Shoot Between the Lines: Mystery Writers Reveal All | ALA 2013

Jeff Abbott, Downfall
Three-time Edgar Award nominee Jeff Abbott won an International Thriller Writers award winner for The Last Minute, second in the tough-as-nails Sam Capra series, of which his new novel, Downfall (Grand Central. Jul. 2013. ISBN 9781455528431. $26.99), is the third. Once an upcoming CIA agent, Sam saw his career crash and his pregnant wife vanish in one explosive moment and has since lived as a good guy on the dark margins, using the bars he has established worldwide to track down his wife’s abductors. At least now he has little son Daniel back. But trouble won’t leave him alone, and when a woman dashes into his San Francisco bar begging for help, he naturally takes out one of the thugs chasing her and does serious damage to the other. This little encounter eventually leads him to a man who’s like a spider in a web, controlling powerful people and icing the atmosphere. As the entire story unfolds clue by tantalizing clue, what intrigues is the tension between Sam as caring hero and the feeling you can’t shake that that it’s really hard to escape the dark side.

John Dufresne, No Regrets, Coyote
John Dufresne, whom you will remember as the author of such New York Times notables as a personal favorite, Louisiana Power and Light, is now trying out thriller territory. In an opening chapter of his new novel, No Regrets, Coyote (Norton. Jul. 2013. ISBN 9780393070538. $25.95), therapist Wylie Melville—understandably nicknamed after the roadrunner’s nemesis—is attending to a particularly unstable patient who tells him never to show his weapon unless he plans to use it, adding “I don’t mean your rapier wit or your eviscerating insight. I mean your pistol.” To my mind, rapier wit and eviscerating insight sum up this classy and darkly witty thriller—really darkly witty thriller—and let’s get to that pistol. Coyote also acts as a forensics consultant for the police, and on Christmas Eve he’s called in to assess a terrible crime scene; an over-the-edge father seems to have killed his entire family and then himself. Of course Coyote thinks differently, and what follows is a layer-upon-layer uncovering of betrayal and corruption that takes our hero from lowdown Eden, Florida, to a showdown on a frozen lake up north. Did I mention Coyote’s dysfunctional family—really, really dysfunctional family? That’s just part of the fun.

Sara Gran, Claire DeWitt and the Bohemian Highway
Sara Gran’s Claire DeWitt and the Bohemian Highway (Houghton Harcourt. 2013. ISBN 9780547429335. $20) is the second in the Claire DeWitt series. The novel opens with Claire learning that her former boyfriend, musician Paul Casablancas, has been killed in his Mission District home, and the suggestion that this was a simple break-in just doesn’t add up. Shadow-boxing with Paul’s wife, Lydia, with whom she has an uneasy relationship, Claire starts tracking down clues, and the narrative swiftly cuts to other events in her life ultimately relevant to the case—her early, teenaged sleuthing in a dark and seamy 1980s East Village when a friend goes missing, for instance, and her awed regard of famed French detective Jacques Silette. There’s something about “teenage sleuthing” that sounds like Nancy Drew, but please. Claire is not G-rated. She’s as wild and edgy as they come, part Lisbeth Salander and part Veronica Mars, as the Hollywood Reporter has said, and she’s the perfectly rendered whirlwind at the center of this satisfying mystery.

Michael Harvey, The Innocence Game
Journalist and documentary producer Michael Harvey has multiple news Emmys and an Academy Award nomination to his name. Of course, he’s also the author of the esteemed and in-your-face unnerving crime novel series starring Chicago PI Michael Kelly. But while Kelly makes a brief appearance in Harvey’s new book, The Innocence Game (Knopf. 2013. ISBN 9780307961259. $24.95), the real heroes are the three graduate students invited to take an innocence seminar at a prestigious journalism school, the course being designed to investigate cases of those sentenced to death for crimes they didn’t commit. Our narrator, Ian Joyce, is somewhat hapless; Sarah Gold is quietly assured; and Jake Havens is a bit uppity, but he does present the class with an envelope he’s just received containing a bloodstained scrap of shirt from a boy murdered 14 years previously and a letter of confession. The problem? The convicted killer is long dead, which launches our three students on a journey to find the real killer. It’s a twisty, turny journey related in icepick-sharp language, and there’s a skull cracker of a surprise ending that’s still making my head hurt. But it’s worth the pain.

Ingrid Thoft, Loyalty
Ingrid Thoft’s debut thriller is called Loyalty (Putnam. 2013. ISBN 9780399162121. $25.95). And loyalty is the name of this game, as Fina Ludlow squares off against her family, starting with patriarch Carl Ludlow, king of the personal injury lawsuit, whose thriving firm Ludlow and Associates is feared by doctors, insurers, and business owners nationwide and downright hated by the Boston police. Fina’s brothers all belong to the firm, but she’s the rebel who ditched law school and now works freelance for the family. Her latest case? It seems that her sister-in-law Melanie has gone missing, though brother Rand doesn’t seem overly concerned, even as he ends up a suspect. Then there’s Fina’s niece, Haley, who’s fallen into bad company that makes an aunt worry. Especially an aunt as hard-boiled as Fina, who knows her way around the dark underbelly of Boston. With a little backup from Milloy, her masseur and best friend, and in hard-charging prose polished to a high shine, Fina starts sorting things out. And what she discovers leaves her truly unsettled about the family.

Barbara Hoffert About Barbara Hoffert

Barbara Hoffert (, @BarbaraHoffert on Twitter) is Editor, LJ Prepub Alert; past chair of the Materials Selection Committee of the RUSA (Reference and User Services Assn.) division of the American Library Association; and past president, treasurer, and awards chair of the National Book Critics Circle.