Dennis Lehane, Since We Fell (Ecco)
Any new Lehane book is cause for celebration, but this one, a standalone with Lehane narrating for the first time from a female point of view, should have crime fiction fans busting out the bottle rockets and champagne. Rachel Childs was a broadcast journalist at the top of her game until she succumbed to crippling public panic attacks after covering the Haitian earthquake and its violent aftermath. Living as a virtual shut in, she’s married to Brian Delacroix, a businessman who owns a mining concern and travels a lot but otherwise seems the ideal husband. But it’s Lehane, so everyone is running some kind of con. This is the rare book that works seamlessly on the theme, the plot, and the sentence levels. It’s impossible not to succumb to Fell.
Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich, The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir (Flatiron)
When young lawyer Marzano-Lesnevich is assigned to work on the death penalty appeal of convicted murderer and child molester Ricky Langley, she feels like her life’s work is upon her. A staunch opponent to capital punishment, she throws herself into the appeal, reading trial transcripts and watching the tape of Langley’s confession. But there’s a minor problem: while watching him confess, she wants him to die. Thus Marzano-Lesnevich ends up researching her own past to try to understand her reaction to the case in a truer light, and in doing so she comes to see how everyone involved from the jury foreman to the judge brings their own biases to Langley’s plight. A dead body, Marzano-Lesnevich demonstrates, is just a starting point for the story of a murder.
Steve Hamilton, Exit Strategy (G.P. Putnam)
After last year’s acclaimed The Second Life of Nick Mason, this second outing finds convict turned reluctant criminal fixer Mason assigned to infiltrate the US Federal Witness Protection Program to identify the men responsible for putting his criminal boss, Darius Cole, in jail. As he scrambles to complete his mission before the men can testify he finds he himself is being hunted by another one of Cole’s enemies—a man who used to have his job as Cole’s fixer. In a long and wide-ranging chase from a military installation in the Appalachias to a bunker below the streets of New York City, Mason will need all of his wits and skills to survive this nearly impossible mission.
Agnete Friis, What My Body Remembers (Soho Press)
Better known as half of the duo who cowrote the socially conscious Nina Borg series (along with Lene Kaaberbøl), Friis brings that same liberal political slant to this new thriller about love and violence in families. Ella Nygaard, now 27, has been a ward of the state since she was seven years old and her father murdered her mother. That night left her with crippling physical PTSD symptoms—but she does not remember a thing. After one episode lands her in a psych ward, her son, Alex, is taken away from her by the state and placed with a foster family. Ella kidnaps Alex and brings him to her grandmother’s cottage by the sea, but can she confront her past trauma and convince the state to grant her custody of her son again? And, as her grandmother has suggested, could her father actually be innocent?
Alan Drew, Shadow Man (Random House)
Before the San Fernando Valley was a punchline for up-talking and tacky housing developments it was a piece of the old west resplendent with horses and rolling farmland. That’s the Valley Ben Wade, now a detective in Rancho Santa Elena, remembers, and that’s the dream he chased when he moved his wife and daughter back to one of those developments for a better life than they had in LA. Now, in the 1980s, the Shadow Man—who Drew based loosely on the Night Stalker, Richard Ramirez—is terrorizing those bedroom communities where people don’t even bother to close the windows at night. The crime part of this novel is superbly done: Wade, along with forensic expert Natasha Betencourt, are both indelible characters, and the passages from the criminal’s perspective are chilling. Yet there is also a lot of complex emotion—a lot of novel, if you will—going on here, especially in the excavation of Wade’s past and in the tension between the remaining wildness and the parcels of civilization carved out of the valley.
* * * BONUS BOOK * * *
Michael Cannell, Incendiary: The Psychiatrist, The Mad Bomber,
and the Invention of Criminal Profiling (Minotaur)
Since this got overlooked in April, we decided a bonus book was in order for May. Incendiary is that good. An account of the mad bomber case which gripped New York City in the 1950s, when a quiet, keep-to-himself type named George Metsky left homemade bombs all over New York City—in movie theaters, Grand Central Station, phone booths, Radio City Music Hall, storage lockers, and Penn Station, among others—and left the city in shock. He sent letters to the newspapers taking credit for his work, signing them “FP,” and their stirring of the pot sent the population into hysteria. FP terrorized NYC for over 20 years, and he was caught using an innovative and untested methodology we now call criminal profiling. Cannell’s book seamlessly blends the manhunt, the crimes, the role of the media, and the plight of Metsky, into a fascinating true crime story. Oh, and by the way—there is still an unexploded bomb somewhere in the Empire State Building. Be careful.