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January 1, 2021

George Ernsberger - Columnist
Posted 1/1/21

THE SYSTEM by Ryan Gattis (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). A crime novel, is a precisely accurate characterization of this stunning new work, though that really doesn't due it…justice, I was about to …

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January 1, 2021

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THE SYSTEM by Ryan Gattis (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). A crime novel, is a precisely accurate characterization of this stunning new work, though that really doesn't due it…justice, I was about to say, but that would amount to a pun, here, and this book even more emphatically wouldn't deserve that. It's about crime, all right, and criminals and cops and lawyers and courts and especially jails, all in Los Angeles, and grittily convincing about every bit of that. But really, this is a writer's book more than a puzzle-constructor's book, and a pulse-accelerating but also heart-stirring few hours—I'm talking about the reading time, now, not the time covered by the events of the book; a couple of hours, then, of us living that life in that city. A trip, this book, rough, fast, exhilarating.

THE WICKED HOUR: A NATALIE LOCKHART NOVEL by Alice Blanchard (Minotaur). The second of this series, based in a deeply imagined small town upstate from us, where it's almost New England, and where witchcraft is a long-standing tradition. Nothing supernatural, here, but that history and the town's status as a tourist destination provide a lot of variety along with small-town familiarity. The central character, a police detective, is both tough and thoughtful, but a bit the worse for wear from her last case (last year's TRACE OF EVIL). This one looks more and more, as our detective friend gets into it, like a serial killer operating with great ingenuity over decades; and our friend becomes ever more certain to be not just the investigator, the newest target.

SHED NO TEARS by Caz Frear (Harper). An established column favorite after just two earlier novels, also a police detective, also tough and smart and a woman, but of a different sort and in a distinctly different setting. This is London, a very big city in a whole other country, and it's Cat Kinsella, who has relatives on both sides of the law (we'll recall) and a smart mouth that deflects real fears and no little anger (and she's our narrator, and great company). This is plot-first crime fiction, so not exactly literary in sensibility; but not merely clever, deeply intelligent, so it satisfies on more than one level.

SEARCHING FOR SYLVIE LEE by Jean Kwok (Morrow). Paperback reprint of a novel the column urged you to read a year and a half ago (and by the author of this year's celebrated GIRL IN TRANSLATION). A mystery of sorts sets it off—there really is a disappearance, as the title suggests—but in fact this is a literary novel, memoir-ish in shape (and maybe in substance), and just beautiful and enriching, another few hours in a master's hands.

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