Mysteries: Lots of good books out now

smacknee@mcclatchy.comNovember 9, 2013 

“The Good Boy,” by Theresa Schwegel. Minotaur. 368 pages.

This is my favorite book for November, by an author who’s new to me but already has an Edgar under her belt for best first novel. An 11-year-old boy takes off on an odyssey across Chicago with his father’s police dog, to set things right for his family. Schwegel alternates showing us his progress across the city, his family’s attempts to find him and an exploration of what brought the family to this low point. She is able to show us how it feels on the inside when someone outwardly just seems to be behaving badly, and the family interactions here are every bit as tense as the police scenes. The irresistible combo of precocious boy, well-trained dog and big bad city makes this one hard to put down.

“Tatiana,” by Martin Cruz Smith. Simon & Schuster. 304 pages.

The ever-gloomy Arkady Renko, who has shown us modern Russia from the vantage points of Moscow, the Bering Sea and the haunted villages around Chernobyl, now spends time in Kaliningrad, known as Koenigsburg until kings went out of fashion in Russia. Arkady’s boss is happy enough to get him out of Moscow and send him off to a “secret city” where he is surrounded by subversives and murderous gangsters. Martin Cruz Smith’s Russia is a lovingly depicted ruin with definite fairy-tale overtones, although this would be Grimm’s and not Disney’s fairy tales.

“No Man’s Nightingale,” by Ruth Rendell. Scribner. 288 pages.

Inspector Wexford, the hardest-working retired policeman in show biz, is trying to read “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” (a classic retirement activity), but people will keep getting murdered. The local vicar, who seems to have offended most of her parishioners by being not only female and a person of color but also liberal and overly accepting of sinners, is found strangled in the vicarage. There’s an extra mystery in that the vicar had a 17-year-old daughter who came along well after the woman was widowed. As Wexford tags along for witness interviews, Ruth Rendell explores bigotry in its various forms, from overt racism to unconscious assumptions in otherwise open-minded people.

“Saving Texas,” by Nancy Stancill. Black Rose Writing. 282 pages.

Former Charlotte Observer reporter and editor Nancy Stancill brings us an authentic newsroom story set in Texas, where reporter Annie Price notices that an uncomfortable number of fatal accidents are happening to anyone who’s a threat to a gubernatorial campaign centering on secession. Stancill will be signing books at 7 p.m. Monday at Park Road Books in Charlotte.

But wait, there’s more

OK, here’s a first. There were so many good November releases that I could not narrow my list down to just a few, so I’ll post some extra reviews on the Facebook page named ObserverMysteries. Look there for the new Rick Gavin novel, “Nowhere Nice,” and the new Julia Spencer-Fleming novel, “Through the Evil Days.”

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