For readers who enjoy fascinating characters, gritty plots and unforgettable settings, Jonathan Lethem and Katrina Carrasco have crafted two detective novels with a distinctive edge.
The Feral Detective is Lethem’s first mystery since his award-winning 1999 novel Motherless Brooklyn, while Carrasco’s The Best Bad Things is an unforgettable debut. Both novels spotlight smart female protagonists whose determination and feisty dispositions see them through a barrage of incredible situations that would send a lesser person running.
Phoebe Siegler, the lead character in The Feral Detective, is a fiercely independent, modern-day woman with a tongue-in-cheek attitude. When a close friend’s teenage daughter, Arabella, goes missing from her university in Portland, Oregon, Phoebe welcomes the opportunity to drop everything and go find her. A credit card receipt points Phoebe to California’s high desert, where she enlists the aid of mysterious private detective Charles Heist, whom she quickly dubs “the feral detective” after meeting his unusual pet, an opossum named Jean that’s living in his desk.
Rather than sit back and wait for Heist to do his job, Phoebe insists on accompanying him on his quest into the desert. In this landscape that is as dangerous as it is beautiful, Phoebe meets an assortment of enigmatic characters living off the grid (including a tribe of women known as Rabbits who are feuding with a clan of men known as Bears) and discovers Heist’s bizarre relationship with this desert underworld. But with Arabella in danger, Phoebe and Heist must risk it all to get her home safely.
Risks, meanwhile, are par for the course for Alma Rosales, a take-no-prisoners woman of the 1880s who doesn’t hesitate to bust a few knuckles in The Best Bad Things. A former agent with the Pinkerton Detective Agency, Alma uses her sharp wit and guile to deceive her targets any way she can, even by disguising herself as a man.
“Wearing only her own skin and hair, she is unbound,” Carrasco describes Alma. “Unbound. Powerful. She can mold her form into any shape.”
It’s this effort—when she’s disguised as goon Jack Kemp—that gets Alma in trouble with local smuggler Nathaniel Wheeler and a step closer to exposing crime boss Barnaby Sloan’s opium operation in Port Townsend, one of the nation’s busiest ports of entry in 1887. Alma infiltrates the smuggling operation at the behest of her lover/employer Delphine Beaumond, while secretly working to get back in with the Pinkertons. The complicated plot, subplots, violence and double-crosses all serve to keep readers hooked from start to finish.
While both books offer memorable characters and wild situations, the authors’ vivid use of language, deep points of view and evocative settings make these novels a special joy to read.