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How many times have you heard from fellow book lovers that if you love Author A, then you'll like Writer B? It's in this spirit of 2 degrees of literary separation that I've picked my summer favorites in crime fiction.
If you love Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs series, you'll adore "Angel With Two Faces" by Nicola Upson (Harper, 448 pages, $13.99).
Upson's second mystery, set in 1930s England, features Josephine Tey as her amateur detective. I first read Tey's classic "The Daughter of Time" in a college history course and I've always thought Dorothy Sayers and Agatha Christie unfairly overshadowed Tey's literary legacy. I'm hoping Upson's lovely literate series changes this. Like the Golden Age mysteries Tey wrote, Upson uses the country house mystery as a means to explore British society between the wars. Fictional Tey travels to Cornwall to deepen her relationship with Archie Penrose. When Tey arrives, an estate worker has drowned and after another tragedy the manor closes ranks even though a murderer may be among them.
If you're a fan of forensic mysteries but you're tired of autopsies, you'll want to read "Crashers" by Dana Haynes (Minotaur, 352 pages, $24.99).
A hacker sitting on the hood of his car near the Portland airport crashes a plane into an Oregon field. Instead of a human body giving up clues to reveal a killer, in "Crashers" the body of the plane -- its hydraulics, electronics, navigation systems -- is dissected. While an investigative team works on the forensics of the flight, Daria, a sexy ex-Israeli spy, infiltrates the Irish terrorist cell that brought down the plane (and plans to bring down more). I loved this woman! At one point, she takes out a guy with a high-flying kick to his temple with her sling backs. Most of Haynes' characters (there are many) have good hair, well-defined abs and tough attitudes, and, OK, maybe the descriptions veer to the cliché (she weighed "110 pounds soaking wet"), but I didn't care. Somehow this ensemble thriller rises higher than the sum of its parts.
If your favorite words on a thriller jacket are "A Jack Reacher Novel," you'll love Lee Child's "61 Hours" (Delacorte, 383 pages, $28).
When a blizzard blankets the Western plains, Jack Reacher rides into Bolton, S.D., in a prison bus. Pretty soon, he's marshaling the town's underprepared police department to protect a federal witness from the wrath of a drug cartel. The wrath is set to descend on the town in 61 hours. As time ticks by, Reacher does what he does best -- he watches, he listens, he asks questions, he drinks lots of coffee, he kicks one or two butts, and then he discovers that something sinister is lurking (literally) beneath the surface of the town. Child's terrific thrillers are all about the pacing and the suspenseful twists of plot, but he never sacrifices character for either. He gives us real men and women in real trouble, and, even if Reacher is larger than life, I think that's how our pop culture heroes should be. As one Jack fades from our TV screens, this Jack keeps getting stronger.
If you wish Elmore Leonard had written a 1930s gangster novel, you'll race through Ace Atkins' "Infamous" (Putnam, 406 pages, $25.95).
"Machine Gun" George Kelly and his wife, Kit, kidnap an Oklahoma oilman. They're convinced this will put them on Easy Street. When things go not so much to plan, they flee with angry gangsters on their heels, Hoover's men on their tails and George with the vague notion that Kit may be smarter than he knows. The novel's settings, clipped style and colorful characters are right out of Depression-era America. Kit and George's journey eventually makes a stop in St. Paul, a "wide-open town" for gangsters, where they try to launder the ransom money. The cavalcade then circles through Des Moines and back to the Southwest, where the whole caper started.
If you follow CJ Box's Joe Pickett mysteries, then you'll enjoy "The Poacher's Son" by Paul Doiron (Minotaur, 324 pages, $24.99).
This debut novel set in the Maine wilderness opens with a story that 9-year old Mike Bowditch heard from his father -- a Vietnam vet, a deadbeat dad and a poacher. It's a "story that has haunted" Bowditch, now a game warden, since his childhood. Not because of the story's content, but because of what the story revealed about his dad. When Bowditch's father becomes the main suspect in a deputy's death, Bowditch puts his career on the line to hunt for the killer, a quest that takes him deep into the forests of Maine and the heart of his dad's darkness. Doiron knows well the lay of the landscape he's writing about. The subtle parallels he draws between the beasts of the forest and the beasts within us are compelling.
If you'd appreciate a Carl Hiaasen/Raymond Chandler collaboration, you'll think Marshall Karp's "Cut, Paste, Kill" (Minotaur, 294 pages, $25.99) is funny.
The mean streets in Karp's Los Angeles include "three victims, two cats, and one killer" who's -- wait for it -- a homicidal scrapbooker. The first victim is the perpetually sloshed wife of a diplomat who's murdered in a hotel bathroom with a pair of scissors. Detectives Mike Lomax and Terry Biggs take the case, which moves from witness to witness, crime scene to crime scene, with laugh-out-loud moments and a keen awareness of the absurdities of life in L.A. Lomax and Biggs are like Neil Simon's odd couple, only cuter and with way hipper lines. The comedy never gets in the way of a plot that has as many twists as the Hollywood Hills.
If you like the emotional heft of Mosley or Lehane, but want to travel light, find Attica Locke's "Black Water Rising" (Harper-Perennial, 448 pages, $14.99) in paperback.
When I first read "Black Water Rising," I was impressed with three things. First, how well Locke captures the charged racial environment of Texas in the 1970s and 1980s. Second, I was moved by the complexity of Jay Porter, her main character. One night while on a romantic boat ride with his pregnant wife, Jay does a noble thing and the aftermath tears his life asunder. Third, Locke's own background adds to the book's authenticity. Her parents were active in the Black Power movement, naming Locke after the Attica prison riot in 1971. Locke told me in an interview that "only someone" who is "first generation in an integrated society" could create Jay. Still impressed after my second reading.
Carole E. Barrowman teaches at Alverno College in Milwaukee and blogs at carolebarrowman.com