Sandpaper is graded by a “grit number”—the lower the number, the rougher the texture (600-grit is very fine, 40-grit is quite coarse). By that measurement, Dan Fante’s Point Doom should be accorded a grit number of about negative 10, as it would be a rare case indeed when you would find so many murders, dismemberments and graphic examples of creative torture encased in just 400-odd pages. One-time detective J.D. Fiorella, now at rock bottom, is crawling his way back out of a hole of his own making, inch by painful inch. He attends an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting daily and manages, through an AA acquaintance, to secure a job selling used cars at a Los Angeles Toyota dealer. Then his life takes a sharp turn for the worse when he discovers his AA friend dead, the body horribly mutilated. Fiorella was once a good detective before alcohol derailed his career, and he was especially adept at vengeance—and now he intends to exact his revenge in a truly Biblical fashion. There is dark humor to be found here amid the violence, and a fair bit of L.A.-noir folklore.
CAUGHT IN A WEB
When I reviewed Taylor Stevens’ debut novel, I opined, “The Informationist pushes all of my buttons: exotic locales, sassy and competent protagonist, crisp dialogue and nonstop action.” There was no sophomore slump with her second novel, The Innocent, which proved a most worthy successor to the first. Now, canny investigator Vanessa Michael Munroe is back for her third adventure in as many years, The Doll. Things get off to a somewhat inauspicious start, as the first thing Munroe does in the book is get kidnapped. She awakens from a drug-induced coma to find that she is the prisoner of an infamous character known as “The Doll Maker” and that her ticket to survival rests on her delivery of a spunky young actress into the hands of modern-day slavers. It is a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t situation in which some innocent people will have to be sacrificed so that others may live, and it will test the tensile strength of every fiber of Munroe’s being. If you are a fan of Jack Reacher, Lisbeth Salander or Nina Zero, you need to check out Vanessa Michael Munroe!
NO GOOD DEED
Alafair Burke’s stand-alone novel If You Were Here stars impulsive journalist McKenna Jordan, who is investigating a budding urban tale of heroism: It happens in a split second—one moment, a teenage boy is on the subway platform; the next moment, he has fallen onto the tracks and a train is approaching fast. A woman swoops down from the platform, drags the boy to safety and then disappears into the crowd, leaving only mystery in her wake. For Jordan, this would be a puff piece about an anonymous heroine, except for a snippet of trackside video showing that the woman bears a strong resemblance to Jordan’s one-time best friend, who vanished without a trace 10 years back. The police investigation at the time was inconclusive, and it has always stuck in Jordan’s craw that the case was never closed. What she doesn’t realize, however, is that closure is the last thing that some people want—including some people very near and dear to her—and that they are willing to go to whatever lengths necessary to ensure that end. Nicely crafted, plenty of suspense to go around, a couple of unanticipated twists—what’s not to like?
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read a 7 questions interview with Alafair Burke for If You Were Here.
TOP PICK IN MYSTERY
Having read virtually everything Jo Nesbø has ever written—except the books that are thus far available only in Norwegian—I eagerly anticipate the release of each new Harry Hole novel. The latest mystery featuring the intrepid Oslo cop, The Redeemer, finds our hero oddly at odds with the Salvation Army. It appears that one member is seriously out of step with the organization’s policies, so far out of step as to requisition a murder during one of the Salvation Army’s ubiquitous holiday season musical fundraising events. The victim is something of a ne’er-do-well, a schemer and a scammer, but strictly small-time. Thus, there seems to be no real motive. The witnesses are not helpful either: They portray the shooter as an everyman with no distinguishing features whatsoever. All in all, this is just the sort of case that Harry Hole thrives on. His investigation leads him into the former Yugoslavia, where a murder contract can be secured for pennies on the dollar compared to prices for the same service in the West. Hole pretends to be a potential client, and his infiltration of the murder-for-hire organization turns up information that forces him to re-evaluate everything he thought he knew about the case.
It would be helpful, but not crucial, to read the Harry Hole series in order, as allusions are made to earlier events, and also because once you have read one of these novels, you will want to read the others anyway.
Note: Kudos to Nesbø’s longtime translator, Don Bartlett, whose sensitive and nuanced work on this series places him in the front ranks of suspense translators.