Salvaging lives in post-Katrina New Orleans is no picnic.
Nola Céspedes is fed up with the puff pieces she’s assigned at the Times-Picayune. So when she’s given a shot at a major feature story—how well do rehabilitated sex offenders do when released back into the community?—she goes all-out, even nudging her friend Calinda over in the district attorney’s office for unpublicized details concerning the recent rape and mutilation of a young tourist. Her choice of which serial rapists to interview is as dangerous as her choice of one-night stands. Nola is so driven, argumentative and protectively secretive about her upbringing in the tawdry Desire Projects that her gay housemate Uri suggests therapy. But she’s too busy preparing for a wedding and meeting her mother’s female lover for the first time. Her stress escalates when another young girl goes missing, and she becomes even more promiscuous, more argumentative, more out of control and more worried about one of her interviewees, a former vice principal who seems overly interested in the young girl she’s mentoring and the female students playing in the school courtyard across from his apartment. Nola’s final attempt to deal with the sordidness surrounding her brings death and a start at reclaiming her own past.
Castro’s first mystery is fierce and intense, with both harrowing depictions of New Orleans after Katrina and psychological mayhem for its troubled heroine, who crawls under your skin and lingers there long after you’ve finished reading. A sequel is in the works.
A clever Regency sleuth is much like Jane Austen with her ability to see that the mundane things of life are more important than they seem.
Due to a family reversal of fortunes Dido Kent is residing with her brother Frank and sister-in-law Margaret. Although Margaret does not treat her well, the neighborhood provides plenty of entertainment for her active mind, especially the residents of Madderstone Abbey, which is reputed to be the home of a ghost known as the Grey Nun. Although one of Dido’s acquaintances, the beautiful Penelope, is hurt in a fall at the ruined abbey, it is the shocking discovery of a body in the ornamental lake that arouses Dido’s curiosity. The property owners are the Harmon-Footes and the body proves to be that of Miss Fenn, a governess who had vanished years ago. The coroner’s jury declares Miss Fenn a suicide, the minister has refused her burial in the churchyard and Mrs. Harman-Foote begs Dido to look into the case refusing to believe her beloved governess killed herself. Dido ponders the strange behavior of a naval man who seeks to attach himself to both the lovely Penelope and the wealthy Lucy, the landscape architect who drained the lake without permission and the local doctor who conducts strange experiments. Dido is also dealing with a marriage proposal from Mr. William Lomax (A Gentleman of Fortune, 2011, etc.), a man she could love but fears she cannot marry because he disapproves of her independent ways as dangerous. Dido manages to solve a very complicated mystery but can she find happiness with her suitor?
The third in Dean’s series is another delight, complete with perfect regency prose and an excellent mystery.
She’s a wife, a mom, an LAPD captain and compelling no matter what she does.
Meet Capt. Josie Corsino, a good cop. She’s been that for two decades plus, is proud of her achievement, remains passionate about the work, regards it as a high calling and hates bent cops. Unfortunately, she’s about to confront a mess of them. The complex, frequently embittering case that flushes them out begins in the Hollywood hills and centers on the murder of Hillary Dennis, a teenage movie star with connections going every which way: to a powerful, eminently dislikeable city councilman, to his wayward son, to organized crime and, yes, to the upper reaches of the LAPD. As murder follows murder, Josie battles a variety of dubious agendas while trying desperately to protect embattled colleagues—often as not from their own self-destructive behavior. Meanwhile, trouble looms on her domestic front. After 20 years of marriage her husband is suddenly restive. Her beloved, quixotic son—who may, incidentally, have been closer to Hillary Dennis than was wise—also has issues with her. “You really don’t give an inch, do you?” David says, “You look and talk like other mothers, but you’ve got the heart of a gunnery sergeant.” He’s right, and he’s wrong, which is, of course, part of what makes Josie remarkable.
A veteran cop herself, Dial (The Broken Blue Line, 2010, etc.) does authenticity to the max, and readers will like that. But it’s tough, vulnerable, never-say-die Josie that they’ll love.
George’s Pittsburgh cops (Hideout, 2011, etc.) investigate a robbery-murder that’s a lot less routine and more sordid than it looks.
