Books

Well-developed characters and satisfying plots in four new novels

“The Man in the Crooked Hat,” by Harry Dolan. Putnam, 368 pages.

Ex-cop Jack Pellum is obsessed with finding his wife’s killer. He posts fliers daily and checks all homicides in the city for similarities. His fixation on the killer’s hat seems insane, especially since he’s seeing a psychiatrist. But then he learns of a suicide where the note mentioned a killer in a crooked hat, and this is the key that eventually pulls his farfetched theories solidly into the realm of reality.

We also follow the killer as he falls in love and tries to tie up loose ends (including Pellum) so he can settle down and transform into a good guy.

Harry Dolan has it all: deeply drawn characters, even the “bit parts”; settings sketched in with deft detail; and a plot that winds back on itself for a satisfying solution.

“Fools’ River,” by Timothy Hallinan. Soho Crime, 368 pages.

You might not think a story set in the Bangkok sex trade is your cup of tea, but Timothy Hallinan might change your mind with the humanity of his characters against the seamy backdrop, notably his detective Poke Rafferty.

Poke’s adopted daughter, Miaow, has a friend whose father is missing. When Poke and a police pal start looking, they find a pattern of well-off foreign men turning up in canals with casts on their legs, bank accounts emptied. If the pattern holds true, they don’t have much time before the missing dad turns up the same way.

Meanwhile, Poke’s pregnant wife has a secret of her own, which brings in another story of decent people stepping up where needed.

I also like how Hallinan features several teen characters as full participants in the story, not sidekicks or comic relief. They add a touch of hope.

“Artemis,” by Andy Weir. Crown, 320 pages.

Andy Weir’s 2014 debut, “The Martian,” was a smash hit that was made into a hit movie, so the follow-up has been eagerly awaited. Artemis has a few echoes of “The Martian” – a witty main character, a non-Earth setting and an intricate plan chock full of science – but it’s a combination of caper story and murder mystery.

Jazz Bashara, a small-time smuggler in the moon colony Artemis, is asked by the local billionaire to do a little industrial sabotage. Watching her work the angles, we learn the workings of the moon colony. She’s a great character, irreverent and cocky. When the bodies start turning up, she goes on the run, which is hard to do in an enclosed colony surrounded by moonscape.

Weir’s second book totally delivers on the promise of the first.

“The Usual Santas,” Soho Crime, 416 pages.

Here’s a fun collection of short stories from Soho authors in which the holidays feature somehow. Just the thing to start getting you in the mood. Even the book jacket blurbs made me smile: backhanded compliments written by some of the authors. (“The Usual Santas: a very good example of that kind of thing.”)

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