Books In Brief // Crime

August 03, 2008|By Sarah Weinman

The Turnaround By George Pelecanos Little, Brown/296 pages/$25

George Pelecanos has had enough superlatives heaped upon him, so what more could possibly be said when he delivers another excellent combination of character development, social commentary and page-turner? Quite a lot, as it turns out. The Turnaround continues what I like to think of as his middle-period direction. The fire and flash of the Nick Stefanos novels and the furious energy of the DC Quartet are muted, but in their place is a more subtle way with words, a more seamless narrative drive and better integration of popular culture. The Turnaround is especially strong on depicting the ways in which teenage bonds veer from gregarious fun to horrible tragedy, on showing how reverberations can carry over three decades to provoke forgiveness and empathy or single-minded revenge, and on never settling for anything less than the truth. Pelecanos is a singular novelist, mining Washington's streets for the pain and joy.

Angel's Tip By Alafair Burke Harper/338 pages/$24

It remains to be seen whether Burke has left behind her previous series featuring Oregon district attorney Samantha Kincaid for good, but based on NYPD detective Ellie Hatcher's sophomore outing in Angel's Tip, the protagonist switch is paying off handsomely. Burke has beefed up her ability to plot, and the story she spins here is a doozy, starting with an attractive college student's alcoholic night on the town with her friends that ends with her brutal murder. Ellie's chance discovery of the young woman's body in Central Park while jogging kicks off an investigation that soon fans out to the past, when other young women fell victim to a killer after very late nights out at the bar. The narrative unfolds methodically with one tantalizing clue after another keeping a mix of misdirection and forward motion, spearheaded by a likable police detective at ease in Manhattan's city limits though unwilling to trust people beyond her younger brother, Jess, and a fledgling love interest. Angel's Tip is the mark of a writer growing comfortable in her own voice and within the thriller genre's wide constraints.

Fresh Kills By Bill Loehfelm Putnam/326 pages/$25

As the very first winner of Amazon.com's Breakthrough Novel Award, Loehfelm arrives on the crime fiction scene with some degree of expectation - and, I must admit, some degree of skepticism about needing a contest as a publication gateway. But most of my doubts were vanquished with the first line of Fresh Kills, when John Sanders Jr. (Junior to almost all within his Staten Island circle) announces, "I don't often answer the door with a gun in my hand, less often at noon on a Sunday." This Chandler-esque hat tip gives way to the news that Junior's father has been murdered in a drive-by shooting. This uncorks an unflinching meditation on how years of physical and psychological abuse by Sanders senior has inflicted a world of pain upon his son. Though Junior makes some noises about finding out who might have killed his father, Loehfelm is more interested in examining the fraying relationships between Junior and those he professes to love most: his younger sister Julia, clinging to order after a chaotic upbringing; high school sweetheart (and current fling) Molly; and the borough of Staten Island, vividly rendered street by street and bar by bar. Fresh Kills, too, announces Loehfelm as a serious talent who should not be dismissed or ignored.

Lie Down with the Devil By Linda Barnes St. Martin's Minotaur/292 pages/$25

Carlotta Carlyle was one of the first female private detectives to emerge on the heels of early adapters Sharon McCone, V.I. Warshawski and Kinsey Millhone, and her 12th outing shows why she's still one of the standards against which subsequent female PIs measure themselves. The redheaded 6-footer takes on what appears to be a simple case of surveillance after a lovely lass hires her to follow her fiance and discern his fidelity, but when the girl turns up dead - and then turns out to be someone else entirely - Carlotta follows a trail from Boston to Las Vegas that leads right to the metaphorical doorstep of her own boyfriend, Sam Gianelli.

Sarah Weinman reviews crime fiction every month for the paper. Visit her at www.sarahweinman.com.

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