Tana French and Lou Berney are two names that readers of crime fiction should know. Each is out with a fine, new mystery.
By now, we’re accustomed to French’s engrossing, eloquently written murder plots, solved by the Dublin Murder Squad. This time, she’s left the police to work behind closed doors and introduces her first stand-alone novel, “The Witch Elm” (Viking, $28).
We meet the leading man in this one, Toby, on the night he’s brutally assaulted in his apartment. This is only the beginning of his problems.
While French’s past novels contained snarky, quick-witted characters, “The Witch Elm” introduces her first one who properly demands at least a handful of spit-your-drink-out laughs.
As always in her books, mystery combined with characters worth caring about glide the story along.
This one is worth two readings: first with the constant tightening of the chest that accompanies all of French’s work, then after the reader can breathe again.
Berney’s “November Road” (Morrow, $26.99) is set in the aftermath of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination.
This superior new novel from Edgar-winner Berney melds crime fiction with a tale about people reinventing themselves, played out during a cross-country automobile trip.
Frank Guidry is a “fixer extraordinaire” for a New Orleans mob boss. His world shifts on Nov. 22, 1963, with news of JFK’s assassination — and the possibility that he unknowingly played a role in it by following orders to leave a car in a parking lot near Dealey Plaza. Wondering whether he brought the assassin’s getaway car, Frank worries he’s become a target. To avoid execution, he takes to the road.
Also on the road is Charlotte Roy, an Oklahoma housewife who has reached her limit with her alcoholic husband and packs up her two daughters and their dog Lucky and takes off.
Charlotte and Frank meet on the road when her car breaks down, and he suggests they ride with him. They begin to care for each other in ways neither expected.
Berney keeps the tension high as ruthless hit man Barone is hot on Frank’s trail. But the strength — and pleasure — of “November Road” is how Charlotte and Frank find new focus and resolve in themselves.
Berney showed his storytelling mettle in his previous three novels. “November Road” not only showcases his considerable talents but also offers an insightful look at our past.