Bored with self-isolation? Try losing yourself in these new crime novels, by wily pros who know a thing or two about plotting and characterization.

John Lawton’s “Hammer to Fall” (Grove Atlantic, $26) continues the saga of Joe Wilderness, a roguish and immensely appealing combination of MI6 agent and sometime smuggler. Banished for bad behavior to the bleak, Cold War-era Finnish-Soviet border, Wilderness resumes his black-market activities across the border, while also investigating a serious clandestine plot involving cobalt.

This terrifically written and well-paced balancing act between the absurd and the deadly serious has some especially droll subplots. One involves an unlikely Soviet shortage of both toilet paper and vodka — and a strikingly original solution. Considering that much of this book touches on genuine historical events, I’d like to think this has some basis in reality.

Dead Land” (William Morrow, $28.99, out April 21) is the latest in Sara Paretsky’s swift and superb books starring V.I. Warshawski, her tough and deeply principled Chicago private eye. Always passionate about social issues, V.I. becomes enmeshed with a community action group.

Its involvement in controversial landfill plans soon spirals out to have complex international consequences. Meanwhile, V.I. hunts for a former rock star who has become homeless and mentally distressed after the death of her partner.

Peter May’s “A Silent Death” (Mobius, $26.99) finds him focusing away from his native Scotland, though his fascination with small, isolated lands surrounded by water — which winds throughout his lengthy oeuvre — is still present.


Here the setting is the peninsula of Gibraltar, although much of the action takes place on the Mediterranean coast of Spain — an area sometimes called the Costa del Crime in the U.K. press because of the nation’s many fugitives in exile there. (This bit is not fiction.)

When expat hoodlum Jack Cleland’s girlfriend is killed in a shootout with the Spanish cops, he swears revenge — Cleland pulled the trigger, but he blames police detective Cristina Pradell for “making” him do it. Escaping custody, Cleland targets her and her family.

Joining Pradell’s desperate search to find Cleland before he finds her is John Mackenzie, a Scottish cop dispatched to find Cleland and bring him back.

As always, May has created some indelible characters. Mackenzie, who has a startling lack of tact and other basic social skills, makes a fascinating foil for testy Pradell, who has troubles of her own: money worries, a fraying marriage and a beloved, vulnerable aunt who is deaf and blind.