James Lee Burke is one of a small handful of elite suspense writers whose work transcends the genre, making the leap into capital-L Literature. You don’t have to get past the opening paragraph of The New Iberia Blues to see his mastery of the craft: “Desmond Cormier’s success story was an improbable one, even among the many self-congratulatory rags-to-riches tales we tell ourselves in the ongoing saga of our green republic, one that is forever changing yet forever the same, a saga that also includes the graves of Shiloh and cinders from aboriginal villages.” First-person narrator Dave Robicheaux is on hand and in fine fettle. Fans have watched Robicheaux age in real time, battling his demons, losing one wife, then another and another, raising the refugee girl he rescued from a submerged airplane when she was a small child and skating close to the edge (and sometimes over the edge) of the law. This time out, he will investigate the ritual slaying of a young black woman, nailed to a cross and left to the vagaries of the rising tide. There is a film company in town, and Robicheaux cannot shake the notion that they are somehow at the epicenter of this homicide, and as he gets closer to proving his thesis, the body count piles up. It is a long book, but I read it slowly, pausing from time to time to digest the first-rate prose, the atmospheric bayou setting and the complex interactions of people I feel I have known for 30-plus years.
In James Bond movies, one of the many ways of ratcheting up the tension is to introduce a Bad Thing About to Happen in, say, five minutes’ time, and to regularly return to the flashing digital countdown amid the action to see how much time is left before the Bad Thing transpires. Author Taylor Adams updates this suspense-building device in his supercharged novel No Exit with a dwindling cellphone battery peppering the high-tension text. The scene: a lonely snowbound rest area in rural Colorado, a place with little to no cellphone service, and a protagonist who has left her charger at home on what will prove to be the worst night of her life. At risk are a kidnapped child, albeit a rather resourceful one; a pair of innocent (or maybe not) bystanders; and the aforementioned protagonist, a college student named Darby Thorne, who was en route to her mother’s hospital bedside before her plans were interrupted by the freakish snowstorm and an even more freakish group of fellow strandees at the mountain shelter. Oh, and one last thing, and it really is the last thing—the twist ending is way cool.
Gytha Lodge’s suspenseful new psychological thriller, She Lies in Wait, tells the story of a ruinous outing and its aftermath decades later. Thirty- odd years ago, six friends went camping. Only five came home, and there was never a trace of the missing girl, Aurora Jackson. Her friends, a wide-ranging volunteer search party and even police with cadaver dogs turned up nothing—until now, when a young girl on a family holiday discovers a detached finger beneath a hollow tree within steps of the friends’ original campsite. Police Detective Chief Inspector Jonah Sheens knew Aurora peripherally from his high school days, but he decided to stay on the investigation—a decision his assistant, Detective Inspector Juliette Hanson, will come to question as the investigation proceeds. This isn’t the only secret that comes to light: One of the campers, an Olympic star in later life, displayed a morbid fascination with young women; another of the group, now a well-regarded politician, was caught by Aurora in flagrante delicto with another boy, and more importantly, he had placed a large supply of Dexedrine in the hollow of that tree. I am just scratching the surface of the secrets here. There are plenty more to unearth for yourselves.
In any gathering of mystery writers, Tim Dorsey would be the resident jester, providing more laughs per page than virtually anyone else. His amiably psychopathic protagonist, Serge Storms, is a modern-day Don Quixote, tilting at the windmills of politics, ageism, sexism and any other –ism that happens to catch his fancy. In his latest adventure, No Sunscreen for the Dead, Storms invades a Florida retirement community in the wake of a very public sex scandal featuring a 68-year-old retiree and her much younger boy toy. There are two reasons behind Storms’ invasion, one being that he is perversely fascinated by this salacious news item, the other being that he wants to find an interesting place to live out his golden years. He has all the necessary gear for that, including plaid shorts and knee-length black socks. And the white belt, without which the ensemble, well, c’est incomplète. As the plot develops, Storms gets conscripted into the investigation of some big-dollar swindling in the old folks’ community, and high jinks ensue. And because it is Dorsey chronicling said high jinks, be prepared for mirth—lots and lots of mirth.