city on fire
By Don Winslow
HarperCollins, 354 pages, $24.99
Rhode Island is the smallest state in the United States by area. This means that his organized crime is like a miniature small town. The criminals are organized into two easily definable groups, the Irish and the Italians. On both sides, everyone knows each other socially and there are occasional bursts of peace. But above all, eliminating it for what can be accumulated illegally through the usurious loans of Providence, construction unions, vending machines, gambling and prostitution, there is, proportionally speaking, a lot of murder. Don Winslow’s gripping novel covers two turbulent years of Irish and Italian clashing. The book is expert and compelling, with plenty of plot surprises, and even features a character who almost qualifies as a hero.
Crime of Soho, 289 pages, $35.95
In the new novel by prolific detective writer Gary Phillips, we are transported back in time: the year is 1963, the location is Los Angeles, and the detective is a nervous black newspaper photographer named Harry Ingram. Harry, a Korean War veteran, is on the hunt for whoever knocked down another vet who was a longtime pal. The catch is that the victim was a white man, and if Harry doesn’t have enough to deal with in his normal share of Californian racism — it’s persistent and vicious — the cops are wary of Harry’s involvement. The Phillips style of plotting fits right into the Chandler/Hammett tradition with the addition of intriguing and powerful race questions. While stylistically the book sometimes feels ragged around the edges, it’s well worth the fictional time travel.
An honest lie
By Tarryn Fisher
HarperCollins, 330 pages, $23.99
Rainy is a fairly savvy young woman, cursed by bad luck in family choices over which she had no control. For starters, there’s his childhood in a cult in the American West. Now she’s an adult making a fresh start – or is it a second fresh start? — among a smart and sophisticated bunch in Washington state. The women of this community go on their traditional annual vacation to Vegas, without husbands or boyfriends. Rainy is included in the fun, which is no fun at all. One of the women is missing, seized by malevolent forces whose real target – this is not a spoiler – was Rainy. From this moment, handled with beautiful finesse in the narration, the events become even more threatening and remain entirely so until Rainy begins to make the decisions.
Pay the dirt road
By Samantha Jayne Allen
Minotaur books, 298 pages, $37.99
Annie McIntyre is a fresh graduate from a university in Texas. Now back in her rural hometown of Garnett, she contemplates the future. Should she take the Texas LSATs? No, she gets a job as a waitress at a Garnett restaurant. Almost instantly, another waitress disappears, and just then Annie finds a calling in the field of criminal investigations. The plot unfolds in a relaxed, artisanal flavor. It helps that Annie’s paternal grandfather has been working in the detective game for a long time. Too bad he’s also spent decades knocking down various alcohols. The story is barely filled with impenetrable mysteries, but the events (including a red herring or two) add up to an easy-to-take package, and Annie McIntyre offers the real possibility of a series character.