Crime & Mystery

Were These Murders Inspired by Fiction?

In Stephen Spotswood’s new novel, “Secrets Typed in Blood” — set in 1940s New York City — a pulp magazine writer claims that a killer is copying crimes from her stories.

Credit...Pablo Amargo

I loved Stephen Spotswood’s first two Pentecost and Parker mysteries, so I’m delighted to report that book No. 3, SECRETS TYPED IN BLOOD (Doubleday, 364 pp., $27), is another winner. This time, the world-famous private investigator Lillian Pentecost and her spiky, super-capable junior partner, Willowjean “Will” Parker, immerse themselves in the seedy world of pulp magazines, circa 1947.

When Holly Quick walks into their office spinning a wild story of three murders imitating fiction — specifically, the fiction she publishes, pseudonymously, in places like Strange Crime magazine — Parker isn’t inclined to believe it. Pentecost decides to take the case anyway.

The differently abled Pentecost, whose multiple sclerosis is progressing, depends on her protégée to do much of the legwork. So Parker poses as a secretary — too-tight pencil skirts and all — at Strange Crime, hoping to ferret out clues.

“Secrets Typed in Blood” reads as easy as fine whiskey goes down. Even when I guessed a plot twist, surprises awaited a few pages later. Mostly I was keen to spend time in Pentecost and Parker’s company. I urge every mystery lover to get acquainted with them.

When your hit book series morphs into an even longer-running hit television show, what’s a writer to do next?

If you’re Jeff Lindsay, you follow up your series on Dexter Morgan — the serial killer and blood-spatter expert who lets loose his most psychopathic tendencies upon those who have behaved more monstrously than he — with a series on Riley Wolfe, a talented master thief who never, ever stops bragging about his prowess.

“I have done a lot of totally impossible things,” he informs the reader early on, “and yeah, I am always looking for more.”

I jumped into this series with the third book, THREE-EDGED SWORD (Dutton, 374 pp., $27), so I can’t confirm that Wolfe’s irritating narrative shtick appears in the earlier installments. But it’s ever-present here, suffocatingly so; even Lindsay feels the need to take prolonged breaks from Wolfe’s perspective and hop into the heads of other characters, including one of Wolfe’s good friends (with sporadic benefits), as well as assorted bad guys.

There’s lots of razzle-dazzle, but the plot, which involves the global hunt for a flash drive, doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. “Three-Edged Sword” made me nostalgic, as I often am, for the diamond clarity of Richard Stark’s Parker novels, which depict a professional robber fully immersed in the work, without a hint of self-congratulation.

Hannah Morrissey’s debut novel, “Hello, Transcriber,” did an end run around the standard-issue police procedural, focusing more on the inner lives of her characters and adding a welcome sense of the gothic.

That aesthetic returns in the nifty new noir THE WIDOWMAKER (Minotaur, 293 pp., $27.99), which revisits the town, and police force, of Black Harbor, Wis., where “the city’s grim atmosphere gnawed on people’s morals.”

It’s wintertime, cold and bleak. Morgan Mori, a professional photographer, is more comfortable observing and shooting others than reflecting on the gaps that have wiped out her childhood memories. She’s been hired to take photos for the Reynolds family at their “sea-glass colored mansion at the top of the bluff.”

The wealthy, elite clan harbors many secrets, not the least of which concern what really happened when its patriarch, Clive, vanished two decades earlier. It isn’t long before bodies begin turning up, some of them connected to Clive’s disappearance, and at least one connected to Morgan herself.

As the story alternates between Megan and a police detective named Ryan Hudson, it spirals ever further into darkness. “Morgan shivered. … Invisible pins punctured her skin as though she were a voodoo doll. It didn’t matter how many scalding showers she took. The winter was inside her, freezing her from the inside out.”

Gwen Florio is one of those writers who regularly publish series and stand-alones that leave a lasting impression — like her latest, THE LEAST AMONG US (Crooked Lane, 293 pp., $29.99), the second book featuring the Duck Creek public defender Julia Geary, up to her neck in trouble.

Consider what she’s contending with: a relationship that’s on the rocks thanks to her boyfriend’s child custody issues; a loathsome intern who’s been foisted upon her; and the imminent need to find a new place to live when her mother-in-law, widowed like Julia, announces her husband-to-be is moving in.

Then there’s her new client, Ray Belmar, whom she’s defending on a public indecency charge. (He interrupted Duck Creek’s raucous St. Patrick’s Day parade wearing just a sock, which wasn’t on his foot.) When Ray is inexplicably charged in the death of a homeless man, Julia knows he’s not guilty. But she’s on the case for all of a few hours before her boss summarily removes her from it, making vague excuses.

It’s a lot to handle, though Julia does — even when things turn scary. Very scary: There’s a denouement straight out of a horror flick.