CALIFORNIA AND SOUTHERN DREAMING: NEW THRILLERS

This week we have three new thrillers by authors who are old hands at the suspense/thriller genre, set in California and in the deep South.  Serial killers, sexual harassment and retaliation, newfangled bank robbery and old-fashioned corruption: these three books have it all.

Let’s start in the South, specifically in Tibbehah County, Mississippi, where Ace Atkins’ new book, The Fallen, takes place.  Sheriff Quinn Tolson and his able assistant, Lillie Virgil, are faced with some very slick, very well-prepared bank robbers who are almost supernaturally good at hitting a bank and then disappearing before the law can begin to catch up to them, almost as if they were professionals, almost as if they were following the rules of the Army Rangers, Tolson’s former military outfit. Trying to catch the skillful robbers is complicated by the maneuverings of the county’s truck stop madam, and the self-righteous county official who vows to put the madam out of business, together with an appearance from the old-school Dixie mafia and the disappearance of two teenage boys who might just be the key to solving all these crimes.  If you’ve been reading the continuation of Robert Parker’s Spencer series, written by Atkins, you know the man can paint a vivid picture of Boston, but his heart is definitely in Dixie, as you’ll discover when you dive into the Southern Fried Crime of The Fallen.

What would the suspense and thriller genre be without a good serial killer or two?  Iris Johansen and Roy Johansen, no strangers to the world of killers and those who stalk them, have come up with quite a serial killer in Look Behind You. Kendra Michaels, the protagonist of the book, lives in San Diego when a serial killer starts leaving what at first seem odd, disconnected objects at the scenes of each of his murders, all of which, disturbingly, take place around Kendra’s home and office. She’s not surprised when the FBI comes to question her about the crimes, and she’s more than ready to cooperate, especially when she discovers that the objects aren’t random after all: they’re artifacts from other unsolved serial killer cases around the country, and, to make them worse, they’re all things which were known only to the police working on those cases and never revealed to the general public.  As Kendra works with the FBI to find and stop this killer, she becomes more and more convinced that she is, in some way, a target herself, that the killer is specifically trying to communicate with her and that he might even be one of the people supposedly working to catch the killer.

You would be forgiven for assuming, when you see the name of Michael Connelly on the cover of a new thriller, that you’re going to be reading a new Harry Bosch novel, but you will be surprised to discover that the protagonist of his newest book, The Late Show, is in some ways very different from Bosch, though still a compelling character. Renee Ballard is a Los Angeles police officer, but ever since she reported her supervisor for sexual harassment, she’s been relegated to what’s contemptuously known as the Late Show, the overnight shift. There she and her coworkers may catch interesting cases, but at the end of the shift they have to hand them over to the day shift officers, so they never actually finish any of their cases. To someone as driven and dedicated as Renee, this is totally unacceptable (especially since she is essentially being punished for doing the right thing).  So when she catches two cases, one involving a brutal torture and near murder of a transgender woman, and the other involving a non-terrorist but still appalling shooting at a nightclub, she decides she’s not going to give them up. She’ll still do her regular night shift, but she’s also going to continue to investigate those two cases during the day (sleep?  Who needs sleep?), without the permission of her supervisors, and mostly without their knowledge.  Tough and determined as she is, Renee intends to follow both cases to their resolution, no matter what the bad guys or her own department throw at her.

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