“Before She Disappeared,” by Lisa Gardner
Frankie Elkin is “an average, middle-aged white woman . . . with more regrets than belongings.” Nine years sober, she’s an oddly appealing, well-meaning screwball. Frankie decides to put her obsessive tendencies to good use: She joins a group of ordinary people who try to solve cold missing-person cases. The book centers on Frankie’s search for a Haitian teen from a rough neighborhood in Boston, a case that puts Frankie’s life at risk. In this rare standalone, the prolific Gardner has come up with one of the most original characters in recent crime fiction, a woman readers can care about even while not being entirely sure of what to make of her. (Available Jan. 19)
“Bone Canyon,” by Lee Goldberg
Lee Goldberg’s lean, nicely paced sequel to last year’s “Lost Hills” has Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department homicide detective Eve Ronin investigating rapes and murders that were likely committed by rogue deputies in her own department. The other cops hate Ronin for exposing the rats on the force they’d rather protect and because TV series producers chase her around waving contracts. A survivor of a messy childhood, Ronin only wants a sense of balance in her life and for her awful mother to stop saying things like, “Nobody needs more than one chin, honey.” All this happens in the wake of raging wildfires, grounding the story in (stark) reality.
“Girl A,” by Abigail Dean
The height of a pandemic might not be the ideal time to read a novel about six English children held captive at home and abused by their deranged parents. But put your fears aside or you’ll miss out on a stunning debut. The compelling narrator is one of those captive children, Lex, who, at 15, escaped and freed her siblings and over the ensuing years found poise and sanity in widely varying degrees. Lex and her sister Evie remain haunted by the years when they found solace in a book of Greek tragedies that “made us feel better about our own family.” Now a successful lawyer, Lex prepares for a fraught family reunion, where things seem bound to go disastrously wrong. (Available Feb. 2)
“The House on Vesper Sands,” by Paraic O’Donnell
In this charming jape of a thriller, Inspector Henry Cutter is known around New Scotland Yard for having “a weakness for certain exotic cases.” In the snowy winter of 1893, he’s drawn into a doozy when young employed women around London start to vanish, or — worse, in a way — have their souls stolen by ruthless spiritualists. Preposterous, you say? Not in the hands of O’Donnell, a kind of Oscar Wilde gone tipsy, who drops some Irish whimsy into the harsh reality of Victorian England.
“Sleep Well, My Lady,” by Kwei Quartey
About to strangle an icon of the Ghanaian fashion industry, the killer in the second Emma Djan PI novel takes a moment to muse that the R&B music playing in the victim’s bedroom is “a tasteful choice.” It’s the kind of weird but revealing character detail that the Ghanaian American Kwei Quartey (author of last year’s “The Missing American”) specializes in. The sweetly crafty Emma is the main attraction here, but her colleagues at the Sowah detective agency are also a companionable bunch in this beautifully crafted tale in which the glamorous Lady Araba is murdered for either business, family or a long list of other reasons.
Richard Lipez writes the Donald Strachey PI novels under the name Richard Stevenson.