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Dark Sacred Night, by Michael Connelly

Little, Brown, 434 pages

The subtitle here should be “Renée Ballard meets Harry Bosch” because that’s the real story. After her debut in The Late Show, it was destined that these two outliers would meet and mesh, and so they do in one of Michael Connelly’s best cold-case investigations.

Detective Renée Ballard arrives at work, the Hollywood station’s night shift, to find a stranger digging through the station’s files. This is not permitted and Ballard reacts accordingly. When she discovers that the man is retired detective Harry Bosch, she’s mollified but not accepting. She’ll monitor his search. He’s hunting for information on an old cold case, the death of 15-year-old Daisy Clayton, murdered and then tossed into a dumpster.

Why Bosch is digging into the Clayton case is part of the story but his interest piques Ballard and she starts a search of her own, in her unique style. Gradually, the two investigations merge. Meanwhile, there are other cases for Ballard and other issues for Bosch. Connelly lets his talent for meandering move this story along, so it’s slow, but that works well for a tale of loss and sadness and justice for the silent and forgotten dead.

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Shell Game, by Sara Paretsky

HarperCollins, 386 pages

This is Sara Paretsky’s 22nd V.I. Warshawski book and it’s a pleasure to report that it’s as complex, political and punishing as only she can make it. At a point when most long-running series are way out of steam, Paretsky has Vic roaring back into action, even with some aches and a really serious sleep deficit.

Fans know there will be many layers of plotline. Vic is called out first when her friend Lotty Herschel’s great-nephew is accused of having a hand in the death of a man he doesn’t know, found in a Chicago woodland. Then Vic’s very long-lost niece arrives from Portland, Ore., begging for help in the search for her missing sister. This means connecting with Vic’s much-despised ex-husband, Dick Yarborough, and the megawealthy capitalists he represents. The niece is certainly in danger from someone somewhere but Lotty is pushing for more work on the nephew’s predicament and then there are Vic’s corporate clients who pay her bills and it all leads to the market for rare stolen archaeological artifacts with an entrance by the Russian mob.

If all this sounds a bit like plot overkill, it is. But Paretsky has a way of weaving all her political, social and fictional webs together in an endearing style. That makes this one of Vic’s best adventures and we’re waiting for more.

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In A House Of Lies, by Ian Rankin

Orion, 375 pages

The latest John Rebus book is as good as the first. Rebus may have retired but Rankin’s talents are as fresh as ever with a terrific opening guaranteed to keep you reading. Four boys are playing in an overgrown private woodland. When the boys discover an old car buried in a pit, they naturally want to have a look. Those investigations turn serious when a body appears in the trunk, a body that’s been dead for a long, long time.

The dead man turns out to be Stuart Bloom, an Edinburgh private investigator who disappeared 10 years earlier in a case with John Rebus in charge. One suspect was Bloom’s gay lover, the son of a Glasgow police officer. The case now comes to Rebus’s friend DI Siobhan Clarke who’s tasked with solving the old cold case and questioning Rebus on the original investigation. Did he screw up? Were favours called?

Many other old side characters in this series reappear, but it’s Clarke and Rebus who do the searching and the threads lead, as always, along Edinburgh’s byways from the Golden Mile out to the tenement blocks. The story is great, but it’s Rankin’s solid sense of place that sets this series apart.

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Pieces Of Her, by Karin Slaughter

Morrow, 480 pages

Karin Slaughter is one of the best American crime novelists writing today and Pieces of Her proves it. While I love her Sara Linton series, it’s Slaughter’s standalones that demonstrate her talents for creating realistic women in extraordinary situations and Andrea Cooper, unfocussed, unkempt, depressed daughter, is one of her best. Andrea is celebrating her 31st birthday with her mother, Laura. At lunch in the mall, Mom (ever efficient, always a leader) is telling her for the 100th time to pull herself together.

It’s an old story, interrupted by a man with a gun who shoots two women and then aims for Andrea. Within moments, Laura is facing the gun, telling the man to shoot her, working quietly and then, in a twist, with a whisper, Laura slashes the shooter’s throat with a shard of glass. It’s all filmed by the mall’s CCTV, but an apparent act of heroism is suddenly turned into something else because Andrea’s mother’s action wasn’t a momma-bear act. It had the hallmarks of a very serious professional, someone far way from the woman everyone thinks they know.

Once the action is established, Andrea is on her own, handed a set of clues to a world she doesn’t understand by a woman she doesn’t recognize. How Andrea sorts this out is really the core of this wonderful psychological suspense novel with plenty of twists. Slaughter covers all the bases here and I didn’t put this book down until the last page.

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Go To My Grave, by Catriona McPherson

Minotaur, 304 pages

The highly accomplished Scottish novelist Catriona McPherson has two series (Lexy Campbell and Dandy Gilver) but I really love her standalone novels. Go To My Grave, with a tip of the hat to Agatha Christie, is absolutely one of her best ever. There’s a gorgeously set guesthouse on an island, a contentious group of warring cousins, and a 16-year-old mystery that could be a murder.

With plot, people and setting in place, it would seem that we wait for bodies to drop and clues to appear, but that’s not how McPherson works. This is a very slow, deliberate tale with teeth-grinding suspense and twists that make you keep reading on into the night. Luckily, McPherson hasn’t been bitten by the more-is-more bug. This tale is edited to the sentence and that makes it all the more irresistible for any binge reader.

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I Know You Know, by Gilly Macmillan

HarperCollins, 384 pages

Gilly Macmillan came to my attention last year with Odd Child Out, a touching tale of a friendship between a dying boy and his friend caught in a sad whirlpool of intolerance and fear. The setting was Bristol, England, where Macmillan lives and which she depicts in a spare poetic prose that makes every rock on a beach sparkle. I Know You Know is also set in Bristol but this time it’s an old cold case that forms the centre of the plot and it’s chilling.

Twenty years ago, two 11-year-old boys were murdered and left near a local dog racing track. A man was found and duly convicted but no one was completely satisfied. The police, led by detective John Fletcher, had a lot of unanswered questions and Cody Swift, a friend of the two dead boys, grew up convinced there was a lot more to uncover. Now, Cody is back, and he’s bringing his concerns out in a podcast that has a lot of listeners. Trouble is, there are plenty of people in Bristol who don’t want old crimes opened. But then a long-dead body is found in the same place where the two boys were left and John Fletcher is called back to uncover a mystery decades old and it’s clear that someone got away with murder.

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