The mark of a promising series is that each installment can stand alone, and readers can begin with any book. It’s too early to say if this will hold for Johanna Mo’s Island Murders cycle, just two books strong, but THE SHADOW LILY (Penguin Books, 418 pp., paper, $16.99) is a solid police procedural that invited me onto the sparsely populated Baltic island of Öland, where nights are pitch-black and villages “sometimes consisted of no more than a few houses.” Like the first book in the series, “The Night Singer,” it’s capably translated from the Swedish by Alice Menzies.
Returning to Öland after a weekend away, Jenny Alströhm discovers her husband, Thomas, and 14-month-old son are missing. She tells the detectives assigned to the case, Hanna Duncker and Erik Lindgren, “I just wanted to be on my own for a few days. Things have been so intense since Hugo was born … I’ve barely slept through the night in over a year.” What looks at first like a marriage spat quickly grows complicated: Thomas is involved in a local smuggling ring, and it turns out he has an embittered adult daughter Jenny never knew about.
Hanna’s own history — her father was a convicted murderer — threads through flashbacks about the missing father and son. And when the terrible, twisting truth is finally revealed, it comes as a surprise.
Rita Todacheene, the spiky, complex main character introduced in Ramona Emerson’s haunting series opener, SHUTTER (Soho Crime, 300 pp., $25.95), has a secret. The reason her work as a forensic photographer for the Albuquerque Police Department is so good, so detailed, so uncanny? She has a conduit to the dead, who show and tell her things no one else would know about their lives and violent deaths. Sometimes Rita’s crime-scene pictures are so good that they help detectives solve cases.
Opening her mind to ghosts takes a toll on Rita, though. They appear without warning, “waiting in line, glaring up to the neon sign outside my psyche,” as she says. The constant presence of spirits leads to isolation and depression; sometimes she’s ostracized by her Navajo community. Her latest photographic subject, a supposed suicide whose remnant specter angrily insists that she did not, in fact, take her life, compels Rita to investigate beyond professional boundaries.
No matter where she is, no matter what she does, the ghosts never leave her: “I felt the chill of their unhappiness leach into my bones. They would bleed me dry.”
Chuck Hogan is writing crime novels again, and that’s something to cheer about. His last solo effort, “Devils in Exile,” appeared in 2010; since then he’s written several screenplays, co-authored a vampire trilogy with Guillermo del Toro, and worked on the television adaptation of said trilogy. GANGLAND (Grand Central, 352 pp., $28) is very much in keeping with Hogan’s prior output. It’s also now my favorite of his novels.
Set in the 1970s, the novel revolves around the real-life Chicago mob capo Tony Accardo, who becomes enraged after the burglary of his suburban mansion, and the still-unsolved murder of Sam Giancana. Orbiting both of these mysteries is the fictional character Nicky Passero, a loyal Accardo soldier who has fashioned his life on a foundation of secrets. Passero finds himself in an increasingly tight spot as Accardo demands that he track down the burglary culprits before the cops do.
Hogan creates a masterly portrait of men in turmoil, of allegiances forged and broken, and of loyalty tested. “Gangland” is also, like the best mob books and movies, an exploration of masculinity at its most toxic and pernicious.
Few crime novels have baffled me as much as THE DEAL GOES DOWN (Melville House, 280 pp., $27.99), in which Larry Beinhart (of “Wag the Dog” fame) brings back the private eye Tony Cassella, last seen in 1991’s “Foreign Exchange.” Beinhart himself is a supporting character in the new novel, where he catalyzes some of the action — action that, it must be said, makes very little sense.
Here’s my attempt to sum up the plot: Cassella — living alone in the Catskill Mountains, his family dead or estranged — meets a woman on a train who implores him to help her find someone to kill her husband. Her financial backer, a “litigation finance” expert who will pay for the murder in exchange for some of the dead husband’s assets, steps in to sweeten the deal. She’s the kind of feminist ball-busting stereotype that certain kinds of writers love to invoke (overbearing and strident, with a hot pink and black Glock stuffed in her handbag). The husband ends up dead, but it’s not murder, not exactly, and then there are more suspicious deaths, international travel and mutterings about the Deep State.
Beinhart, who once wrote a nonfiction book on how to write mysteries, can still deliver knife-edged sentences, but they never pierce the muddle. When I finally got to the last page, exhausted, I wondered: Why bring back Cassella? Why does this book exist?
I don’t have a clue.