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on crime

‘The Dead Will Tell,’ ‘Ghost month,’ and ‘Terminated’

Linda Castillo’s “The Dead Will Tell” opens with a burglary gone horribly wrong after three masked men invade the home of Amish furniture maker William Hochstetler. They terrorize him and his family and become enraged when they fail to find the cash they expected. The father is shot to death, the mother kidnapped, and the children locked in the basement. The Hochstetlers’ son Billy manages to escape by wriggling out a window to run for help, only to realize too late that the house is on fire, and he can’t reach his siblings.

The case turns cold until 35 years later when a man is found shot dead and hanging from the rafters of his barn. Police Chief Kate Burkholder discovers evidence that leads her to connect that murder with the Hochstetler massacre, and it has all the markings of a revenge killing.

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Meanwhile, Kate’s live-in lover, John Tomasetti, discovers that a man involved with the murder of his wife and children three years earlier has been released from prison. He has to decide how far is he willing to go to mete out punishment that the criminal justice system won’t.

This sixth series novel, set in Pennsylvania Dutch country and featuring a clear-eyed female detective who grew up Amish, is a superb police procedural. Multiple plots propel the reader forward, and while the final twist at the end felt just a bit too twisty, Burkholder and Tomasetti will keep me coming back.

A sidewalk noodle shop in Taipei’s Shilin Night Market during summer’s Ghost Month (when “[s]upposedly the gates of the underworld are opened and spirits of the dead are allowed to walk among the living once again”) is the vivid backdrop for Ed Lin’s “Ghost Month.” Protagonist Jing-nan has no interest in appeasing ghosts. He’s still bitter that a few years earlier his parents died and left him a noodle shop saddled with staggering debt. Meanwhile, his high school sweetheart and love of his life has been murdered. He hadn’t seen Julia since they left for college in the United States seven years earlier — he to UCLA and she to NYU. He is appalled to learn that she’d been working in a betel-nut stall where girls wear next to nothing as they hawk the addictive nuts to “disgusting men with ugly, red-stained teeth” who try to cop a feel along with their betel-nut chew.

The novel starts slowly, hooking the reader with a rich sense of place and delightfully eccentric characters as each night Jing-nan turns on his “Johnny-night-market persona.” Like a carousel barker he lures tourists to his noodle stand. During the day, he’s himself again, and the story turns dark as he becomes increasingly convinced that there is more to Julia’s murder than the news reported. Police are at best inept and at worst corrupt, and when he begins to investigate he’s threatened by a local gang and, more ominously, by a pair of American thugs. The plot twists come fast and furious as the story reaches its climax.

Come for the exotic food and fascinating setting; stay for the characters.

A third revenge-driven tale, Ray Daniel’s debut novel, “Terminated,” is a brisk, high-tech espionage thriller set in downtown Boston. Aloysius Tucker, a randy computer geek who fancies himself a chick magnet, is a widower. Six months ago, Tucker and his wife were working on the Rosetta project, developing software that decrypts files, when he was fired abruptly. That same day, she was murdered. He’s been in a deep funk ever since.

When the programmer who replaced his wife on the project is murdered, apparently by a perverted serial killer dubbed the Duct Tape Killer, Tucker wonders whether the murders are connected. He decides to investigate. The ghost of his dead wife more taunts than haunts him as he searches for her killer.

Daniel takes the reader into the fascinating inner workings of Tucker’s mind as he goes about solving the crimes in the same way he would debug software: “Whenever it looks like a random pile of bugs, they always come from one central problem. One single key with lots of locks.” The solution is far from simple, and Tucker turns out to be even better at sticking his nose in the wrong place and pissing people off than he is at debugging code. Daniel does a fine job making computer esoterica accessible. This is a smart novel with plenty of witty asides, slam-bam action, and it doesn’t flinch from depicting sexual violence.

THE DEAD WILL TELL

By Linda Castillo

Minotaur, 320 pp., 25.99

GHOST MONTH

By Ed Lin

Soho Crime, 336 pp., 26.95

TERMINATED

By Ray Daniel

Midnight Ink, 336 pp., paperback, 14.99

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