Gubernatorial hopeful Michael Connolly can’t keep his hands off Cassie Price, a new paralegal in his father’s law firm. But as he tells Todd Simon, his campaign manager, his need to maintain a squeaky-clean family image means that he can’t acknowledge her either. So Simon takes Cassie out for a margarita to find out how dangerous she is. By next morning, she’s no danger at all, because she’s been killed in the house she’s been fixing up in the low-income neighborhood of Oakland. Witness accounts and other evidence send Detectives Coleson and McGranahan to Cal Hathaway, the son of the Connolly housekeeper. Damaged as a child by a concussion and subject to blackouts, Cal seems tailor-made for the role of Cassie’s killer, and after hours of interrogation, he says he did it, or he didn’t, or he can’t remember. That’s good enough for the cops, who lock him up and get ready to move on. But Cmdr. Richard Christie, dissatisfied with the case against Cal, keeps playing devil’s advocate, urging that Detectives John Potocki and Colleen Greer look at other scenarios and other suspects. As they painstakingly build a second case against an unsurprising suspect, Cal makes friends and enemies in jail, raising the distinct possibility that even if the police arrest someone else, his vindication will be posthumous.
George’s all-too-familiar story is so richly observed, subtly characterized, precisely written—her syncopated paragraphs are a special delight—and successful in its avoidance of genre clichés that you’d swear you were reading the first police procedural ever written.
A plot-twisting, page-turning humdinger in which collateral damage gets a murderous spin.
Alive, actress/model Susie Monaghan snagged her allotted 15 minutes of fame and then some. Dead, she became an absolute sensation. She was gorgeous, yes. Talented, maybe. A head case, no question: a beautiful, outrageous flake who did drugs unabashedly and went through boyfriends carnivorously. A fatal helicopter crash off the coast of Ireland rocketed her to the top of the A-list, where she hovered indefinitely like some headline-hungry ghost. People couldn’t stop talking about her, which is OK with a certain young Dublin journalist. Jimmy Gilroy, recently downsized, has received an unexpected and most welcome book deal. He’s charged with immortalizing Susie Monaghan, an assignment he’s prepared to take very seriously given his straitened circumstances, plus the attractive added inducement of Susie’s lovely sister, whose input he deems integral to the project. But then the worrisome phone calls from longtime friend and benefactor Phil Sweeney commence, suggesting ever more forcefully that he back off. Other voices join in. It’s from an obviously unnerved and deeply depressed former prime minister of Ireland, however, that he hears the phrase “collateral damage” applied to Susie. Five others died when the helicopter went down. Jimmy knew that, of course, but now he gets his first sulfuric whiff of something rotten being covered up.
His prose spare but spirited, Glynn (Winterland, 2011, etc.) spins an all-too-likely tale of secrets, lies and power corrupted. Chilling.
Disgraced former Chief Constable Bob Watts has never given up his hope of solving the 1934 Brighton Trunk Murder. Upon the death of his father, well-known author and former police constable Victor Tempest, Watts finds a treasure trove of new information in his papers. Back in the present, DS Sarah Gilchrist, who’s still living down the trouble she’s been in over the Milldean Massacre that brought Watts down, finds herself in even hotter water for giving an illegal weapon to her friend, reporter Kate Simpson, who uses it to a kill a rapist. And Jimmy Tingley, ex-SAS and friend of Watts, is in Europe on the trail of the Balkan gangsters who’ve been trying to take over the Brighton crime scene (The Last King of Brighton, 2011, etc). The information his father left Watts, which reaches all the way back to his grandfather’s World War I experiences and death, details Tempest’s life as a police constable, a member of Oswald Mosley’s fascist organization, and a friend of both Ian Fleming and a long string of lawbreakers. It’s no secret to Watts that the lives of the constabulary and the criminals of Brighton have long been deeply intertwined, but as he continues to investigate, the information becomes steadily more shocking.
Guttridge’s third Brighton thriller is so well-written that it would be well worth your time even if it were not such a darkly brilliant mystery.
Nothing in Knopf’s reflective, quietly loopy Hamptons mysteries starring Sam Acquillo and Jackie Swaitkowski (Ice Cap, 2012, etc.) will have prepared his fans for this taut, streamlined tale of a man investigating his own murder.
