Lives Laid Away, by Stephen Mack Jones.
A clever, punchy tale set in one of today’s more romantic locales: Detroit. A city climbing back from ruin is a great backdrop for redemptive stories like this one, about a native who is renovating houses on his childhood street to try and rebuild the neighborhood he grew up in. Stephen Mack Jones is also a playwright and a poet, which means he knows how to make every word count. This timely story of ICE raids with a sinister motive has heart and muscle aplenty. (And it’s the second in a series, with an award-winning first novel I will be adding to my bedside to-be-read pile.) (Soho Crime, 312 pages.)
The Paragon Hotel, by Lyndsay Faye.
This books succeeds wildly on several levels.
First, as a beautiful period piece, slangy and jazzy and bringing 1921 to brilliant life.
Second, as a lesson about the racist history of Oregon, whose state constitution prohibited black people from moving there. (Hence a hotel, where they could live but still be “transient.”)
And third, as a suspense story that opens with Alice James on a cross-country train trip with a secret bullet wound, and reveals in subsequent chapters the life she lived as a child in Harlem. We are told right away who shot her; we are on the edge of our seats waiting to see how her childhood companion came to be the one who did it. Brought to the Paragon Hotel by a train porter who understood the need for secrecy, she gets to know her new community, and we fall in love with them through her eyes.
I love so much about this book. I love that the narrator’s nickname is Nobody and her superpower is disappearing in plain sight using outfits, mannerisms and even postures. I love the twists. I love the layering. (Putnam, 432 pages.)
Tear it Down, by Nick Petrie.
Show of hands, anyone had a nightmare home renovation? You might be particularly triggered by the case that brings Peter Ash down South to Memphis. On the day he arrives to look into threats against war photographer Wanda Wyatt, the threats have escalated -- someone has driven a dump truck into the house she is fixing up. Nick Petrie delivers yet another strong woman (I loved his first book mainly for the character who’s now Peter’s girlfriend) and also an achingly vulnerable young thief who meets Peter by stealing his truck. This is a great series, with colorful storytelling and characters who pop right off the page. (Putnam, 384 pages.)
No Mercy, by Joanna Schaffhausen.
In this second Ellery Hathaway mystery, the police officer is on suspension and in mandatory counseling for the events in her first one, The Vanishing Season. Ellery, survivor of a sensational serial killer, and her rescuer Reed Markham, an FBI profiler, team up again in No Mercy because Ellery lives the kind of life where FBI profilers just come in handy all the time. Two of the crime survivors in her support group, a haunted rape victim and a woman burned in an arson fire decades ago, spark Ellery’s curiosity and she and Reed dive in.
On the last page, Joanna Schaffhausen gives us a cliffhanger — on to book three! (Minotaur, 320 pages.)