The Latest and Greatest in Crime Fiction

Pablo Amargo

To the East Texas natives in Attica Locke’s BLUEBIRD, BLUEBIRD, Highway 59 is the lifeline that both links their towns and provides an escape route from them. Darren Mathews, a righteous Texas Ranger who comes from a deep-rooted family of black professional men, “men of stature and purpose,” knows every truck-stop hamlet from Laredo to Texarkana. But he is currently on suspension, and “without the badge, he was just a black man traveling the highway alone.”

Lawful or otherwise, Darren’s help is needed up in Lark, where the bodies of a white woman and a black man were fished out of the muddy waters of the Attoyac Bayou. The town turns out to be a piñata of quirky characters, like the local sheriff, who lives in a replica of Monticello. (His dog lives in a replica of the White House.) Just about everyone in Lark patronizes Geneva Sweet’s Sweets, a cafe that displays treasured objets like “Texas license plates going back 50 years.”

Locke writes in a blues-infused idiom that lends a strain of melancholy and a sense of loss to her lyrical style. Given the characters in her novel, that voice comes naturally. Geneva’s deceased husband, Joe “Petey Pie” Sweet, was a session man and “a devil on the guitar” who played with great bluesmen like Muddy Waters and Bobby “Blue” Bland. And every juice house and icehouse, as bars are known around here, loads up the jukebox with country blues. But there’s also music in the private thoughts of a man like Darren. “He knew what it felt like to stand on the back porch of his family homestead … and feel the breath of his ancestors in the trees.”

As for the murder mystery, it’s tied up with buried feelings and secret betrayals that cross racial lines and go back generations. “There were things you just didn’t do in Lark, Texas,” Locke tells us. “And picking apart bloodlines was one of them.” So enjoy your stay in Lark; but don’t ask anyone “Who’s your daddy?” and expect to get out of town alive.

The great port of London is churning with activity in Anne Perry’s latest Victorian mystery, AN ECHO OF MURDER. On the lookout for trouble, Commander William Monk of the Thames River Police keeps his eyes peeled on the mighty ships passing through. But he isn’t prepared for the gruesome scene of murder that greets him in a dockside warehouse. The horridly mutilated victim is a Hungarian merchant, one of a growing populace of displaced persons fleeing oppression in European cities like Budapest and Vienna, only to stir up antagonism in their new home. “They’re different, that’s all,” says a newspaper dealer who bristles at all the “foreign newspapers.”

Perry fashions a rich, if blood-splattered narrative from this chapter of history. As the murders continue, Monk and his clever wife, Hester, a nurse who saw plenty of savagery in the Crimea, struggle to fathom the new climate of hatred. “I think it’s fear,” Hester says. “It’s fear of ideas, things that aren’t the way you’re used to. Everyone you don’t understand because their language is different, their food, but above all their religion.” How times haven’t changed.

Part police procedural and part travelogue, Cay Rademacher’s MURDEROUS MISTRAL is a perfect getaway mystery. This tightly-plotted whodunit (briskly translated from the German by Peter Millar) uproots Capitaine Roger Blanc from his prestigious office in the Paris gendarmerie to the Midi, “the graveyard of any career,” where he has inherited a run-down 18th-century stone house. Blanc soon finds out that “Parisian ruthlessness didn’t quite work down here.” Nor does Parisian pride, which gets clobbered when he starts interviewing slippery local suspects in the murder of an inept gangster.

The detective-as-outsider convention works really well in humanizing Blanc, whom the elegant women in the district find especially amusing. The backbreaking restoration work earns him sympathy, as does his first exposure to the slashing winds of the region’s infamous mistral. By the time Blanc is presented with his second murder case, he’s ready to admit that his new home in the countryside is more stimulating than he’d thought.