The hit man who invades the Cathcarts’ upscale home in Stamford, Conn., tells Florencia Cathcart that if she doesn’t write down the answers to five questions, he’ll kill her husband. When she complies, he shoots them both anyway. Florencia dies, but Arthur merely hovers in a coma for months. Convinced upon his return to life that his killer’s been monitoring his progress with a view to finishing him off, he persuades his neurologist sister, Evelyn, to have him declared dead. She agrees, although she’s signing on to a long list of potential charges for conspiracy and insurance fraud, and Arthur, once he’s erased from the grid, is free to assume the identity of one Alex Rimes and go after the hit man and his employer. He tires easily, he limps badly, and his vision is poor, but his skills as a freelance researcher turn out to be surprisingly useful, though he can’t imagine why anyone would order the execution of either himself or Florencia, who owned a successful insurance agency. The trail to the killers leads through a wary arrangement with a retired FBI agent, an elaborate precious-metals scam and a society party to die for before Arthur finally confronts his quarry in a sequence that manages both to satisfy readers’ bloodlust and to point toward a sequel.
An absorbing update of the classic film, D.O.A., that finds its author so completely in the zone that not a word is wasted, and the story seems to unfold itself without human assistance.
The author of the prize-winning Hap and Leonard series (Devil Red, 2011, etc.) charts a course that may remind you of a distaff Huck and Jim.
Paddling a makeshift raft down the Sabine River, they flee East Texas, a New York minute ahead of their pursuers. There are four of them: tough-minded Sue Ellen Wilson, at 16, the stuff of natural leaders; Jinx, Sue Ellen’s lifelong black friend who, if she knows anything at all, knows she’s better than the bigotry she’s endured all her life; angry, resentful Terry, not wholly reconciled to the fact that he’s gay; and Sue Ellen’s alcoholic mom Helen, who’s quite forgotten how pretty she still is. Flagrantly ill-treated, consistently undervalued, they’ve been brought together by a murder. May Lynn Baxter, “the kind of girl that made men turn their heads and take a deep breath,” is pulled from the river, her bizarre death clearly no accident. It’s an event that provides the restless four with both a mission and a pretext. May Lynn always wanted to go to Hollywood. They will usher her ashes there, a task that provides them with a more or less credible reason for doing what they’ve been longing to do: run.
The river, the raft, a stash of money coveted by bad guys, nonstop adventures that edify, terrify and deepen the bond between Sue Ellen and Jinx. A highly entertaining tour de force.
Lippman (The Most Dangerous Thing, 2011, etc.), who specializes in tales of feckless parents and their luckless kids, puts a madam at the center of her latest dysfunctional family.
At first, nothing could be more conventional than the Lewis family saga. Helen’s father, already married with two children to his credit, knocks up her mother, Beth, a 19-year-old carhop. He moves in with Beth but hangs around his ex-wife Barbara enough to give Helen a half sister, Meghan, only six months younger. As Beth and Barbara tussle over worthless Hector, he focuses on tormenting Helen, telling her that she has “a nothing face,” breaking her record albums and forcing her to get a job that interferes with her schoolwork. It’s while waitressing at Il Cielo that she meets Billy, the owner’s stepson, who lures her to Baltimore with promises of marriage. Instead, he turns her out, making her earn money to feed his drug habit by doing lap dances at a local strip club. That’s where she meets Val Deluca, whose red hair matches his fiery temper. Val offers Helen a nice house and a better class of client, all for doing what she’s already doing. He also gives her the chance to be something she’d never dreamed of: a mother. That’s when Helen’s tale goes off the beaten path. Before he learns about Helen’s delicate condition, Val is jailed for murder, and Helen reinvents herself as Heloise Lewis, running the business at a level Val had never achieved. She recruits college girls with delicately worded ads for escorts and serves clients who include state legislators, all while presenting herself as a lobbyist for the Women’s Full Employment Network. But when another suburban madam turns up dead, Heloise realizes that the safe, comfortable life she’s crafted for herself and her beloved son, Scott, in affluent Turner’s Grove is at risk.
Like Mary Cassatt, Lippman studies families with a different eye than her male contemporaries, showing the heartbreaking complexity of life with those you love.
In Manfredo’s tender and terrific latest, a burned-out cop can’t quit because he’s also a devoted dad.
