THE CITY & THE CITY By China Miéville, Ballantine, 312 pages, $30
A crossover novel is a daunting task for any author. Creating one fictional universe, one set of characters and one setting, is difficult enough. To construct two, then combine them into a single plot, is daring. That's what makes The City & the City exceptional at the outset. It is, on one hand, a simple murder mystery. On the other, it's an excellent work of science fiction. In both cases, it's engrossing, engaging and fascinating.
Bezel is one of those off-the-beaten-path places in Eastern Europe. Wars, invasions and cultural shifts all passed through. Inspector Tyador Borlu, of the Extreme Crime Squad, is called to the site of a murder of a young woman, probably a prostitute, the police figure. But Borlu's assistant notes the girl's hair is too clean. That's the kind of detail Mieville uses to build his plot, his place - and his other place.
Bezel exists along with another city, Ul Qoma, a doppelganger. Movement between the two cities is forbidden. Even admitting the existence of The Other is a crime. Lines of demarcation, known as Crosshatch, cross walls, streets, alleys. Children are trained to Unsee the streets and people they pass. Any incursion from one to the other means Breach, and that means death.
As Borlu continues to investigate the murder, it becomes clear the victim came from Ul Qoma. Breach has occurred, and it is for Breach to solve the crime, but because the murder was committed in Ul Qoma and the body dumped in Bezel, the powers insist that Borlu investigate. That means he must join forces with his opposite number in Ul Qoma, Constable Lizbyet Corwi.
It's easy to become totally engrossed in Miéville's concept, rip through and not stop to appreciate the carefully constructed plot and elegant prose. Read this slowly and straight through. It's like sipping fine wine.
ALONE IN THE CROWD By Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza, translated by Benjamin Moser, Henry Holt, 256 pages, $29.50
This is my first experience with Brazilian writer Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza's delightful Chief Inspector Espinosa, and I am happy to learn that there are six more in translation. Read this and be reminded that some of the finest fiction comes from Latin America, and that no less a luminary than Argentine Jorge Luis Borges started his career with elegantly crafted mystery stories. We can see his shadow in the sure styling and beautifully constructed plot in Alone in the Crowd.
The setting is Rio, where an elderly woman comes into the local police station asking for the chief. Told Espinosa is in a meeting, she says she won't speak to anyone else. She will return. But she doesn't. Shortly after leaving, she's dead. Fallen or pushed under a bus. Espinosa is intrigued. What did she want to tell him? Was that why she died?
From that puzzle, we move to a man who is shadowing Espinosa. He knows his every habit and place. What is he doing and why? The plot here is everything, filled with elegant deduction. If you love good old-fashioned ratiocination with a great setting, you shouldn't miss this book.
ROADSIDE CROSSES By Jeffery Deaver, Simon & Schuster, 397 pages, $29
Roadside Crosses is billed as the third in Deaver's "High-tech Thriller Trilogy." It's certainly a thriller, with plenty of high tech, and it's the third novel featuring Kathryn Dance, of the California Bureau of Investigation. What I can't believe is that with a character this fascinating and plots this tight, Deaver is going to stop at three.
Dance is an expert in kinesics, the science of body language. Speak and she'll read your body to see if you're lying, evading, scared or simply tired.
But Dance's talents seem out of place in an investigation where everything, including the clues, is online. She and deputy Michael O'Neil are on the trail of a teenager who may be a murderer, and who certainly is using skills he learned in role-playing games to elude the police. He may also be using the same skills to find his victims.
At first glance, the plot seems a bit stretched. But if you've ever spent an evening living Second Life or wasted a day updating Facebook or catching up on blogs, you know how close to virtual reality Roadside Crosses really is. I don't think Dance is going to fade into the California sunset.
BELOW ZERO By C.J. Box, Putnam, 341 pages, $31
What if your beloved child had died before your eyes in a terrible tragedy? What if, years later, someone telephoned to say your child is alive, escaped, but into an even worse tragedy. What if you blamed yourself? That's the kernel of the extended plot of this episode in the Joe Pickett, Wyoming Ranger, series by C.J. Box.
"Tell Sherry April called." That message goes to the family living in Joe Pickett's old house at his old number. Sherry is his daughter. April was his foster child, dead in a fiery shootout between the FBI and a gang of white supremacists. Joe saw her at the window as the house exploded in flames. But April keeps calling. She talks to Sherry. Tells her things only April could know.
