New in crime fiction for March: Malcolm Mackay’s splendid contribution to “Scottish noir,” Attica Locke’s Houston-based mystery and a new Inspector Montalbano story.
The first in a trilogy of “Tartan noir” tales from Scotland kicks off this month’s selection of crime fiction.
Malcolm Mackay’s “The Necessary Death of Lewis Winter”(Mulholland, 352 pp., $15 paperback original) is something else: exhilarating, canny and strikingly original.
In clipped and bracing prose, Mackay tells the story of a young hit man, Calum MacLean. Calum’s a buttoned-up, controlled fellow, content to work only a few careful jobs a year for Glasgow’s drug lords. His new assignment: killing a lowlife dealer who’s gotten in over his head.
Mackay is less interested in violence than in the insides of his vivid characters’ heads, including those of a police detective and the sad-sack victim. Darting seamlessly in and out of those heads, Mackay reveals their thoughts (sometimes dumb, sometimes shrewd) as they jockey for position in a complex power struggle.
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This is the first in Mackay’s debut, the Glasgow Trilogy. (The others, “How a Gunman Says Goodbye” and “The Sudden Arrival of Violence,” are equally bracing; all three are being published here simultaneously.)
They’re all the more remarkable because, suffering from chronic illness, the young writer rarely leaves the distant Isle of Lewis in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides, where he grew up, and barely knows the gritty urban setting he depicts. Mackay has already caused a sensation in the U.K. crime-fiction world, and it’s easy to see why.
A very different world exists in Attica Locke’s “Pleasantville” (Harper, 432 pp., $26.99), a nuanced and empathetic look at the unequal, contentious social layers of Houston’s African-American population.
Locke is a seasoned novelist and screenwriter (currently for the TV series “Empire”), so she knows a thing or two about using crime as the backbone of her absorbing and socially aware story.
It’s the mid-1990s, and environmental attorney Jay Porter is near burnout. He’s struggling with the appeal process of his biggest case, and as a widower he’s struggling to raise two children.
Meanwhile, an aggressive mayoral race has the city on edge. When a young female campaign worker is killed, police arrest one of the candidates’ relatives. The candidate is the unofficial mayor of the affluent, mostly black, politically important suburb of Pleasantville.
The case quickly takes on racially charged significance, and, in his first murder case, Porter reluctantly becomes the lawyer for the defense.
Inspector Montalbano, that much-put-upon Sicilian cop, makes a welcome return in Andrea Camilleri’s “Game of Mirrors” (Penguin, 288 pp., $16, paperback original, translated by Stephen Sartarelli).
Montalbano’s adventures are brisk diversions, and he’s excellent company: perceptive, slightly jaded, of a certain age, admired by the ladies and always enthusiastic about the next meal. Here, he fends off an amorous neighbor while investigating explosions outside empty warehouses and a bullet hole he finds in his car door.
And locally: The alarmingly prolific Mary Daheim returns with “The Alpine Zen”(Ballantine, 352 pp., $26), the Seattle writer’s 26th book about Emma Lord, the newspaper editor in Alpine, a gossipy little town in the Cascades. (That’s not counting Daheim’s many other books.)
The number of Alpine books is significant: The titles are alphabetically organized, “Zen” being the last. But the author has stated that her reliably pleasurable series isn’t ending just because the alphabet has.
The summer heat is making everyone crazy. On a small scale, one of Emma’s editors is inexplicably having a major hissy fit. Looming larger is an unidentified body found in the dump. And looming larger still is the ghost of the peace-and-love Sixties. Emma, of course, sorts everything out with her usual vim.
Meanwhile: Best of luck to Seattleite Mike Lawson, whose “House Reckoning” is a finalist for a prestigious Barry Award from the Mystery Writers of America.