“Burning Bright” by Nick Petrie. (Putnam, 421 pages, $26)
Confession. I don’t camp, hike, hang out at bonfires or eat food from a stick. Nick Petrie’s second novel featuring damaged veteran Peter Ash is the reading equivalent of highlining or running with the bulls, and I loved it. Set in the wilds of Washington state and the redwood forest of Northern California, this is an extreme thriller fueled with gallons of adrenaline, unrelenting action and dangerous characters. The first major chase scene high in the redwoods is breathtaking stuff, Ang Lee worthy.
Now Ash is great and all, but June (aka Juniper), a journalist on the run from black suits and big helicopters, is my kind of awesome. Ash may be “that guy,” but June proves to be “that gal” and more than his equal. In the opening pages, she escapes from an SUV that propels the narrative from 0 to 60 in seconds. The novel ends in a glorious hail of heroism involving rogue “machine intelligence,” dark ops and a promise for the future. I can’t wait. Oh, and P.S., if you own a Subaru, you’ve every reason to pat yourself on the back.
“Garden of Lamentations,” Deborah Crombie (William Morrow, $26.99, 432 pages, Feb. 7)
The tricky balance of the personal and the professional has always been one of the stellar aspects of Deborah Crombie’s exceptional series featuring London detectives and husband and wife Duncan Kincaid and Gemma Jones. Like many of us, this couple’s work/life balance frequently tips over into their kitchen. It’s a regular household where they eat “fried eggy bread on Sundays” and have kittens named Captain Jack and Rose, children whose toys clutter their floors, and careers that crash into everything. When a woman is found murdered in a nearby private garden, Gemma digs into the death. Meanwhile her husband’s professional life becomes thorny when an attack on his old boss suggests rampant “corruption at the yard.” The novel’s title suggests sorrow, deep and debilitating, the kind of grief that chokes. It also alludes to Gethsemane and all that garden implies — betrayal, sacrifice and forgiveness. It’s all here.
“August Snow” by Stephen Mack Jones (Soho Press, $26.95, 320 pages, Feb. 14)
August Snow was raised in a Detroit home where his Mexican mom’s favorite poets (Lorca, Neruda, Ines de la Cruz and Paz) shared shelves with his African-American dad’s “classic noir gumshoes” (Hammett, Chandler, Fisher and Himes). Ex-cop Snow is neither pure nor white, he’s “Blaxican,” and it was my pleasure to meet him in this polished, gripping debut. Poet Stephen Mack Jones’ novel bristles with energy, compassion, humor and a page-turning plot. After an investigation into corruption in the mayor’s office, Snow was “demoted,” then “unceremoniously fired.” He sued, won “some serious coin,” but was forced to leave the city. He’s back, bringing new life to his neighborhood and, just maybe, to himself. But faster than it takes to unpack, he’s dragged into “this thing” and before any more of his friends get hurt, he needs to figure out what “this thing” is. Mack Jones’ prose is poetic and cutthroat as he explores in his Detroit, a city “of failed real estate schemes, encroaching poverty, and a Byzantine city government following the playbook for the fall of Rome.” You should meet this guy.
“I See You” by Clare Mackintosh (Berkley, $26, 384 pages, Feb. 21)
“I think I’m going to be murdered,” says Zoe Walker, a divorced middle-aged Londoner with two grown children, a heavy mortgage and a “spare tire.” She has a doting lover, a solid ex-husband and a bullying boss. But someone has put Zoe’s picture on an online dating website that’s a front for murderers and misogynists, and nobody is listening to her pleas. Is she simply paranoid, or is someone really stalking women via this site?
The novel slides effortlessly from Zoe’s obsessive first person narration to the more reasoned point of view of Kelly Swift, a young police officer with her own obsessions. The novel is set in small places — cluttered kitchens, cramped bedrooms, tiny attics and trains — where if the walls aren’t closing in, crowds of commuters are. Clare Mackintosh’s debut “I Let You Go” was one of my favorite mysteries last year, and despite a not completely believable coda, this second novel is in the running for this year.
Finally, here’s a triple play of mysteries with Minnesota connections. Owen Laukkanen’s unnerving thriller “The Forgotten Girls” (Putnam, March 14) has Twin Cities FBI agents Kirk Stevens and Carla Windermere chasing a killer on the railroad’s High Line. It’s faster than a speeding … train. The state’s mystery Grand Master Ellen Hart’s engaging “Fever in the Dark” (Minotaur, Jan. 31) has Jane Lawless investigating the dangerous consequences of a viral video of a friend’s gay wedding. And the acclaimed Brian Freeman leaves his beloved Detective Stride on the North Shore of Superior and settles in San Francisco with “The Night Bird” (Thomas & Mercer, Feb. 1), an intriguing psychological mystery introducing Detective Frost Easton investigating a case about women who appear to have been frightened to death. Boo!
Ellen Hart will be at Once Upon a Crime Bookstore, 604 W. 26th St., Mpls., at 7 p.m. Jan. 31, and Brian Freeman will be there at noon Feb. 4.
Carole E. Barrowman is a writer and professor at Alverno College in Milwaukee.