In The Law of Innocence, published way back in November of 2020, Michael Connelly gave a nod to the coronavirus pandemic in an epilogue that had Mickey Haller—“the Lincoln lawyer”—heading into quarantine with his family. By the standards of book publishing, which has long lead times, such nimbleness was noteworthy, and I wondered when we might see crime fiction deal directly with the pandemic.

This summer, at least two writers, Louise Penny and Peter Heller, have taken on the subject with powerful results. Their books are set in the very near future; in Penny’s version, the virus has been pretty much eradicated by the vaccine, while in Heller’s it continues to mutate, though society has figured out how to work around it. Both writers are concerned with the pandemic’s potentially dystopian implications for the most vulnerable and least privileged, or, as Penny puts it, the sting in the long tail of the virus.