Arts & Culture

Murder in Missouri captures Ozarks quirks

“The Branson Beauty,” by Claire Booth. Minotaur, 336 pages.

I couldn’t resist picking this one up for old times’ sake, having spent time in the Ozarks back when the family-friendly tourist phenomenon that is Branson, Mo., was just taking off.

Claire Booth captures the quirks of that eccentric corner of Missouri.

New sheriff Hank Worth is still learning those ins and outs when a showboat (the “Branson Beauty” of the title) goes aground on Table Rock Lake. What first seems like a routine water evacuation turns more serious when the body of a college student is found in the final search of the boat. When the well-insured boat mysteriously explodes, Hank starts to get a taste of the entrenched local politics that will try to derail his investigation.

Booth has a way with characters and colorful domestic detail that nicely balances the police procedure.

“Cold Silence” by James Abel. Berkley, 336 pages.

If you thought you knew the worst of my literary (lack of) taste, brace yourself.

I cannot resist a good pandemic, pun intended. Movies like “Outbreak,” “Contagion,” and the granddaddy of virus books, Stephen King’s “The Stand,” get me every time. I don’t get far into most of the “plague” genre because the writing usually takes a back seat to the rampaging germs, but James Abel’s flair for dialogue and plotting kept me reading.

Military doctor Joe Rush is on the trail of a bioengineered version of leprosy which is soon dubbed the Bible Virus. Abel also shows us the perpetrators and their attempt to make the virus appear to have originated in Africa. The familiar media coverage, with video of cities in crisis and scrolling numbers underneath showing projected infection rates and death toll, provides a backbeat to Rush’s quest to find the real source and stop the spread of the disease.

It’s all good, apocalyptic fun, to be enjoyed from the safety of a cozy, plague-free reading chair.

“The Go-Between” by Lisa Brackmann. Soho Crime, 384 pages.

A woman’s new identity is threatened when an enemy from her old life finds her. Emily, restaurant owner in California, is forced to once again become Michelle, widow of a financial fraudster, and is put to work keeping an eye on Kaitlin, the face of a nonprofit named Safer America. What she’s actually helping protect seems to be the political power of Safer America.

The danger of the double life and Emily/Michelle’s worries about her boyfriend, set up for jail to keep her in line, are lightened by the “lifestyles of the rich and famous” nature of the job, which includes liberal amounts of shopping, yoga on the beach and luxury hotels.

“The Asset” by Shane Kuhn. Simon & Schuster, 288 pages.

I love Shane Kuhn’s clever “The Intern’s Handbook,” a manual for assassins, and its sequel “Hostile Takeover.” This book is more of a straight narrative, about an airport security expert who’s recruited to help stop a terrorist threat that Homeland Security is underplaying. Hard-boiled action.