And April is in deep trouble. She's on the road with a Chicago gangster who's dying, but before he goes, he wants to complete a mission that requires him to kill people, seemingly at random.
Pickett is not convinced "April" is his lost child. He is convinced she's in trouble, and that he should try to save her.
BURY ME DEEP By Megan Abbott, Simon & Schuster, 240 pages, $19.99
Megan Abbott has written three novels. All were nominated for Edgar Awards and the third, Queenpin, won. Haven't heard of her? Read this terrific novel and find out why you should have.
Bury Me Deep is set in the fast and furious 1920s, the Jazz Age, with hot music and young bodies. It was a time when social and class boundaries were breaking down, when women threw away their corsets and danced the Charleston.
Crime, too, changed. Bury Me Deep is a terrific story about a woman accused of a vicious murder. Not only is The Velvet Tigress supposed to have murdered her victims, but to have dismembered them and stuffed them into trunks destined for Los Angeles.
DeKOK AND THE MASK OF DEATH By A.C. Baantjer, translated by H.G. Smittenaar, Speck Press, 194 pages, $31.50
Baantjer is the Dutch George Simenon. His DeKok series already runs to more than 50 novels and covers decades of life in the Netherlands. These are slick genre mysteries with twists. Baantjer spent nearly 40 years as a detective with the Amsterdam police. His stories bristle with authentic details and fine sleuthing.
This time, DeKok and his partner, Vledder, are on the trail of several missing women who have disappeared from a local hospital. Relatives say they arrived. The hospital records say they never checked in. A slick little mystery from a master.
REAL WORLD By Natsuo Kirino, Vintage, 208 pages, $17.99
If you haven't already discovered the wonderful world of Japanese crime writing, the work of Natsuo Kirino is a great place to start. Out, her first novel in English, was nominated for an Edgar. Real World is a scary little novel of psychological suspense.
Japanese women novelists seem to have been influenced by writers like Patricia Highsmith, and Kirino is no exception. Real World takes us into the very unreal world of four Tokyo schoolgirls. They narrate the story in their own unique voices, bored, image-saturated, pushed by parents, distanced from everything but the cheapest of sensations.
Then one, Toshi, discovers that her neighbour has been murdered. The girls assume the killer is the neighbour's son, who escapes with Toshi's bicycle and cellphone. Murder, as any reader knows, is a contaminating crime, and each of the girls drifts into different kinds of danger; the worst are those within themselves. This is a truly creepy novel that exposes the dark side of Japanese adolescent life.
TWO OF THE DEADLIEST Edited by Elizabeth George, HarperCollins, 460 pages, $33.99
This brilliant anthology of short stories by some of the most outstanding women now writing mysteries and crime fiction -Laura Lippman, Marcia Muller, Nancy Pickard, S.J. Rozan and Dana Stabenow, to mention only a few - is a truly glorious collection.
What's new, though, are five excellent short pieces by some brand-new authors. Lisa Alber sets her stories in Ireland. Patricia Fogarty is a high-school English teacher and Barbara Fryer turns in a terrific story about, among other things, basketball. Peggy Hesketh and Z. Kelley write unusual and, in Hesketh's case, very funny, pieces. Of the five, only Kelley has been published before, so this is a great chance to read debut stories by some authors who may become as well known as their editor.
THE SIGN By Raymond Khoury, Dutton, 464 pages, $33.50
Many writers have followed in the footsteps of Dan Brown and woven religious balderdash into mediocre fiction. Of the lot, Raymond Khoury comes closest to mimicking Brown's formula. He resurrected the crusades in The Last Templar and dabbled in devils in The Sanctuary. Now we have a possible Second Coming. Would God reveal himself first in Antarctica?
From the holy light at the end of the Earth we have revelations in Egypt and a pair of attractive searchers following the signs to uncover the secret that is about to destroy their world. It's all cut and dried, but Khoury keeps things moving. Definitely his best.
DARK DREAMS By Michael Genelin, Soho Crime, 352 pages, $26
This second in a series by Genelin featuring Commander Jana Matinova of the Slovak police force is a gripping novel of psychological suspense with a truly original central character. I don't know anything about Slovakia, but Genelin weaves a compelling plot with a unique central feature.
Matinova finds a diamond hanging from a string in her living room. That clue takes her on a chase across shiny EU into the shadow of the old Communist Europe. Plan on getting the first Matinova novel, Siren of the Waters, too. You're not going to want to miss an episode.