Lindquist (Carnival Desires) puts his experience combating the scourge of methamphetamines as a Washington State narcotics prosecutor to good use in his fourth novel, a gripping thriller. Tacoma detective Wyatt James is dead set on putting an end to the operations of a shadowy figure who uses the alias Howard Schultz (after the Starbucks mogul), who has moved to establish himself as the preeminent meth dealer in the Pacific Northwest. James’s efforts to turn smalltime dealers into informants who could lead him to his quarry are aided by Mike Lawson, supervisor of the drug trial unit, and the author’s alter ego. When Schultz again beats a rap, James’s obsession with his white whale intensifies, leading to a tragic conclusion. The quality writing and flashes of gallows humor raise this above the usual tale of good guys vs. bad guys.
In Umrigar’s tender fourth novel, Tehmina “Tammy” Sethna is torn between two cultures that couldn’t be more different: Bombay and Cleveland. The former is her homeland, but after her husband’s recent death, she’s been staying with her son and his family in America. Tehmina loves being near grandson Cookie, but she often feels like an intruder in her American daughter-in-law’s home, and she’s disconcerted by the changes in her son, Sorab, who is stressed from the corporate rat race. Though Tehmina’s loneliness floods her with memories of her husband, the Parsi community back in India and her traditional ways, she finds no small amount of purpose (and celebrity) in Cleveland after suspecting her neighbor of child abuse and intervening on the children’s behalf. Immigration laws, meanwhile, force her to decide whether she’ll remain in Cleveland or return to Bombay. Umrigar (The Space Between Us) shows the unseemly side of American excess and prejudice while gently reminding readers of opportunities sometimes taken for granted.
Malmont’s debut thriller reads like pages torn from the pulp magazines to which it pays nostalgic homage. It’s 1937, and the nation’s two top pulp writersâ€”William Gibson, author of novels featuring caped crime fighter “The Shadow,” and Lester Dent, the creator of do-gooder hero Doc Savageâ€”are trying to solve real-life mysteries that each hopes will give him bragging rights as the world’s best yarn spinner. Gibson follows rumors that pulp colleague H.P. Lovecraft was murdered to the fog-shrouded Providence, R.I., waterfront. Dent tracks clues to an impossible killing through the bowels of New York’s Chinatown. As the two adventures dovetail, they spawn sinuous subplots involving tong wars, secret chemical warfare, pirate mercenaries, kidnappings, revolution in China and weird science run amok. Lovecraft, L. Ron Hubbard, Louis L’Amour and Chester Himes all play prominent supporting roles and offer piquant observations on the penny-a-word writing life that conjure a colorful sense of time and place. Like the pulpsters he reveres, Malmont doesn’t let the facts get in the way of his storytelling, and the result is a fun, if wildly improbable, pulp joyride.
The women protagonists of Thompson’s hard-hitting latest collection of stories (The Gasoline Wars; 1999 NBA finalist Who Do You Love) have, like the young army wife of “It Would Not Make Me Tremble to See Ten Thousand Fall,” secret plans to wrest control of their life from husbands, boyfriends and mothers. Kelly Ann Pardee, a high school dropout stuck at home with a child while her army grunt husband is sent to the Middle East, wants to be a warrior, too. The teenage Jessie in “The Five Senses” has run off to Florida with an older man she is beginning to realize is violent and scary, and yet she is disappointed that her new fugitive existence isn’t more exciting than her upper-middle-class life. Older women in these stories have been through the millâ€”of marriage, adultery, child-rearing. Mid-40s Melanie of “A Normal Life” marries Chad after a long affair, only to wonder if this new version of her lover is one she wants. In “Holy Week,” seething sales agent Olivia Snow is too worn down by her job and single mom drudgery to upgrade her “subemployed musician” boyfriend or realize how at risk her 17-year-old daughter is. Thompson’s talent is on full display.
Moscow-based Senior Investigator Arkady Renko, in his outstanding sixth outing (after Wolves Eat Dogs), investigates a murder-for-hire scheme that leads him to suspect two fellow police detectives, Nikolai Isakov and Marat Urman, both former members of Russia’s elite Black Berets, who served in Chechnya. Isakov, a war hero, is now running for public office. Renko must also look into reports that the ghost of Stalin has begun appearing on subway platforms and why several bodies of Black Berets who served in Chechnya with Isakov have turned up in the morgue. Despite repeated threats to his life, Renko stubbornly perseveres, seeking justice in a land that has no official notion of that concept. Smith eschews vertiginous twists and surprises, concentrating instead on Renko as he slowly and patiently builds his case until the pieces fall together and he has again, if not exactly triumphed, at least survived. This masterful suspense novel casts a searing light on contemporary Russia.