The Law of Innocence by Michael Connelly

Someone has framed Mickey Haller, Michael Connelly’s flashy Lincoln Lawyer, for the murder of an old client, an unsavory scam artist whose body is conveniently discovered by the police in the trunk of Haller’s town car. He has decided to represent himself, which in his case does not mean he has a fool for a client. But his prison cell isn’t as efficacious an office as the Lincoln, so after weeks of threats, sleeplessness, and bologna sandwiches, Haller posts the punitively high bail and starts building a semi-normal defense with his team, which includes an ex-wife or two and his half-brother, Harry Bosch. His arrest has given some powerful people in Los Angeles law enforcement the chance to get back at the sometimes abrasive lawyer. This time, even the ever bullish Haller knows he’s in for the fight of his life.

As Haller and his team try to pry apart the tight frame around him, starting with who might harbor such a vicious grudge, he is always mindful that being found not guilty is not the same as being exonerated. Without the latter, his professional life is over. In The Law of Innocence, Connelly brings the irrepressible Haller as low as he’s ever been, scraping by with bits and pieces of information and practically winging it till the end. Even if you can’t follow every twisty bit of California law, the message is clear: If defending oneself against the Javert-like prosecutor and the blue wall of the L.A.P.D. poses the ultimate challenge for someone with Haller’s talents, what chance would the rest of us have? Fans and Lincoln Lawyer first-timers alike will be with him step for step on the fraying tightrope, as Connelly once again lives up to his own high standard.

The Kingdom by Jo Nesbø, translated by Robert Ferguson

To appreciate Jo Nesbø’s stand-alone novel The Kingdom, you must not mind being inside the head of a sociopathic killer who manages a gas station. Roy Opgard, the narrator, is a quiet, outwardly normal guy who’s lived in the small Norwegian mountain town of Os his entire life. His routine is upended when his dynamic younger brother, Carl, returns after a long absence to pitch investment in the construction of a high-end hotel and spa to the local populace. Roy and Carl love each other a little too intensely, sharing as they do a childhood filled with abuse and murderous secrets, so their creepy relationship is rocked when Carl’s reappearance includes his exotic new wife.

Carl, who turns out to be a scam artist masquerading as a successful businessman, accurately assesses the citizens of Os as credulous, allowing him to proceed with the hotel, and his brother to eliminate anyone who threatens them and mask the deaths as accidents. Though some local worthies have suspicions, the only person who’s really on to them is the town’s sheriff, son of the previous sheriff, whose murder by a teenage Carl was covered up by Roy. He’s certainly dogged, but the sheriff can’t quite nail anything down, and his sunbed tan and long blond hair make it hard to take him seriously. Though Roy acknowledges his evil nature, he regards his crimes as pragmatic solutions to problems, which makes him sound a bit like Tom Ripley, minus the style and ambition. Whether Roy’s childhood made him what he is or he’s just a born killer, it’s hard to work up any empathy for him or his brother. In his Harry Hole books, Nesbø has relished poking around in the darkest alleys of the human psyche, but until now he has found a degree of redemption that has made the ugliness of the journey worthwhile. This time he left his flashlight at home, leaving us with precious little illumination.

Shed No Tears by Caz Frear

Cat Kinsella is a cop with a secret: as the daughter of a low-profile Irish criminal who operates in London’s underworld, she’s engaged in a constant battle to prevent her two lives from colliding. Kinsella knows from experience how fine the line between cop and criminal can be, which makes her well qualified to revisit the case of a young woman whose bones have been found in a field in Cambridgeshire, north of London. When Holly Kemp disappeared after being spotted on a serial killer’s doorstep four years earlier, the Metropolitan Police had lumped her in with his three other confirmed victims. But after an autopsy reveals discrepancies with the serial killer’s M.O., it’s obvious that her case needs to be reopened. This is not good news for Tess Dyer, a highflier who headed up the original investigation and is now running a counterterrorism unit. As Dyer tries to direct the new effort from the sidelines, things get uncomfortable for Kinsella, who has to set aside her girl crush on Dyer to find out what really happened to Holly Kemp. Kinsella’s uneasy relationship with her father simmers in the background while she and her partner dig into the sordid background of the victim, who gradually materializes as a reckless con artist with a taste for five-star hotels and designer shoes.

Bubbling with energy and its heroine’s tart humor, Shed No Tears is the third book in Caz Frear’s series featuring Kinsella. The Irish connection and Frear’s easy way with dialogue have drawn inevitable comparisons to Tana French, but Frear is less brooding and brisker in moving the plot forward, making this book an addictive read.

Prefecture D by Hideo Yokoyama, translated by Jonathan Lloyd-Davies

Prefecture D comprises four novellas set in 1998 in the labyrinthine police headquarters of a fictional Japanese district. One character, administration inspector Shinji Futawatari, appears to varying degrees in all four stories. Known as “the ace” for his ability to solve the most tangled and perplexing personnel problems, he is tagged for eventual ascension to commander in chief, despite having never made an arrest, much less solved a criminal case out in the real world.

In Prefecture D, murder and mayhem take a back seat to toxic internecine maneuverings within the police bureaucracy, which have a precisely rendered suspense all their own. The differences between Western and Japanese police procedure and office etiquette require some adjustment by the reader, but the situations Hideo Yokoyama writes about are universally relatable: a well-hidden long game of revenge, the intense drive to get a promotion that’s more about the title than the job itself, the plotting to acquire kompromat on a colleague who may someday be an obstacle to the plotter’s future success, a vulnerable young female officer forced to participate in a male superior’s underhanded scheme. There’s so much face-saving and misdirection that the investigators must delicately remove several layers of deceit to reach the heart of each dilemma. They also need to maintain poker faces while doing this, which takes a toll in the form of stomach ulcers, empty family lives, and alcoholism. Even the ace is not immune to the stress.

Prefecture D is quite unlike most crime fiction. Its appeal lies in how Yokoyama patiently and elegantly guides the reader through a bewildering system that sorely tests the fallible humans trying to function within it. The violence here is mostly psychological, but no less chilling for it.

Lisa Henricksson reviews mystery books for AIR MAIL. She lives in New York City