Three new crime-fiction novels include a quirky debut about a former LAPD detective now living on a mountain, a club bouncer who joins a weapons heist that goes awry and a psychological suspense thriller set in the Pacific Northwest.

Share story

Comic crime novelists can try too hard. Even the sublime Donald E. Westlake sometimes fell flat (witness the recently reissued “Help I Am Being Held Prisoner”). But they can also get it right.

Take Howard Michael Gould’s debut, “Last Looks” (Dutton, 304 pp., $26).

To seriously understate: Charlie Waldo, the hero of this quirky-to-the-max story, is one eccentric guy. Once an LAPD detective, he now lives a lonely mountain life, penance for a case gone wrong. Deeply concerned about his ecological footprint, Charlie is so obsessed with owning precisely 100 things that he agonizes: Is a pair of socks one item or two?

Then Lorena, an ex-girlfriend turned investigator, zooms in to talk Charlie back into the game. Alastair Pinch — the star of an immensely popular TV show — may have killed his wife in an alcoholic daze. The network’s suits, eager to keep Alastair on-screen, want Charlie to prove him innocent.

Charlie declines until some muscle-bound chuckleheads assault him and warn him off. Changing his mind, he comes off his mountain and starts bicycling around LA after clues.

TV writer Gould’s good-natured humor ranges from showbiz satire to Charlie’s bemused takes on modern urban life. And his characters are great, including volatile, charming Pinch and Charlie’s new friend, a kindergarten teacher who (as they so often do) moonlights as a porno star.

The Bouncer” (Mysterious, 224 pp., $25), by David Gordon, also gets it right.

Joe Brody, a man of hidden talents, is skating through life as a club bouncer. He’s invited to join an upcoming weapons heist, but when it goes south Joe lands in a plot that might be summarized as “Gangsters vs. Terrorists.” Along the way, an alluring FBI agent, Donna Zamora, keeps popping up and … well, sparks fly. Gordon’s plot is baggy, but his sharp characters and quick wit save the day.

On the local front: Seattle-area writer A.J. Banner’s “After Nightfall” (Lake Union, 243 pp., $24.95), like her outstanding “The Twilight Wife,” is compelling psychological suspense with a strong Pacific Northwest setting.

How well do we know friends, and how far can we trust them? During a seaside party, Marissa Parlette spies her fiancé, Nathan Black, blatantly flirting with Lauren Eklund, a childhood friend she recently reconnected with. The next morning, Lauren is found dead on the beach and Nathan becomes a prime suspect. Despairing and baffled, Marissa is driven to examine the complex tangles of Lauren’s and Nathan’s respective pasts.