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on crime

‘Little Green,’ ‘The Shadow Tracer,’ and ‘Until She Comes Home’

Walter Mosley brings Ezekiel “Easy” Rawlins back from the dead in “Little Green.” Six years ago, at the end of the series’ 11th novel, “Blonde Faith,” Mosley dispatched him. Much as Conan Doyle tossed Sherlock Holmes over Reichenbach Falls, Mosley drove Easy’s Pontiac off one of the Pacific Coast Highway’s treacherous cliffs. Turns out Mouse, Easy’s faithful friend and sidekick with a hair-trigger temper, literally carried him back from oblivion.

Coming slowly out of a coma, Easy feels as if he’s “crash-landed in a new world.” But he needs to get in gear when Mouse asks him to investigate the disappearance of Evander Noon. Juiced on “Gator’s Blood,” a potent concoction brewed by conjure woman Mama Jo, Easy lurches from high to low to high again as he untangles the path taken by the young man Mouse calls Little Green. The quest takes Easy to hippie-infested Sunset Strip (it’s 1967), and it’s as if his life flashes before him as the investigation connects to characters readers will remember from the 1990 mystery novel that launched Easy Rawlins, “Devil in a Blue Dress.”

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This is vintage Mosley and a welcome rebirth for fans of the scrappy Rawlins, his courtly Southern manners intact along with a huge chip on his shoulder earned from racially-charged run-ins with his fellow Americans.

Meg Gardiner’s “The Shadow Tracer” introduces readers to Sarah Keller, a skip tracer whose prowess tracking down the larcenous girlfriend of a physician comes back to bite her. When Sarah’s 5-year-old adopted daughter, Zoe, is taken to the emergency room after a school bus crash, that same physician/boyfriend turns up in the ER treating Zoe. He recognizes Sarah. He’s not at all sympathetic to Sarah’s attempts to explain why the microchip Zoe has embedded in her doesn’t name Sarah as her mother.

Sarah knows a thing or two about the ins and outs of disappearing because she’s had to disappear herself. The information on the microchip embedded in Zoe threatens to upend the stable life she’s built for herself and the little girl, who is the daughter of her dead sister and a member of a brutal polygamous criminal clan.

Soon Sarah’s cover is blown, and she finds herself pursued by clan members (they feel like characters out of “Kill Bill”), who want Zoe for their own, and rogue FBI agent Curtis Harker, who seems willing to sacrifice Sarah and Zoe to get to “the family.” Harker persuades local police to help him by telling them that Sarah killed her sister and abducted her niece. Sarah has allies, too, including a plucky nun and a hunky US marshal named Mike Lawless, but her biggest asset is sheer nerve and determination.

This is a plot-driven cat-and-mouse game for adrenaline junkies with surprises in every chapter.

“Until She Comes Home,” Lory Roy’s second novel after her Edgar-winning debut “Bent Road,” is set in 1958 in a hardscrabble suburb of Detroit, a Polish neighborhood destabilized by factory closings and a changing population. The disappearance of Elizabeth Symanski, the dreamy, mentally-challenged daughter of an elderly neighbor, sets everyone’s nerves on edge and nearly topples the social order. Life stops as the police mobilize. Every able-bodied man helps with the search; the women make casseroles; and conjectures about what happened to Elizabeth breed suspicion. Meanwhile, a black prostitute from a nearby enclave is murdered, and no one even knows her name.

Readers looking for a protagonist won’t find one. The story is told by the women living on Alder Avenue. These include Grace Richardson, happily married and pregnant, who is obsessed with the impossibly high standards her Polish mother sets; her best friend, Julia Wagner, who is still in the throes of grief after her baby’s death; Julia’s two spunky nieces, who, determined to find their missing cat, put themselves in constant danger; and Malina Herze, the prim, powerful, and oh-so-judgmental wife of the factory boss, who is desperate to maintain a patina of dignity despite what is obvious to everyone in town: Her husband rarely comes home.

Every family on Alder Avenue harbors secrets, and what happened to Elizabeth is the least of them. Roy weaves a complex tapestry of entwined lives that can, at times, feel overwhelming and a bit unfocused. Much of the suspense depends on jump cuts and flash forwards in the narrative, and on character after character withholding vital information. This is one to read for rich characterization, setting, and family drama.

More information:

THE SHADOW TRACER

By Meg Gardiner

Dutton, 368 pp., $26.95

UNTIL SHE COMES HOME

By Lori Roy

Dutton, 352 pp., $26.95

Hallie Ephron is the author of Boston Globe bestseller “There Was an Old Woman.” Contact her through www.hallieephron.com.
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