Yes, we’re confused about whether it’s winter or spring with the way the weather’s been the last few weeks, but if you’re ready and eager for the hot months to come, why not get yourself in the mood with some new mystery and suspense novels set in the hotter parts of the country?
One of the classic setups for drama is the fish out of water story. Think of things like Crocodile Dundee, or The Prince and the Pauper, or Witness (all right, I’m dating myself by my examples, but you can probably supply examples of your own), where a character is taken far away from his or her normal world and then has to adjust to a completely different culture and mores. I won’t say it never fails, but when it’s done right, the setup can illuminate both the main character and his or her milieu. In the case of The Dime, a new mystery by Kathleen Kent, the protagonist is Betty Rhyzhk, a Brooklyn detective from a family of Brooklyn detectives, with all the New York attitude that goes with that background. Relocating to Dallas, Texas, is like moving to another planet, as far as she’s concerned, but move she does and she takes a job with the Dallas Police, where she is as exotic and out of place as a penguin in a desert. She has to cope with society wives, drug cartels, and cult leaders, and that’s just the beginning. In the course of her first major investigation, Betty faces unruly subordinates, a persistent and disturbing stalker, an unsupportive girlfriend, and a major league criminal organization, testing her New York City smarts to their limit.
Moving from Dallas to eastern Texas, Joe R. Lansdale’s new novel, Rusty Puppy, brings his series characters, Hap (self-proclaimed white trash and former hippie radical) and Leonard (black gay Vietnam veteran and Republican) into the middle of a murder investigation that rips open the racial divides of their small town. Jamar Elton, a young black man, a straight A student ambitious for better things, is killed, supposedly by one of the local gangs. His mother, who hires Hap to investigate, doesn’t believe the official story, especially since Jamar never had any trouble with anyone until he started investigating the corrupt local police and especially one white officer who was harassing and stalking Jamar’s sister.
In the deserts of the Southwest and Mexico, Charlie Cates, the protagonist of The Shimmering Road, by Hester Young, must come to terms with her tangled and dark family history and the extent to which her family’s secrets led to the death of her mother and the half sister Charlie never even met. While she’s pregnant, Charlie has prophetic dreams about harm coming to her unborn child, and visions of another child who speaks to her. She finds out that the mother who abandoned her, and her mother’s other daughter, Jasmine, were murdered together in Arizona, leaving behind Jasmine’s daughter (Charlie’s niece), who’s the child Charlie’s been seeing in her visions. Charlie heads to Arizona to help her orphaned niece, find out what actually happened, and what her niece really witnessed on the night of the murder. She finds herself digging into her painful past and facing evil and the forces of nature itself to protect her niece and her unborn child, in the desert outside Tucson.