Books

Salem Macknee reviews 4 new mysteries

The Precipice, by Paul Doiron. Minotaur, 336 pages.

Maine game warden Mike Bowditch is back on the job and trying to mend the wild ways that earned him a short exile as a fishing guide. The one pushing the envelope now is his girlfriend, Stacey, a ranger’s daughter and wildlife expert. They join the search for two missing hikers on the Appalachian Trail, and give us an up-close look at the culture of thru-hikers; trail names, trail slang and the “types” who form a loose tribe meeting up at shelters along the way.

There’s rumored to be a serial killer on the trail, and the presence of some high-powered law enforcement in the background of the search effort makes Mike suspect it’s more than rumor.

A backwoods criminal dynasty operating from a booby-trapped enclave in the woods complicates the search.

Paul Doiron’s Maine is beautiful but deadly.

The Black Valley, by Charlotte Williams. HarperCollins, 368 pages.

Psychotherapist Jess Mayhew has struggles of her own, as a single mother raising two daughters. When she starts seeing new patient Elinor Powell, whose claustrophobia began after her mother’s death in Elinor’s art studio, Jess starts learning about a new world of high-end art deals and high-stakes market manipulation.

It’s “chick lit” and even a touch gothic, with ancient Welsh towers and storm-wracked moors, and the inevitable handsome stranger who is not what he seems. Mary Stewart, but with cellphones.

I enjoyed it enough to put Charlotte Williams’ first book, “The House on the Cliff,” on my to-read list, but sadly she died last year, so we have no more coming.

Freedom’s Child, by Jax Miller. Crown, 320 pages.

Freedom Oliver jumps the Witness Protection Program to take us on a wild ride starting from a biker bar in Oregon and ending in a cult compound in Kentucky. Freedom is lured out of hiding by reports that her daughter, adopted by a preacher, has disappeared. It’s actually bait dangled by the bloody-minded family she married into and then fled after killing her husband. They are out for revenge.

A word of warning: You could retire in luxury on the proceeds from Jax Miller’s swear jar.

It’s a compelling story crackling with energy and featuring some of the lowest forms of humanity, but stick with it. There are good guys in Miller’s twisted universe.

The Kill, by Jane Casey. Minotaur, 337 pages.

Someone is killing police officers, and Maeve Kerrigan’s murder squad is in the midst of the action, thanks to her boss’ fixation on the rapidly growing number of cases. He seems to be losing his grip more with every new report, and Maeve has an idea why, but it’s too damaging to share with any of her colleagues.

Jane Casey dwells heavily on the sexism encountered by Maeve and the other policewomen, and the varying ways they respond. It seems over-the-top in this age of mandatory sensitivity training, but if not, then kudos to her for shining a light on it.

Macknee: smacknee@mcclatchy.com

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