From Yakima, Sitka and World War II-era Lisbon, three Northwest writers are on the case.
It’s no secret that our region is fertile ground for crime fiction, as witnessed by these examples. (Well, one’s not quite local, but the writer grew up in Seattle. So sue me.)
“Harry Saves the World” (Encircle, 218 pp., $15.99 paperback original), by Kent writer Gary Alexander, has an intoxicating setting: Lisbon during WWII. Lisbon, nominally neutral, teems with secret agents, femme fatales and refugees. (Everyone in “Casablanca” wants to get there, remember.)
Enter Harry Antonelli, a young American who’s been smuggling cork (a valuable commodity) and dallying with a sultry cabaret singer. Complications ensue when Harry’s old flame and her spy brother dragoon him into thwarting Nazi plans to poison enemy cities with uranium. Alexander neatly weaves the deadly business of wartime espionage with the lighthearted escapades of his agreeable hero.
The latest from Issaquah’s Jane Isenberg is “Murder in the Melting Pot” (Oconee Spirit, 218 pp., $14.95 paperback original).
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The Yakima Valley is a refuge for Miranda Breitner, who has escaped a terrible event in her childhood with a new name and life — but at the expense of isolation. Her B&B near Toppenish is struggling, especially after what happens at a local winery: An Orthodox rabbi, in town to kosher grapes, is bludgeoned to death.
The title of this strong and sure-footed book is apt: Miranda, who has largely lost touch with her own Jewish roots, is enmeshed in a tense environment of conflicting cultures — Latino, white supremacist, Jewish, evangelical Christian and Native American.
“Baby’s First Felony” (Soho, 272 pp., $25.95) is John Straley’s first book in 17 years about Sitka, Alaska, criminal-defense investigator Cecil Younger. Straley’s not prolific, but when he delivers, he delivers big.
Younger has great empathy for the rough and ready characters he encounters, both good and bad. (The book’s title refers to a pamphlet of advice for hapless defendants. Sample: “When talking on the jail phone, Pig Latin is not an unbreakable code.”) So he agrees to aid a former client on a domestic-abuse charge, hoping it’ll help her ditch a no-good boyfriend. What emerges is a complex case involving ill-gotten cash, drugs, murder and the kidnapping of Younger’s daughter. Fortunately, he has help, including more former clients and his autistic friend Todd.
Straley’s books are always highly atmospheric, redolent of the rugged landscape and denizens of Southeast Alaska, and “Baby’s First Felony” (great title) doesn’t disappoint.