Books

Michael Koryta's novel starts with a confession. Is it real?

"How It Happened" by Michael Koryta. Little, Brown. 368 pages.

The story opens with a detailed confession describing two murders committed on a drug-fueled joyride in rural Maine. After months of persuasion, it's a win for FBI agent Rob Barrett, who was sent from the Boston office because of his skill at coaxing out confessions, but also because he spent childhood summers in tiny Port Hope. What he has not told his superior is that those childhood memories were scarring ones, and we see in flashbacks how they drive Barrett's handling of the confession.

His judgment is questioned after the bodies turn up, but in the wrong place and with wounds that don't match the confession. When he persists, tracking down other details that seem to be fabricated, his career takes a nose dive.

Michael Koryta really makes us feel Rob Barrett's emotional wounds, the deep tragedy of the bright young lovers killed as their lives were just starting, and the pain of the families whose hope rested in them. But he just as lovingly describes the unsung victims of the opioid epidemic, whose families mourn them as people, not statistics.

"What You Want to See" by Kristen Lepionka. Minotaur, 304 pages.

This is the second in a series featuring private eye Roxane Weary, so if you like it, you can go find the introductory novel "The Last Place You Look."

A woman Roxane followed for a routine infidelity case is murdered, and the fiance who hired Roxane is a suspect. She's got a soft spot for the old guy, so she starts digging and finds that he may have dodged a bullet, as his affianced appears to have been a professional Black Widow.

I was reading along, enjoying the unfolding story and Roxane's take on her messy life, when I stopped dead to re-read and then dog-ear page 125 because — and I hope you are as excited by this as I am — Kristen Lepionka used the word "comprised" correctly. This former copy editor's heart leapt, and Lepionka cinched her spot in this month's roundup with that one sentence. For Book Three, maybe a correct usage of "begs the question"?

"Blood Standard" by Laird Barron. Putnam, 336 pages.

This was my favorite find in the May releases. Isaiah Coleridge is a half-Maori enforcer for the Alaskan mob who thinks in metaphors from Beowulf and the Iliad. (Say no more, right? What's not to love?)

He attacks the mob boss he's working for. Extenuating circumstances save him from a slow, painful death. Instead he's merely slowly and painfully injured and then exiled to a horse farm in upstate New York. There he slowly heals and tries to stay out of trouble. When the granddaughter of the farm owners goes missing, though, he's right back out there busting heads and quoting poets.

Laird Barron has so much fun with this character, who admires Humphrey Bogart's take on Sam Spade and tosses off one-liners that bring the spirit of Dashiell Hammett into the 21st century.

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