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Between his new company, a heart that should be broken but is not, a whole raft of new bad guys on his tail, and a bad odor that surrounds Charcoal Joe, Easy has his hands full, his horizons askew, and his life in shambles around his feet.
Whodunit: An outsider stirs up trouble in backwater Arkansas
The American South can get pigeonholed in one of two ways: It’s a happy, bucolic atmosphere peopled with lovable Gomer Pyle-esque rubes, or it’s a Deliverance-inspired snake pit filled with good ol’ boys who make life miserable for anybody not of their clique. CB McKenzie’s second novel, Burn What Will Burn, falls decidedly into the second category. Bob Reynolds is a newcomer to Rushing, Arkansas (population: seven, unless you count dogs and chickens). He has moved into the old Duncan place, where nobody but Duncans has ever lived before, and his mistrustful neighbors are far from pleased. Now Bob has stumbled upon a dead body in nearby Little Piney Creek. Bob doesn’t want to get involved with the local law, but he reluctantly phones the sheriff. When they return to the scene of the crime, there is no body to be found, and the sheriff and his cronies seem to have a vested interest in sweeping the entire case under the rug, along with Bob if necessary. It’s atmospheric to the nth degree, with prose that borders on poetry and a story that will put you off traveling south of the Mason-Dixon Line, perhaps forever.
NOT SO EASY BEING RAWLINS
Veteran storyteller Walter Mosley is back with another installment in the life and times of Easy Rawlins in Charcoal Joe. This is terrific news on several fronts: Easy is one of the finest characters in modern-day suspense fiction, complex and artfully drawn; the heroes and villains change sides with some regularity, including the main character; and the story offers more than its share of twists and turns to confound the reader. The titular Charcoal Joe is something of a legend in the circles of Los Angeles bad guys. Easy has stayed outside Joe’s sphere, but all that changes when he is tapped by his longtime frenemy Mouse to look into the murder charges against a young friend of Joe. Violence raises its ugly head, and our hero must take some serious evasive action to protect the lives of his family and loved ones. The Easy Rawlins saga has followed the landlord-turned-detective from the early post-World War II years through the Jim Crow 1950s and up to 1968 in this latest installment. The late ’60s were tumultuous times in Southern California, and Mosley deftly weaves social commentary into the narrative.
Cara Black fans, have you ever wondered how Aimée Leduc got her start in private investigations? Find out in Murder on the Quai, the long-awaited prequel to the popular series. The year is 1989. Aimée is in her first year of university, studying to become a doctor. It’s not going well, to say the least. Someone has sabotaged her laboratory work, and her boyfriend has just become engaged to a Parisian socialite, without so much as a word of farewell to Aimée. So when her father asks her for a bit of organizational help at the family detective agency, she agrees, never anticipating that it will lead her into the mysterious world of sleuthing. And particularly never anticipating that said sleuthing will involve a decades-old case of missing Nazi gold that has some tenuous connections to her long-missing mother. Murder on the Quai is suspenseful, emotional and, thanks in part to its Paris setting, très atmosphérique.
TOP PICK IN MYSTERY
I may (or may not) be the first to compare Michael Harvey’s Brighton to Dennis Lehane’s Mystic River, but I won’t be the last. Both are set in Boston, unfold over a number of years and involve crimes of passion in which the perpetrator(s) skate away scot-free—sort of. But on a deeper level, both books approach Thomas Wolfe or Pat Conroy levels of writing, transcending the “damned with faint praise” epithet of genre fiction. Bobby Scales and Kevin Pearce, childhood pals from the mean streets of Brighton, have gone on to markedly different lives: Kevin is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter for the Boston Globe, while Bobby is a feared underworld figure. They share a decades-old secret: Together they enacted deadly revenge on the man running from the scene of the murder of Kevin’s grandmother. Thirty-some years later, their shared secret comes back to haunt them, as the gun used by Bobby all those years ago is the same gun used in the recent high-profile murder of a policewoman. The connections between past and present will test every notion of loyalty that either man could ever draw upon. Harvey has written a bunch of critically acclaimed novels, but he has seriously upped his game with Brighton.