The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Summer escapes: Five new thrillers and mystery novels offer welcome distraction

(William Morrow; University of Minnesota Press; Ecco)

P.D. James said, “Crime fiction confirms our belief, despite some evidence to the contrary, that we live in a rational, comprehensible, and moral universe.” Ready for some escape into a rational universe? Five new top-notch mysteries and thrillers are here to help out.

The Delightful Life of a Suicide Pilot, by Colin Cotterill

It’s too bad that this 15th installment in the Siri Paiboun mystery series is the final one. The good news is that it’s as wry, culturally incisive and utterly captivating as all the others. In 1981, Dr. Paiboun is retired from his job as the national coroner in corrupt, communist Laos. He’s helping out in his wife’s noodle shop when an anonymous party sends him a Japanese soldier’s World War II-era bilingual diary. While tracking down a present-day perilous connection to the relic, the good doctor is assisted by, among others — and quite plausibly — Auntie Bpoo, Dr. Paiboun’s recently deceased “transvestite spirit guide.” It’s a wonderful farewell to a boundary-breaking series.

The Mist, by Ragnar Jonasson

If you’re looking for a fictional good fright to distract you from the real ones, look no further than this third entry in the Hidden Iceland series (available June 23), featuring brainy, glum police inspector Hulda Hermannsdottir. It’s midwinter with blowing snow and little daylight when three bodies are found in and near a remote farmhouse. The talented Jonasson backs up two months to portray — with the precision of Harold Pinter — two complex marriages whose outcomes are not at all ambiguous, this being a crime novel. On a couple of occasions, Hermannsdottir shrieks with horror, and readers will, too.

The Silence, by Susan Allott

Australia’s ugly history of forcibly removing Aboriginal children from their families is central to the plot of this first novel, a wrenching melodrama about a Sydney seaside neighborhood that’s rife with alcoholism, marital discord, thwarted good intentions and possibly murder. Londoner Isla Green, intent on sobering up and staying that way, flies to Sydney to help her ever-tipsy father, a suspect in the disappearance 30 years earlier of a neighborhood woman. As the anxious, sympathetic Green investigates, she has the advantage of the “awful clarity” of her newfound but still fragile sobriety.

Yearning for escape? So is the heroine of Cara Black’s heart-racing new novel.

The Streel, by Mary Logue

The author of the Deputy Sheriff Claire Watkins series is off on a winning new tangent with Brigid Reardon, an immigrant Irish housemaid who lands in the Dakota Territory of the 1870s and sets out to clear her gold-miner brother in the murder of a “streel,” a Deadwood prostitute. Reardon is a prayerful Catholic girl who is also appealingly droll and self-possessed. She can be crafty, too, casually extorting train fare to the West from a St. Paul tycoon by mentioning that “your son has been paying improper attention to me.” Brigid also learns how to swoon on cue and aim a derringer in this vibrant new series.

These Women, by Ivy Pochoda

In this angry, absorbing, psychosocial thriller, the grisly murders of 17 prostitutes in a seedy Los Angeles neighborhood are ratings-grabbers for “the candy-colored news programs” but only mild headaches for a police department indifferent to the humanity of the victims. That is, until ticked-off vice cop Esmeralda Perry joins the mother of a victim to zero in on a violent psycho and his respectable enabler. Among the most poignant of the dead women is Jujubee, whose talent as a smartphone photographer produces both fine art and damning evidence.

Richard Lipez writes the Don Strachey PI novels under the name Richard Stevenson.

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