Julia Keller doesn’t pull any punches in FAST FALLS THE NIGHT. In the course of a single day, there are 33 overdoses (three of them fatal) in Aker’s Gap, the Appalachian town in West Virginia where she sets all her regional mysteries. The putative cause of this horrendous business is a batch of tainted heroin — heroin being “as common as stray cats around here.” But Bell Elkins, a county prosecutor and the protagonist in this series, knows that the problem goes deeper, to a “circular logic of despair” created by shuttered coal mines, exacerbated by zero replacement job options, and resulting in the kind of hopelessness from which there’s no recovery. The plot pretty much consists of waiting for the next OD victim to keel over, but Keller does a terrific job of rubbing our faces in the troubles of her hometown — of America’s hometowns.


Best Sellers: November Update

Here’s what people have been reading (or at least buying) lately.

NYT Combined Print & E-Book Best Sellers List

  1. THE ROOSTER BAR by John Grisham (NEW)

Rooster BarMark, Todd, and Zola came to law school to change the world, to make it a better place. But now, as third-year students, these close friends realize they have been duped. They all borrowed heavily to attend a third-tier, for-profit law school so mediocre that its graduates rarely pass the bar exam, let alone get good jobs. And when they learn that their school is one of a chain owned by a shady New York hedge-fund operator who also happens to own a bank specializing in student loans, the three know they have been caught up in The Great Law School Scam. But maybe there’s a way out. Maybe there’s a way to escape their crushing debt, expose the bank and the scam, and make a few bucks in the process. But to do so, they would first have to quit school. And leaving law school a few short months before graduation would be completely crazy, right?

  1. ORIGIN by Dan Brown
  2. QUICK & DIRTY by Stuart Woods (NEW)
  3. DEEP FREEZE by John Sandford
  4. LEOPARD’S BLOOD by Christine Feehan (NEW)
  6. MILK AND HONEY by Rupi Kaur
  7. MIND GAME by Iris Johansen (NEW)
  8. A COLUMN OF FIRE by Ken Follett
  9. IT by Stephen King



Best Sellers Update

New York Times Combined Print & E-Book Fiction Best Sellers

  1. THE CUBAN AFFAIR by Nelson DeMille (NEW)

The Cuban AffairRetired US Army infantry officer, Daniel Graham MacCormick – “Mac” for short – seems to have a pretty good life, even if his finances are more than a little shaky. At age thirty-five he’s living in Key West, owner of a forty-two-foot charter fishing boat, The Maine. One day, Mac is sitting in the famous Green Parrot Bar in Key West, contemplating his life, and the next he is hired by a beautiful Cuban-American woman named Sara Ortega, hotshot Miami lawyer, Carlos, and a mysterious older Cuban exile, Eduardo Valazquez to help recover sixty million American dollars hidden in Cuba by Sara’s grandfather when he fled Castro’s revolution. With the “Cuban Thaw” underway between Havana and Washington, Carlos, Eduardo, and Sara know it’s only a matter of time before someone finds the stash—by accident or on purpose. And Mac knows if he accepts this job, he’ll walk away rich…or not at all.

  1. IT by Stephen King
  2. HAUNTED by James Patterson and James O. Born (NEW)
  3. A COLUMN OF FIRE by Ken Follett
  4. TO BE WHERE YOU ARE by Jan Karon (NEW)
  5. THE GIRL WHO TAKES AN EYE FOR AN EYE by David Lagercrantz
  6. A LEGACY OF SPIES by John le Carré
  7. ENEMY OF THE STATE by Kyle Mills
  8. BEFORE WE WERE YOURS by Lisa Wingate

Let’s mix it up this time. Non-Fiction Best Sellers!

NYT Non-Fiction Best Sellers List*

*Because not everyone is down with the make-believe. For those of you that are though, here’s your list.
  1. THE GLASS CASTLE by Jeannette Walls

The Glass CastleWhen sober, Jeannette’s brilliant and charismatic father captured his children’s imagination, teaching them physics, geology, and how to embrace life fearlessly. But when he drank, he was dishonest and destructive. Her mother was a free spirit who abhorred the idea of domesticity and didn’t want the responsibility of raising a family. So, the Walls children learned to take care of themselves.

