Books

Mysteries: Adrian McGinty’s ‘Gun Street Girl’ is gritty tale

Gun Street Girl, by Adrian McGinty. Seventh Street Books, 313 pages.

When you pick up a book that shares the name of a Tom Waits song, it’s no surprise to find it gritty and witty. This story set in Ireland during the Troubles has a burned-out hero, Sean Duffy, a police detective who skirts the law himself and habitually checks the underside of his car for bombs before starting it.

His team’s investigation of a double homicide repeatedly gets put on hold while they put on helmets and shields for riot duty, and when the investigation takes them to London we get an interesting glimpse of anti-Irish bias as English law enforcement assumes they’re a bunch of drunks who will take “case closed” as an answer.

If it sounds dark, the writing and Duffy’s cheerful insolence lighten it. Every page has delightful turns like these:

“McArthur took a gulp of his whiskey and I did the same. Twelve-year-old Islay. Good stuff if you liked peat, smoke, earth, rain, despair and the Atlantic Ocean, and who doesn’t like that?

“She asked whether Jesus Christ was my personal savior in a Derry accent that sounded like a cement mixer with gearbox issues.”

And the best news? This is a new book expanding an existing trilogy, so there’s more where this came from.

Night Night, Sleep Tight, by Hallie Ephron. William Morrow, 304 pages.

Hallie Ephron uses the famous 1950s murder of Johnny Stompanato as a jumping-off place for a mystery that shares a couple of plot points (an actress’ young daughter confesses to the slaying of the mother’s flashy boyfriend) but makes no effort to faithfully follow the original story.

Ephron sets her book in 1985 with flashbacks to a murder in the 1960s. Deirdre Unger is a child of midcentury Hollywood who finds herself questioning her own role in the long-ago murder. She was sleeping over that night with her friend Joelen, and their lives were both derailed by the night’s events. Deirdre begins to realize that her memories of that night have been carefully constructed by the adults she always thought had protected her.

Dark Rooms, by Lili Anolik. William Morrow, 336 pages.

This debut novel follows teenager Gracie Baker, who is haunted by the death of her sister, Nica, found shot to death in a graveyard near the prep school where their parents teach. Gracie drifts into a drug haze in her grief, then leaves college to move home and work at the prep school while she comes to terms with an unexpected pregnancy.

Gracie discovers that the accepted solution to her sister’s murder was too easy and that the killer is still out there. Lili Anolik does not follow the popular trail of showing us who the killer is and then how Gracie works it out; we work it out right alongside her. The haunting visitations by the dead sister add some color but are clearly products of Gracie’s grief, not actual supernatural events.

Macknee: smacknee@mcclatchy.com

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