NYPD Det. Sgt. Joe Rizzo (Rizzo’s Fire, 2011, etc.) suspects he’s been on the job too long. It’s not that he’s lost effectiveness. In terms of sheer professionalism he’s probably as good as ever, maybe even better. It’s just that time and bitter experience have rubbed off the gloss since the days when he loved being a cop, replacing it with a pervasive existential heaviness best expressed by Rizzo’s mantra: “There is no right. There is no wrong. There just [obscenity] is.” For a while now Rizzo has been promising his wife Jen that resignation is just around the corner, a plan that seems eminently feasible until suddenly it isn’t. Carol Rizzo, their youngest daughter, announces—in terms as strong as Rizzo himself once used—that she too has opted for blue. Long-suffering Jen is terrified. Rizzo understands that and shares some of her very sensible anxiety while taking a certain guilty pride in his daughter’s decision. Carol’s choice, however, means that seasoned, savvy Rizzo must stay on in order to protect his beloved child as much as possible. But how much will that be?
Good cops, bent cops, tormented and demented cops, cops of every description inhabit Rizzo’s world, all of them utterly believable and intensely interesting. For readers compiling a short list of crime fiction, here’s an essential.
Every family has secrets. Some are even worth telling.
Deborah Knott never admitted to her husband, Dwight, how she got her judgeship. Dwight never told her what happened in Germany when he was a company man. And his son, Cal, fessed up to Deborah that he wanted to be adopted only after a pal ratted him out and she confronted him about it. But these little evasions pale in comparison to the big one that’s motivated Martin Crawford to come to Colleton County, N.C., and settle in a tenant house owned by his ailing aunt, who’s marshaling all her remaining Southern charm to entertain two other visiting relatives, NYPD Lt. Sigrid Harald and her mother, Anne, the Pulitzer Prize–winning photojournalist. Because Martin spends most of his time taking pictures of vultures—at least, that’s what he says—he happens to be in the vicinity of the trash site where someone has dumped an all too promiscuous realtor. He also happens to be nearby when teenager Jeremy Harper is bashed into a coma. And unfortunately for Martin, he happens to have followed the vultures to the local airstrip, where he may have entered a pilot’s motel room and snapped his neck. Is Martin responsible for all the mayhem, or are the attacks and murders unrelated? Sheriff’s Deputy Dwight, with an assist from Sigrid, a memory that resurfaces for Anne and an alibi that disintegrates, finally assigns the right motives—jealousy and revenge—to the right persons, discomfiting a philandering husband and unsettling the FBI and the CIA.
Maron (Three-Day Town, 2011, etc.) adroitly melds ugly American (open) government secrets with classic whodunit intrigue and stirs the pot by itemizing domestic travails that will touch readers’ hearts.
Nancy Marino is sweet-natured, genuinely friendly, endlessly selfless, the quintessential nice girl. How can you possibly not like her? So when she meets sudden death, struck by a black Cadillac early one morning on a deserted street in suburban Newark, the universal reaction is shock and anger at a hit-and-run. But nobody for a moment considers malice—except for Carter Ross, ace investigative reporter for the Newark Eagle-Examiner, and even he doesn’t get there right away. Moved by the sheer tragedy of it, Carter at first sees his news story as a simple tribute, something owed to a remarkably good woman. Only then do the famous Carter Ross instincts kick in. Not that Carter looks much like a guy with game-changing instincts. He looks like what he is: a 32-year-old WASP male with “absolutely no interest” in being taken for anything else. Yet he has a highly developed ability to sniff out what’s dark in man’s relationship to man, or to a good woman. And if acting on instinct puts him in mortal danger, Carter has a theory about that. Whatever doesn’t kill him makes him a better newspaperman.
With his third featuring brash, breezy, unflappable Carter (Eyes of the Innocent, 2011, etc.), Parks propels himself to a niche shared by only a handful of others: writers who can manage the comedy-mystery.
Jane Whitefield’s latest attempt to hide someone other people are looking for puts her in even more danger than usual, and that’s not easy.
Jane has so little trouble breaking James Shelby, framed for murdering his wife, out of police custody at the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Courts Building in Los Angeles that you just know something’s going to go wrong. But the mishap this time is remarkably fast and unexpected: Three hard types who’ve been tracking Shelby go after Jane instead. Driving her to a remote desert location, they torture her seeking information about her client, then realize that they can make a queen’s ransom by auctioning her off to one of the many criminals she’s outwitted by spiriting away their victims or enemies and settling them in new identities (Runner, 2009, etc.). Jane manages to escape and takes refuge in a battered women’s shelter in Las Vegas, where she acquires yet another fugitive who must be hidden away. (“I guess I have a knack for making friends” is her laconic comment.) It would be unfair to reveal more about a story whose appeal depends so completely on Perry’s ability to keep you from seeing a single inch around the next corner. Suffice it to say that both Jane and the fake cops will put a great many more miles on vehicles they’ve rented or stolen before Jane confronts the brains behind the frame-up of Shelby in the nation’s heartland in a satisfyingly one-dimensional showdown.
