Heaven, My Home, the sequel to Attica Locke’s Edgar Award–winning Bluebird, Bluebird, is billed as a Highway 59 novel, announcing how integral that swath of East Texas is to its hero, Texas Ranger Darren Matthews. Being a black lawman in the heart of Trump’s America has its special set of challenges, which Matthews struggles with every day: the double takes provoked by his Stetson and his star, the ugly vibe that descends when he walks into a bar. When last we saw him, Matthews was not in good shape. He’d finessed a previous case in a way that left him open to both trouble and a bottle of bourbon.
This weighs on him as Heaven, My Home begins, with the disappearance of a nine-year-old boy on a forbidding lake on the Texas-Louisiana border. Though the missing child is the son of an imprisoned white supremacist and no one seems too disturbed about his absence, Matthews is determined to find him for a variety of tangled reasons, some of them related to his own history with the father. He travels up Highway 59 to the antebellum town of Jefferson, where the boy’s wealthy grandmother rules with an iron checkbook behind the scenes, and, nearby, the impoverished Hopetown, where indigenous Indians coexist uneasily with the rest of the populace. As Matthews starts poking around in the towns’ discomfiting mix of trailer homes, Spanish moss–draped bayous, and Victorian mansions, he discovers that, in the margins, it’s more hell than heaven.
Heaven, My Home is a fine follow-up that easily stands by itself. Locke’s knack for conveying a deeply rooted sense of place and creating an atmosphere humid with political and family secrets remains strong, as does her characterization of Matthews, whose torments only make him more sympathetic—a good man trying to make things right in a world of wrong.
A heroine called Rachel Savernake had better live up to that dangerous-sounding name, and in Martin Edwards’s Gallows Court, she does. The whiff of the reptilian it suggests perfectly captures this ambiguous young woman, a glamorous, elusive heiress whose motives and morality seem to shift every time she appears, making her difficult to pin down and more than a little sinister.
Rachel is the darkly purring engine of this novel, set in 30s London among the rich, entitled, and debauched. Cool and disciplined, she styles herself an amateur sleuth and solves a couple of shocking high-society crimes, besting Scotland Yard. But she seems to be in the vicinity when bad things continue to happen, stirring the interest of a young reporter who is not too bedazzled to sense that something’s off about Rachel’s feats of detection. He tries bravely to keep up as he follows her trail through exclusive men’s clubs, decadent theaters, and fabulous penthouses.
Gallows Court is a clever pastiche of the golden-age mystery, so it’s overlaid with artifice, but not far from the polished surface lies uncomfortable relevance. Exploitation of the weak and vulnerable by the louche and privileged as the authorities look the other way—sound familiar? The prominent men who are being picked off one by one here make Jeffrey Epstein look like a choirboy, but they play in the same arena. Though Gallows Court has already been published in England and obviously found its inspiration elsewhere, echoes of the Epstein saga abound, right down to the character of a female enabler who may be the biggest monster of all.
Is Rachel a female Moriarty? A lucky dilettante? An avenging angel? Edwards keeps the reader guessing deep into the lively narrative. Love her or hate her, you won’t want to look away till she finally swims into focus.
This is the first novel by the Argentinean writer Sergio Olguín to be translated into English, and if this is any indication it’s a welcome introduction to an exciting talent. A journalist for many years, Olguín knows his way around every avenue and back alley of Buenos Aires, where his heroine, Verónica Rosenthal, works as a feature writer for a magazine called Nuestro Tiempo.
Casting about for an idea for her next piece, Rosenthal comes across a wire story about a train engineer who commits suicide, leaving behind a note in which he begs forgiveness for murdering four people. Thinking she may have discovered a serial killer, Rosenthal starts digging, and eventually the contours of a different kind of crime begin to appear. Little kids from the barrios are being recruited to play a game of chicken with oncoming trains: two boys square off on the tracks, and the one who jumps to the side last wins 100 pesos, or a little less than two dollars—if he jumps in time. For the criminal enterprise that takes bets on the outcome and films the horror show, it’s just a form of human cockfighting, one revenue stream among many.
Olguín intensifies the suspense by making Rosenthal a resourceful and tenacious reporter, but a reckless, hot mess of a person, sleeping with one source and endangering the lives of others. She’s an entitled beauty—the daughter of an important judge—and her methods can be nerve-rackingly erratic.
Olguín’s style is deceptively casual—a nice cover for his mastery of the book’s widely varied milieus and characters. Whether we’re in the cabin of a train, an editorial meeting at the magazine, or the shabby little soccer club the boys are recruited from, the narrative feels 100 percent authentic and lived. Despite their flaws, because of their fragility, you really care about the fates of these people. The Fragility of Bodies was first published in Spanish seven years ago—let’s hope there’s more of this series on the way.
Lisa Henricksson reviews mystery books for AIR MAIL. She lives in New York City