Vera Kelly Is Not a Mystery

By Rosalie Knecht. (Tin House, 256 pages, $15.95.)

"Vera Kelly Is Not a Mystery" is not a mystery. Rosalie Knecht's follow-up to "Who Is Vera Kelly?" continues in its vein: A midcentury lesbian navigates being a midcentury lesbian while also maybe getting to the bottom of a crime. Early in the novel, the recently dumped private investigator is approached by a mysterious couple from the Dominican Republic, seeking the return of their son. Kelly tracks him to a home for juvenile delinquents, where she discovers his story involves government upheaval and skulduggery.

Knecht handles the Graham Greene-esque elements briskly, but the biggest pleasure is how she evokes a not-so-distant time with specific, slightly outdated language (Kelly stores bullets in an empty "cold cream jar") and period details (Kelly lives in pre-Stonewall Greenwich Village, so her local pub is subject to frequent police raids and her chums get fired because of whom they love).

Kelly narrates "Mystery" in a sharp, sardonic voice and Knecht is able to help us see why, frustratingly, Kelly keeps making the same mistakes. As a result, we understand that the real puzzle our heroine must solve is who, exactly, does she want to be?