We’ve got crime novels without borders this month, from 1980 Laos and Victorian-era London to modern Sicily and Devon, with a side trip to Texas in the dark dawn of Trumpism.
“The Second Biggest Nothing” by Colin Cotterill (Soho, $27.95). Cotterill, a British resident of Thailand, sets his delightful books about Dr. Siri — the retired national coroner of Laos — in the spectacularly dysfunctional world of communist Laos. Siri’s an intriguing character: funny, profound and mildly supernatural. In 1980, as surreal national celebrations unfold, he and his eccentric extended family deal with anonymous threats and deaths connected to his adventurous past.
“Mycroft and Sherlock: The Empty Birdcage” by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anna Waterhouse (Titan, $25.99). This brilliantly entertaining book has an unlikely source: the basketball legend formerly known as Lew Alcindor. Abdul-Jabbar, it turns out, is a Sherlock Holmes scholar, determined to include people of color in the detective’s world. He and his writing partner Waterhouse conjure a ripping tale about Holmes (still a university student), his enigmatic brother Mycroft, serial murders, shady aristocrats and a kidnapping.
“The Other End of the Line” by Andrea Camilleri (Penguin, $16). Camilleri, who died in July, created Inspector Montalbano in the grand tradition of rumpled, shrewd police detectives everywhere. In Stephen Sartarelli’s brisk translation, the Sicilian cop confronts two puzzles: the murder of a charming tailor with a past, and crimes connected to recently arrived refugees.
“The Long Call” by Ann Cleeves (Minotaur, $27.99). Detective Inspector Matthew Venn, investigating a corpse found on the shore in Devon, England, tackles a case intimately interwoven with his own life. Clues lead to a community center run by his beloved husband, Jonathan, and the religious sect Venn grew up in but renounced. Cleeves’ new series is as nuanced, compassionate and compelling as her bestsellers starring two other gifted cops, Vera Stanhope and Jimmy Perez.
“Heaven, My Home” by Attica Locke (Mulholland, $27). A writer on “Empire,” Locke knows a thing or two about storytelling. Her big-hearted portraits of African American life in Texas are masterful, as is her skill in driving compelling plots. In “Heaven, My Home,” Darren Mathews, a black Texas Ranger, searches for the missing son of a vicious white supremacist, traveling into the heart of small-town, hard-luck East Texas: black and white, rich and poor, present and past. The story’s setting, just before the explosion of the current political climate, adds urgency.