20 d’agost de 2016

The Latest and Best in Crime Fiction

[The New York Times, 19 august 2016]

Marilyn Stasio


Welcome to Michael Koryta’s latest nightmare. In RISE THE DARK (Little, Brown, $26), Eli Pate, a self-anointed messiah capable of calling up a homegrown army of “more than 200 heavily armed and deeply paranoid white men,” is preparing to shut down the electrical grid supplying energy to half the country. (“Good night, Seattle. Good night, Portland.”) Very few, very brave linemen have the nerve and technical skills to pull off this feat. One of them is Jay Baldwin from Red Lodge, Mont., and to ensure his participation Eli’s confederates are holding Jay’s wife hostage. “When darkness fell, chaos would reign,” and Eli intends to be “the man who controlled the chaos.”
Meanwhile, across the country in Cassadaga, a little Florida town populated mostly by “registered mediums,” Koryta’s private detective, Mark Novak, is searching for the psychic his wife consulted before she was murdered. In one of those wonderfully eerie scenes that always manage to creep into Koryta’s novels, Mark has a brief exchange with a little blond boy who’s standing on a ladder to pick oranges from a tree. (“He was incredibly pale for Florida, with bright blue eyes.”) He’s the littlest psychic in town, it seems, but he puts a fright into the detective. Us too.
Koryta isn’t entirely successful in his attempt to merge these two plots into a cohesive whole, but each one has its distinct thrills. On the domestic terrorism front, it’s the horror of watching Eli convince his various extremist “brothers” that bringing down the electrical grid is a political act committed in their name. Meanwhile, Mark’s hunt for his wife’s killer picks up steam when he heads for Wyoming and enlists the aid of his slow-talking, straight-shooting Uncle Larry. But Mark will never be out of the psychic woods, certainly not after his own mother — a bogus medium who, in her younger days, used to dye her hair and skin, posing as Snow Creek Maiden of the Nez Percé to bilk tourists — shocks him with a reading that should propel him right into his next adventure.
What kind of people live in a place like Blackmore? “The kind devoid of hope,” Amy Stuart tells us in STILL MINE (Touchstone, paper, $15.99). “The kind who refuse to leave a dying town. The kind who disappear.” Shayna Fowles was one of those who vanished from this isolated community, which went into a rapid decline after a catastrophic disaster closed the local mine. In these mountain locales, “a missing woman means a guilty husband.” Someone who believes otherwise sends Clare O’Dey to test that hypothesis by mingling with the locals, an assignment she takes entirely too seriously by moving next door to a dope dealer and finding her way into the arms of the missing woman’s estranged husband.
Stuart is a sensitive writer who has given Clare a painful past and just enough backbone to bear it. But Stuart’s heart is really down in that mine, and her best characters are the people of Blackmore, living and dead, who spent their days there. The saddest are those who survived. “The mine changed the town,” one of them explains, “but it didn’t change any of us. The good people left. We were never the good.”
A guy like Clyde Barr is bound and determined to find trouble wherever he goes. After doing time in a Mexican prison, the tough-as-they-come hero of Erik Storey’s NOTHING SHORT OF DYING (Scribner, $26) heads straight for the Utah wilderness to refresh himself before making a trek to the Yukon, “where I planned to live in the peace and cold.” Then he gets a distress call from his sister Jen, the “troublemaker” in the family, who needs his help — desperately. So begins a sweaty thriller by a first-time novelist who really knows how to handle himself in these thickets.
Storey’s hulk of a protagonist is an ex-mercenary, lately in Africa. “Mostly I just helped to sort out the good guys from the bad,” he says modestly. After getting his bearings from scary friends like Lance Alvis, a drug trafficker who had his Albuquerque rivals nailed up on crosses (“Just like Jesus”), Barr heads for the Colorado backcountry, where the plot really takes off. Storey knows and loves this rugged territory, where his hero’s appreciation of “the stars, the clean smell of the pines, the cool free air” almost humanizes this brave brute. Or at least sends this tarnished knight into battle with a clear head.
Don’t we all occasionally long for an old-fashioned country mystery with a tricky plot and an eccentric cast of characters? Stephen Kelly’s THE WAGES OF DESIRE (Pegasus Crime, $25.95), although set in Hampshire during World War II, doesn’t quite ring all those bells, but it’ll do. For the most part, the residents of Winstead are the sort of people you’d expect to find in a quiet rural village in 1942, even 12-year-old Lilly Martin, who spies on the neighbors in hopes of collecting material for a crime novel. (“She’d been surprised to discover how restless Winstead could be at night.”) But something isn’t quite right about Gerald Wimberly, the vicar of St. Michael’s Church — or, as the police would have it after interrogating him about a woman found murdered in the cemetery, the “bloody lying vicar.” Could this death be connected to a prisoner-­of-war camp being built on a derelict farm, where the bones of a child are ­unearthed? What else will tumble out of the rotting woodwork?




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