  1. HILLBILLY ELEGY by J.D. Vance
  4. WHY BUDDHISM IS TRUE by Robert Wright
  6. TEAM OF RIVALS by Doris Kearns Goodwin
  7. HELGA’S DIARY by Helga Weiss (NEW)
  8. DEVIL’S BARGAIN by Joshua Green
  9. THE BIG LIE by Dinesh D’Souza

Best Sellers – Dog Days of Summer Edition

Why do they call it that? My dog hates this time of year.

NYT Combined Print & eBook Fiction

  1. THE LATE SHOW by Michael Connelly

Late ShowIntroducing a new series starring a driven young detective trying to prove herself in the LAPD. Renée Ballard works the night shift in Hollywood. A once up-and-coming detective, she’s been given this beat as punishment after filing a sexual harassment complaint against a supervisor. Each morning she turns her cases over to day shift detectives to finish and take credit for. Until she is given two cases that she can’t just give up at dawn. Against orders and her own partner’s wishes, she works both cases by day while maintaining her shift by night. As the cases entwine they pull her closer to her own demons and make her more determined than ever to hang on to her job no matter what the department throws at her.

  1. THE WHISTLER by John Grisham
  2. WILDFIRE by Ilona Andrews (NEW)
  3. CAMINO ISLAND by John Grisham
  4. HOUSE OF SPIES by Daniel Silva
  5. READY PLAYER ONE by Ernest Cline (NEW)
  7. THE WOMAN IN CABIN 10 by Ruth Ware
  8. THE LYING GAME by Ruth Ware (NEW)
  9. THE MOORES ARE MISSING by James Patterson and others (NEW)

The Better Angels of Our Nature

The New York Times/Sketchbook/Graphic Review/By Anders NilsenJune 22, 2017

A graphic review of Steven Pinker’s book about the dramatic decline of violence in human affairs over history.

Better AngelsAnders Nilsen is the author of the graphic novels Big Questions, Rage of Poseidon and the forthcoming Tongues.

NYT Best Sellers List Update

There are a few new additions(*) this week. Check out what might be your next read below.

New York Times Combined Print & Ebook Best Sellers

The Fix1. THE FIX* by David Baldacci

Amos Decker witnesses a murder just outside FBI headquarters but, even with his extraordinary powers of observation and deduction he can’t figure out why it happened – no connection between killer and victim, no motive. When the DIA become involved it’s clear that solving the murder is now a matter of urgent national security.

2. FAST AND LOOSE* by Stuart Woods

A chance encounter leads Stone Barrington to make the acquaintance of a prestigious family who require a man of Stone’s skills to overcome a sticky situation of their own. Even better for Stone and his new friends, have an enemy in common.

 3. THE BLACK BOOK by James Patterson and David Ellis

4. BIG LITTLE LIES by Liane Moriarty

5. A MAN CALLED OVE by Fredrik Backman

6. THE WOMAN IN CABIN 10 by Ruth Ware

7. ANY DAY NOW* by Robyn Carr

For Sierra Jones, Sullivan’s Crossing is meant to be a brief stopover while she gets her life together. But when her past catches up with her, it’s a special man and an adorable puppy who give her the strength to face the truth and fight for a brighter future.

8. THE HANDMAID’S TALE by Margaret Atwood

9. MILK AND HONEY by Rupi Kaur

10. LILAC GIRLS* by Martha Hall Kelly

New York socialite Caroline Ferriday has her hands full with her post at the French consulate and a new love on the horizon. But Caroline’s world is forever changed when Hitler’s army invades Poland in September 1939—and then sets its sights on France. Kasia Kuzmerick, a Polish teenager, senses her carefree youth disappearing as she is drawn deeper into her role as courier for the underground resistance movement. For ambitious, young, German doctor, Herta Oberheuser, an ad for a government medical position seems her ticket out of a desolate life. The lives of these three women are set on a collision course when the unthinkable happens and Kasia is sent to Ravensbrück, the notorious Nazi concentration camp for women.