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The Baltimore Sun

When Will There Be Good News?

By Kate Atkinson

Little, Brown / 350 pages / $25

A novel by Kate Atkinson demands a languorous pace, the better to savor her remarkable ability to shear through layers of secrets and inhibitions and tease out the baldest of truths about her characters. Whether it's the carefully crafted reserve of Dr. Joanna Hunter, still caught in the echoes of the three-decade-old horror that wiped out most of her family; the plucky resourcefulness of Reggie, the teenage minder of Joanna's baby; DCI Louise Monroe's resigned acceptance of the desultory turn of events in her personal life; or former private detective Jackson Brodie's befuddlement at the discord between his own idealism and the world's larger cynicism, Atkinson takes her metaphorical flashlight and shines it so authoritatively that the dark corners where hidden revelations wish to hide don't stand a chance.

Toros and Torsos

By Craig McDonald

Bleak House Books / 408 pages / $14.95

Much of journalist Craig McDonald's fiction work centers around Hector Lassiter, a hard-drinking, harder-living writer of lurid pulp stories who brings to mind Ernest Hemingway. His younger self stars in a story spanning several decades, notable historical events (the Florida Keys hurricane of 1935, the Black Dahlia murder 12 years later), gruesome, art-inspired serial murder, and many, many shots of alcohol. McDonald's writing cuts as deep as Sweeney Todd's straight razor and his enthusiasm for the developing narrative overrides the occasional strain and overfragmentation of connecting Lassiter's exploits to real-life events. Toros and Torsos confirms McDonald as a distinctive new voice in crime fiction.

The Serpent and the Scorpion

By Clare Langley-Hawthorne

Penguin / 289 pages / $14

Readers of historical mysteries were introduced to Clare Langley-Hawthorne's delightful, forward-thinking heroine Ursula Marlow in 2007's Consequences of Sin. Now Marlow returns, still in mourning over her father's death and running his company - when she's not in the thick of the suffrage movement or getting into international scrapes. Marlow travels to Egypt and back on the trail of whoever killed her friend Katya and another woman found in one of the Marlow factories. The narrative produces an array of expected and surprising twists, but the main pleasure is the book's continuing theme of the changing fortunes of women as they seek more independence. Ursula is a worthy heroine in Edwardian London, but she'll be a formidable one as the Great War looms.

Sarah Weinman reviews crime fiction every month for The Baltimore Sun. Visit her Web site at

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