This month’s new crime-fiction offerings take place in 1880s New York, present-day Vermont and Florida — and right here in Seattle.
This month’s crime fiction includes a historical thriller based on a famous real-life rivalry, an atmospheric Vermont police procedural, a goofy Florida caper, and a taut tale of suspense set in Seattle.
Graham Moore, the author of “The Last Days of Night” (Random House, 384 pp., $28), knows something about fiction rooted in epic moments of history. Exhibit A: his Oscar-winning screenplay for “The Imitation Game.”
It is hardly surprising, then, that his captivating new book is based on a world-changing event: the scientific and financial battle known as the War of Currents.
In New York in the late 1880s, two factions are fighting over what will dominate the revolutionary advent of electricity. Will it be direct current, backed by the political and economic clout of Thomas Edison? Or the underdog — alternating current, a superior technology devised by the eccentric genius Nikola Tesla and licensed by George Westinghouse?
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When Edison ruthlessly tries to bankrupt Westinghouse by issuing a blizzard of lawsuits, a young lawyer, Paul Cravath, gets the surprise of his life: Westinghouse chooses him to do battle.
(There are clear comparisons here to certain present-day high-tech moguls who tout inferior systems, using deep pockets and political influence to crush their competition.)
Moore has a gift for sure-footed plot development and full-blooded characters, bringing to life Edison, Westinghouse, Tesla, and Cravath — all real people, as were several supporting players.
The result is a ripping tale of industrial espionage, arson, legal maneuvering and genuine, brilliant, pure science.
Archer Mayor has quietly been building an impressive body of work about Vermont Bureau of Investigation agent Joe Gunther, the latest being “Presumption of Guilt” (Minotaur, 304 pp., $25.99).
Here, Gunther and his loyal team investigate a decades-old cold case: the body of a roofer, thought to have abandoned his family long ago, is discovered buried in concrete as a nuclear-power plant is being dismantled. A present-day murder, of the roofer’s former boss, indicates that the killer is still at large.
Mayor has firsthand experience of the rugged side of life in Vermont; he is an investigator for his county’s sheriff’s department and for the state medical examiner. He puts this experience to good use here, evoking a strong sense of place through skillful prose and a sturdy plot.
It is outstanding that Carl Hiaasen is still working his mojo on deeply wacky Florida capers like “Razor Girl” (Knopf, 352 pp., $27.95).
The book starts with a literal bang: A criminally minded, sweetly ditsy bombshell orchestrates a car crash that involves her driving at high speed while shaving a very intimate body region. (In a foreword, Hiaasen assures us that this is based in reality.)
After that, this being a Hiaasen book, things get strange.
The baggy plot has something to do with insurance scams, the creation of artificial beaches, a redneck reality-show star, and a Mafia guy. Plus an ex-cop turned health inspector, who is the only character with anything resembling an even keel. Plus that ditsy bombshell.
Hiaasen expands here on his enduring theme of insane ecological destruction. Mostly, though, the book is an excuse to let his crazy-ass characters loose.
On the local front: Seattleite Kevin O’Brien returns with “You’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone” (Pinnacle, 544 pp., $9.99 paperback original). Relentless and highly suspenseful, it tells of Andrea, a copywriter who moves to Seattle with her orphaned teenage nephew Spencer.
Romance arrives for her in the form of a divorced playwright, whose son Damon is viciously bullied at school. When Damon kills himself on a live podcast, blaming the bullies, Spencer swears revenge — and then the bullies start dying.