Bonel had just deeded his estate to the church, disinheriting his second wife's son. Before the murder, Bonel and the stepson had argued violently. The case appears open and shut. But it isn't.
Brother Cadfael manages to unmask the real murderer. And while his identity comes as no surprise, what Brother Cadfael thinks up to ensure justice does. Along the way, Peters sheds light on church politics and society in the Dark Ages, writing in a style that compels us to keep reading.
Eileen Dewhurst's latest mystery has the apt title "Drink This." Unfortunately the Rev. Malcolm Darcy of Bunington does. The concoction this time is communion wine laced with cyanide, and Bunington becomes the second of three mysterious victims to confound the citizens of a picture-book English town.
Fortunately, though, Detective-Inspector Neil Carter is in Bunington, ostensibly on vacation, but in fact to solve an unrelated crime. Inevitably he is drawn into the case. Working with an observant 12-year-old and the police, Carter manages to discover whodunit.
"Drink This" begins slowly, but stick with it. Dewhurst paints an interesting picture of small town life in England, and her detective is likable and low key.
"Sweet & Deadly" is the first outing for sleuth Catherine Linton, society editor of the Lowfield Gazette, whose problem is that she keeps finding corpses.
The first is that of Leona Gaites, her father's nurse; the second is friend and fellow reporter Tom Mascalco. She uncovers the motive behind these murders only just in time to prevent herself from being the next victim.
"Sweet & Deadly" is Charlaine Harris's first mystery. While not without flaws -- her characters and the town they live in need more development -- it is nonetheless engaging.
Harris's style has a charm and ease that remind one of Anne Tyler, and her plot is, if improbable, original and surprising. Traces of Gothic romance add to the book's unusual flavor.
In "Trouble for Tallon" a police chief in whitewater, Wash., has a tough case on his hands. Councilman Wilson Sullivan has been murdered, and suspicion is focused on the Dharmaville spiritual community -- with which Sullivan had many disputes.
The action involves the members of Dharmaville and the police department; the inner workings of both are convincingly set forth. The subplots -- arson, a missing celebrity, romance -- are well integrated with the homicide investigation.
Author John Ball, creator of Virgil Tibbs ("In the Heat of the Night"), has another substantial character in Chief Jack Tallon, but his writing is marred by his penchant for overexplaining. On the whole, though, Tallon's efforts to mold a professional police department in a small town, combined with solid plotting and an appealing cast of characters, make "Trouble for Tallon" absorbing.
In "A Savage Place," Spenser, Robert B. Parker's private eye, is back -- face to face, as always, with the seamy side of society. In this, his eighth adventure, Spenser gets an unexpected call from a former client, Rachel Wallace, who wants him to help a California television reporter, Candy Sloan. She is in over her head investigating racketeering in the movie industry.
Far from Boston, his home base, Spenser and Sloan unearth a pervasive network of corruption. There are several murders along the way, but Spenser perseveres and uses the news media in an ingenious way to bring the culprit to justice.
"A Savage Place" is aptly titled, and it adds new dimensions to the already complex Spenser. It becomes ever clearer that Spenser, like Lew Archer and Philip Marlowe, is as concerned with society's future as with seeing justice done.
While Spenser has an almost stock-detective macho side to him, there is also on his part an interest in understanding human nature, an attribute all too rare in fictive characters, no matter what genre they inhabit.