Sometimes a long-running crime fiction series can lose its mojo, gradually becoming tired or repetitive. Three new books by seasoned veterans demonstrate that the opposite can also be true; over the long haul, characters can grow richer and plots can remain fresh and compelling.
“Not Dark Yet” by Peter Robinson (William Morrow, $25.99). Robinson’s books about Det. Supt. Alan Banks are as sturdy, reliable and nuanced as the Yorkshire copper himself: This is the 27th entry in his deeply satisfying series. (There’s also an excellent TV series starring the underrated Stephen Tompkinson.)
Banks’ Moldovan friend, who goes by the name Zelda, was sold into the sex trade as a young woman; she escaped after killing her captor to become a police consultant specializing in tracking down sex traffickers. When she is kidnapped by the brother of the man she killed, Banks and his loyal team charge into action.
Meanwhile, they hunt for both the victim and the perpetrator of a rape and the murder and suicide it generates. The two cases merge, taking Banks far from Northern England to confront some terrifying Balkan gangsters.
Robinson deftly keeps his plot moving (the violence is occasionally graphic) and adds new layers to his characters’ portraits. Happily, the music-crazy author also continues his policy of slipping sly musical references into his prose (including the book’s title, borrowed from a Bob Dylan song).
“The Consequences of Fear” by Jacqueline Winspear (Harper, $29.99). Another robust series (this is its 16th entry) stars resourceful, compassionate — and damned near fearless — Maisie Dobbs.
Over the course of several decades, Dobbs has morphed from psychologist to private eye and now, in 1941, a spy.
England is in grave peril, desperate to hold off the Nazis until America agrees to join the war. Dobbs’ academic training and detective skills serve her well in her current assignment: vetting prospective agents for the British spy service.
Meanwhile, a boy who ekes out a living delivering government messages witnesses a murder. The police are skeptical about his story, so the kid asks Dobbs for help. He’s got a hard life and Dobbs can’t turn him away; digging in, she finds that the murder was real and connected to the subsequent death of a French spy.
Winspear’s sense of place is acutely evocative of wartime England’s fears and hopes. Dobbs remains a particularly strong and well-crafted character, with a compelling back story; the same can be said for her devoted friends, family and colleagues.
“Transient Desires” by Donna Leon (Atlantic Monthly, $27). Our third protagonist (in his 30th adventure) is Commissario Guido Brunetti, the shrewd and food-loving Venice police detective. As always, that magical (if sometimes melancholy) city remains the heart and soul of Leon’s assured and heartfelt stories.
The thread of Brunetti’s new case begins as he investigates two badly injured young American women who were abandoned at a hospital’s canal dock. Brunetti learns that they were left there by two young men, friends since childhood. The men took the women for a dangerously fast ride in open water that ended in a serious accident; panicking, the men took the women to the hospital and fled.
At first, the case seems to involve only reckless endangerment and failure to provide aid, but Brunetti senses there’s more — and soon uncovers much bigger evil. Brunetti is adept at navigating, literally, the canals of Venice and, figuratively, the treacherous waters of government bureaucracy and office intrigue. He’s also thoroughly devoted to his wife and kids, who are quick to offer smart, somewhat cheeky advice (and excellent meals). And he remains in love with Venice despite the ruinous changes wrought by centuries of visitors to his native city.