Criminal Fiction: May cowers

Every month, Daneet Steffens uncovers the latest goings on in mystery, suspense, and crime fiction. See previous columns on the Criminal Fiction archive page.

With its friendly staff, shedloads of books, and cool author signings, the Seattle Mystery Bookshop is one of the loveliest jewels in the city’s literary crown. Keep an eye on their event calendar , which showcases the best of mystery writers, local, regional, national and international. On the radar for summer: Cara Black, creator of the astute Parisian PI Aimee Leduc, drops in at noon on Wednesday, June 14, and on July 5, the excellent Jill Dawson, over from England, signs The Crime Writer, her canny fictional melding of Patricia Highsmith, a sleepy Suffolk village, and a spot of murder.

Reading around: new titles on the crime fiction scene

A river with a forebodingly named spot called the Drowning Pool features as a key element in Into the Water (Riverhead). Paula Hawkins’s turbulent follow-up to 2015’s unstoppable Girl on the Train, this psychological thriller is just as rife with twists and turns, but is set compactly in a northern English village, rather than a London suburb. The rural setting lends itself beautifully to the mysteries at hand — a suspiciously high number of people have met their end in the Drowning Pool — and Hawkins has enormous fun with a wide swathe of rotating narrators. She ventures into seriously dark psychological and societal territories here, not the least of which being the hypocrisy and violence that often lies indelibly at the heart of even the smallest of communities.

A cache of bones discovered in a medieval tunnel beneath the city of Norwich piques the interest and curiosity of forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway in The Chalk Pit by Elly Griffiths (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). But things quickly take a particularly sinister turn as Galloway’s former lover and policeman colleague, DCI Nelson, begins to investigate a series of mysterious disappearances and deaths in the region: from the homeless population to yuppie communities, no one, it seems is safe. Griffiths nimbly weaves a proper police procedural with a gimlet-eyed take on finger-on-the-contemporary-pulse social issues, as well as immersing her characters in ginormous life changes.

The specter of nefariously used social media — Tinder, in this case — raises its ugly head in The Thirst by Jo Nesbo, translated from the Norwegian by Neil Smith (Knopf). But, this being a Nesbo novel featuring the Oslo detective Harry Hole, there’s so much more here than meets the eye, particularly as Nesbo is a master at finely drawn characters: one of the most powerful elements of his thrillers lies in the ways in which his characters interact with and affect each other. Hole — who recently left the police force for the relative safety of a teaching role and is enjoying the more mundane pleasures of life, such as attending Sufjan Stevens and Sleater-Kinney concerts with his stepson — is commandeered back onto an increasingly terrifying case that encompasses vampirism, Shakespeare’s Othello, and crimes both grisly and grim. Excellent, as always.

Nick Mason is still in death-threatening thrall to crime boss Darius Cole in Exit Strategy by Steve Hamilton (Putnam), and it doesn’t get more complicated than tampering with America’s Federal Witness Protection Program — especially when a baddie escapes custody with Mason’s killing on his mind. A fiery, muscular narrative that travels at relentless speed, Exit Strategy is a page-turner, yes, but also a tale of loneliness at its most extreme.

The Quintessential interview: Dennis Lehane

I’ve been a fan of Dennis Lehane since 1994’s A Drink Before the War, which introduced his fiercely compelling and complicated Boston PIs Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro. One of our finest writers, Lehane has added high-profile television credits to his name (The Wire, Boardwalk Empire) and has seen several of his novels transformed into critically acclaimed movies. Since We Fell (Ecco), his new standalone and his first novel told from a woman’s point of view, is vintage Lehane: smart, taut, beautifully written, and not to be missed.

Catch the L.A.-based Lehane at Elliott Bay Book Company on June 5 at 7 p.m.

What or who are your top five writing inspirations?

  1. Boston
  2. Bills
  3. Music (dependent on the book, dependent on the mood
  4. My daughters (see #2 again)
  5. My childhood

Top five places to write?

  1. Writing desk, top floor of my house
  2. Home office
  3. Diners and coffee shops (but never a Starbucks)
  4. Pubs
  5. Anywhere with an ocean view

Top five favorite authors?

  1. Richard Price
  2. Raymond Carver
  3. Elmore Leonard
  4. Graham Greene
  5. William Kennedy

Top five tunes to write to?

This is an ever-changing list. I would conservatively say there are at least 700 songs on my Infinite Writing Playlist and 14,000 in my iTunes library. But for the sake of argument, this would be 5 in constant rotation right now:

  1. "Birds Trapped in the Airport," Craig Finn
  2. "We Belong Together," Rickie Lee Jones
  3. "A Dustland Fairytale," The Killers
  4. "Slipped," The National
  5. "Jisas Yu Holem Hand Blong Mi," Hans Zimmer

Top five hometown spots?

  1. Playa Provisions, Playa del Rey
  2. Mo’s Place, Playa del Rey
  3. Scopa, Venice
  4. Good Stuff, El Segundo
  5. Bodega, Santa Monica