Shepherd’s latest detective story (Murder at Mansfield Park, 2010) is a Victorian tour de force that borrows characters from Charles Dickens’ Bleak House and Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White.
Ever since Metropolitan police officer Charles Maddox was dismissed for insubordination, he’s eked out a living as a private detective. He currently has two cases. The first is finding the grandchild of a man who had cast out his pregnant daughter years before. The second is identifying the writer of threatening scrawls for Edward Tulkinghorn, a powerful attorney who represents the interests of the wealthy and highborn. Charles has learned a good deal from his great uncle. Now that this brilliant detective and mentor is slipping into the dark world of age-related mental illness, Charles, moving into his home to supervise his care, benefits from his meticulously kept case notes. At length he realizes that his work for Tulkinghorn is leaving in its wake a string of corpses, many of them evidently connected to the horrific murder of several women. In 1850s England it is no easy task to confront the noble clients Tulkinghorn is protecting, but Charles is determined to discover the truth no matter where it leads. He is savagely attacked and even arrested. Can he rely on Inspector Bucket’s assurances that he is on Charles’ side? The enterprising sleuth’s life may depend on the answer when his two cases come together in a horrifying denouement.
Shepherd offers an intricate plot and a thousand details of the least-admirable side of Victorian life. A must-read.
Chasing her retirement number, superthief Crissa Stone (Cold Shot to the Heart, 2011, etc.) fills bunches of money bags. And body bags.
Crissa Stone is a one-woman larceny machine—smart, resourceful and, above all, careful, which explains an enviable success rate. But she’s reached the point where it makes sense for her to leave the life behind. Her exit will require a really big final score. Fortunately, opportunity knocks in the guise of ex-mobster Benny Roth. Hidden deep in a witness protection program for longer than anyone can remember, Benny’s been doing an exemplary job of going straight. He has a job he likes, he has friends and he has Marta. Benny’s 62, she’s in her 20s, yet the feeling between them is clearly genuine. Love and tranquility, however, come to an abrupt end with the intrusion of three wise guys from the East. Not only do they remember Benny, but they recall his connection to a certain vanished haul pegged at $8 to $10 million. They want Benny to help recover what’s been lost. Marta in tow, he wriggles free of them and, through a mutual friend, makes his way to Crissa. The aging racketeer and the slick young highway person form an unlikely partnership. Will it be strong enough to withstand their predators while they hunt for lost treasure? Or will thieves fall out?
Once again Stroby demonstrates how adept he is at making readers empathize with the essentially unworthy.
Monsters, actual and metaphorical, are at the heart of this superbly crafted thriller.
Gallagher has been called a horror writer, a fantasy writer, a non-fantasy writer, a writer for big screens and smaller ones, a writer whose considerable talent has enabled him to slip in and out of genres precisely as if those tidy little boxes didn’t exist—as indeed they don’t for his character-driven books. In this one, Sebastian Becker (The Kingdom of Bones, 2007, etc.), his fast-track career abruptly derailed, contemplates an uncertain future. Now that the Pinkertons have sent him packing, he faces 1912 back in his native England, employed as the special investigator to the Masters of Lunacy. Englishmen of property deemed too loopy to look after anyone’s property face Bedlams of one sort or another, their property removed from their care. It’s up to Sir James Crichton-Browne, acting for His Majesty’s Government, to render judgments informed by evidence his special investigator Sebastian provides. The job pays poorly but is nuanced enough to be interesting. And it gets even more so when Sebastian meets Sir Owain Lancaster, a scientist who’s been widely respected until he blames the failure of his lavish Amazonian expedition on a series of attacks by horrific monsters only he can see. No longer respected but still exceedingly rich, he becomes grist for Sebastian’s mill. Is Sir Owain really crazy? Or, much worse, is he himself a monster?
Gallagher loves character development but respects plotting enough to give it full measure. The result is that rare beast, a literary page turner.