BOOKS IN BRIEF // CRIME

The Baltimore Sun

THE SILVER SWAN -- By Benjamin Black Holt / 290 pages / $25

Whenever a writer of literary fiction decides to move into mystery territory, it's almost a guarantee there will be a new battle on the genre war front. But Black, the pseudonym for Booker Prize winner John Banville, proved he could walk the crime fiction walk with the Edgar-nominated Christine Falls, and now his luminous prose gets an even better infrastructure with the sequel, a faster-paced, further melancholic slice of the noir life of Dublin pathologist Quirke. Once again, he is recruited into a tenuous investigation of the suspicious death a young woman mistreated by the city's harsh environment, but this time her name is Deirdre Hunt. And once again, the investigation will encompass Quirke's own family, this time his daughter Phoebe, a stunning creation of malcontent and self-destruction. Black seamlessly intercuts Quirke's ruminations and stop-start searching with the devolving story of how Deirdre's naive idealism darkened into something far deadlier, consistently pointing out the shadows that kept 1950s-era Dublin in an oppressively cloistered manner.

CALUMET CITY

By Charlie Newton Touchstone / 352 pages / $14

Patti Black is a real-life Chicago police officer whom Charlie Newton rode along with to gather material for his arresting debut novel. But the real Patti, I hope, has had a very different life from her fictional alter ego, who battles more demons than a necromancer knows what to do with. She's managed to block out an early life of systematic abuse at the hands of her foster father in order to function as a more or less bad-ass policewoman, but the door to her previously tortured life opens wide open when seemingly disparate events - the attempted assassination of the mayor, a lawyer's murder and the discovery of a body hidden in a house basement wall - force Patti to reckon with what really happened in the dark period she spent in Calumet City. At times Newton, a Chicagoan now based in South Africa, overstuffs the narrative with too many events and shocks, but his version of Patti Black is a potent mix of pain and toughness, vulnerability and adrenalin that anchors the book any time it threatens to careen out of control. She may be too damaged to return, but here's hoping for more from Newton.

An Incomplete Revenge

By Jacqueline Winspear Holt / 306 pages / $24

Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs was one of the most auspicious mystery series debuts of the last few years, and subsequent installments only confirmed this sentiment for her growing fan base. For whatever reason, I lost track of Maisie after the second book and only returned to the fold with this, the sixth entry. I'm glad I did. The early novels had plenty of pluck and wonderful backstory but her personality, especially as viewed by other characters, could be a bit on the saintly side. But An Incomplete Revenge shows Maisie at the top of her detecting form, acting on behalf of an old friend to investigate a land purchase in a Kent village about to come undone as a result of all manner of crimes large and small. Her ever-patient armor has also dented somewhat as the fate of her wartime love hangs in the balance, and Winspear handles the sense of impending loss Maisie feels with artful grace and sensitive prose. For longtime devotees, An Incomplete Revenge provides additional nuance to Maisie's character and profession, while those unfamiliar with the series are best advised to start here and work their way backward.

Lifelines

By C.J. Lyons

Berkley / 05 pages / $7.99

Readers who prefer their medical thrillers to have characters with beating hearts and three dimensions are well advised to pick up this series debut by Lyons, a veteran of trauma centers and pediatric emergency medicine. The setting is Pittsburgh's Angels of Mercy Medical Center and the tense dynamic gets a shot of ephedrine with the arrival of the ER's new attending physician, Lydia Fiore, who experiences the high of saving a patient and the low of killing the chief of surgery's son just 24 hours after moving from Los Angeles. The stress level only gets worse when the prospect of clearing her name throws Lydia into a caldron of medical malpractice, hate crimes and secrets that should have little to do with her job but of course, have everything to do with it. Lyons captures the frenetic setting of the ER with a smooth style that demands the reader move forward to keep up with the piece, but she also creates winning portraits of the supporting players set to anchor the series. Resident Gina may be prickly but her wary distrust complements med student Amanda's naturally sunny nature and nurse Nora's fatalism about medicine and romantic relationships. Lifelines is overstuffed, as a series opener can be, but it sets the table well for the next adventure at Angels of Mercy.

Sarah Weinman reviews crime fiction every month for The Sun.

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