★ Heaven, My Home
Attica Locke’s atmospheric thriller Heaven, My Home takes place in the northeastern Texas town of Jefferson, a once-prosperous trading center fallen on hard times (“the city square was like a courtesan who’d found Jesus”). Texas Ranger Darren Matthews investigates the disappearance of a 9-year-old boy who didn’t return from a solo boating adventure on nearby Caddo Lake. The missing boy is the son of Aryan Brotherhood leader Bill King, a convicted and incarcerated murderer. Jefferson was one of the first settlements composed primarily of freed slaves, in addition to a band of Native Americans who successfully dodged the wholesale relocation of tribes to Oklahoma during the U.S. westward expansion. The town is now home to their descendants. Add those aforementioned white supremacists into the mix, and the town becomes a veritable powder keg awaiting a spark—such as a black landowner whose animosity toward his bigoted tenants is well documented, and who is the last person to have seen the missing boy. Few suspense novelists display a better grip of political and racial divides than Attica Locke, and she spins a hell of a good story as well, introducing characters and locales you will want to visit again and again.
Although Archer Mayor’s latest novel, Bomber’s Moon, is considered part of the Joe Gunther series, Gunther himself plays a comparatively minor role. The serious investigative work is left to two of the Vermont-based cop’s well-regarded acquaintances: private investigator Sally Kravitz and photographer/reporter Rachel Reiling. The crime is most unusual. A thief has been breaking into the homes of people who are away but stealing nothing. Instead, he adds spyware to his victims’ communication devices and then waits to see how he can profit from it. But he is not the first person to pursue such an endeavor in this small Vermont town. Kravitz’s own father followed a similar path back in the day (and perhaps still does). He is well aware of this new interloper into the “family trade” and displays more than a little admiration for his successor’s skills—until the new guy gets murdered. The leads, scant though they are, seem to center on a high-priced private school, and before things resolve, there will be significant financial improprieties, more than a bit of class warfare and an increasing body count. The nicely paced Bomber’s Moon is replete with well-developed characters and relationships, with the unusual bonus of oddly likable villains.
Land of Wolves
Many of you will be familiar with Wyoming sheriff Walt Longmire via television rather than books, but as is often the case, the books have nuance and detail that are difficult to replicate on screen. In Craig Johnson’s latest Longmire novel, Land of Wolves, the stalwart lawman is back in Wyoming after a south-of-the-border hunting expedition. In the nearby Bighorn Mountains, a wolf has apparently killed a sheep, which doesn’t seem especially unusual in the Wild West. However, tensions ratchet up considerably when the shepherd is found hanged, his dangling feet savaged by a wild animal, most likely the aforementioned wolf. Johnson uses this as a jumping-off point for broad-ranging discussions about wolves, the history of sheep ranching, the use of open rangelands and other social and ecological issues of the contemporary West. But there is no hint of a textbook in Johnson’s voice. Instead, it’s rather like hearing a modern Old West story told by a favorite uncle, one who fills in the little details that bring immediacy and life to a suspenseful narrative.
What Rose Forgot
Nevada Barr, bestselling author of the Anna Pigeon series, pens a superlative standalone chiller with What Rose Forgot. Right from the outset, it appears that Rose has forgotten quite a lot. First, she awakens in a forest, clueless about how she got there. The next time she wakes up, she is in a home for elderly dementia patients, still somewhat clueless although with the nagging suspicion that she does not belong there. So she secretly stops taking her meds. This is not immediately life-changing in and of itself, but it does serve to solidify Rose’s belief that she does not belong in a dementia ward. After making good on her escape, Rose joins forces with her late husband’s 13-year-old granddaughter, who possesses remarkable skills that help cover her step-grandma’s tracks. The longer Rose stays off the medications, the more she becomes convinced that someone (or ones) are out to get her. But is Rose just paranoid? What if she’s not? What Rose Forgot capitalizes on the resourcefulness of a pair of quite clever women and an equally clever pair of teens, all dedicated to stymieing some particularly unpleasant members of the opposing team. When a mystery features a 68-year-old protagonist, one could be forgiven for assuming that said mystery will fall into the cozy subgenre. What Rose Forgot is anything but.