City on Fire
By Don Winslow
HarperCollins, 354 pages, $24.99
Rhode Island is the US’s smallest state by area. This means its organized crime has a miniature, small-town feel. The criminals are organized into two easily defined groups, the Irish and the Italians. Everybody on either side knows one another socially and there are occasional outbreaks of peace. But mostly, in scrapping it out for what can be illegally accumulated from Providence’s loansharking, construction unions, vending machines, gambling and prostitution, there is, proportionally speaking, plenty of murder. Don Winslow’s compelling novel covers two hectic years of the Irish and Italians duking it out. The book is expert and convincing, with plenty of plot surprises, and even offers one character who almost qualifies as a hero.
One Shot Harry
Soho Crime, 289 pages, $35.95
In prolific crime writer Gary Phillips’ new novel, we’re taken back in time: it’s 1963, the place is Los Angeles and the sleuth figure is a nervy Black newspaper photographer named Harry Ingram. Harry, a veteran of the Korean War, is on the hunt for whoever bumped off a fellow vet who was a long-time buddy. The catch is that the victim was a white guy, and if Harry does not have enough to deal with in his normal share of the California brand of racism — it’s persistent and vicious — the cops are suspicious of Harry’s involvement with him. The Phillips style of plotting fits squarely in the Chandler/Hammett tradition with the addition of intriguing and powerful issues of race. While, stylistically, the book feels occasionally ragged around the edges, it’s well worth the trip back in fictional time.
An Honest Lie
By Tarryn Fisher
HarperCollins, 330 pages, $23.99
Rainy is a savvy enough young woman, cursed by bad luck in family choices she had no control over. For starters, there’s her childhood of her in a cult in the American West. Now she’s an adult making a new start — or is it a second fresh beginning? —among a smart and sophisticated bunch in Washington state. The women from among this community head off to their traditional annual holiday in Vegas minus husbands and boyfriends. Rainy is included in the fun, which isn’t amusing at all. One of the women goes missing, seized by malevolent forces whose real target — this isn’t a spoiler — was Rainy. From this point on, handled with nice finesse in the storytelling, events turn even more threatening and stay entirely that way until Rainy starts calling the shots.
Pay Dirt Road
By Samantha Jayne Allen
Minotaur Books, 298 pages, $37.99
Annie McIntyre is freshly graduated from a Texas college. Now back in her rural hometown of Garnett, she’s contemplating futures. Should she take the Texas LSATs? Nope, she gets a job as a waitress in a Garnett diner. Almost instantly, another waitress goes missing and, in that moment, Annie finds a calling in the criminal investigative business. The plot unfolds in a relaxed and homespun flavour. It’s helpful that Annie’s paternal grandfather has long worked in the sleuthing game. Too bad he has also devoted decades to knocking back various alcohols. The story is hardly packed with impenetrable mysteries, but events (including a red herring or two) add up to an easy-to-take package, and Annie McIntyre offers the real possibility of a series character.