“Robicheaux,” by James Lee Burke. (Simon & Schuster, 445 pages, $27.99.)
To read James Lee Burke’s latest novel is to see what poet John Milton described as “darkness visible.” This novel draws the reader into a world populated by those who seek “dominion over others,” where “enforcement of the law” is situational, where the air smells of cypress, pecans and insecticide, where the demons “misogyny, cruelty … and the collective indifference toward the fate of people who have neither power or voice” run rampant. Burke’s iconic detective, Robicheaux, is mourning the death of his wife, Molly, while investigating the possibility “he’s done something his conscious mind refuses to accept” — that is, he’s murdered a man for vengeance. Robicheaux tries to keep his faith and his sobriety but when a “silver spoon conman,” his narcissism and greed laid bare, rises to power, Robicheaux falls. To read this bleak, beautiful novel is an extraordinary experience, heartbreaking and necessary. To read Burke is to read America.
“Bluebird, Bluebird” by Attica Locke. (Mulholland, 320 pages, $26.)
Darren Mathews is a Texas Ranger who is good at working “murders with a particularly ugly taint on them.” He’s a black Texan with an “arrogance born of genuine fortitude” who refuses to cede his state to a “bunch of nut-scratching, tobacco-spitting crackers.” But when two bodies, those of a black man and a white woman, are discovered near a cafe in Texas, nobody’s “thinking about that black man.” Darren charges into the cafe like a knight, but his need to find “the nobility in a fight” tilts his perspective. Darren believes his generation will be the last to bend to the “ancient rules of southern living,” which makes his awakening even more gripping, suspenseful and gut-wrenching, all told with Attica Locke’s pointed poignant lyricism.
“The Wife,” by Alafair Burke (HarperCollins, 352 pages, $26.99, Jan. 23.)
Alafair Burke has become a virtuoso of this popular subgenre in the mystery, one forged on the tropes of Hitchcock’s “Suspicion” and “Notorious,” where marriages are suspect and spouses are suspicious. In Burke’s latest, Jason is “educated, intellectual and refined,” a handsome academic turned popular media consultant, while his wife, Angela, is organized,“utterly predictable,” trying to make a new life for her and her son. Burke is a smart and entertaining writer, and her novels frequently capture the zeitgeist of our times in perceptive and page-turning ways (sexual harassment is at core of this one).
“This Is What Happened,” by Mick Herron. (Soho Crime, 272 pages, $23.95, Jan. 23.)
So, this is what happened: Maggie Barnes moved to London to “broaden her horizons,” but instead “found them narrow to the width of a letter box.” In a world of social media and digital noise, Maggie is “mute, anonymous, unheard.” Then Maggie meets Harvey and her life becomes a John le Carré novel. In clipped, stylish prose, Mick Herron’s sly, twisty, bullet-paced narrative tracks Maggie’s journey from a skittish participant in her own life to a reluctant recruit in something diabolical. Suddenly, Maggie’s life becomes a Patricia Highsmith story.
Herron will read at 7 p.m. Jan. 22 at Common Good Books, 38 S. Snelling Av., St. Paul.
“Into the Black Nowhere,” by Meg Gardiner. (Dutton, 384 pages, $26, Jan. 30.)
For me, there’s nothing more thrilling than a harrowing serial killer novel — one where the psychology of the killer is as important as the emotional toll extracted from those hunting them. Meg Gardiner’s second in her Unsub series is gripping on both counts. Her empathetic damaged hero, Caitlin Hendrix, has recently joined the FBI’s elite Behavioral Analysis unit. Caitlin’s past has marked her in a unique way that she willingly exploits in an investigation that morphs from “circus” to “spectacle” when women keep disappearing from a small town in Texas. The case challenges Caitlin in ways I found chilling and un-put-downable. In the middle of the investigation when Caitlin is baiting the killer, she feels an “electric thrill.” I did, too.
Carole E. Barrowman is an author and professor at Alverno College in Milwaukee.