Variety is the spice of life, they say, so you might want to check out these very different new crime novels.
“Dead of Winter” by Stephen Mack Jones (Soho, $27.95). “Blaxican” ex-cop August Snow, rich after winning a wrongful-dismissal lawsuit, loves Mexicantown, his down-market, diverse Detroit neighborhood, and he’ll do anything to protect it from bland development. When a dying entrepreneur, Ronaldo Ochoa, asks him to buy his small business to save it from a sketchy developer, Snow declines — but he’s compelled to get involved after Ochoa is killed and his daughter, Snow’s high school crush, begs the ex-cop for help.
Snow’s line of inquiry leads him into a violent nest of corruption involving an old enemy, set against the background of simmering racial tension. The plot and subplots are complex to the point of confusion, but Jones’ characters and settings are always colorful and vibrant.
“Our Woman in Moscow” by Beatriz Williams (Morrow, $27.99). Iris and Ruth Macallister, nonidentical twins with a complex history, are at the heart of this superb Cold War-era spy thriller.
New York, 1952. An FBI agent, Sumner Fox, approaches Ruth — the manager of a big modeling agency — with unsettling questions about her estranged sister and an even more unsettling plan. Four years earlier, Iris and her American diplomat husband, Sasha Digby, defected to the Soviet Union with their children; Digby was apparently a Russian spy. But now the KGB suspects that the diplomat, a spectacularly self-destructive alcoholic, may be a double agent still serving the U.S. With the Digby family in grave danger, Fox enlists Ruth to help extract them.
The books toggles between Ruth narrating this mission and third-person flashbacks to the events in postwar Europe that led the Digbys into espionage.
Readers familiar with the Cold War spy world will recognize the parallels to history, something Williams freely acknowledges — particularly the Cambridge spy scandal in England involving, among others, the charmingly dissolute traitor Guy Burgess, who makes a crucial appearance here. Williams, however, has created her own vivid plot wound around that true story.
“The Bombay Prince” by Sujata Massey (Soho, $27.95). It’s 1921, and tensions run high in British-controlled India. The Prince of Wales, the future Edward VIII, is arriving for a royal visit, and, although plenty of loyal subjects still exist in the colony, pro-independence activists are taking to the streets.
Meanwhile, Perveen Mistry, the only female solicitor in Bombay, has a new client: a university student representing a group that wants to boycott the grand parade, thereby endangering their status as students. She advises them as best she can, then becomes personally involved when a female student is murdered on the school grounds during the parade.
Massey is very good at evoking period details, but she really excels at illuminating the deeply ingrained restrictions imposed by racism, sexism and India’s caste system. Her historical research is thorough but worn lightly, and her concerns with social injustice are never preachy.
On the local front, we have books from three Seattle-area writers:
Retired surgeon Allen Wyler’s “Deadly Odds 4.0” (Stairway, $16.26), as the title implies, is the fourth outing for his unlikely hero, hacker Arnold Gold. A white-shoes Seattle law firm summons him from his Hawaiian home to deal with a ransomware threat, but Gold soon learns that not all lawyers are completely candid.
Attorney and environmental activist Eric Redman’s fiction debut, “Bones of Hilo” (Crooked Lane, $26.99), also takes on a Hawaii-Washington connection. It moves swiftly between the Big Island and the North Cascades as a newly minted police detective, Kawika Wong, digs into the gruesome, ritualistic murder of a shady resort developer.
And the alarmingly prolific Gregg Olsen is back. “The Hive” (Thomas & Mercer, $15.95) follows another cop, Detective Lindsay Jackman, in an intense hunt linking the murder of a Bellingham university student with an earlier killing on nearby Lummi Island, with both victims linked to a secretive cult that has attracted a variety of women to the island.